Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Choicest Games wishes you all a happy 2015!

Where are my self-lacing shoes, hoverboards and hovercars damnit!

Hey everyone. Going to make this a quick one as the new year is almost upon us (well it already is I suspect if you're living just west of the International Date Line :)).

On behalf of Choicest Games, I wish you all a very happy 2015! May it be a productive and prosperous year since I'm definitely hoping for some productivity and prosperity, that's for sure!

It's usually a tradition at New Year's to make New Year resolutions but since this is a PC Gaming blog after all, I thought this year I would make some gaming related resolutions. So here they are:

  1. Cut back on buying the Steam games man: Each year, PC gamers are suckered into buying more games than they probably should during the Steam sales (myself included). While this year I've always set myself a budget as to how many games I could buy (which is a good first step) the next step is to limit the number of games since it's okay if you're setting yourself a budget when just buying AAA games but when you can afford 100 indie titles for $100 during a sale, well that's really increasing "dat backlog". My Steam games backlog is becoming pretty unmanageable at the moment and for someone who doesn't like wasting money on games he'll never play, buying more games for the sake of buying games, isn't the way to go :). This leads me onto another related resolution...
  2. Play 100% of the games in my Steam library: Notice I didn't say "complete" since that's a really tough challenge to set yourself, especially on roguelikes, Metroidvanias and a whole bunch of other genres that aren't meant to be winnable or are just too damn difficult for me! I currently have 352 games in my Steam library and I've done pretty well in that I've actually played approximately 253 which is just over 71%! Almost 3/4. I actually thought I only played 33% so not too bad (although that might still be the percentage of games that I've completed). Anyway, 100% is the perfect score but it's doable if I've already played the majority!
  3. Set a limit on how many games to review: I've already made a start in placing a priority or "importance rating" for a game so that I make sure I complete at least those reviews first before thinking of doing a review for every game I own that is released in a year. I currently have 57 games to review on my 2013 reviews list and about 81 for my 2014 reviews list. This is not feasible for someone who isn't doing this for a living! Consequently I'm thinking to aim for maybe setting myself a minimum of 24 reviews at least and see if I have time for anything else.
  4. Complete a Game of the Year 2013 article before the end of 2015: Because I'm obviously waaaay behind schedule :).

And there you have it, what gaming New Year resolutions will you be making? Or is your attitude "to hell with New Year resolutions"? :) Let us know. See you in 2015.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

ENSLAVED: Odyssey to the West Review

Gee... I wonder which city this used to be...

  • Developer: Ninja Theory
  • Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games
  • Release Date: 24 October 2013
  • Time played: 10 hours

As mentioned in my First Impressions post, I grabbed this game during one of those crazy Steam sales where you end up spending more money than you should, to buy more games that you'll never play. Well, I finally managed to complete this one! ENSLAVED: Odyssey to the West is Ninja Theory's (the same guys behind Heavenly Sword) take on the classical Chinese story "Journey to the West". Since the game is a sci-fi adventure set in a post-apocalyptic America, it's obviously very loosely based off the Chinese tale but curiosity got the better of me and I ended up playing it. So is the adaptation any good? How does the story hold up? Is the game any fun to play?

Plot (4/5)
Since this is an adaptation of "Journey to the West", you've got to have the main characters from the original tale, right? Well the Monkey King aka Sun Wukong, is now some muscular, acrobatic bikie dude who is nicknamed "Monkey", the monk Tripitaka is portrayed by a young woman who is a computer genius with the nickname "Trip" and Pigsy is some kind of engineer who looks very much like a pig. You play the role of Monkey and at the start of the game you and Trip are escaping a ship transporting slaves to a place known as "the Pyramid". Both you and Trip manage to escape the slave ship which crashes into a post-apocalyptic New York City. Trip, who is distrustful of you, places one of the slave headbands on your head to ensure you follow her commands and are unable to kill her (without killing yourself). Trip needs your help in returning to her village and so begins the long trek to the west so she can be reunited with her father.

While I'm by no means an expert on the original story, I think they've done a very good, albeit liberal adaptation of the source material. Magical items in the original tale are now cool pieces of technology (such as Monkey's staff and cloud). The scriptwriting is also very well done thanks to veteran scriptwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Dredd, etc.) - it's actually not cringe-worthy which tends to be the case in 90% of games out there. Okay, there were a couple of cringe-worthy moments but at least they were intentional :).

The only criticism I have about the story is that the ending leaves it open for a sequel which is exactly what the developers were hoping for, however the game didn't make enough profit in the eyes of the publisher and consequently, the plan for developing a sequel was canned.

Gameplay (3/5)
ENSLAVED is played from the third person perspective and has you attempting to complete jumping puzzles as well as fighting numerous hordes of mechs. The jumping puzzles are generally tolerable since it's more about timing instead of worrying whether you'll fall to your doom or not (which is usually the case in platformers). I did have some issues picking the right direction sometimes because it's probably not as easy to do with a mouse and keyboard setup than it is on console which brings me to one of the downsides of this game: it's a console port.

All the controls in the game appear to be hard-coded (middle mouse button included which happens to be my TeamSpeak Push-to-Talk key) - and not only that but there doesn't seem to be any place you can easily look the controls up again if you've forgotten them (which tends to happen if you take a break from the game for a few weeks). Consequently, I had to resort to Google to jog my memory.

Another issue I have with the game, not necessarily because it's a console game (although it tends to be more frequent in console games) are the awful camera angles. You usually only have limited control of the camera angle and consequently there will be many times during combat that the camera will be flying all over the place, making it difficult to focus on the action or realise which way you're facing with respect to the keys. I can appreciate controlling the camera angles might help them optimise the game (by only showing the player what they need to see) but the implementation in ENSLAVED felt really clumsy.

Anyway, enough whingeing about console ports. I mentioned earlier that the game involves jumping puzzles and combat. I've already talked about the jumping puzzles so what about the combat? I actually quite enjoyed it and it can be quite satisfying once you've managed to time your moves correctly as well as learning which mechs are best to take out first. Some mechs can explode or send off EMP charges when you defeat them so these ones are usually quite handy to target first. You'll have to learn when to defend and when to counter-attack since you'll usually have very small windows of time for both. Monkey is actually pretty vulnerable if you don't get your timing right but the slo-mo finishing moves are a sight to behold.

Character models in this game are very well done

Sound (5/5)
Monkey is voice acted by none other than Captain Gollum Haddock himself: Andy Serkis and he does a splendid job of it. Lindsey Shaw as Tripitaka and Richard Ridings as Pigsy also do well in their roles.

Music (4/5)
While I don't find the music too memorable, it's definitely got a film quality soundtrack (thanks to Nitin Sawhney) which fits the cinematic feel this game has.

Graphics (5/5)
Despite the rest of the game's graphics having quite a few low-res textures (apparently this game was originally a 2010 game for consoles) the painstaking detail that must've gone into the character models and animations is obvious. There are also some really impressive vistas, especially towards the beginning of the game - see how many famous landmarks you can identify! :)

Replay (2/5)
I enjoyed the time I played with this game and the story definitely started to become more interesting once you've met Pigsy. Again you've got the usual Steam achievements that come with a Steam release, but sadly no trading cards. Since the PC version is the "Premium Edition" you also get an extra mode to play called Pigsy's Perfect 10.

Polish (4/5)
I did encounter a bug where I had to restart from a checkpoint which was way too far back. In ENSLAVED you're able to takedown enemy mechs and one of these is the explosive mech. When you takedown the explosive mech you're given the opportunity to throw the mech into other mechs surrounding you, taking them out in the explosion. Well, in one battle towards the end, the big bad boss managed to laser me and the mech while I was still holding it. Basically the game didn't like that very much and ended up disabling my attack and jump keys - very annoying! So through no fault of my own, I had to restart to a checkpoint which was three difficult battles prior and redo about 30 minutes of gameplay. This is why I hate checkpoint save systems...

