Oct 19
Posted by Ben at 14:13

It's strange how things go sometimes. If you visit the store page for Schein on Steam you'll see logo after logo of award nominations and wins Schein has picked up over the course of its development. And it deserves them too, it's a great game, yet for some reason no one seems to be talking about it. It should by rights be an 'indie darling', but so far it's a lost gem

Maybe part of the problem is that it's easily dismissed as yet another indie puzzle-platformer, a Braid-like. With simple graphics, a so-so character model, and some less than great voice work. Spend some time with Schein though and you realise it's more than that, packed with smart, challenging puzzles, and some cool aesthetics.

The premise is fairly simple, the game opens with you in a swamp looking for your son, soon you bump in to a fairy-like creature, an orb of Light that knows more about the swamp than you, a little more than she's letting on, and can alter the world around her and you. The gameplay quirk of Schein is its use of Light to alter reality. An uncrossable gap in normal light might reveal a ledge to jump on in green light, an impassable barrier in green light might need you to flick to red light to make it disappear. It's a mechanic that starts simple but quickly becomes hugely challenging.

One of the reasons for that is because you don't always get the time to think and plan out how to solve the puzzle. If you're trying to negotiate your way across a huge gap then working out which light you need to switch to has to be done on the fly, you can't always lay down the groundwork. Similarly the platforming can require a large amount of dexterity and skill. To reuse an example from earlier, if you're using the green light to reveal platforms to cross a gap, but there's a barrier in the way that can only be removed using the red light then the process is; have the green light on, jump, switch to the red light, switch the the green light, land the jump. There's a real mind-bending, rapid-fire aspect to the platforming

The shifts of light also improve the game graphically. The simple, bland design of the swamp and main character become far more interesting when the light mechanics are introduced. The green light brings colour to the swamp, your character all smiles and joy, it's sinister. It's a great idea, maybe one that isn't quite explored enough, but it does work to short-hand that everything is not quite what it seems in the swamp

Schein does have problems; the main character is played too flat, heís supposed to be depressed but whether it's a production issue or a performance issue, something about it just doesn't land. Similarly, and fairly trivially in the great scheme of things, the spirit's English accent is offputting, probably only an issue for English players, but it noticeably isn't an English accent, even if it's recognisably supposed to be one. I was also a little disappointed by the story, a nice premise, a decent off-kilter world, that resolved in to not a lot really, I liked the almost fairytale aspect to it, but it still felt like it's core was missing.

A larger issue comes from the platforming, it's mostly fine but there's moments when encountering spikes where their damage area is larger than the pixels they're made up of. More infuriating, particularly later on, is a series of reworked platform-puzzles involving ledges and lanterns. The aim is to get from one side of the gap to the other, carrying over one coloured lantern at a time, stopping and leaving the lantern in a safe spot to head back and grab a different colour lantern, then leapfrogging the safe lantern before going back for that. It's not entirely different from the riddle about carrying some seed, a chicken, and a fox over a river. The problem is that if you're carrying a green lantern and land on a red platform with a red lantern on it, while in theory that should be fine, too often the green will overlap the red and you'll fall to your death. I'm fine with the game being difficult, but these moments where you feel cheated are blemishes on the game.

The difficulty is worth noting too, I found it pitched just about right, impressively so in fact. At the points where I was stuck I'd come back the next day and solve it. However, I was playing for review, I HAD to make progress, and when I did I found Schein hugely rewarding, but it's not inconceivable that had I just picked the game up on Steam I might have put the game down for the night and never picked it up again.

Don't let that put you off too much though, Schein is a fantastic game, it has a few flaws no doubt, I can't say that any of the boss battles were a high point, but it really is a gem of a game. Difficult but rewarding, it even manages to switch around those first impressions from looking like a cheap patchwork game, to being an impressive, extraordinarily well pieced together game
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Oct
17
Posted by Ben at 14:28
It's been a comedically long wait but we finally have a date and price for the European release of Shin Megami Tensei IV in Europe

The very well received in every other part of the world rpg will hit European 3DS' on the 30th October and is priced at a not unreasonable £17.99


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Oct
16
Posted by Ben at 02:08
... is coming soon!

