Guilty Gear Xrd
Revelator 2
Jun 12
Posted by Ben at 16:41

The thing that always strikes me about Guilty Gear, and I guess Arc System Worksí fighters in general (even Battle Fantasia), is how idiosyncratic they are. For the most part, anyone with a passing knowledge of fighting games could sit down with a Street Fighter or a King of Fighters and do something, Guilty Gear takes a bit more time. Itís testament to the work put in by Arc that it doesnít seem insurmountable, in fact a lot of Guilty Gearís systems quickly start to make sense.

Guilty Gear does things differently, in terms of attacks thereís Slash and Hard Slash, but then punch, kick, and now ĎDustí. Youíll sometimes find specials do work across buttons, but not often. In short, each character has to be learnt, even on a basic level. Go beyond the basic level and the characters reveal themselves to be even more unique. Thereís characters whose attacks have to be set up, characters who can teleport, characters who counter, getting the best out of them is something you need to learn to do, itís not simply a matter of practice, you arenít always going to stumble on to these techniques. It does though mean that when you take the game online you arenít facing the same character over and over. The wealth of depth to the characters means that thereís no Ďflow-chart Kení, youíll see a variety, and every character will have someone who has learned exactly how to wipe the floor with you. Whether by luck or design, itís an impressive feat

Itís why the tutorials are always going to be a big part of any modern Guilty Gear review. They arenít perfect, but they do a good job of showing off the systems. You start with the absolute basics, moving and jumping to pop balloons, then quickly progress to not just attacking, but effectively attacking by comboing attacks together. These are simple chains, but then itís the next step, bursting so you can can land an extra hit or two, or dashing so you can keep a combo going. From there you can learn specific character moves, learning how to chain specials, even how to defend effectively. Itís here where I wish theyíd gone one small step further and had the option of a demo to show whatís expected of you, as thereís some I just wasnít sure where I was going wrong.

Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator 2 has a few modes outside of training, maybe a couple less than youíd hope, but enough. Thereís more periphery stuff like the gallery and figurine mode, nice little bonuses but not where youíre going to spend serious time. Thereís also the arcade mode, which has character specific stories and sets up the actual Story mode, which is like an in-engine anime, free from combat but quite well done. The online is handled fairly well, and I really like the lobby system. Itís a world you enter, and while thereís not a lot to do there, and itís a shame you canít spectate, I do like that you can sit at an arcade machine and wait for an opponent. They might need to broaden the servers sooner rather than later to keep them populated, although I didnít have too many problems finding a match. Not true of Ďrankedí, where I did struggle to find a match, but you can queue a ranked match up and get on with other things. I guess the real shame is that the PC version doesnít have cross-play with the PS4.

I had a few fights where there was a strange sense of dropped frames online. Itís not lag, and itís not dropped frames as youíd (potentially) see if the game was struggling, but it felt like inputs were being ignored. I had plenty of good fights, but I could see people who take online more seriously really cursing it.

I guess the only real criticism I have of Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 is that I just donít really like playing as a lot of the Guilty Gear characters, and the ones I do like Iím familiar with, exasperating the feeling that Revelator 2 is an incremental change, even over the 2 game predecessor Xrd Sign (my last Guilty Gear). Itís a good game, as good as itís ever been, but Iím not sure Guilty Gear has the luxury of being able to just throw more characters in to the roster and calling it a day, theyíre all too idiosyncratic for that. If youíre a die-hard then more of the same is probably enough, but know thatís what it is going in, if youíre new then itís as good a place to start as any.
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Switch
or die trying
Mar 12
Posted by Mark at 19:15

Getting a timely name change seemingly to avoid confusion with a certain newly-released console, Switch - or die trying is another in a long line of precision platformers.

In Switch, you play as the letter I, whose friends- the rest of the alphabet- have all stopped talking to him because he's a bit too self-absorbed, so he sets out to perform acrobatic feats in the hope that it will make them all love him again.

The game's core structure doesn't deviate too much from the templates left behind by the likes of Super Meat Boy and its imitators- the player must reach the goal in a number of self-contained levels by making seemingly improbable jumps and navigating assorted obstacles.

