Posted by Ben at 09:07
Well, depends on where you shop really. David Szymanski has released his follow up to one of the Bitparade's Indie Games of the Year, The Moon Sliver, on itch.io with the promise of a Steam version (and keys for those that buy early) on April 29th

There's a trailer below, and we'll probably have a review up this week. I quite enjoyed Fingerbones and The Moon Sliver, hopefully The Music Machine builds on those games

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Umihara Kawase +
Apr 24
Posted by James at 07:34

The mid-'90s were an exciting transitional period for videogames. The shift to CD-based storage and a controller built around true 3D games paved out many new directions for the medium, famed series often reinventing themselves in the process.

Amidst all the change, something else was progressing at a notable rate and defining many games for what they are today: Videogame physics. Take Super Mario 64's exquisite controls, which captured all the little nuances found across its environments and Mario's movements. Or Wipeout's floaty anti-gravity handling, and Wave Race 64, whose jet skis wobbled and bounced convincingly off the waves.

It was all about contributing toward the feel of a game rather than merely simulating real life. Giles Goddard, who once worked at Nintendo EAD, said the following about how it all worked:
"The physics in Mario 64 are quite realistic in some ways, but there's a lot of stuff that went in to give a twist so you could defy the laws of physics for gameplay's sake. Wave Race and 1080 did the same thing -- based on very fundamentally good physics, but you have bits on top that you plug in so you can do things you can't actually do. That's where the excitement comes from."
As the Super Nintendo approached its twilight years, there was another game which applied physics to similar results: Umihara Kawase. Its elastic physics gave it a distinct flavour, helping it stand out on a system packed with other side-scrolling platformers. Jump forward nearly two decades and its creators are back at the helm with a revival, Sayonara Umihara Kawase +.

Fancy physics are taken for granted these days, but those aforementioned games continue to stand out for a reason: They used physics for gameplay's sake. Like those games' physics, Sayonara Umihara Kawase's have a timeless quality. They aren't just there to simulate reality, instead they fundamentally define what it's about and how it feels to play.

Kawase, you see, has a fishing line, which can be grappled onto nearly any part of the environment. Once it's been hooked onto something, it can then be extended and retracted, transforming a simple fishing tool into a novel and flexible means of getting about.

While the main objective of reaching an exit door is a simple one, how you get there boils down to your understanding and mastery of that fishing line and the elasticated physics they entail. This may sound like hard work, but the game encourages both experimentation and discovery, which in turn makes familiarising yourself with its core mechanic feel quite natural and logical.

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Indeed, you'll certainly want to experiment with that fishing line. It casts itself on the press of a button, until *click* the pleasingly tactile noise of hook-meets-wall fills your ears. A dangling Kawase ensues, her fishing line now loosely swaying back and forth, wrapping itself around any obstructing scenery.

Once its teeth have sunk into something, the fishing line is a finicky thing. Controlling it -- and by extension, your own movement -- is now just a matter of retracting and extending your line. Simple enough, then, but it's tension you're manipulating, which opens up a surprising amount of organic possibilities to how you can swing about, gain momentum, and reach new places.

Even the smallest variation in tension can make the biggest difference to your momentum and movement. Most importantly, though, you'll feel those differences. Like Super Mario 64, the underlying physics are fundamentally solid, giving you logical feedback, but they also have a more playful bounce on top which makes them a joy to play with.

Clever level design ensures the game offers plenty to discover beyond what you see on the screen. Umihara Kawase's creator, Kiyoshi Sakai, has designed stages which strike a good balance between asking a little from you and a lot. The regular path through the game's branching map doesn't require more than basic use of your fishing line, but the secret exits and hidden Randoseru pickups are placed in devious locations that require out-of-the-box thinking.

It'll encourage you to pull off things with your fishing line that you never knew you could do before, which can then be re-applied in previous stages for a better clear time. A good example of this in action is a level that hides its goal door beyond a lengthy spike pit, with no surrounding walls to hook your fishing line to. The solution was quite logical: Grappling onto the floor by the spike pit and retracing your steps builds up tension, which then lets you gain running momentum once you retract your fishing line, increasing your jumping distance.

While eureka moments like this come frequently, there are rare moments where the level design falls wide off the mark, with setups that require irritatingly exact movements and fishing hook placement. Making minute alterations after every failure brings forth the kind of trial and error that can only be tedious.