Besides that though, the game seems to be relatively well polished despite not being suited for the keyboard and mouse.

Score – 8/10

While I am normally hesitant to recommend what is essentially a console port, ENSLAVED: Odyssey to the West does so many things right it would be a crime not to. The visuals are spectacular, the characters beautifully animated (or grotesquely, in the case of Pigsy), the voice acting top notch and the script is actually pretty good. Gameplay is generally good fun too although it's spoiled somewhat by annoying camera angles. Is it a good adaptation of "Journey to the West"? I'm no expert but despite it being a very liberal, post-apocalyptic take on the tale set in America, I think it is.

ENSLAVED: Odyssey to the West is available from these retailers:
  • Steam - $6.79 USD (due to Steam sale - normally $19.99 USD)

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official ENSLAVED: Odyssey to the West website ]

Monday, December 29, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #162 - Quest for Glory III - Caged Leopardman

Composed by: Rudy Helm

This track just oozes 80s rock music all over and is played whenever the Caged Leopardman is in the scene (although it turns out that this particular "Leopardman" is more than he seems and will in fact have a pivotal role to play in the events of the game). The Leopardmen people as a whole are a secretive tribe that live in the rainforest east of the savannah - the savannah being Simbani territory. Oh, they are called Leopardmen because they are a tribe of shape shifters that use magic to change form into leopards. Funny that.

Thanks to Sierra On-Line and Quest Studios for providing these memorable tracks.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Exploring Elite: Dangerous - Potential war brewing in Dulos?

There's trouble a'brewin'

Move along... nothing to see here.

Wow I wasn't expecting to be in this situation where I've got nothing to type about today. Well nothing that I'm able to get the time to finish anyway.

So you'll just have to make do with this awesome thing I found in Elite: Dangerous!

While flying around the Duros star system which happens to be very near the Jera star system - the same star system where a certain Senator Patreus of the Empire was backing the Jera Nationalists to overthrow the democratically elected Jera Social Democrats - I came across this faction description for the Duros Defence Party:

"This group has recently begun openly expressing its dissatisfaction with Federal policy decisions. Rumours abound among the local populace about a potential split from the Federation, a rumour backed by the fact than (sic) an ever increasing amount of armaments and ships are working their way through the system's ports."

It's probably only a matter of time till full-scale civil war becomes a reality. I'll be definitely keeping an eye out on this system in the future so I can do my part for the Federation ;).

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Top 10 PG-Rated Games on Choicest Games

4X games are well represented in the wonderful world of PG games

Following on from my pre-Christmas post about this blog's Top 10 G-Rated Games it's now time to take a look at the top 10 PG-rated games.

In Australia, media that is rated "PG" means parental guidance is recommended. This means anyone can still play this game but parental guidance is recommended for anyone under 15 years of age due to mild impact. Basically, this category allows minimal level of violence, sexual references, adult themes and some tame coarse language. Here are the top 10 to feature on Choicest Games:

  1. Portal 2
  2. Civilization V: Brave New World
  3. Gray Matter
  4. The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition
  5. Monkey Island II: Special Edition
  6. Civilization V
  7. Civilization: Beyond Earth
  8. Wargame: Airland Battle
  9. Tales of Monkey Island
  10. Civilization IV: Colonization

So if I take into account all the 29 PG-rated games that I've reviewed on Choicest Games, what kind of genres made this list? This is what they tended to be:

  • Puzzle First Person Shooters
  • 4X Strategy Games
  • Point 'n' Click Adventures
  • Real Time Strategy Games
  • Grand Strategy
  • Artillery Games
  • Platformers
  • Arcade games
  • Flight sim
  • Racing
  • Puzzle games
  • Visual novels
  • City builders

There are a few returning genres to this list including Real-Time Strategy, puzzle games, racing games and city builders. Since you really don't see any blood and gore in games like Wargame: Airland Battle, this is probably why the game isn't rated higher than probably many other Real-Time Strategy games such as Company of Heroes or Starcraft II. Puzzle games such as Trine 2, on the other hand, rated slightly higher probably due to some low level violence against goblins. The racing games that tend to fit under the PG-label are usually ones that have a bit of a story which may incorporate low level violence, adult themes and coarse language, and this may have been the case with games like Need for Speed: The Run. Finally, city builders like Tropico 3 are probably rated higher than their counterparts because of low level violence (due to coups) and probably adult themes.

4X Strategy games are well represented by the PG rating probably because due to their abstraction of concepts like war, the impact isn't as severe on younger minds - except when they hear people screaming as their cities are being razed to the ground - that's probably not so cool :). Point 'n' click adventures and combat flight sims are also well represented considering comic mischief being prevalent in the former (especially the Monkey Island series) and low level violence in the latter.

Anyway, it seems that a lot of my favourite genres happen to fit in under the PG-rating - especially 4X strategy games and point 'n' click adventures, which means the PG-rating doesn't sound that bad at all. I'm finding as I go through this exercise that there are plenty of good games for adults out there without needing to resort to MA15+ or R18+ games.

Also, statistics for statistics sake:

  • Total number of games reviewed that are rated "PG": 29
  • Highest rating for a "PG" game: 9/10
  • Lowest rating for a "PG" game: 5/10

Stay tuned for Top 10 lists for M and MA15+ in the near future.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Elite: Dangerous Review

What a wonderful woooorld...

  • Developer: Frontier Developments
  • Publisher: Frontier Developments
  • Release Date: 16 December 2014
  • Time played: 38 hours

I've read quite a bit of negative press and commentary amongst the common gaming folk about Elite: Dangerous prior to its release - which is a pity since to some the first experience they'll have with the Elite franchise is all this negativity. In order to talk about recent events though, we need to go back to the beginning of this game's development - when it was still a Kickstarter project.

In early 2013, Frontier Developments was able to successfully raise more than their target with £1.5 million being raised by Kickstarter backers. Originally the game planned to have an offline single-player mode (although if you read the FAQ carefully you can see they were originally not planning it but then updated the FAQ to indicate they would) but a few months before release, Frontier Developments stated they wouldn't be able to considering the way they designed the game. Many fans considered this an outrage and demanded they receive refunds although some have found it rather difficult to actually get any response from Frontier Developments. I'm personally of two minds for this. On one hand I can appreciate people becoming angry but then again, this was a Kickstarter project and a game development project at that. You can't always expect things to go to plan which is why whenever I donate (yes, I used the word "donate") to a project I consider myself to be a venture capitalist of sorts. Will I make a good return on my investment (i.e. a game I'll actually like to play)? Maybe. Maybe not, but if I'm backing a developer I think I can trust, then there's a good chance.

So was my trust in David Braben misplaced or did he manage to make a game that is a worthy successor to that game I played of his, more than a decade ago? Also, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the original 1984 Elite which is probably another reason why Elite: Dangerous was released this month. Some have speculated that the release was rushed but is that actually the case? Has the game's quality been compromised by the rush to finish the game this year (just under two years since the end of the Kickstarter funding campaign)?

Plot (4/5)
There is apparently a lot of fan fiction revolving around the Elite universe that is available but I've never personally read any of those books so all I've got to judge the plot by is what's actually in the game (and what I remember from Frontier: Elite II). So Elite: Dangerous takes place far off in the future in the 34th century. Humanity has colonised the stars like crazy and there are literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of worlds that are now colonised. There are three major factions that control known space, two of them returning from Frontier: Elite II: Firstly you have the democratic, yet corrupt Federation heavily influenced by megacorporations, the Empire which seems heavily modelled on the Roman Empire except in space (slavery is legal in Imperial space), and the equivalent of a Non-Aligned Movement called the Alliance which has many Independent star systems as its members who neither like the Federation or the Empire.