The main weapon in I's arsenal is that old platform favourite, his double-jump. Double-jumping allows him to switch (a-ha!) between his lower- and upper-case forms. Oddly, however, the developers have chosen to put this second jump onto a different button to the normal one.

The game opens with the phrase 'Gamepad strongly recommended', and it's not wrong. On keyboard, the dobule-button-double-jump is a feat of finger gymnastics that isn't entirely comfortable, and distracts from the environment-traversal aspects of the game. Using an XBox pad, the default setting of A to jump and RT to switch helps to give fast double-jumping a nice, natural-feeling rhythm.

It's a motion not entirely dissimilar to clicking your fingers, which is another comparison to that Nintendo console I'm sure the developers would be really happy to hear about.

This isn't the only quirk the game brings to the genre- I is also able to shoot at objects to open doors and even transform platforms, although a reliance on hiding moving targets behind a wall you have to keep sliding down and jumping back up means that on occasion this aspect can feel a lot more like luck than skill.

In later levels elements of the environment such as platforms, barriers around targets and even streams of lava are toggled based on I's current case, similar to forgotten XBox Live Indie title Nyan-Tech, bringing the game slightly into puzzle platformer territory.

As well as simply reaching the exit, each level has two extra objectives in a target time and a collectable ink drop. At the end of the level you are awarded the standard one to three stars for doing so, but progression is kept primarily to how many levels have been finished, relieving the frustration of being unable to get that speed star by a few milliseconds.

The precision platformer is an increasingly oversubscribed field, and a very easy thing to get wrong- and while Switch - or die trying is hardly going to go down as a classic in its field, its gets enough right to stand above some of the genre's less accomplished efforts.
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Double
Dragon IV
Feb 05
Posted by Ben at 10:42

There is something to be said for absolutely nailing you inspiration, capturing everything about the original source. Done right you evoke all the fond memories and nostalgia for the original, but there is every chance youíll take things too far. There was that Psycho remake a decade or so back that was essentially a scene for scene remake. It was fine, well acted, well shot, but it was the same as the original, no one needed it. Double Dragon IV kind of shares the same problem, it feels every inch a lost NES Double Dragon game, but thatís not entirely a good thing

Itís difficult to know where to start critiquing Double Dragon IV, so much of it overlaps, you need certain bits to make the good things good, but they also make the bad things bad. So Iíll start with a word about the PC version in the hope that before we publish this these issues are resolved. In game the PC port runs fine, certainly I canít say I noticed any glaring problems, but getting to the point where you can actually play the game is where Double Dragon IV stumbles. Despite Steam recognising the Playstation 4ís DualShock 4 controller natively, the game throws a fit when you try to use it. Itís an easy enough fix on the consumerís end, if you run a controller emulator to mimic a 360 controller youíll be able to use something with a d-pad worth the name, but you shouldnít have to.

Screen size is another problem. Double Dragon IV boots to a windowed mode, you can press F2 to increase the size of the screen, and you can press Ďalt enterí to force full screen mode, but again you shouldnít have to, and itís an issue that still occurs when playing in steamís big picture mode. Finally, closing the game. Thereís no way to do this with a controller, thereís no option on the game menu, you need to force the shut down yourself. Hopefully all this is an easy fix, but it should have been sorted for launch.

There is some things to like about Double Dragon IV, particularly if you have an affection for the originals. Thereís a plot that might as well not exist for most of us, but it does fit with games from that time, bouncing around all over the place, trying to explain the level designers locations. The backgrounds and characters look suitably 8bit, crisper and a higher resolution certainly, but they definitely look the part. The music too is, to my memory at least, spot on, it feels like it belongs in an old brawler

The problem is that the same can be said for the gameplay. Even compared to the 16-bit era of Streets of Rage 2 and Final Fight Double Dragon IV feels limited. There are a number of moves at your disposal, beyond the basic punches and kicks thereís a headbut, a roundhouse kick and a barwards punch, but theyíre so inneffective that itís hard to see why youíd choose to use them over standard attacks that have more reach and allow you to combo. Thereís no art to it, youíll soon learn to use the more powerful rising attacks when youíve been knocked down, but largely because youíll spend a lot of the game being knocked down. Enemies will break your combo for no reason, and youíll find that the progressive rise in difficulty is really more a case of enemies doing more damage and becoming cheaper, attacking you as you stand up. Which to be fair will have been your tactic throughout the game, so I guess itís only fair. Then thereís the platforming, thereís not loads of it, but none of it is good, itís probably the right thing to break up the gameplay in some way, but not with something worse.

