Posted by Mark at 15:25
Argue with the CMS Code Simulator 2016

A less fun game than you'd think.
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Posted by Mark at 19:08
I continue to kick it old-school with Pokémon HeartGold.

With the eighth Gym beaten, it's time to go meet Ash Red at the top of Mt. Silver.

Being the very endgame of the title, effectively after the postgame, they've had to do something to make it special- and they have.

It's not that the environment of Mt. Silver's is particularly interesting, it's a cave with a maze in it- and not a very complex one even by Pokémon standards- but the atmosphere.

At the bottom of the mountain, as you'd expect, is a Pokémon centre- and naturally, you go into it to heal up before you start.

It's empty.

The staff are still there- the nurse who treats your pokémon is there ready to help, and so are the attendants for the link features as they were in the old generations- but the usual random three or four people you'd see in every other branch are nowhere to be seen, and that's jarring.

It really helps to hit home that this is it- you're out on your own.

It's a good example of re-use of an environment to drive the narrative and provoke a reaction- keeping with Nintendo, it's like in Ocarina Of Time when you first leave the Temple Of Time as Adult Link and see the previously bustling, brightly-coloured and jauntily-soundtracked Hyrule Castle Town Market in a now-silent, dilapidated state and full of those zombies that dry-hump you.

It's not even as heavy-handed as that, there's no new art assets and the music's still there, but the feel is not the same at all.

The whole 'less-is-more' is something that games seem to have forgot over time, and it's perhaps through low-tech necessity that the early Pokémon games do manage to nail this- I've pontificated for ages about the way the same game uses less than a second of silence in the past- and it's difficult not to compare this to the most recent generation, X and Y.

The usual Elite Four of these games- as well as the moments leading up to them- are surrounded with so much ridiculous ceremony as they revel in their new-found polygonal glory that they reach the point of self-parody, and certainly begin to irritate on multiple attempts. HeartGold's loneliness meanwhile sits in the background quietly and only really makes its presence felt when you look for it.
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Play Expo
Posted by Ben at 17:13

In a past life trip to the annual Play Expo in Manchester would have been a feature of its own, but time being the precious commodity it is nowadays means for a variety of reasons that's not going to happen. A big reason though is that the Play Expo maybe wasn't at its most interesting this year. It's still a fun event, the focus has shifted away from retro gaming over the years but that's still absolutely the best thing about it and the reason to go, but there's something to be said for new and shiny and that's what felt absent this year.

Not that there was nothing new, if you wanted to queue there was the Playstation VR Battlezone, the less busy Tekken 7, and Jeff Minter brought his new VR version of Polybius. There were a few indie games too, not as many as last year, and that's something I'd like the focus to return to next time. All that I didn't play so I can't comment on it. I did manage to play some Sociable Soccer, the modern take on Sensible Soccer.

I say modern take, it kind of feels exactly the same as Sensible Soccer, it's certainly better than the PS2 version of Sensible Soccer that Eurogamer bizarrely gave a 9 out of 10. I watched a dad trounce his son and celebrate the last couple of goals, always a heartwarming sight. Playing on my own (none of my friends wanted to play a football game) I dominated Chelsea with my off-brand United side, but couldn't put the ball in the back of the net, which is both accurate to my memories of learning to play Sensible Soccer and the current Manchester United side. Still, first impressions, Sociable Soccer seems pretty good

I'm not going to go in to everything I played at Play Expo, so instead here's what else I played over the previous week. South Park The Stick of Truth is something I've been wanting get around to for ages, and it's not really been worth the wait. Stick of Truth isn't a bad game, but it is a bit boring. There's obviously lots of good stuff in there, I like South Park, I've no complaints about the content, but there's also a lot of samey combat and trudging around. Maybe the 2nd half of the game picks up, but at the point I stopped I wasn't itching to play more.

That's kind of the case with Rise of the Tomb Raider too. Probably inspired by the imminent PS4 release I picked up the PC version. Technically it looks amazing, but it's also crashed more than any pc game I've played in a long time, Batman Arkham Knight was a mess but I don't remember it crashing on me. It's notable how sedate Rise of the Tomb Raider is to start off, it feels like the developers really took the criticism of Lara's murder rate to heart. It's not that she doesn't kill in Rise of the Tomb Raider, but it's less frequent than the previous game, instead focusing more on exploration. The result, possibly infuriatingly for Square Enix, is I think it's a more boring game than Tomb Raider. There's a lot of down time, simple platforming, doing busy work quests so you can get some equipment or a new gun. personally I preferred the Apocalypse Now horror of the previous game. Still though, I'm probably not quite half way through so it could quite conceivably click
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Posted by James at 14:56

I've had an itch for pick-up-and-play, arcade-like experiences lately, which nudged me in the direction of an imported copy of Kururin Paradise to play on my lovely Game Boy Micro. And it’s reminded me of how much craft large teams poured into decidedly lower budget handheld game back when the majority of the market only consisted of these two, very distinct worlds of console and handheld.