Thanks to the provision of daily GalNet News Reports in-game, this lets players keep in touch with what's happening around the Milky Way and since the game is based off actual star systems (or at least with some of them) it makes the game feel more realistic which helps immerse the player into the game. Sadly, since the game is more of a sandbox space sim than a game like Wing Commander or even Privateer or Freelancer, the game does lack that epic story where you save the universe - but that's totally fine if you're content to be one of the grunts fighting in one of the many power struggles across the galaxy.

Gameplay (4/5)
If you're no stranger to space trading sims then you'll already know what most of Elite: Dangerous is about. For those of you who don't, here's a quick rundown. Space trading sims allow you to fly spaceships around between star systems mainly in order to trade. Using the powerful forces of supply and demand, a savvy trader can make decent profits by knowing where to buy low and where to sell high. However, space trading sims usually have other pursuits such as piracy, where you can actually steal the goods from the traders and bounty hunters who hunt down criminals, for a price. Okay, so that's mostly all the stuff you'd normally expect in these kind of games, at least with games by Chris and Erin Roberts (e.g. Privateer and Freelancer). However there are a few new things namely: mining, exploration and realism.

Firstly let's talk about mining. Those who have played games like Eve Online are probably no strangers to mining but this was quite a novel concept for me who hasn't played a space sim since the early 2000s. There's not much to it of course: basically install a mining laser and refinery in your ship, fly to an asteroid field, shoot the asteroids and then scoop up the fragments so you can refine them into metals and minerals you can sell on the market. From my experience, the process is rather tedious although I've been told by other players that I probably just found the wrong asteroid field. Apparently it can be quite lucrative if you know where to look!

Elite: Dangerous has millions of star systems to explore thanks to procedural generation

The second part of the game is exploration. Like Frontier: Elite II, Elite: Dangerous has millions of star systems to explore thanks to procedural generation (although 120,000 of these are apparently non-procedurally generated such as Sol, Achenar, Sirius, etc.). Since there are so many star systems out there, it's only natural that not all of them have been fully explored, even ones near the core worlds. Consequently you can use a Discovery Scanner to basically send out a ping for a certain number of Light Seconds around your ship to see if any astronomical objects can be found. If you do find some, targeting these objects from a certain distance will give your scanners the opportunity to analyse them and grab their astronomical data. Later on, if you happen to stop by a space station at least 20ly away from the system you explored, you can make money by selling your astronomical data - neat, huh? Apparently, if you save a lot of money you can purchase more detailed scanners that will reveal more information and also bring in more dough when you sell the data - but it's going to be awhile yet before I'm at that point.

Having a galaxy as massive in scale as the Milky Way Galaxy though comes at a price: it's awfully lonely out there. Okay, if you're visiting the core worlds (such as the Solar System) you're bound to find some human players flying around as well as a lot of NPC traffic. However, once you're out in the boondocks, it's actually quite rare to see any humans at all. So far, after playing the game for almost 40 hours, I've only encountered a human player twice. At first, I thought this was pretty crap but when I thought about it a bit more, it actually works well as a balancing mechanic; new players to the game would find it hard to compete with players who were around since the beginning as they would've accumulated a lot of wealth, and probably better ships and weapons. With a galaxy as large as the real Milky Way Galaxy though, this gives the opportunity for new players to find systems on the fringe that are less populated and give them some breathing room to learn the ropes, without fearing for their lives thanks to some human player armed to the teeth. really have to pay attention to Newton's Third Law of Motion...

Finally, I'm going to make the audacious statement that Elite: Dangerous is probably the most realistic space sim I've played to date. Okay, I lie - that honour should be given to Frontier: Elite II but both that game and this one have Newtonian physics models. What that means is that you really have to pay attention to Newton's Third Law of Motion which is to every action there will be an opposite and equal reaction. In the game this translates to ensuring that before your ship changes direction, you have to apply enough counter-thrust to your original direction or you will overshoot your target. In Frontier: Elite II this led to combat which has been affectionately called "jousting" because both ships would basically try their best to line up for a strafing run only to spend even more time after manoeuvring into position for the next one. This meant there wasn't any sense of dogfighting in Frontier: Elite II and my memories of the game involved me still drifting on my original course, spinning around on the spot to take potshots at the enemy as they performed their strafing runs - I was such a bad pilot.

Elite: Dangerous is apparently no different but thanks to the new concept of Flight Assist being turned on by default (I guess this is the equivalent of Electronic Stability Control on cars?) combat is actually much easier now and dogfights are more feasible. The purists/masochists can always turn it off though. I found with Flight Assist on I still needed to manage thrust/counter-thrust properly but it wasn't as burdensome as it was in Frontier: Elite II. It still took me a long time to get comfortable with flying the ship though; I eventually ditched the mouse and keyboard for my old Logitech Extreme 3D Pro joystick, and thanks to a combination of talking to forum members, and trial and error, I'm finally semi-competent. Not an ideal situation though considering you only have one game save. So you have been warned! The game has a steep learning curve, despite the recent additions of a manual and video tutorials - although the game is probably that more rewarding once you've figured it out.

Another problem with realism is when you accurately model star systems on existing ones but thanks to an in-game limitation, it makes it nigh on impossible to visit any of the planets in them. Elite: Dangerous uses a system where you basically jump to the primary star for any star system with multiple stars (e.g. binary stars). It's fine for single star systems but it can be a bit of a problem when you're attempting to travel to a space station that doesn't orbit a planet around Alpha Centauri A or Alpha Centauri B but Proxima Centauri instead (for example) - and turns out to be 0.21ly away which probably takes a few hours real-time to travel there using supercruise! I'm hoping that Frontier Developments eventually introduces a system wherby you can choose which star in a star system to jump to. Or at least allow you to do hyperspace jumps between stars in a star system.

Hobbling back to the starport by the skin of my teeth

Sound (4/5)
Audio in the game is awesome - even though technically there shouldn't be any sound in space. The roaring of the spaceship's engines, the loud crack as you jump into hyperspace, the cracking sound you hear just before your canopy is blown off into the void, all help in building that atmosphere. Unfortunately, I do occasionally hear the audio stuttering especially while entering or exiting hyperspace but I'm not sure if this is an actual audio problem or something wrong related to server lag.

Music (5/5)
As I've already mentioned, I'm disappointed that Elite: Dangerous didn't incorporate some of the music from Frontier: Elite II such as David Lowe's excellent main theme for the game as well as classical pieces such as the "Blue Danube", "Baba Yaga" and the "The Great Gate of Kiev". However, the composer for the most recent iteration of Elite, Erasmus Talbot (what an awesome name) is no slouch and has done a splendid job in bringing an epic space opera feel to the game's score.

EDIT (28/12/2014): Twitter user @jiss9240 (Boris) corrected me by letting me know that the "Blue Danube" does actually play in the game, but only if you manage to purchase and use a standard docking computer for docking at space stations. So thanks Boris!

Graphics (5/5)
The game has impressive graphics and it all runs fine on a modest system. Everything is drawn on a 1:1 scale which means there'll be plenty of opportunities to take some beautiful screenshots of the star systems you visit. There's also great attention to detail with respect to the ships - dogfights are especially tense since the more damage you take, the more cracks you'll see on the canopy - meaning you're that close to being ejected into the cold vacuum of space. In fact I actually managed to do that once accidentally while flying too fast into a space station. Managed to get into the airlock just in time before the emergency oxygen ran out...

Replay (4/5)
I've played the game over thirty times now since the Gamma build was released on 22 November which is just over a month ago now which is quite frequent. The game seems to have an addictive quality about it especially if you're working towards gaining influence with factions in each of the star systems (and there are a lot of star systems as you already know). You also have the freedom to either get involved in combat or perform cargo runs - sure it helps when you've got an all-rounder ship like I do at the moment (the Cobra Mk III) but as a consequence I can always change my gameplay style to cater for my mood. Feeling a need to blow some pirates to space dust? I'll take that bounty hunter mission and hang around a local nav point. Feeling the need to just relax and play a game akin to Euro Truck Simulator in space? Well you can do that too with trading runs. Provided Frontier Developments don't commit any major stuff-ups in the months to come, I suspect I'll continue to play this game quite frequently.