Itís again a callback to those old NES games, back then games were unfair, they were cheap, and you did have to cheese your way through them. I did have some fun with Double Dragon IV, nostalgic fun sure, but that doesnít necessarily invalidate it. You can never shake the feeling though that Arc System Works should have used those old games as a springboard, that sticking so close to them actually hurts this game. Itís not awful, but nowadays it really doesnít hold up
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Double Dragon IV
Video Review
Feb 02
Posted by Ben at 16:47

Our full review of Double Dragon IV will follow tomorrow. It's half way written, and I know more or less what I think of the game, I'm just a little torn as to where Double Dragon IV s on a scale

It's certainly not a bad game, and it is a faithful sequel. It feels like an old game in a way most retro games don, I'm just not so sure that's a good thing.

As things stand, some of my criticisms of the PC port of Double Dragon IV are accurate, things like controller problems and not being able to close the game from inside the game, but there's every chance that by the time you watch it these things have been patched and fixed. I'll try to remember to annotate the video if it ever happens

Show/hide video

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Event[0]

Jan 04
Posted by Ben at 14:20

Event[0] on paper sounds a very known quantity, maybe it is, but it plays its hand pretty well. You find yourself marooned on a mysterious spaceship, the crew long dead, and your only company an A.I. youíre not entirely sure you can trust. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey crossed with Event Horizon, only without the obelisks, the gore, and Sam Neill. And you do need eyes to see. Event[0] is actually more playful than the comparisons it brings to mind, admittedly diphtheria is more playful than Event Horizon, but their rogue A.I. has a bit of personality, and the game itself is less horror focused than the likes of Soma or Routine.

Event[0] isnít an especially long game, which helps keep its aim focused. After an unexplained disaster befalls your ship youíre shot out in to space, drifting aimlessly, until you chance upon the Nautilus, an experimental ship from the 1980ís, equipped with a futuristic engine that allows rapid, deep space travel, and a lonely A.I. who wants you to destroy it. I wonít go any further in to the plot than that, for one thing because thereís not a lot else to it, superficially at least, secondly because discovering the rest is kind of the point of the game.

The star of the game is Kaizen, the A.I. whoíll help you make progress through the ship, so long as youíre nice to him at least. The selling point of Event[0] is that Kaizen can procedurally generate an abundance of dialogue, and will change how he reacts to you dependant on your dealings with him. If youíre friendly, laugh at his jokes, thank him for his help, heíll be nicer to you, obtuse, but friendly. Act the dick and heíll clam up and stop helping you. Itís an interesting idea, one it explores a little with the few other characters Event[0] features, but not one youíll likely experience the full breadth of in your time with the game. In fact itís something I wish theyíd focused on more, put in a few more moments where your instinct pushes you to behave in a way that betrays you, makes you shed your friendly demeanor for a while, or makes you grateful or warm to Kaizen

Given that your dealings with Kaizen are such a large part of the game I wish they were a bit better. Too often I found simple questions garnered unrelated answers. To me they were obvious questions that a lot of players would have, but the responses were that of a system that had picked up on a word , ignoring the context, and carried on a conversation we werenít having. Getting a straight answer is like pulling teeth, deliberate Iím sure, but still frustrating when you have to ask the same thing repeatedly to get a response that moves things on. Which is really what Kaizen is about, and what he should be better at. He did, sometimes, point me in the right direction, and Iíd always thank him for that, but quite often I was looking for hints outside the game to get me moving again. Not solutions, I wanted to discover things for myself, a strength of the game, but something to stop my standstill and get the game moving again.