Poor John Hardin, he's been doing his best to keep people updated wit the, ahem, "protracted" European release of Shin Megami Tensei IV, but it does seem that he's fighting against the current.

The latest news is that we should be hearing something concrete soon, like, the next couple of days soon

SMT IV EU status update: Things are looking good! We are waiting on a few confirmations and will have THE EXACT release date!

Confirmations hopefully by Friday, and we are still confident in October.

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Oct
14
Posted by Ben at 16:30
Giant Bomb have used the spooky month of October to chase up some promising looking horror games that have gone AWOL.

One of those games is the very 'nice' looking Routine, a space station horror game that was Greenlit on Steam

On Routine's progress Aaron Foster, co-founder of Lunar Software said

"progress is moving along at a great pace, we always talked about doing the introduction area late into development when we know exactly what we want to teach and make the player feel at the start of the game. And guess what! we are actually working on that stuff right now in our current milestone so hopefully that is a roundabout way of explaining that we are making good progress"


So, seemingly not a million miles away from being done, but also far enough that some healthy distance from Alien Isolation might be of benefit to them
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Oct
14
Posted by Ben at 14:15
Hot on the heels of the first Dragon Quest game's release on android, comes the cleverly named Dragon Quest 2

Priced at £2.99, Dragon Quest 2 plays much the same as the first game does on smart phones, in portrait mode with a touch screen d-pad

At some point I'll have a review up of the original Dragon Quest on android. It's not all I'd hoped, but it's not a terrible way to experience the early Dragon Quest games
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Oct 10
Posted by Ben at 02:05

Schein is out later today on Steam, and we got sent a code. I'm still relatively early in to the game so I can't say too much, but it's a puzzle platformer, kind of in the Braid mould.

It's quite fiendish at points, having to switch between types of light on the fly, mid jump even, it can get quite tricky. So if you watch the video below you'll see me die... a lot

Show/hide video

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Oct 08
Posted by Ben at 15:44

A lot of games do the retro thing, but few really get it right. Freedom Planet is one of those games that manages it, nailing the look whilst also playing like an old game.

Freedom Planet takes its cue from Sonic 3, with huge sprawling levels, multiple characters with their own routes through. Even small details like how a wall will smash apart. That's not to say it's simply a reskin on Sonic, it's a mistake I think a few will make, but it's actually more of an action game than that. If we take Lilac as an example, while she does have a spin attack of sorts, and is clearly the Sonic of the game, she's also got low kicks and an uppercut, with her most useful move being a hovering whirlwind attack.

There's a plot to the game too, and while it does kind of boil down to 'bad guy has stolen the giant powerful emerald' it's actually much bigger, involving empires and politics. It's also fully voiced, and while that isn't always a good thing, it does mean some of the lines are delivered with a deadpan humour. The script occasionally throws up some cracking lines too. It's a bit of a shame then that there's moments where it felt like I'd missed something, that I was playing the sequel to a popular game that doesn't exist, or that there was a cut scene that had been skipped.

That slight rough edge is apparent in the gameplay too. I'm going to preface this next bit by saying the reason there's so much of it is because Freedom Planet gets so close to nailing it. If you compare Sonic, or Rocket Knight, or even Gunstar Heroes to Freedom Planet the thing that sticks out is how simple the combat is in those classic games. To kill an enemy in Sonic you bounce on his head or spin in to them. With Sparkster you hit them with your sword, and Gunstar you shoot them. There's a very definite solid feel, a line where you've definitely connected and bounce off. In Freedom Planet you almost pass through, with even basic enemies taking multiple hits. Maybe that's deliberate, but I'd take damage from it, and from the ever so slightly floaty controls, and it's something I don't think the best of the 16bit era would have done.