Polish (3/5)
I played the game through the Gamma, as you know, and it's good to see that many bugs were fixed in the few weeks leading to the release of version 1.0. Consequently, the game wasn't released with any truly game-breaking bugs although there's still some room for improvements. Occasional lag spikes, bugs with reputation quests and an unintuitive NPC communications system are just a few things that could be fixed. The game also has many extra features they've promised for later that are yet to be implemented such as landing on planets.

Score – 8/10

Elite: Dangerous is I believe a worthy successor to Frontier: Elite II; the gameplay is similar but the graphics and audio have been improved for modern audiences - even the combat is more fun. Also, thanks to the game being online (which has proven to be a controversial move by some), this also means your character lives in a persistent universe where your actions directly influence the numerous factions vying for power. Unfortunately, there's still no landing on planets but that will apparently be implemented in the near future. So would I recommend this game to an Elite fan? Yes. Would I recommend this game to a fan of space sims? Yes, on the condition that you don't need an epic personalised story that involves you becoming Hero of the Galaxy. Also a good deal of patience learning the ins-and-outs of the game will help too.

Elite: Dangerous is available from these retailers:

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Elite: Dangerous website ]

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Scribblenauts Unlimited Review

Apparently cannibals find lawyers very tasty...

  • Developer: 5th Cell Media
  • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
  • Release Date: 19 November 2012
  • Time played: 2.2 hours (INCOMPLETE)

Thanks to the recent Steam sale, my wallet is feeling a bit lighter and one of the reasons is the purchase of Scribblenauts Unlimited, a game that's been sitting on my wishlist for awhile now and would've probably remained there if it weren't for the 75% discount coaxing me into buying it. So why did I want Scribblenauts Unlimited? A couple of reasons: (1) it looks like a great game for kids - one that my daughter could probably appreciate and (2) I like innovative games, and Scribblenauts Unlimited sounds like a game that's in a league of its own.

So what's the game's plot about? Well, as you've noticed, I haven't included a "Plot" section for this review since I don't think it's one of the game's strengths, nor should it be - this game is catered for those seeking fun gameplay and nothing else. For the sake of completeness though, I'll provide this summary: you play the role of a naughty boy called Maxwell who tricks an old man only for him to retaliate by placing a curse on Maxwell's sister - a curse that will eventually turn her completely into stone. The only way that Maxwell can help is to collect these star-like objects called, strangely enough, Starites. Starites are only rewarded to Maxwell for completing "good" deeds - basically helping others. In order to achieve this, Maxwell has an ace up his sleeve - a magical notebook where any words he types become reality.

Gameplay (4/5)
Enough about the story, what's the actual game like? Well you basically walk around different environments clicking on people, animals and objects to find out what's wrong. Once you've found out what's wrong you can decide what to do to fix the problem. There are a couple of ways of doing this: you can either create a new object by typing the word into your magical notebook (and if it isn't in the notebook, you can always create it using an editor) or you can add adjectives to an object in the world. This means there will often be multiple ways of solving a problem, for example let's say someone in a classroom wants to be the class clown. You can either create objects that will make him seem funny or you can add an adjective to make him "hilarious". For a child, I suspect it would be heaps of fun solving the problems with logical choices as the guessing game will be a challenge enough for them (and sometimes a challenge for this particular adult - sometimes you don't quite understand what they want). For an adult, I suspect a lot of fun would come from finding the most ridiculous objects or adjectives you can think of and seeing if they work. For example, I managed to create a monster called "ABBA", fed a lawyer to a cannibal, and helped a guy go on a date by rocking up to his girlfriend's house in a fighter jet. The game also has some pop culture references that only adults would pick up - such as a certain Black Knight who has lost his leg at hospital - only to be reunited with King Arthur after you patch him up...

The only real criticism I have about the game is that the interface seems kind of fiddly at times. There is the temptation to keep creating objects in order to use the process of elimination to solve puzzles and this can result in a lot of garbage lying around - so much so that you might accidentally start clicking on the wrong things. Sure, there's a garbage bin where you can chuck these unwanted items in, but then you've got to keep doing multiple clicks along with dragging and dropping which becomes a bit tedious. Also, considering the game is probably targeted towards kids you would've thought a simpler interface would've been in order.

It's just a flesh wound...

Sound (5/5)
No complaints about the sound effects - there's probably quite a few in there considering how many items you can interact with.

Music (3/5)
The music is nothing exceptional but suits the kind of game it is, which is a light-hearted, relaxed one where you get to use your imagination.

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics are quite rudimentary and is in a very simple cartoon style. Characters are animated like paper cut-outs but you can forgive Scribblenauts for its simple graphics considering you can create your own objects if you so desire!

Replay (2/5)
I've enjoyed the couple of hours that I've played this game so far and I can see it becoming quite addictive, even for an adult - mainly because you want to try out as many ridiculous combinations as possible - anything but the sane response! The game also contains the usual Steam Trading Cards and Achievements that come which have almost become commonplace for any new game sold on Steam.

Polish (5/5)
There aren't any serious bugs I've encountered in this game and the only issues I had were that the interface seemed fiddly sometimes, but that has already been mentioned in the Gameplay section.

Score – 7/10

This game isn't going to win any awards on thought-provoking material or a moving, epic soundtrack, but it is quite a bit of fun for young and old thanks to its interesting game mechanic where just about anything you type can become a game object you and the NPCs can interact with. Both kids and adults will appreciate how creative you can get with this game, just in different ways...

Scribblenauts Unlimited is available from these retailers:
  • Steam - $4.99 USD (due to Steam Sale - normally $19.99 USD)
  • EB Games - $24.95

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Scribblenauts Unlimited website ]

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Where are they now? - David Whittaker

But none can outrun or equal... the power...of Whit-ta-ker?

As promised, I'm now taking a bit of time to talk about another video game composer who was responsible for converting Jeroen Tel's superb Supremacy: Your Will Be Done or Overlord soundtrack to DOS and his name is David Whittaker.

If you're a DOS/Windows gamer like me, you probably wouldn't have heard most of David's music since he primarily worked in the 80s and early 90s on "other" PC platforms such as the Commodore 64, Atari ST, Amiga, MSX and ZX Spectrum (quite a versatile guy!). There's a very good reason for David's technical aptitude though because he started off programming games before he made the switch to focusing on music.

David was born in England in 1957 and when he was in his 20s he started to get involved in programming games and composing music on PC. Inspired by bands such as Jean Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk and 80s synth groups, they would strongly influence the music he composed.

In 1983, David's first PC game (for the Commodore 64 and MSX) was published, a Q*bert clone called Humphrey and he would follow this up with probably his most famous work, Lazy Jones in 1984. I say "famous" not because of its revolutionary gameplay (it's a game that consists of several retro games, even by 1980s standards) but probably because of the infamous, but hugely popular, 1999 dance track by Zombie Nation called "Kernkraft 400" which sampled music from the game without David's permission. Apparently Zombie Nation settled with David for an undisclosed sum but he was obviously not too impressed. However, if anything it demonstrates just how damn good his music was for it to be remixed over a decade later and to be made into a hit (at least in Europe).

David is credited with doing music or audio for well over 400 games which is a ridiculously large number, and most of these games came out in the late 80s and early 90s. Another game I didn't realise he did the music for (until now) was for 1989's Xenon 2, which I've actually played. Of course, the actual theme is from Bomb the Bass's "Megablast" but still...

David voluntarily got out of the freelance music scene in 1993 when he started working for Electronic Arts on game audio: speech and dialogue in particular. He worked there for 8 years right up until 2001. David eventually moved back to England and started working at Traveller's Tales in 2004 as Head of Audio. Since that time he's been busy working on all those Lego games the company is most famous for.