Itís why I prefer the exploration aspect of the game I wish there was more of that, looking for clues around the environment, discovering things about the world and characters outside of Kaizenís grip. Truth be told itís indicative of Event[0]ís other problem, thereís not enough of it. I donít mind the length so much, itís around 2 hours long, with alternative endings if thatís something that interests you, itís more that itís not a very big world. You donít feel like youíre stuck in a huge space ship because you see so little of it. Maybe there just wouldnít be many usable rooms on a ship like this, but there really are only a handful of rooms, and only a few events to shake up your experience.

Credit elsewhere to Event[0] though, itís a good looking game. Walking around the Nautilus, youíre always pleasantly surprised by how good it looks. Thereíll be sparks, good quality textures, well designed objects, even slightly worrying dust particles floating around (I never did get an answer to what they were). The sound design is great too, from the clickety clackety keyboard to Kaizenís voice, the bleeps and bloops, and some of the ambient music, itís indicative of a very well put together game.

My only qualm really with Event[0] is how many times you run in to a wall with it. Maybe thatís the fun of it for some, maybe I suffered because I heard it was a short game and was there for the ride, rushing through it a little too quickly, and while Iíd like to give specific instances I can only talk around them rather than spoil an aspect of the puzzles for you. All in all though I enjoyed it, itís not a game that will stay with me forever, but it is one Iíd recommend people check out
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Mad Father

04-10-16
Posted by Ben at 06:01

I went in to Mad Father fairly blind. It popped up on Steam, the art looked interesting enough to give it a click, when I did I saw a bunch of positive and excited reviews. People saying how pleased they were the game was finally on Steam, that other people should play it, it seemed genuine enough that I thought Iíd give it a go. It turns out Mad Father is a Japanese game, made in some sort of rpg maker, from 2011, first released in english a year later. It looks how youíd expect, although having seen some footage from the original version itís clear that the new Steam release has had a bit of work put in. I mean, donít get me wrong, weíre not talking about full 3D models with 4k textures, but comparatively itís probably a larger upgrade than the recent Bioshock Remastered

Mad Father is a strange mix of a game, on one hand itís gruesome and horrible, played very straight, but thereís a level of humour and charm to the whole thing. You play as Aya, a young girl whoís mother has not long since died, and whoís father is a scientist she knows is murdering and performing gruesome experiments. Aya, in accordance with her motherís wishes is turning a blind eye to the horror. Sheís awoken one night to the sound of her fatherís screams from his laboratory, when she leaves her room to investigate sheís confronted by the walking dead. Very quickly Mad Father spirals from one horror to another, with Aya barely holding it together.

The game plays out as an adventure game, itís certainly less of a strictly narrative experience than I was expecting. Youíll encounter locked door that needs a key, to get the key you need to break some glass, to break the glass youíll need to find a way to loose a hammer from the grips of a monster. I think one of the reasons Mad Father works is because thereís not a lot of down time, youíre always doing something, and generally those things arenít especially drawn out. Youíre always seeing something new, even when you have to revisit an area thereíll be something thatís changed or something that jumps out that keeps you on your toes.

All that being said itís still a 2D game that looks like an upressed Snes rpg, itís never going to be terrifying. Not to do it down, thereís a tension that runs through the game, moments where enemies will rush you, enough of them that you are, ever so slightly on edge. Sure, another dead body inside a barrel, the head falling off another doll, yet another door slamming, itís not going to make you scream in terror. I think thatís why itís such a good idea it has the tone it does. Iím not quite sure how to explain it, but it plays the horror very straight, youíre supposed to be appalled by what your father has done, by his experiments. Thereís a gritty reality to the whole thing. At the same time though my favourite moments are when Aya has a chat with some undead spirit or another. Generally the spirits want help, but itís presented in a charmingly horrible way, a bit like Gregory Horror Show or something, an adorable atrocity.