That all being said I've absolutely loved my time with Freedom Planet. The highest compliment I can pay it is that it feels like an old game, even down to the slightly too hard late game boss fights. It's also nice to see someone tap the Sega side of retro, something that doesn't happen enough for the tastes of the Bitparade writers. There are a few rough edges, like the mouse cursor staying on the screen, but it really is a fantastic game, pacey and packed. If you fall on to the Sega side of the great divide, I wholeheartedly recommend it
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Oct
08
Posted by Ben at 02:06
I've been walking around with this date in my head for weeks and I've no idea where I got it from, it was only last week I found out it wasn't common knowledge. I'm starting to wonder if, in a spate of cost-cutting measures, Nintendo are running their operations from inside my head. If so I'll be getting a redesign some time next year.

Anyway, Super Smash Bros U for WiiU releases on the 5th December


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Oct
03
Posted by Ben at 14:46
As much as I enjoyed the original Shelter, and I did, even sticking it on our Indie Games of the Year list, it seemed ideal as a standalone game.

However a sequel was revealed earlier this year, and it was announced today that the game has now been pushed back to Q1 2015

Shelter 2 will seemingly be a larger game than its predecessor, more open world. It's also a lynx-em-up rather than a badger simulator, and while I'm looking forward to playing the game, I don't think a bit more time between the two games is the worst thing
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Oct 03
Posted by Ben at 01:55

Hyrule Warriors is a game that carries a lot of 'if' with it. If you've played a Dynasty Warriors game before then you'll know what to expect. It's a novel take on the Zelda formula if you haven't played a Musou game before. If you like both franchises then you may well love Hyrule Warriors. And there's an enormous amount of content in the game, if you don't mind doing the same thing over and over.

The core gameplay of Hyrule Warriors doesn't really change. You start on a map with a small army behind you, and a huge number of enemies ahead of you. To increase your presence on the battlefield you can take over keeps, these are represented by square rooms on the mini map. Defeat enough enemies in the keep and the keep boss appears, defeat him and the keep is yours, producing soldiers for your army rather than the enemy. Sometimes this is core to beating the mission, other times its just for your own sake.

The keep bosses may not be up to much but there's plenty of enemies that require quite a bit more of you. These enemies play more like you and your compatriots, and in fact are either playable or soon will be with dlc. That means they can do a bit of damage to you, and while you can just mash away at them in an endless grind, the 'proper' way is to wait for them to leave themselves vulnerable, then whittle down their counter meter, launching a powerful combo attack.

Similarly there's enormous bosses for which you must use some of Link's iconic sub-weapons. Just got the bomb in the same area as a huge fire breathing boss? Well if this was a Zelda game that might be a hint. It's indicative that there has actually been some thought put in to Hyrule Warriors, dismissing it as simply a reskin is unfair.

Another nice touch is the alternative playable characters. Granted a couple of them are lost on me, but I had favourites to play as. The way the missions are structured means pretty much all of them get their chance in the spotlight, a smart move as they play just differently enough to bring some variety, as chances are left to your own devices youíd always play as Link. The changing of characters allows them to bring in more aspects to the story, develop a few key personalities and storylines, meaning the story isnít just rescuing the princess. In fact the story continues past the point youíd expect, feeling more like an epilogue by the end.

If thereís one thing you can say about Hyrule Warriors, and the Dynasty Warriors/Musou games in general, is that you get a lot of game for your money. Thereís the lengthy story mode, Free mode, plus an adventure mode where you must conquer tiles on a retro map by fulfilling conditions in mini levels. Itís a nice addition, but itís one that relies on one key factor; you wanting to keep playing the same Musou gameplay.

Hyrule Warriors doesnít ever look amazing, and thereís plenty of slowdown, more than youíd expect given the graphics (although there certainly is a lot on screen), but its biggest problem is always itself. The core gameplay is fine, but itís not much better than that, stages can last 20 minutes or more, and then thereís another one right after it thatís virtually the same. I quickly found doing more than one level a session a chore, despite quite liking the game, thereís just too much of the same thing.

Thereís something to be said for having a regard for the source material, I enjoyed Fist of the North Star: Kenís Rage more than it probably deserved simply because Fist of the North Star is one of mankindís greatest creations. While Iíve no animosity towards the Zelda franchise, I donít have the kind of reverence that some do. However, Hyrule Warriors will be too easily dismissed by some, thereís more to the game than simple button mashing, even if it never requires too much dexterity or thought.
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