Much has been written about Kuru Kuru Kururin before here, but for the uninitiated, you pilot a helicopter (a helirin) through a series of puzzle mazes in search of the level goal. Except it's not really anything that resembles a helicopter; it's a constantly spinning stick as seen from above and the direction it’s facing determines where you can lead it on the way to the goal.

The beauty of Kururin is it’s an idea that can serve an entire game and then some, much like Super Monkey Ball, which has you rotating a maze to guide your simian to each level goal. That's reflected in the game's name, where "Kururin" is Japanese for "spin".

What sequel Kururin Paradise has to offer, then, is an expanded version of this very concept. In the first game, your stick only spun at a set speed, making harder levels feel a lot more restrictive than they ought to. It was too easy to be stuck waiting for your stick to rotate back round to where you needed it to, and it meant there could only be a certain number of ways to tackle some of the trickier levels as a result.

Paradise lets you speed up your stick’s rotation with the R button, and it’s revelatory. Impatient players like myself can use this new move to try and “game” the game as much as possible, calculating when and where to speed up the stick’s rotation ahead of any upcoming obstacles and never slow down on the way to the goal.

Above and beyond opening up new opportunities to attempt speed runs, it simply gives you so much more control in dodging obstacles, and this is reflected in the game’s level designs. One level sees you try to avoid ghosts that latch onto your helicopter, slowing down its movement. Another sees you dodge a plethora of flames, danmaku style. There are minigames which ask you to perform abstract tasks – like mowing a lawn – against the clock. This all wouldn’t be possible in the game's predecessor.

I really enjoyed my time playing through Kururin Paradise. It has all the hallmarks of a great Game Boy Advance game: A super solid gameplay concept, excellent use of sprite scaling, beautiful pixel art sprites and backgrounds, and a catchy soundtrack that also manages to make use of Game Boy backwards compatibility.

There’s a GameCube sequel: Kururin Squash. I've yet to play my copy of the game, but when I do it’ll certainly be interesting to find out whether Eighting can improve the core gameplay concept once more with the addition of analogue control…
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Vroom Vroom
Posted by Mark at 18:02

A fairly unexciting week, as I've mainly been making small progress on Forza Motorsport 6- although I did also find time to crack open Freedom Planet.

I don't really have an awful lot to say about either- I'm not deep enough into the latter to cast any real judgements, and the former does what it does very well, but not in any particularly exciting way.
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An Analogy For The Class Divide
Posted by Ben at 17:49

I've got until the end of this article to think of a pun for the title, you'll see above how I got on.

I'll give you a bit of a window in to my life from the past week or so. Thanks to a discount code I've been having my meals provided by Hello Fresh. If you don't know, they send you a box full of ingredients, from my experience it always includes a leek, you get some recipes, and you make the meals yourself.

Here's what I'll say, firstly the recipes are missing some details, and there's an assumption you're middle class enough to have copious amounts of olive oil, baking paper, a pie dish. I've not even got a toaster at the minute. Secondly, it takes aaaages to cook stuff from scratch. The menus say 25 minutes but you can double that because you don't know what you're doing

Why am I telling you this? Well, because it means that I've not had time to play games most nights. Stupid healthy eating

I played Don't Disturb, there's a review on the site. I like it, but it's a bit broken, or it has been both the times I've played it. It had been patched last time I played it, which had tidied up the script a bit, the glitch I mentioned in the review has been fixed, but the next puzzle now made the character freeze so I couldn't progress past it. It's been patched today, hopefully the new bugs have been fixed

Other than that it's been all Deus Ex Mankind Divided. Deus Ex Mankind Divided starts a little slow, once you're past the prologue at least, but once I left Prague for the first time the game clicked and I really enjoyed it. I wish it threw you back in to the city at the end of the game, you end up with a lot of perks you don't really get to use. Anyway, great game, I'll probably even play the dlc if it's received well
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Posted by James at 15:20
So Nintendo’s shutting the DSi Shop at the end of the month. While DSiWare will continue to live on as part of 3DS’s eShop thereafter, this is our last chance to download the games to an actual DS, the best way to experience them. And it served as good enough an excuse as any to take a quick look back at the DSiWare service.