Mad Father doesnít come without a word of warning however. While Iím sure a lot of work has gone in to get the game running on modern consoles it kind of doesnít. When you boot the game thereís a configuration tool, chances are leaving Mad Father on its default setting itís not going to run on your system, certainly it didnít run on mine. Thereís an option in there that makes it sound like itís going to cause problems, that the game is going to stress your cpu, pick that one, Iíd be very surprised if many modern pcs are going to be taxed by Mad Father, but it is the only way I could get the game to run.

Aside from that the only complaint I had was one thatís been plaguing 2D rpgs since the beginning, if you set your game with a top down perspective itís not always clear that areas at the side or bottom are exits. I spent far too long stuck fairly early on in the game because a hallway looked like it ended with a solid wall. Thereís a couple of other moments like that, not loads, but I mention it because if it happened to me it could happen to others. Similarly, if you do get stuck, thereís no real hint system, you arenít going to get a prompt or even a repeated bit of text to point you in the right direction. I doubt too many of the puzzles will leave you that stumped, a few of them solve themselves but with enough involvement you donít feel like the game is playing itself.

I really like Mad Father, Iím not sure I can exactly explain why, I think it might be a taste thing, itís right in my zone, for others maybe itís not, I can definitely see how people would get nothing from it. I loved it though, it's only a few hours long, but itís funny, occasionally tense, and tells a good little story, Iíd say itís more than worth the risk
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The House
Abandon
19-09-16
Posted by Ben at 16:12

The House Abandon is going to strike a nostalgia chord with a very select group of people. People probably aged over 30, who owned an Amstrad, a Spectrum, or a Commodore 64 (maybe an old BBC computer), who also played the odd text adventure. Basically, people like me. Thatís not to say no one else will appreciate it, thanks to smartphones thereís a new audience for these types of games, both because theyíre not a bad way to present a narrative on a tablet of phone (80 Days, Lifeline etc), and because theyíve allowed more hobbyist developers to put things out.

The House Abandon presents itself in a fairly unique way, itís kind of a first person text adventure. Itís played from your point of view, as youíre sat at a desk with the screen angled to your left, the keyboard in front of you, some family pictures, a lamp, a clock on top of the tv, even a phone pinned to the wall. The screen flickers and has scanlines, the computer keyboard has a tapedeck and familiar rainbow colouring. It absolutely looks the part even down to whatís happening on the screen. You never see yourself physically type, but it is you (person reading this who has or will play the game) responding to the on-screen cues.

When you boot ĎThe House Abandoní your character arrives at your old family holiday home with a hint to check the glove box, so you type Ďopen glove boxí, find a loving note from you father, type to read it, get out of the car and so on. Itís all very positive and nostalgicÖ until itís not.

It seems insane that a text adventure would be tense, but god damn it gets tense. The writing really starts to land, the familiarity is distorted, the safe nostalgia abandoned in favour of unease. While the look of the game will probably be what draws a lot of people in, the lead developer is Jon McKellen the man responsible for the UI in Alien Isolation, and it shows. I canít say for sure itís the same technique, but the CRT monitor glows and flickers in a realistic way, the rest of the computer looks accurate without being an infringement, even the loading of the game and its title screen look the part.

I do have a few issues with The House Abandon though. I very, very quickly found myself running in to a wall with the game. I think even while I was still in the car, but certainly trying to get around to the back of the house, opening a certain door, even turning something on, they were all more problematic than they needed to be. Itís a problem adventure games sometimes run in to, itís never fun to have the answer but not be able to put it in the specific form the game requires. Still though, The House Abandon is a prototype, and free, it deserves some leeway. In short then, if any of this sounds appealing to you youíve nothing to lose by trying The House Abandon, in fact itís one of the most compelling things Iíve played all year
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Don't Disturb

08-09-16
Posted by Ben at 14:22

Don't Disturb is a striking game. I know that if I mentioned a traditional Japanese watercolour game starring a canine at least one other game would come to mind, but it's such an unusual and beautiful aesthetic that it's hard not to be drawn in by Don't Disturb. The watercolour look and shift in art styles works with the narrative to set the slightly otherworldly, disconnected tone of the game.