So while David isn't apparently composing any music any more, it's good to see he's still involved in the gaming industry in some shape or form - most recently he was credited as Head of Audio for 2014's LEGO The Hobbit.

And that's it from me on this Christmas Eve. I wish all my loyal readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Top 10 G-Rated Games on Choicest Games

This is the kind of game you'd expect to have a "G" label

Since I'm a father nowadays, I'm definitely more cognisant of games that I play in front of my child (which is usually pretty rare - more often than not playing time is restricted to when she's asleep) but ultimately I'm thinking that long-term, I'll eventually be purchasing games for her and I'll want to do the responsible parent thing and ensure they're suitable for her age. Consequently, the ratings issued by the Australian Classification Board (ACB) are now a guideline of interest instead of just something to ignore.

This got me thinking that if I were in a situation where I was restricted to playing games of a particular rating by the ACB, would I be able to still play fun games? What kind of games would I be playing?

Well it's that curiosity that resulted in the creation of this article which will probably be the first of a few. This post is about the top 10 games on Choicest Games with a G-rating. In Australia, media rated "G" are for "General Exhibition" which pretty much means anyone can get their hands on it. Games that fit in this category would be suitable for younger kids who haven't hit their teens yet. The prospect of playing kiddie games exclusively isn't an appealing one but thankfully, games that come under the "G" label are a mixed bag:

  1. NBA 2K13
  2. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
  3. DuckTales Remastered
  4. Fate of the World
  5. Cities in Motion
  6. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
  7. Pinball FX2
  8. Age of Empires II HD
  9. From Dust
  10. SimCity (2013)

So if I take into account all the 15 G-rated games that I've reviewed on Choicest Games, what kind of genres made this list? This is what they tended to be:

  • Racing games
  • Puzzle games
  • City builders
  • Edutainment
  • Sports games
  • Kids games
  • Oldschool Real-Time Strategy
  • Casual games

Real-Time Strategy was probably the odd one out since usually modern ones tend to have quite a bit of violence but somehow Age of Empires II made it in there with a G rating - mind you the game is pretty old though so maybe since the violence isn't so graphic, it managed to get through the censors.

City builders and racing games are two genres that I actually like though so thankfully there should always be something under the "G" label that I can enjoy (and hopefully my daughter too).

Also, statistics for statistics sake:

  • Total number of games reviewed that are rated "G": 15
  • Highest rating for a "G" game: 8/10
  • Lowest rating for a "G" game: 5/10

Stay tuned for Top 10 lists for PG, M, MA15+ and R18+ in the near future (actually no R18+ top 10 list since I don't have enough R18+ games reviewed yet to even list 10 :)).

Monday, December 22, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #161 - Quest for Glory III - Awari

Composed by: Rudy Helm

Today's Choicest VGM track is probably one of my favourite's in the game, even though it sounds almost comical and oafish. There's probably good reasons for it sounding that way since not only is it the track that plays when you play the game "Awari" (which is actually based off the real-life game Oware) but it serves as a theme song for the laibon's son, Yesufu ("laibon" is a title bestowed upon the leader of a Simbani tribe). Anyway, I had lots of fun playing Awari in Quest for Glory III and also befriending Yesufu as even though he seems rather naive at first, his curiosity, bravery and honour are all qualities that make him a good ally and ultimately a wise leader.

Thanks to Sierra On-Line and Quest Studios for providing these memorable tracks.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

First Impressions - Ethan: Meteor Hunter


I'm now in the situation where I'm just about out of time to complete a Game of the Year 2013 article for 2014 (WHAAAT?) but I don't have the time to finish the remaining games I wanted to review. So the only thing for it is to try out another game from my gloriously gargantuan backlog (I'm talking about my Steam games list of course). Anyway, I stumbled across... what do you know? Another platformer (how do I end up with these games)? That was a rhetorical question by the way since I know the answer consists of two words: "Humble Bundle".

Anyway I decided to give it a whirl and here are my first impressions on this puzzle platformer developed by French studio Seaven and featuring a rat named Ethan as its protagonist.

What I like

  • Interesting puzzle solving mechanic: You're able to solve jumping puzzles by pausing the game and then moving objects to help you access places you'd normally not be able to reach. You can even jump in mid-air, pause the game and drag a platform under you to prevent Ethan from falling into boiling lava. It's pretty neat and definitely the highlight of the game. Oh, you only get limited uses for "Pause Mode" too so it's not like you can use it all the time.
  • Simple Sonic style gameplay: When you're not trying to enter "Pause Mode" in order to solve puzzles, the game feels a lot like Sonic the Hedgehog in that your goal is to complete a level as quickly as possible with as many meteor fragments at the end as possible.
  • Reasonable production values: While the polygon count for Ethan himself seems pretty low, the animations are great and so is the audio.

What I dislike

  • Dead ends: Since the player is given the choice of when to restart from a previous checkpoint (besides the instances where you die) this means there's the potential for you to get stuck - like 1980s-graphical-adventure stuck where you're far into the game and only realise you weren't meant to eat that pie you obtained at the beginning: you were meant to use it in a food fight! Oh well, you'll have start from the beginning again. Okay, it's not quite that bad but you get my point, I hope.
  • Save points: I friggin' hate save points. Usually I can tolerate them to a degree and most of the time, save points are liberally distributed across the levels in Ethan: Meteor Hunter. There was one annoying pogostick level though which had no savepoints and you had to restart the level if you fell off the edge of the screen. Okay, I can appreciate it's trying to challenge the player but this is 2014 for Christ's sake - if you want to offer a challenge to the hardcore platformer players out there, create an Ironman mode where you have to finish the game in one sitting without losing a life. Then you can flaunt your e-peen and eat it too. Wait... what?
  • I'm not a big fan of platformers: Yes, I suppose it's quite apparent by now that I'm not actually a fan of platformers. I don't think a platformer has ever received 9/10 on Choicest Games with only two receiving an 8: Gunpoint and 140 - and only because they managed to try something different (or maybe because they're the only two platformers I'm actually any good at). I've always found platformers to suit a certain type of gamer: the kind that likes arcade or action titles, the kind that prefers to play with a gamepad, the kind that have super-human reflexes - all things I lack or dislike. I make an exception for First Person Shooters though - but probably because it's usually a keyboard and mouse affair - the way it ought to be.
  • Plot? What plot?: The game apparently has a plot although the game's intro left me wondering what the hell was going on. Some rat (Ethan) is mad with another rat (his neighbour). Then a meteor falls on top of Ethan's house and his neighbour laughs at his demise. Ethan gains superpowers thanks to the meteor and dumps some debris onto his neighbour. And that's it. Apparently, if you read other sources, Ethan is out to get revenge on his neighbour by collecting meteor fragments to become more powerful. I really don't see why you need superpowers in order to exact your revenge though...


Hmmmm this post has turned out to be more of a soapbox for me to voice my distaste in platformers than a first impressions post dedicated in its entirety to Seaven Studio's Ethan: Meteor Hunter so I apologise to them if any of this sounds overly critical on them - it's not directed at them but the genre in general and I'm just tired of playing them over and over but if people like playing them so much, maybe I should get to work on developing one of my own, eh? ;). Anyway, Ethan: Meteor Hunter does some good things by trying to innovate the genre thanks to the solving of jumping puzzles using "Pause Mode" but I was burned once before by a game that seemed promising at the start - let's hope it doesn't happen again.