DSiWare gets a bad rep for shovelware, and while there is a fair amount of junk on the service, there are some gems too. The service arrived at an awkward time - the iOS App Store had only just opened for business, and physical and digital were words used to describe two very different worlds of video games.

The tried and tested way of getting games to audiences was still through physical media, something which held especially true for the DS, a platform with no means of purchasing games digitally for four years.

Which begs the question: How could you make a compelling DSiWare game DS games already thrived on emphasising a gameplay concept and good art direction and had relatively lower development costs than most games?

It turns out you had to take those ideologies even further. The best DSiWare titles aren’t attached to the most eye grabbing IP, or the biggest development budgets. And due to the comparatively smaller publishing costs, even the quirkiest game ideas became that much more viable.

Take Reflect Missile for example. It’s Arkanoid mixed with Puzzle Bobble, rethought as a methodological puzzle game. You aim a scarce number of Missiles at an arrangement of blocks, hoping to destroy those marked for clearing each level. It's simple enough, but developer Q-Games took this one concept and ran with it, programming characteristically playful physics for for each missile type and offering a whole tonne of level layouts that make the most of the idea of bouncing stuff off walls and blocks.

Then there's Mighty Milky Way, a game about exploding planets. Tap a planet and it explodes, propelling your green-skinned character into outer space. It's another simple concept, but the circumstances to which its released means it's also surprisingly well polished for what it is.

These games celebrate the importance of good game design above all else, and there are much more of them, listed below.

I’ve also found them fairly refreshing - it’s rather neat to see large scale publishers like Nintendo and Konami invest in tiny ideas like these, and the simplicity of the game ideas on display here.

If you’ve got a few quid spare, dig out that DSi XL, pick up a few of my recommendations below and remind yourself of simpler times. Times when digital distribution meant realising a simple game idea that might not make it to a store shelf. Times before publishers all set their eyes on the gamification movement on mobile...

DSiWare gems: Sujin Taisen: Number Battle, Art Style: Digidrive, Dragon Quest Wars, Art Style: Decode, Wakugumi: Monochrome Puzzle, 3D Space Tank, Trailblaze: Puzzle Incinerator, Aura Aura Climber, Glow Artisan, Snapdots, Art Style: PiCOPiCT, Alt-Play: Jason Rohrer Anthology, Maestro: Green Groove, Primrose, Surfacer+, Bomberman Blast, 10 Second Run, Starship Patrol, Divergent Shift.
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Hybrid Edition

Posted by Mark at 16:30

The main game I've been playing lately is The Evil Within, a game helmed by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami and pushed as a return to that series' roots after it- and the horror genre generally- diverged after its fourth installment.

In truth, it winds up being a strange halfway house, where attempts to resurrect mechanics from the older games fail to gel properly with newer ones.

One immediately obvious example is where the game has attempted to reproduce something similar to the typewriter save points, this time utilizing a cracked mirror to transport you back to a asylum, which is where the save point proper lives.

However, unlike the small open world of Resi's mansion, The Evil Within takes place in what boils down to a series of one-way linear Gears of War-style shooting galleries, which come complete with automatic checkpoints, making the manual save points functionally redundant.

It also tries to pull the ammo scarcity trick as well, but achieves this by limiting the amount you're able to carry- leading to frustration as you have to leave bullets behind that you're unable to pick up, only to run out when you turn the next corner and unable to backtrack to pick up what you've left behind.

The absence of the magic chest that usually accompanied the typewriter means it's not even possible to hoard the stuff you don't need and pick it up later.

The game does attempt to approach the issue by dotting macguffins around the game- keys to unlock lockers in the asylum and green gel to upgrade stats like ammo capacity, covering the issue of ammo supply and giving the player a reason to return to the asylum beyond the occasional time the plot brings you back there- but this is papering over the cracks rather than truly integrating the old mechanics with the new.
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Posted by Ben at 17:27
I'm waiting for the day one patch for Deus Ex Mankind Divided to download, having switched to the Dutch servers because the UK ones are "fucked", so it seems like a good time to write a What We're Playing before starting something new.

And first up, a bit of Deus Ex

Not the original one, instead Deus Ex Go. I know I spent Ł3 on marketing material, I know I'm now part of some graph somewhere that shows "divergence" or some other office word, but I could do with something to play on my commute. Truth is I've not been that taken with the Go games. Lara Croft Go didn't really do anything for me, and while I think Hitman go is better, I still got a bit tired of it.