Minor quibbles aside, this is an upgrade which justifies the extra "Plus" in its name. Everything now moves at 60 frames per second, so not only does that fishing line sway and become taut with more fluidity, but you get a tangible amount of extra feedback in the controls -- great for pulling off precise moves. The ten new levels are solid, if not particularly memorable. It looks appreciably better, too, with remade character models and better lighting that adds depth to the game's surreal environments.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to those elastic fishing line physics. While they aren't going to seem as elaborate as they once were many years ago, Sayonara Umihara Kawase + is a great example of how cleverly implemented and finely tuned physics can transform an old genre and define a game. It's simply a joy to play, where discovering the depth beneath its core mechanic lends true expression to the acrobatic moves you pull off. Like Umihara Kawase on the Super Nintendo, this is timeless.

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Posted by Ben at 13:49
The very well received Axiom Verge has been dated for PC. It's set to release on Steam and Humble Bundle on May 14th

It looks like the price is in line with the PS4 version of the game, so $19.99 / Ä17.99 / £14.99

It looks like we should also be getting more news about the Vita version soon, so keep an eye out for that if you want your Metroidvania on the go
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The Grandia Weekly
Episode 7
Apr 20
Posted by Ben at 17:02

Another week another ridiculous complaint from Mark, this time that the header image repeats and that I'm TOO handsome

In this week's Grandia Weekly we play about with Magic, get sparked out, then pick things up we found in the sewer

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A-Train 3D:
City Simulator
Apr 19
Posted by James at 19:08

It's not every day that you assume the role of CEO of a transportation company, let alone one whose business has the influence to shape a city's development. That's the basis behind developer ArtDink's long-running city simulation series though, which has its own unique flavour when compared with its peers.

While SimCity puts you in the mayor's seat, with many aspects of your city requiring direct planning, A-Train takes a different approach. Your company's transportation network is the glue that holds the city together, so managing it well is in your interests. Get it right and you'll usher in a period of growth, which in turn feeds back into your core business.

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The task at hand is a daunting one, but the game understands this, introducing helpful advisors who do their best to settle you in and ensure you feel settled instead of overwhelmed. There is no long and laboured tutorial mode -- something like that would bore in a game of this scope -- rather you gain knowledge during the game's first three scenarios.

While three scenarios of on-and-off training might sound a bit passive, it's far from it. Despite your advisors giving you detailed explanations about nearly every new thing, you're never held by the hand, instead offered the freedom to experiment. Each scenario is also wildly different from the last and feature endgame objectives to achieve years down the line, so you'll need to prove yourself by mastering your toolkit in the long run.

Like most games in the genre, A-Train 3D is played from a top-down, isometric perspective. Prodding and swiping at the 3DS's dinky touch screen performs all manner of tasks, from laying down track and stations to reading reports and tinkering with train schedules.

ArtDink has evidently put a lot of thought into rebuilding an interface that tends to work best on roomy PC monitors, incorporating the best of classic stylus-driven interfaces with modern, finger-driven ones. Precision for placing objects and mapping out railroads co-exists with effortless inertial scrolling. The dual-screen setup also ensures the action never feels cramped either -- relevant information is always a quick glance away. Whether it'll all get a bit too fiddly later on, when you're working on monolithic transport networks, remains to be seen though.

The game's first scenario focuses on your rail network and how you can leverage it to grow the city's population, as well as keep your finances in the black. While you're initially introduced to the basics -- things like laying down track, building stations and managing your stable of trains -- it isn't long until you have a load of factors to consider and manage.

As soon plonk your first trains onto the tracks, you'll notice they're bleeding money -- this opens the door to the game's extensive train scheduling options. It's simple enough at first though: If your train is under-capacity throughout the day, then drop a few carriages. If this happens to be the case during the early hours of the night, then set a schedule for them to go out of service.

While simply having trains and stations is enough to facilitate some development around the city due to new transport links and a more flexible workforce, it only does so much. It's here where your options open up tremendously and the game transforms into a balancing act of trade-offs, where new developments might throw some of the old ones off-kilter.

Take the freight system for example. Shifting around freight is both a source of income and facilitator for development. But those passenger trains you took out of service in the middle of the night now hold up your freight train. Enter your conductor advisor with a wealth of new scheduling options to play with: I chose to set a schedule so that my passenger trains parked in newly-built sheds during their deadhead hours.

This is one of the things that A-Train 3D pulls off well. It'll give you a limited set of tools to play with, but if you keep working at it you'll soon find reasons to delve into the more advanced options. It helps that your advisors tend to hold them back until the right time, of course, but this otherwise natural learning curve makes the complex intuitive.