[ LINK: Official Ethan: Meteor Hunter website ]

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Stealth Bastard Deluxe Review

Not-so-stealthy bastard if I'm "FULLY VISIBLE"

  • Developer: Curve Studios
  • Publisher: Curve Digital
  • Release Date: 28 November 2012
  • Time played: 2 hours (INCOMPLETE)

I'm starting to lose track over who has gifted me particular games and according to Steam, Stealth Bastard Deluxe is one of those games. So, sorry in advance to whoever gifted me this game since I've forgotten who you are (but wherever you are, thanks)! One interesting bit of trivia is that Stealth Bastard Deluxe is yet another game that was created using Game Maker Studio and since its a stealth platformer game, it reminds me of Gunpoint to some degree while its humourous trolling of the player reminds of GLaDOS from Portal 2. Anyway, is the game actually any fun though after the short time I've played it?

Gameplay (4/5)
You play the role of a clone at some weird research facility with way too many traps, turrets, robots and security cameras to be taken seriously - it reminds me a lot of Aperture Science in good ol' Portal actually. Anyway, you can control the character quite easily with the keyboard and your job is to get your clone from one side of the level to the exit (a bit like Lemmings). Sounds pretty simple right? Well along the way you'll have to avoid turrets and security cameras by hiding in the shadows. Thankfully, the game lets you know when you're "Not Visible", "Partially Visible" or "Fully Visible" so you don't need to only rely on visual cues to check whether a nasty turret can see you or not. There are usually a whole bunch of doors you'll need to get through too so you'll be using a combination of stealth and puzzle solving in order to complete the levels.

It took me a few times on some levels before I finally managed to get to the exit, but usually this isn't too much of a problem since the game autosaves as you make progress throughout the level and once you've figured out what you need to do, everything falls into place. In fact, thanks to leaderboards with fastest times, the game actually encourages you to replay the level to try and beat the best times.

And there's not much else to say about the game. If you like stealth platformers, then you'll like Stealth Bastard Deluxe.

Apparently there's nothing more dangerous than a robot who is a union member

Sound (5/5)
Not much in the way of sound effects (besides klaxons, gunfire, and the sound of squishing flesh and bone - which you'll probably hear quite often) but what's in the game, works.

Music (4/5)
The game has an appealing electronic soundtrack courtesy of Ricky Honmong.

Graphics (3/5)
The game has a retro graphics style also employing a CRT scan line effect to give the impression you're probably viewing the game via surveillance footage.

Replay (2/5)
Yes, I didn't finish the game but I think 2 hours was enough to experience what the game is all about. In those 2 hours I completed what seemed to be about a quarter of the game so there's probably at least 8-10 hours of gameplay overall and that's excluding any community levels. The game also has Steam Trading Cards and Steam Achievements to collect.

Polish (5/5)
No serious bugs encountered and its simple enough to pick up the game (the game's keys and your character's abilities are slowly introduced through the levels).

Score – 7/10

If you're into retro platformer games where you have to rely on stealth in order to survive, then Stealth Bastard Deluxe is definitely worth a look, especially considering it's less then two bucks at the moment thanks to Steam sales.

Stealth Bastard Deluxe is available from these retailers:
  • Steam - $1.49 USD (due to Steam Sale - normally $9.99 USD)

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Stealth Bastard website ]

Friday, December 19, 2014

Latest Weekly Humble Bundle offers 7 RPGs worth $80+ for only $10

Ah Consortium - so much potential...

The latest Weekly Humble Bundle is called "The Humble Weekly Bundle: RPG Edition Book 1" - I assume this will be the first of many which is totally fine with me as I love RPGs. However, the games that they have included in the bundle definitely span the term RPG in the broadest sense: there's an action hack 'n' slash RPG, a JRPG, a turn-based RPG, a sci-fi first-person RPG and even a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style RPG, to highlight a few. There's about $80 USD worth of games here if you decide to get all 7 but you'll only be paying $10 for the entire bundle.

Where did I get my $80 figure from? Well if you check each of the games on Steam (and each of them are available on Steam) the total for all seven games is $87.93 USD ($49.64 USD if you take into consideration the current Steam sale prices). The games I'm talking about are:

  • Skara - The Blade Remains
  • Alpha Kimori - Episode One
  • Avadon 2
  • Fighting Fantasy - The Forest of Doom
  • Deep Dungeons of Doom
  • Halfway

I was initially attracted by the Fighting Fantasy title to be honest since I was a bit of a fan of Ian Livingstone's Fighting Fantasy Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style books. So if I didn't bother getting Halfway, then you're currently looking at paying over $5.24 USD in order to beat the average. Pay only $1.00 and you can get Skara - The Blade Remains, Alpha Kimori - Episode One and Avadon 2 Steam keys.

Of course, at the end of the day, you can also get that warm and fuzzy feeling from contributing to charity too, so if you're curious about any of these RPGs, now is probably the time to buy them!

[ LINK: The Humble Weekly Bundle ]

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Guacamelee! Gold Edition Review

Sometimes I feel like this game only exists to troll me

  • Developer: DrinkBox Studios
  • Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
  • Release Date: 8 August 2013
  • Time played: 5 hours (INCOMPLETE)

If you remember reading my First Impressions article about Guacamelee! Gold Edition, you'll remember I had nothing but praise for the game, except that I hoped it maintained a linear learning or difficulty curve, and that it was a bit fiddly on the keyboard, my preferred means of playing just about any game (an interesting confession I'm going to make is that I was actually a late adopter of the keyboard and mouse for the original Quake - that's how much I love the keyboard).

Unfortunately, it was all too good to be true since I simply couldn't get myself to finish this game due to it sapping way too much of my time and ultimately not becoming fun anymore. Anyway, I still want to be fair about this game so let's see how it fared in all areas:

Plot (5/5)
The plot on face value isn't terribly original - it's basically Super Mario Bros or the typical save-the-damsel-in-distress scenario. Where the game shines though, is in the details. You play the role of a humble agave famer called Juan who dreams of becoming a luchador (basically a Mexican wrestler). You pretty much get that wish but only after dying at the hands of a demon and entering the afterlife. You return to the realm of the living to continue your quest in saving El Presidente's daughter and you end up fighting lots of undead on the way. The game draws heavily on Mexican culture, especially the Day of the Dead festival (Día de Muertos) which means it shares some similarities with Lucasarts classic Grim Fandango - but that's where the similarities end.

Another aspect of the game is its humour and its insane number of pop culture references, whether it be an internet meme or a gaming in-joke. You've got several in here including the ORLY owls, Super Mario Bros., Grumpy Cat, gaming blog Destructoid, Viva Piñata and Minecraft, to name a few.

Gameplay (2/5)
So what's the gameplay like? Well Guacamelee! is basically a platformer but with some added mechanics with respect to wrestling moves which aren't only used for combat but are also used for jumping puzzles. I really enjoyed the wrestling combat aspect of the game, even when it became substantially harder a few hours in. What I mean by substantially harder is that combat starts to become a puzzle of sorts in itself. Enemies will have different coloured shields that can only be destroyed temporarily by certain wrestling moves. You'll also discover enemies that exist either in the living world or the world of the dead, but they can still damage you from both worlds, meaning you'll frequently have to switch between both to vanquish all of them. It took me several retries for some of the fights later on in the game but they're doable. Jumping puzzles on the other hand are another story.

At the beginning of the game, jumping puzzles seem simple enough and the learning or difficulty curve of the game goes at a linear pace. Unfortunately, as you get further into the game, the difficulty starts to increase exponentially to the point where I eventually came to a section where I spent a whole thirty minutes trying to get past before giving up entirely. That wasn't the first time I was stuck in the game either. Previously I was stuck on a jumping puzzle wondering if I was indeed doing the right thing. I checked a walkthrough and sure enough, I had the right idea - it's just my button mashing wasn't fast enough to ensure the timing was correct. For the final jumping puzzle I did before /ragequitting from the game entirely, I eventually sought help from a walkthrough for this puzzle too only to once again find it was a matter of "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again". I knew what I had to do but the keys were just not responding to my commands or maybe I was off by a split second or maybe the game just doesn't work on a keyboard (despite the game only saying it's "recommended" you play with a gamepad). I did find reviews though stating that even people with gamepads or playing on consoles, found the game increasingly difficult towards the end, so it wasn't just me. I can appreciate I'm not the best gamer when it comes to platformers - I've already admitted that before on this blog. What I can't accept is a game that's nigh on unfinishable for your average gamer which I believe I am (rogue-likes like FTL are an obvious exception of course).