I do prefer the Deus Ex franchise though so hopefully that counts for something. It's very much the same sort of thing, move Adam Jensen from point to point, taking out guard or avoiding being spotted. Deus Ex Go feels a little more cobbled together in its design though, there's power ups that and traps that feel a bit glitchy. Hard to explain maybe, but triggering an enemy so he charges, then changing a floor tile to a red zone so he can't return back to his start point, he'll just judder in place. It feels a bit "Steam Server".

Talking of fucked, I went back to Batman Arkham Knight last week. I've posted a couple of times about the state of the PC release, and I can say it seems to be fixed now. Granted, since writing that article I'm now running the game off an SSD, which would help significantly with the data loading, but I had played a chunk of the game prior to the most recent fix and was still having significant problems even off an SSD.

When I stopped last time I felt pretty done with Batman Arkham Knight. The technical problems and how they were handled had really soured me, and frankly, it's not that great a game. Fortunately though, where I picked it up from (teaming up with Robin) it kind of felt like the second part of the 'season', after the winter break, where the writers have had a chance to sit and think about how to fix things a bit. I enjoyed it so much more. Not all of it, fuck the Riddler challenges still, but the story really picks up. The season pass is borderline theft if you paid full price for it, but at Ł4 or whatever it cost on CDKeys just before launch I can't complain, short as the story content is.

Anyway, it's all done, aside from the Riddler stuff, and some of the season pass stuff. I guess I can't really complain about it any more, but I think I'm done with Batman for the foreseeable

Elsewhere, I played some Merdian Squad 22, there's a First Play gameplay video for it and there might well be a review at some point. It's... well, I can't say I've enjoyed my time with it. Not that it's bad, I've just not enjoyed it. I'm hoping some of the other modes get me a way in on it
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Pokémon Go
Posted by James at 15:44

It's obligatory Pokémon Go article time!!!

But there's a good excuse: It's the summer games drought, where publishers decide not to release any games because we're all out getting some sunshine in our free time and no one else can say otherwise. The climate does make a great case for Pokémon Go, though, so that's what I've mostly been playing over the last month.

In a way, Pokémon Go is the all-encompassing idle game. You walk around your neighbourhood or areas unknown in the chance that a rare Pokémon might come into proximity, or hoping that one of the nine nearby Pokémon will pop up on your map, ready to battle and capture.

Your phone then gives off a satisfying buzz, you prod the Pokémon on the map, catch the critter and then it's off to look for more. It never really requires your full attention, but the heavy reliance on random Pokémon spawns combined with the social pull for groups to play or discuss the game makes for a game that’s nearly irresistible to leave alone. You're not only always making progress; you’re increasing your chances of being able to do so in the first place.

I’m still unsure whether playing Pokémon Go has made my journeys more exciting yet. Discovering new Pokémon in the same old areas is always exciting, but on the flipside it can all feel like busywork if you’re playing on your own and the novelty of the AR feature wears off. In particular, evolving Pokémon for experience points is often a long and cumbersome experience, and it can be disheartening to visit gym after gym of more powerful Pokémon than your own.

What makes Pokémon Go a bit more unique in the realm of games-as-a-service apps on mobile is that it’s compelling without the need to rely on tempting you back with superficial rewards.

There are no daily log-in bonuses, and a new player can quickly get accustomed to the game without being "trained" through a long and arduous tutorial that points the player towards all the different things they can do. Many of Pokémon Go's mechanics are left entirely unexplained to the player, which gives the experience the same sense of adventure as your first main Pokémon game.

Because Pokémon locations are all shared among players, it doesn’t feel as cynical as other games in the genre can. Niantic simply doesn’t – and can’t – discriminate directly between players in an obvious, direct way.

While Pokémon Go is undeniably seen as a social experience, the game actually lacks any sort of direct social features, too. There’s no way to spam your friends’ social media feeds with invites to the game for in-game currency, neither is there any way to directly compare your own achievements with friends’.

Social interaction is mostly driven from within the game’s intrinsic mechanics – I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with others, comparing our roster of creatures, or what we managed to capture over the weekend. It almost feels like a return to purer times as a result, where games weren’t actively trying to use their current playerbase to convert new players, or existing players into payers.

While I've unknowingly sunk many hours into catching dozens of Pidgeys and other common Pokémon in the name of levelling up and making progress, there's a lot to appreciate about Pokémon Go's design, and it certainly feels less cynical than other games on mobile.

Perhaps that's reflected in the spending patterns of players -- Macquarie Securities claimed that the majority of purchases in Australia were driven by a large number of players rather than super-engaged big spenders. Maybe I was wrong to point my finger at The Pokémon Company after all...
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