Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart is... good.
Pardon the italics, but surprise is a tough emotion to convey in a written review and I did not have high hopes for this one. In my experience, spinoffs of fanservice-focused Japanese franchises tend to just be excuses for diehard fans to spend more time with their favourite female characters, meaning that gameplay is an afterthought and quality suffers badly as a result. After all, many will pay to virtually hang out with their waifu whatever the cost, so why bother putting in the effort?
To be clear, Hyperdevotion Noire definitely is an excuse to get more intimate with Noire and the Hyperdimension Neptunia girls in some very compromising situations, but there's much more to it than that. It's a full-fat Strategy RPG created by Sting, an SRPG developer of considerable repute, that's powered by solid mechanics, handsome visuals and strives to be a good tie-in first and foremost. And succeeds, at least, more than enough to be taken seriously.
As per usual, Hyperdevotion Noire is a parody of the videogames industry, set in a colourful Sci-Fi fantasy world in which warring nations are console manufacturers battling for market share, lead by powerful (if very moe) female warrior goddesses. Noire heads up Lastation, Vert fronts Leanbox, Blanc represents Lowee and previous protagonist Neptune inexplicably still champions Planeptune despite SEGAs questionable relevance, and their fierce rivalry for fans and shares is still going strong. However, a nefarious plot ends up stripping them of their powers, forcing them to band together under Noire's leadership to reunite their scattered generals and save Gamarket once and for all.Click here to read more...
Dragon Ball Xenoverse is the game we've been waiting for.
I'm not just talking to Dragon Ball Z fans, even though this is by far the best tie-in to date. Dimps have nailed the raw mechanical thrill of the series' legendary aerial battles as we freely soar over expansive 3D levels at supersonic speeds, throwing down on fan-favourite characters with ridiculously OTT attacks, Ki Blasts and trademark special moves, smashing foes through the scenery as we brawl in the air, underwater and throughout familiar locales.
We'll drill down into the details later, but the fact is that Dragon Ball Xenoverse is one of the most important manga/anime videogames ever since it finally addresses a missed opportunity that has gone sadly ignored for years. For the first time, we're able to truly enter an anime franchise's universe -- not as a player, but as a character. We'll create our own avatar from a huge selection of options, skills and equipment, then see how we stack up with Goku, Vegeta, Raditz, Frieza as we fight with and against them, whether alone or teaming up with friends online.
Xenoverse's premise is very clever indeed. The Dragon Ball timeline is under threat from a mysterious new force who seek to unbalance key events in the canon (from the first battles with Vegeta to the Ginyu Squad's body-changing shenanigans, Frieza's entrance and beyond) for their own nefarious ends. A chronological police force headed up by Trunks is desperately trying and failing to keep history intact, and in a last-ditch move, petition Shenron himself to send a champion capable of going back through time and restoring the canon to its original state. With extreme prejudice.
The champion, of course, being you. Me. Us.Click here to read more...
As an old-school point & click adventure game funded on Kickstarter and launched on Early Access, The Book Of Unwritten Tales 2 has a lot to prove, and proves it all.
Point and click adventure games can still entertain us for upwards of 20 hours rather than being broken up into bite-sized episodes. Point and click adventure games can be crowd-funded, developed in Early Access and released in a timely fashion rather than turning into bloated delayed embarrassments (here's looking at you, Double Fine). Point and click adventure games can still be both engaging and funny without flirting with other genres to keep players interested.
And they can definitely be worth £24.99. The Book Of Unwritten Tales 2 is an absolutely cracking adventure game, an excellent parody and probably one of the biggest pleasant surprises of the year. Assuming that you played the original, mind, else some of the details are going to be a little confusing.
The Book Of Unwritten Tales 2 starts with rogueish hero Nate briefly recounting how he recovered a powerful artefact with headstrong Elven princess Ivo, gnomish mage-in-training Wilbur and inexplicable fuzzball Critter, before revealing that he's in fact plummeting to his death. It's just the first of many twists in a surprisingly capable storyline that forces our four protagonists back together to discover and combat an emerging new threat throughout this colourful fantasy world.
It's also a baptism of fire that introduces you to the two main gameplay mechanics: "pointing" and, wait for it, "clicking." Well what did you expect?Click here to read more...
So, here it is: Sony's first brand new IP blockbuster for the PS4. Needless to say, the pressure is on for developers Ready at Dawn. We've seen them work wonders with the God of War series on PSP, so let's see how they handle creating something from scratch with the grunt of the PS4 behind them.
The Order: 1886 is a third-person single-player shooter set in a steampunk vision of Victorian London. You are Galahad, a Knight of The Order, sworn to protect the realm from everything from rebellion to half-breed werewolves.
The steampunk take on Victorian London is mainly focussed around the weapons, but there are other touches, such as the abundance of airships looming overhead. With games rarely using Victorian London though, it does make for a remarkable change of scenery.