The game's flow to city development is appreciably logical, as nearly all activity can be explained. Watching the city and its transportation network across the span of a day or two can speak volumes about potential issues, and possibilities for future development.

One of the most satisfying moments in the ten hours that I've played so far came from turning my freight network around to make a consistent profit. I observed the exchange of freight at each station's nearby depot and adjusted to suit, taking into consideration things like the amount of supply in the local area and how fast these materials were being used up, which was proportional to the speed of development.

Not every decision has to be in the interests of growing your company. There are a wealth of customisation options which train buffs are going to adore. Even the smallest things, like changing the departure sounds at your stations, go a long way towards making your transportation network feel personal. The game's 3D camera mode is ace, too. The shift in perspective gives the transport network you just spent hours building a real sense of place.

A-Train 3D is game of careful optimisation and trade-offs, and you'll feel smart for solving every emerging problem or making the right decisions. While I feel like I've only scratched the surface of the game so far, its solid foundation and unique way of doing things are real wins for a game in this genre. It also helps that it explains itself in the best way possible, and that Natsume's translation work is really quite solid. The barrier to entry the series has become known for has unquestionably been lowered.
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Tower of Guns

Apr 19
Posted by Ben at 17:05

Tower of Guns doesn't leave the best first impression. The concept is pretty simple, Tower of Guns is a rogue-like fps, with kill rooms full of spawning guns, cannons and flying machines. You'll get drops to improve your weapon damage, refill your health etc, and also more meaningful perks adding improved, reduced, or unusual abilities.

The graphics resemble a patched together Borderlands, the starting weapons and perks are weak, and the story is buried. The game controls like Quake, which is usually a big plus, but the PS4 controller, well just about any controller, isn't really suited to a game that plays like Quake.

But then, after a few plays, you go on a good run. A playthrough that lasts a while, where you find a secret that gives you a great perk, or enough money to buy some perks, which improves your defence, increases your damage, maybe even drops the difficulty down. Then you realise youíre having fun, that Tower of Guns is in fact a good game, a dumb, fun game. Granted that will inevitably be followed by a run where you accidentally pick something up that decreases your damage, or you walk in to a room full of lava and explosions. Which is not necessarily a criticism of the game, more an observation, with all the perks in the world, things can go south fast. Plenty of times Iíve felt pretty confident about my lot, thinking that this time, finally, Iím going to beat that last level, only to get trapped in a corner, stuck in a situation where Iím constantly taking damage with no health around. Itís very much a rogue-like

Thereís a humour to Tower of Guns that starts to reveal itself too. The loading screen messages raised a smile, the hug bots and their level, the ridiculousness of some of the guns. Itís not a po-faced kind of a game. Even the story, which is buried, presenting it as text in the centre of the screen whilst youíre shooting things in the centre of the screen is a good way to make you blind to it, is commendable in that it changes every time you play. Iíve no idea how many different stories they wrote, but aside from the core concept of having to get to the top of the tower for some reason, the stories are wildly different

Tower of Guns is a little rough around the edges. The enemies feel a little hollow, like rather than the weighty chunks of metal and death they want to be, theyíre actually paper-mache, it means killing them isnít especially satisfying. The game also has a habit of bringing more enemies in to the world/room as you move across it. Iím not sure if itís entirely a design choice or engine related, but it can feel a little cheap when youíre suddenly surrounded in a room youíd just cleared out. The world feels shunted together, itís hardly in any way game breaking, but it takes some of the gloss off the game. Slightly more concerning, and a problem Tower of Guns shares with another recent roguelike CounterSpy, the procedure part of the procedurally generated levels shows a little too much. Youíll see rooms that are far too similar to those youíve already encountered, with secrets and enemy spawn points placed in exactly the same spots

I can see why someone might not like Tower of Guns, I did, but the 90ís fps feel itís going for is right in my nostalgia zone. Iíd also wager itís a much better game on pc, but again, for me fps games should be played with a mouse and keyboard. Maybe go in with your eyes open on this one, but all I can say was that I had a really good time with it
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Posted by James at 15:11
Here's something that you may not have noticed since Nintendo added its downloadable content (DLC) delights to the 3DS's StreetPass Plaza: The sales, erm, rabbit behaves differently in Europe.