You play as a dog who's master has died, unable to let her go he follows her to the spirit world trying to find her again. Along the way you solve puzzles and help people out, encountering all manner of spirits and tenets of death. It's an area I wish Don't Disturb spent more time examining, but unfortunately the setting isn't really explored.

Brevity is as much Don't Disturbís problem as anything else. I was settling in, I saw a pattern emerging, I was helping people find some happiness in death, reuniting couples of all shapes and sizes. I was waiting for the second act, prepared to have my legs taken from under me before rediscovering solace, euphoria. Instead I got the end of the game.

I donít have a problem with short games, I'd rather a game tell it's story and move on than drag things out or pad for 10 hours. It's not like Don't Disturb is set at some bank busting price, I mean value is in the pockets of the beholder but I don't think you'll feel especially fleeced if you go in expecting a short game. The problem is that you're in for an experience, and it feels like Don't Disturb had more to explore, it could do with more content to get you more invested in the journey.

Elsewhere Donít Disturbís problems are more technical. I couldn't get the game to go entirely full screen, which is a very, very minor complaint, but a rough edge that could do with being ironed out. Text doesn't stay on the screen long enough, a speech bubble will appear, and before you get half way through it will have vanished, coupled with the (possibly deliberate) broken English it doesn't really give you time to take in whatís being said. Which is a shame because thereís some interesting and funny stuff in there, it all helps with the atmosphere of the game.

Lastly, and more of a problem, I ran in to a bug during one of the puzzles that almost halted my progress. It was during a card game, I had to reorder the cards, only when I did the cards would disappear, as would the prompt to exit the puzzle. I could sometimes get lucky and force the missing cards to reappear again, but more often Iíd have to exit out of the game back to the title screen and reload. Fortunately the game had dropped a save right before that puzzle, but the bug would still occur. After that I canít say I noticed any other problems, and I was hoping the game would have been patched so that this was fixed, hopefully thatís on the way.

Itís a bit difficult to put a score on Donít Disturb, for a couple of reasons. On one hand, how much do spelling mistakes and grammatical errors take away from a game, not a lot, but itís something a critique should take in to account. How quickly text disappears is more of a problem, not exactly game breaking, but that bug during the card game is the sort of thing Iíd slaughter a larger game for. Then thereís the gameís length, how do you score a game thatís somewhere between 20 - 30 minutes long? So with that in mind I want to make it clear that I like Donít Disturb. I like that it exists, I think it looks fantastic, and while the tale it tells is an old one, itís not one that we see in videogames all that often, at least not in this form. Donít disturb should be commended for what it is, and if it sounds like your sort of thing, and youíre going in with your eyes open, I think a lot of people will get something out of it
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Wolflame

22-05-16
Posted by Ben at 08:22

Weíve covered a few Astro Port games now, and they all have a few things in common. They all feature some great, simple gameplay ideas, and theyíre all fantastically retro. Wolflame doesnít have the lovable kitsch of a Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser, but it may well be a better game.

Wolflame reminds me of being a kid in my local youth club, itís that era of shoot em up, pre-bullet hell where the only gimmick of note are your options. Travel up the screen, blast everything, pick up stars, occasionally drop a bomb, there was nothing complicated about those shooters, and thereís not a lot complicated about Wolflame. You travel up the screen, blasting away at enemy ships and buildings, picking up options, collecting stars for points, until you reach the boss, kill it and finish the level.

As mentioned Wolflame isnít ever a bullet hell shooter, but itís undoubtedly where the difficulty comes in. Wolflame suffers the way a lot of shooters do, in amongst all your outgoing fire, all the explosions of decimated ships, itís hard to pick out the single shot thatís inevitably going to kill you. Itís not helped that a lot of enemies have a habit of holding on to their bullet before pinging it at you, by which point your focus has drifted away from them. Itís a smart attack, but itís slightly frustrating losing a life to the only bullet on the screen. There is some more precise dodging later on, particularly if youíre playing on a harder difficulty.