Graphically, it's one of the best-looking game ever made. It comfortably out performs Assassin's Creed Unity, even without Ubisoft's gallery of glitches. I lost count of the amount of times I'd stop in Ready at Dawn's London just to pan the camera around and think 'this looks real', even at a clothes line above an alley.Click here to read more...
The New 3DS XL is here, and it's brilliant. Its predecessor, which we affectionately refer to as "The Bigness" here at the office, already improved on the original 3DS in every way imaginable, providing greater comfort, practicality and an infinitely superior gaming experience.
Now The Bigness is even better, as the New 3DS XL finally corrects the most blatant design flaw in Nintendo's handheld line while adding a faster processor, stable stereoscopic 3D, onboard Amiibo support and a range of extra tweaks. The result is the most desirable handheld console on the market if you're even remotely serious about portable gaming.
However, it becomes significantly less desirable if you already own an old-model 3DS XL, since many of the new features lack games that truly take advantage of them yet. Seeing as the firmware, onboard software and basic user experience remains unchanged, this review will largely focus on the hardware itself, meaning that newcomers might want to brush up on our 3DS XL Review, 3DS hardware review and 3DS onboard software review first.
The New 3DS XL measures in at 93.5mm x 160mm x 21.5mm, making it very slightly smaller and surprisingly lighter than its predecessor too. It's still a beast of a clamshell in terms of surface area with a largely unchanged form factor and overall design, but remains relatively slim, allowing you to slip it into baggy jeans or coat pockets with little fuss. The rounded design, coupled with its heft and reduced weight, makes for a comfortable console to hold for long periods, a far cry from both the original 3DS and Vita.
Once you open the console, you'll note that the two screens are exactly the same as the original 3DS XL as far as size and resolution are concerned, while the stereo speakers are no less capable (naturally you'll want to rely on headphones while playing on the move, mind). The full compliment of face buttons, triggers, circle pad and D-Pad also return in familiar locations, but benefit from a round of extra machining and refinement, feeling pleasingly solid and responding to your touch with satisfying clicky feedback.Click here to read more...
Revving up your engine, listen to her howling roar.
Metal under tension begging you to touch and go.
As a great philosopher once wrote: "I'll take you right into the Danger Zone."
You can't blame me for going full Loggins mere seconds into this review, because we're talking about Ace Combat here. Project Aces' legendary franchise is The Daddy of arcade dogfighters, and though not a patch on PSP powerhouse Ace Combat X (because most things in life aren't a patch on Ace Combat X), Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy is an impressive handheld combat flight sim.
Completely rebuilding Ace Combat 2 in full 3D with the High-G turns of AC6 and visceral aerobatics of Assault Horizon, this portable maverick jumped off the deck and shoved into overdrive back in 2011, delivering a high-octane aerial combat experience with empowering mechanics, a robust branching campaign and loads of unlockables that, sadly, hardly anyone bought.
Now it's back. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy + has arrived with the New 3DS, and the news is bittersweet. On the one hand, it's still as brilliant as ever, but on the other hand Bandai Namco might have missed a trick.
Or in other words it's basically the same game with a few new tweaks for New 3DS owners. Which, so long as you don't already own the original, is very good news indeed.Click here to read more...
Evolve is a genuinely great idea.
The core concept of four humans tracking down a murderous monster before it becomes powerful enough to eat them was too compelling to die with THQ. Asymmetrical multiplayer has powered some fantastic budget downloads over the last few years, catering for a passionate niche audience with unique and innovative gameplay.
Unfortunately Turtle Rock's great idea has been stretched into a full-priced AAA title. It's a crying shame, because despite some hectic moments and sensational production values, its gameplay and content have been spread far too thin.
We find ourselves on Shear, a planet facing a full-scale evacuation in the face of a monster infestation. It's a moody and graphically gorgeous environment, boasting multi-levelled maps teeming with hostile wildlife and lush vegetation. The Hunters have arrived as a rear guard for the last escape ship, with orders to protect the colonists by doing what they do best: tracking down and killing their quarry before it eats enough wildlife to evolve and return the favour.Click here to read more...
After a rather intense ending to its first episode, Telltale’s Game of Thrones series returns a second helping of bloody intrigue and moral choices. It should obviously go without saying, but if you’ve yet to play Episode 1 'Iron From Ice' I’d suggest not hitting the jump on this review as we’ll be dealing with some light spoilers from the previous episode. Plus, you know, you should go and play it anyway because it’s a great start to what will hopefully be yet another fantastic adventure series from Telltale.
I say this because Episode 2, The Lord Lords, continues to build the foundations that Iron From Ice began to lay down, delivering a solid if overall slower follow-up. Choices previously made are starting to rear their head, haunting House Forrester as they brace themselves for more trouble. We’re wiser this time, though. We know that the choices put before us aren’t always about winning but surviving, to fight another day until the chance for vengeance is at hand.
Providing our choices don’t get everyone killed before that happens. And with this being Westeros, there’s a high probability that could still happen.Click here to read more...