I'm not one for destructive criticism - I always like to give some constructive criticism when it comes to games, so if I were in charge what would I have done differently? Well I wouldn't have incorporated such difficult jumping puzzles for mission critical locations. A game that demonstrates this rather well is DLC Quest. You needed to gather enough coins in order to progress the story and while gathering the prerequisite amount of coins for the story was easy enough, if you wanted to grab extra "DLC" or extra achievements that are rewarded to those who search every nook and cranny of a level, the jumping puzzles were obviously harder as a result. Give the player a choice if they want to show how 1337 they are but don't deny your everyday gamer a chance at completing the game.

Trolled again!

Sound (5/5)
No complaints about the sound effects.

Music (4/5)
As mentioned in my First Impressions article, the soundtrack is inspired by Mexican music such as Mariachi, a style of Mexican folk music. It can be an acquired taste and although I was generally a fan of it at first, it started to become a bit repetitive, especially when you were on the same screen for over half an hour, attempting a puzzle. It's as if those trumpets were secretly taunting you for every mistake you made.

Graphics (3/5)
The game has got a very Mexican Art Deco style to the artwork - it's basically similar to Grim Fandango except in 2D. I really dig the art style and its clean lines although some would consider it rather crude.

Replay (0/5)
Unfortunately, I ultimately didn't enjoy playing this game. What showed so much promise at the beginning thanks to the great visuals, great music, challenging combat and humourous references, ended up being a grand waste of time. The game is simply too difficult for anyone who isn't a veteran at platform or Metroidvania games (myself included) and eventually I pulled the plug after one too many /ragequits. I'm definitely not going back to replay this game, ever.

Polish (4/5)
The game uses a visible checkpoint system which is good because you're able to see where the game actually saves but unfortunately they're occasionally too far from where difficult puzzles occur meaning some backtracking before you're at the right stop to attempt a puzzle again. While this is fine if you're only doing it a couple of times, it can get quite frustrating if you have do it maybe 30 times.

Score – 6/10

What starts off as an entertaining romp through a Mexican wonderland heavily inspired by the Day of the Dead festival, luchadores, and more internet memes and references than you can poke a piñata at, quickly becomes a tedious, unforgiving, slog that only veterans of platform games or masochists could ever find pleasure in. I actually feel like I've wasted time playing this game and that's a pretty rare thing for me to say. It is a pity though since I love the characters, I love the art style and I even love the music, provided it isn't played 100 times in a row...

Guacamelee! is available from these retailers:

If you like this game, you might like...

[ LINK: Official Guacamelee! website ]

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Where are they now? - Jeroen Tel

Battlecruiser... operational

For those who were fans of the Commodore 64 and Amiga, you're probably already fans of the person I'm featuring for today's "Where are they now?" article and that person is Dutch video game composer, Jeroen Tel. So technically he's still a composer of PC game music but since I've only ever played DOS games it might prompt the question, how on Earth did you hear about him? Well I really enjoyed playing a game called Overlord aka Supremacy: Your Will Be Done in the early 1990s and it so happens that Jeroen Tel composed the music for the Commodore 64 version of the game which arguably has the best version of the theme. I still enjoyed the music for the PC version too but that was thanks to the talents of David Whittaker (who we will talk about another time).

Jeroen Tel was born in Helmond, a small city in the southern Netherlands in 1974. He started tinkering with SID music (the Commodore PC's Sound Interface Device) while still a kid in the early 80s but his professional career started in earnest around 1987 when he and Charles Deenen formed the music group Maniacs of Noise (which exists to this very day).

Tel was quite prolific during the late 80s and early 90s, producing music and sound effects for several games, mainly on the Commodore 64 and Amiga platforms. His tracks are frequently remixed by fans and famous games he's worked on include Turbo Out Run (1989) (apparently his favourite C64 soundtrack that he's composed), Golden Axe (1990), Overlord aka Supremacy: Your Will Be Done (1990), OutRun Europa (1991), Robocop 3 (1992) and Lemmings (1993). Apparently, Lemmings was the last time he composed music for a commercial C64 game and it was during the mid 90s that Tel started to diversify not only onto different platforms but eventually different media such as film and websites.

Tel continued to work on game music right up to the late 2000s although by this time he was mainly composing music for Xbox 360 Arcade titles, mobile games and web-based casual games on Zylom (a Dutch paid casual games website).

In terms of the past few years, it's hard to tell from MobyGames or his website what he's been up to recently as it only provides a huge list of the 200+ projects he's worked on (but without any dates attached to them). I'm hoping he's still composing music and it'd be awesome if he were attached as a composer to some indie games - the chiptune scene has definitely seen a resurgence in the past few years thanks to them, so Jeroen Tel would be a prime candidate considering he was actually there when the chiptune scene began.

Anyway, remember when I told you people are remixing his music? Well they're still doing it - check out this remix released not that long ago on OC Remix:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Elite Dangerous officially released today

There's a whole big universe to explore out there

So Elite Dangerous has been finally released to the masses. We're no longer in alpha, beta or even gamma anymore, this is the real deal. Kickstarter Backers and Paid Beta Testers will probably notice that there aren't any release notes with this release and that the patch is extremely tiny, probably because version 1.00 is just Gamma 2.07 open to the masses. I guess the question everyone is asking though, is the game worth it? Did the rush to release before the end of this year compromise the quality of the game?

Once I've played around a bit more with the actual release of the game, I'll get back to you with an answer to the first question. With respect to the second, personally I don't think so. The game's definitely got less features than originally promised such as the controversial move to remove offline-only play and the fact you can't play with your friends as one unit (you're currently able to check where they are in the galaxy though with a simple friends list feature but that's about it). Apparently the ability to form "alliances" which allows players to all jump in at the same time and engage in combat with each other in the same instance (without the need to fiddle around like you do at the moment) will be implemented next year, so while it's disappointing that features such as this one have been postponed it's still in the pipeline. Also it might end up being a wise move to hold back on implementing new features so close to release since that's a sure-fire way to make your game buggy - and thankfully I haven't really encountered many (noticeable) bugs while playing Elite Dangerous. In fact, I think the game is less buggier than Dragon Age Inquisition at least with respect to performance which is a real killer for me at the moment - so much so I played Elite Dangerous instead of Dragon Age Inquisition because at least the game worked on my PC.

Those of you who have read my First Impressions article on the Gamma would already know what I like about the game but most importantly, what I don't like. Since I've played quite a bit more of the game let's see if any of these worries have abated:

  • Bugs (MINIMAL): The game has substantially less bugs than when I first started playing the Gamma a few weeks ago. The tutorials have definitely been revamped and now they even have tutorial videos to fill in the gaps. There's been a huge number of bug fixes during the Gamma (almost daily) and I'm happy to say I haven't really experienced any serious bugs yet. The only complaint I have is that I don't seem to have a Sol System permit which backers are apparently meant to have already... thankfully you're able to earn this over time but might as well get the perks I'm entitled to right? :)
  • Steep learning curve (SLIGHTLY LESS): The revamped tutorials have helped this somewhat but there are still so many things in the game that I've only learned thanks to reading forum posts and asking questions of veteran players. Most of what I've learned about mining, setting up hardpoints, bounty hunting, accepting counter-offer missions and not overshooting space stations are all thanks to trial and error. In a game where you've only got one save game slot this could mean very costly mistakes.
  • Mouse and keyboard at a disadvantage (USE JOYSTICK): Pretty sure this is still the case. Lucky I have a joystick then right? If you're planning to play this game, I'd almost say it's not worth playing unless you have a joystick.
  • Lonely universe (DEPENDENT ON LOCATION): I'm now situated near the Solar System which I guess could be considered the Federation core worlds and there's definitely a lot more traffic now, NPC and Humans - so the galaxy doesn't feel so lonely any more. As I learned more about the game too I noticed that there's a chance for optional random encounters while in Super Cruise called "Unidentified Signal Sources" which you can investigate. Usually these are NPC populated instances but it at least gives the illusion that stuff is going on in the space around you.
  • Laggy (STILL EXISTS): I'm not sure where the servers are located (most likely the UK) but this is probably always going to be an issue playing from Australia. While I still get the occasional lag spike while going through hyperspace, it doesn't matter too much during those sequences since it's basically a loading screen. When you're exiting hyperspace into a star or when you're trying to avoid interdiction from a pirate, that's when it becomes slightly annoying.
  • Plot (WAIT AND SEE): The jury's still out on this one since apparently they weren't going to do anything major in terms of the actual plot/storyline until release - which is now! One good change they have implemented though is that each time you complete a mission it shows which factions you are receiving a reputation boost with (as opposed to before where you received no feedback whatsoever).

So overall I think a lot of things have been fixed in the game and a lot of things make more sense to me now, so the game is not all that bad. I'm actually playing it like my own version of Euro Truck Simulator but in space and it seems to suit me just fine. Would I recommend people to get their hands on it just yet? As I mentioned earlier, I'll need more time to give a definitive answer (i.e. a review) but one thing's for sure: if you were a fan of Frontier: Elite II I think you'll like this game since it definitely feels more like an Elite game than your run-of-the-mill space sim.

[ LINK: Official Elite Dangerous Website ]

Monday, December 15, 2014

Choicest VGM - VGM #160 - Quest for Glory III - Uhura's Hut

Composed by: Rudy Helm

The 10 Most Anticipated PC Games of 2015 feature is now over and now it's back to VGM Mondays! This piece plays whenever the Hero visits Uhura in her hut. You initially meet Uhura in Quest for Glory II so she's actually an old friend of the Hero's and she helps the Hero hone his combat skills in the Simbani Village. The theme also acts as Uhura's theme song and often accompanies her whenever she enters the scene. I really like the cruisey nature of the theme - in fact it's that cruisey it could probably fit quite well on a Monkey Island soundtrack.

Thanks to Sierra On-Line and Quest Studios for providing these memorable tracks.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed Review

This plane seems a bit antiquated compared to the jets parked on the carriers

  • Developer: Sumo Digital
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Release Date: 31 January 2013
  • Time played: 2 hours

It's been a long time since I've played Mario Kart or one of its clones. In fact, I never had a Nintendo system at home, so the only time I've actually played the game was at a friend's place probably over a decade ago, and it probably wasn't even the original 1992 Mario Kart but the 1996 Mario Kart 64. I did play a Mario Kart clone in my youth though and it was for the PC. The game was called Wacky Wheels and was published by Apogee in 1994. Ah, so many good memories.

Anyway, in the past year or so, I developed a hankering for another one of those kind of games and that's why I've been keeping an eye on Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed for some time. Why? For a couple of reasons: (1) it's received a Steam rating of "Overwhelmingly Positive" and (2) it has an interesting roster of drivers you can pick from, including the chaps from Team Fortress 2 - whaaat? It was only thanks to the recent Sega Humble Bundle sale that I managed to finally get this game along with a few other Sega titles for the rock-bottom price of $5.00 USD.

So is this game as good as the Steam community make it out to be? Is this a worthy Mario Kart clone to try out? What's the deal with the weird title?

Gameplay (4/5)
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is basically Sega's answer to Mario Kart. You basically race around a track while looking for boosts, power-ups and weapons that can give you an edge. You're also able to race as one of the many characters from Sega's franchises such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Tails, Doctor Eggman, Ulala from Space Channel 5, B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi, Gilius Thunderhead from Golden Axe and even some less orthodox candidates such as General Winter from Company of Heroes 2, Willemus from Total War: Rome II and Football Manager from Football Manager. There are even non-Sega related characters such as NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, Wreck-It Ralph and the fellows from Team Fortress 2. There's sure to be a favourite amongst the line-up although I'm sad there are no characters from my favourite Sega game, Streets of Rage. Oh, well enough of my sob story, so the game is very similar to Mario Kart then with the exception of which characters you can choose from, right? But wait... there's more!

There's a reason the game title has the word "Transformed" at the end because that's exactly what your vehicles and even the maps themselves do - they transform! After each lap, the map changes but not only with respect to the route the circuit takes but even what vehicles you will employ. You might find that in your first lap you're just driving a car, but the second one might involve flying a jet or driving a boat. While having the ability to morph your vehicle into a number of wacky alternatives is probably not everyone's cup of tea, it definitely makes things interesting since you might be good at handling a car well enough but what about a plane or a boat? The handling characteristics change and sometimes dramatically meaning a player who is a jack-of-all trades might have a better chance of winning than one who is a gun at one mode of transport but not the others (it also depends largely on the maps themselves).

So I don't really have many complaints when it comes to the gameplay except how easy it is to lose sight of the track while flying in plane mode. In car or boat mode, you can usually figure out where you are with respect to the track - physical obstacles or vertical drops tend to steer you towards a certain direction. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case with plane mode and there may be some frustrating situations where you'll be hitting invisible walls trying to find which direction is the right one. Sure you have the minimap to show you where the track itself is, but it doesn't show which direction you're facing.

Disappointed the Pyro doesn't have flamethrowers on the front of his kart

Sound (3/5)
Sega and Sumo Digital have actually managed to grab most of the original voice actors to reprise their roles, which is fantastic considering there is an eclectic mix of characters for the player to choose from. I mean they even managed to get Danica Patrick to do some voice acting for the game.

In terms of other sound effects in the game they're what you'd expect to hear from an arcade racer.

Music (3/5)
Music is what you'd typically expect to hear from a Japanese arcade racer in the 1990s ("GAME OVER YEAH!")- well at least that's what it sounds like to me. It is pretty cool though when you hear the Red Army Choir singing some Soviet tune once General Winter takes the lead...

Graphics (5/5)
The game has some pretty spectacular looking maps to drive/fly around. I especially like the carrier fleet one. Also, all the characters that you're able to play with look exactly as they do from their respective franchises (some look even better considering how old some of the franchises are).

Replay (2/5)
Besides my initial reservations about the game, I actually enjoyed it immensely but how likely are you to continue playing when there's nobody to play multiplayer with? I've always found that Mario Kart clones are at their best when played with other humans but sadly there doesn't seem to be anyone still playing this game - at least during the hours I'm up :).

Polish (4/5)
I didn't find any serious bugs while playing the game but it's annoying how you have to access a separate program to configure the controls. I probably shouldn't complain because at least they give you the option to change the controls unlike many games where the keys are hard-coded. Also, the game doesn't really teach you how to play so when I did my first race I didn't even know how to start the car (until I found the aforementioned config tool). There's also a lot of concepts that aren't explained which would've benefitted from a tutorial (e.g. how some weapons will end up hurting yourself if you don't aim backwards).

Score – 7/10

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is exactly what the title (and its slogan) claims it to be: it's racing transformed! Your vehicles and even the tracks themselves transform during the course of the race which keeps you on your toes and means there's never a dull moment while you're playing this game. You're also able to play as one of several Sega characters including some characters that aren't even part of a Sega franchise (e.g. the Heavy, Spy and Pyro from Team Fortress 2). The only downfall to this game, along with any arcade racer is that multiplayer is king and if you're unable to find anyone to play this game with, things will start to get dull pretty quick. If you have some like-minded friends or kids to play with though - it could work a treat.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is available from these retailers:

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[ LINK: Official Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed website ]