Whenever you decline a DLC/StreetPass game purchase on a Japanese or North American 3DS at any part of the sales process, the salesbunny appears saddened, his head hanging down, the background music warping to amplify a failed purchase on his part. However, in the European StreetPass Plaza our buck-tooth fellow will continue to look chilled out, retaining his normal composure, signaling to us that everything's alright.

The photo below, taken after you decline a purchase, should speak volumes about the differences (thanks, Axis 1500!). In North America the rabbit uses disappointed language ("I see...") whereas in Europe he isn't bothered. "Fair enough!", he exclaims.

There are also European-specific quirks to how you go about purchasing the StreetPass DLC. On Japanese and North American 3DSes, you do it through the StreetPass game portals. For Europe, Nintendo has altered this. Trying to purchase a StreetPass game from any of the rabbit holes initiates a message, asking you to check out a clearly labelled "Shop" icon at the StreetPass Plaza entrance. This shop is absent from the North American or Japanese versions of the game.

The changes are meaningful, and they reflect Nintendo paying attention to UK/EU law. The UK's Office of Fair Trading published a set of principles (PDF) to act as guidance for developers who wish to incorporate in-game purchases, following an investigation into whether children were being unfairly pressured into purchasing IAP and its ilk. The European Commission called them "consistent" with their own actions.

The principles include the following:
"The commercial intent of any in-game promotion of paid-for content, or promotion of any other product or service, should be clear and distinguishable from gameplay."
This would go some way toward explaining why a clearly defined central Shop is used to sell content in Europe, rather than the abstract rabbit holes where the game portals lie. The European StreetPass Plaza also issues a warning about its update data and how it exists to serve up DLC, which isn't in the North American version.
"Games should not include practices that are aggressive, or which otherwise have the potential to exploit a child's inherent inexperience, vulnerability or credulity or to place undue influence or pressure on a child to make a purchase."
This passage, meanwhile, might explain why the European StreetPass Bunny never looks disappointed or sad, compared with when he's set up shop in Japan or North America.

While StreetPass Mii Plaza's implementation of DLC is far from what anyone would label as intentionally malicious or exploitative, Nintendo is simply being cautious and characteristically conservative.

On a related note, I've had a nagging suspicion that this is why Europe never received Rusty's Real Deal Baseball, a Free-to-Start download where you buy games from a downbeat middle-aged dog who has a sad tale of marital strife to tell. North America not receiving sister sports title Nintendo Pocket Football Club may imply different reasons, though.

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JM: *Clears Throat*:
Nintendo's Amiibo and
managing supply going forward
Apr 16
Posted by James at 11:53

If you've been following Nintendo lately then you probably already know that their Amiibo range of NFC-powered figures, a variant on the Toys to Life genre, have quickly proven themselves to be a viable new revenue stream.

Launching in late November last year, 5.7 million of the figures were shipped in the last two months of 2014 alone, with North American sales being enough to land Amiibo 36% market share at Best Buy, according to estimates from industry expert Bryan Cashman.

As such, Nintendo has comfortably been able to increase the average revenue per user for the games that complement the figures -- particularly Super Smash Bros. for Wii U -- and Amiibo fit the bill as a smart short-term strategy to keep the company in the black as it transitions to a new long-term platform.

It's safe to say that Nintendo has also begun to realise that Amiibo have been far successful than predicted. You could point to the last Nintendo Direct broadcast, where eagle-eyed viewers pointed out how it was keener to talk Amiibo than games. But the biggest news is that Nintendo is beginning to adapt the Amiibo line to changing circumstances.

At Nintendo's last investor meeting, CEO Satoru Iwata mentioned the following when speaking on the topic of Amiibo production costs:
I think you can easily tell just by looking at several Amiibo figures that production costs vary for each of them; some Amiibo have a more complex structure and a greater number of colours, which means they cost more to produce than others. Nevertheless, since setting different price points could be misinterpreted as the company valuing certain characters more than others, we came to the decision to set an MSRP (RRP) that would return a profit from the Amiibo platform as a whole.
Indeed, every Amiibo line to date has been sold in the ballpark of the same RRP: £10.99/€Ä14.99 in the UK/Europe, $13.99 in North America and ~1300 yen in Japan. But Iwata's words also go some way towards explaining why Nintendo hasn't been so keen to supply more Amiibo despite the high demand.

Simply put, Nintendo shoulders a loss on some Amiibo figures, while making a tidy profit off others. Many scarce Amiibo happen to be of rarer, less popular characters, which also happen to hold more intricate figure designs. Just look at the difference in quality between Link, with his "urine-yellow" stand (a popular character from The Legend of Zelda and bestselling Amiibo figure to date), and, say, Rosalina (an Amiibo in scarce supply).