At various points through the levels thereís support ships you can shoot down that will drop Ďoptionsí. The options will be one of 3 types, leave them to float around a while and theyíll change to another one. Theyíll either attach to the left or right side of your ship depending on the arrow on their icon. You can have different types on either side, and with each one you pick up you gain a level for that side. Thereís a charged blast, a homing attack, and lock-on lasers. Iíll be honest, getting level 5 lock-on lasers is pretty much letting the game play itself itís so powerful, so long as you keep an eye out for stray bullets.

For those chasing a high score the options are key here too. Once you get one of your option sides to the max level, picking one up will instead reward you with a chunk of points. Destroying certain buildings will result in gold stars, managing to get to the end of the level without dying will result in a points bonus.

Probably the biggest obstacle for the high score chasers is the gameís length. Wolflame has 10 levels, all a decent length, all with the occasional checkpoint if you die. Itís a fairly difficult game, you can continue your way through it, at least on easy, and clever use of save states might help you with the rest. Dying does mean youíre put back a bit and stripped of your pickups, but thereís a fair chance the next one you get will restore, or partially restore what you had. Not always though, Iím not sure why it differs, but being stripped back to your basic level certainly does increase the difficulty for a while.

Wolflame is good. It feels achingly retro, but at no point does it feel throwaway or spent. Itís just about difficult enough to engage the hardcore, lengthy enough that us shooter tourists will have something to get out teeth in. Itís a chunky, crunchy kind of a game, itís not especially flashy, beyond just being a good game thereís nothing unique to entice you, but thereís really very little to fault.
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The Banner
Saga 2
02-05-16
Posted by Duane at 04:34

I've already covered Stoic's The Banner Saga 2 in a first play, but this is our meat feast topping article. Our Caravan is loaded with whatever supplies we can afford and we wander across the landscape, settlement to settlement attempting to flee the Dredge. Fortunately for you, dear reader, our review isn't even remotely as oppressive as the atmosphere in this heavily story driven Tactical RPG.



As with its predecessor, The Banner Saga 2 is all about survival. What we have here is essentially a survival horror SRPG, minus the guns, zombies and obtuse puzzles. It has that atmosphere that you have no choice but to keep going, keep pushing on, knowing that the equipment you carry probably is barely sufficient enough for you to progress. You're forced to feel incredibly vulnerable by the exhausting experiences that your small band of survivors are struggling to live through as the size of your caravan increases and decreases between settlements and other places that try and promise an element of respite but don't always succeed in doing so.

As before this is all played out against an utterly beautifully created backdrop, your troop treks across a canvas on which they are absolutely dwarfed by the scenery around them. Which, whilst these images would look absolutely stunning hung up on a wall, they only help drive home just how desperate your plight is as does the rather Game of Thrones-esque events of The Banner Saga 2's plot, with key people leaving your band at key points and the end of each narrative element.

As before this is all played out alongside an isometric turn based battle system, and whilst on the surface it looks like Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics, it really is anything but. As with the rest of the game you feel overwhelmed, your forces not as strong as the Dredge that pursue you and battles are en exercise in just surviving long enough to chip away at your foe, often resulting in you losing all but one or two of your forces. Stoic have introduced new elements like a class type that can buff other party members who are on their last legs, allowing them one last enhanced attack in order to try and turn the tide of the battle. There's a genuine sense that in order to progress your party needs to band together, treating them all as single units is tantamount to disaster and this is enforced through the relationship between Bolverk and Folka. Placing them nearby to each other provides a defensive boost to Bolverk, but this also opens up the risk of the latter being hurt by the swing of Bolverks second axe (which also has an equal chance of hitting your foe instead).

The fact that this overpowering element of being on the brink of failure during every aspect of the game, that any wrong choice during dialogue sequences, a wrong choice whilst buying supplies or equipment or the wrong manoeuvre on the battle field could all spell disaster, is always there can be a little too heavy for some and I think its fair to say that The Banner Saga 2 is best played in bursts of a settlement or two at a time. Which is easy to list as a negative, but I don't actually think it is, its not a game that you could feel too burnt out by and it certainly doesn't outstay its welcome, the wait between the first instalment and this one felt like an eternity on my part and that we now get to continue the tale is incredibly welcome, especially as The Banner Saga 2 stands as equal to its highly recommended predecessor.
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