Like any rational company, Nintendo is handling its Amiibo supply situation based on production costs and consumer demand. But it's regularly underestimating this demand and leaving money on the table: New Amiibo pre-orders are events which habitually bring down retailers' websites (think Black Friday on a smaller scale) and new Amiibo stock tends to sell out within minutes at worst. Many fans feel excluded as a result.

This is a distinct problem, and the way Amiibo have been set up to work from a pricing and production angle has meant Nintendo hasn't been flexible enough in dealing with it.

Ramping up production of older, scarcer figures would be fine had their designs not been fixed in a way that means they aren't going to turn a profit. Nintendo, committed to keeping the price constant across the entire range in order to return an Amiibo profit overall, is now on the verge of angering fans. It faces a distinct trade-off between short term profits and retaining longer-term loyalty of its fan base.

Worse still, Amiibo are now beginning to unlock extras in supported games which are far from the throwaway goodies were once were associated with. Upcoming 'Splatoon' Amiibo unlock 45 challenge missions and 15 rare pieces of gear in the corresponding game, and they have already proven themselves difficult to find a month before the game even launches.

It's encouraging, then, that there are signs which indicate that Nintendo is beginning to loosen some of its rigid policies surrounding the figures, hopefully before it does more harm than good.

The latest line of Amiibo figures, made to complement upcoming Wii U exclusive Yoshi's Woolly World, aren't being priced at the typical Amiibo RRP. At the time of writing, retailers across the United Kingdom are charging above and beyond it, with GAME and ShopTo offering the knitted Yoshis for £20, nine pounds more expensive than regular Amiibo.

If this is indicative of a more flexible approach to Amiibo figure pricing, then it should be welcomed. Of course, the higher price reflects the fact that these Amiibo are made from wool and stitching, rather than painted plastic. But it also tells us that Nintendo is aiming to realign its goals as far as Amiibo production costs and supply go.

There are also Amiibo NFC Cards in the pipeline, the first of which unlock furniture and other trinkets in a downloadable Animal Crossing game. Their compact form also makes them cheaper to manufacture and ship en masse, so it'll certainly be intriguing to find out whether they fall under any supply constraints. Retailers should also be able to pack in more of these into a display unit. Being functional with just one title also makes quantifying their success an easier job.

A new form factor and more price points across Amiibo lines going forward will give Nintendo an extra degree of flexibility that they just didn't have with the Super Smash Bros. or Super Mario Bros. collections. Whether this will translate to more supply of perceivably less popular Amiibo is another story, though. If Nintendo is smart they'll ensure that money isn't being left on the table for eBay resellers and scalpers, otherwise they risk losing some of the goodwill they've built-up with their fan base.
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Posted by Ben at 02:15
Actually it's not just Europe, the 28th of April date for Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo is for various middle-eastern countries and Australia too. It's due to be released on PSN for the Vita, for whatever Ä9.99 equates to (about £9?)

Damascus Gear: Operation Tokyo is Vita tv compatible, which I think is a smart move, and plays not unlike an action-rpg a la Diablo (countdown timers on moves, isometric view)

There's a trailer below if you want to take a look for yourselves
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Posted by James at 11:07
Nintendo revealed today the full lineup of new courses to be bundled with Mario Kart 8's second batch of exceedingly generous DLC. But there was a well hidden surprise hidden between the announcements, one that shows off the astounding detail packed into each track.

The screenshots Nintendo shared -- likely taken from a Wii U dev kit -- proudly display the game's new courses at 2880p, also known as 5k resolution.

Despite being a game designed to be viewed at 720p, Mario Kart 8 holds up extremely well when rendered at sixteen(!) times the intended viewing resolution. Usually we'd expect the extra pixels to expose imperfect geometry and muddy textures, but here the majority of textures remain crisp and geometry curved -- just look at Wild Woods, Cheese Land and Ribbon Road.

It just goes to show how much work Nintendo put into making Mario Kart 8 look as good as possible, and not just from a technical perspective either. Ribbon Road looks Pixar-levels of magical, and Wild Woods has an earthy, organic feel to it. Scrumptious.

Click on the links below to view each course in its detailed glory. More can be found over here.

GBA Ribbon Road

GBA Cheese Land

Big Blue

3DS Koopa City

GC Baby Park

Super Bell Subway

Wild Woods

With thanks to Nintendaan.
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