My maiden voyage was a disaster. I left port a fresh-faced young captain bound for unknown shores in a clunky old ship, accompanied by a feisty weasel and a suicidal engineer with hallucinogenic wasp larvae for eyes. We battled giant crabs, agreed to untenable bargains with shadowy kingpins and took lunch with bizarre sisters on a distant beach. I frittered my money away on carousing in dock before selling our scow for a tub the size of a dining table and entrusting repairs to swarms of warring rats. One of my crewmen was shot through the eyeball with a tiny mouse-sized musket. I never even knew his name.
And then we ran out of fuel, food and sanity miles from home in the inky abyss. My crew would have made a tasty snack if they hadn't murdered me. I can hardly blame them, in fairness.
Still, next time... okay, the next time was a disaster too. As was the time after that. Still, now I know what I'm doing, perhaps I'll finally return to my sweetheart with some stories to tell. Or pregnant. Or with the blood of my Zailors dripping off my teeth.
That's the point of Sunless Sea: stories. Building on the rich lore of Fallen London, Failbetter's latest project casts us as Zee Captains exploring the Unterzee, an enormous subterranean ocean formed when London inconveniently plummeted into the depths of the Earth. Victorian stiff upper lip being what it is, our only recourse is to set sail and spin our own deeply compelling yarn, revelling in some of the most superbly-written interactive storytelling outside of Spiderweb Software RPGs.Click here to read more...
Yes, I know – we’re a little late to the party in regards to Telltale’s latest licensed series. Having finally had chance to get hands-on with the first two episodes, we’re going to rectify that slacker approach and deliver a double bill of reviews, so expect the next one to be on-site in the very near future. Before we get started, I’d like to point out that my aim is to keep spoilers to a minimum at the very least, so don’t worry – you’ll be able to read our reviews and still be traumatised with maximum effect afterwards.
Telltale Games having proven their chops with gritty, engaging adventure titles over the last few years, so the excitement level for their Game of Thrones adaptation has been rather high, for me at least. The good news is that the first episode, Iron From Ice, manages to capture the essence of the HBO series (minus the sexposition and casual nudity… for now, anyway) so fans of the show should find their expectations met for the most part.Click here to read more...
For years, Telltale has been the only name associated with quality (yet incredibly buggy) episodic gaming, but we’re delighted to see some new blood enter the blossoming genre. Life is Strange is leading the way with Remember Me developers, Dontnod Entertainment, bringing us a brand new IP over five episodes through digital platforms.
I’ve always been rather cautious with this type of game. Knowing I have little patience for waiting, I’ve played the likes of Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us once a season has finished, as I didn’t want to wait weeks/months between episodes to find out what happens next. It’s a Netflix mentality that’s going to drive me insane with Life is Strange. I’ve played one episode and I’m hooked. The time between episodes is going to draaaag.
Of course, how you play is up to you, you can wait until the season finishes -and keep your fingers crossed for a discount too- or you can dive in now and not have to throw a magazine across the floor or stick your fingers in your ears whenever the game’s name is mentioned. A Game of Thrones syndrome if you will.Click here to read more...
Tower Defence is dead. Tower Defence hybrids are where it's at, and Deathtrap is one of the best I've ever played.
Neocore's latest project ought to do the business considering that the brilliant The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing II was basically a prototype. "Even the optional tower defence sections are good enough to be a standalone game in their own right," I wrote, and now that game has graduated from Early Access into version 1.0.
Half Diablo-style dungeon crawler, half hardcore tower defender and all glorioisly gory gothic ham, Deathtrap really is an exceptional genre hybrid. And yet I can't help wanting more -- not from it, but of it.
Deathtrap is already built on isometric action RPG pedigree, seeing as it shares an engine and even a fair few assets with the Van Helsing series, so the raw mechanics of slaughtering Hungarian folk beasties are polished, nuanced and deeply satisfying. Only this time, you're desperately trying to stop waves of enemies from breaching your painstakingly-constructed defences rather than looking for a boss or exit.Click here to read more...
Ugh, freaking meatbags!! I hate humans with every byte of my processing power. They're so unreliable and lazy, too useless to even survive a paltry robotic apocalypse by themselves. What a waste of perfectly good carbon. I'd shred the lot of them with my defence drones if only my boss' wife didn't think they were adorable.
But with a little genetic tampering... some laser vision here, extra arms there and a brain slug for good measure... perhaps they could be useful after all. Better. Stronger. More durable and obedient. Or at least live long enough to help me keep my job.
Such is the premise of Freaking Meatbags, a surprising fusion of real-time strategy, tower defence, twinstick shooting and gene splicing that has officially graduated from Early Access this week. Having played it extensively throughout the alpha funding phase, then getting access to the launch build several days in advance via the beta branch, I'm happy to report that it's exactly the kind of game we love to see go through Early Access. A strong, relatively simple yet innovative idea that works well and delivers on its realistic plan.
The plan, in this case, being to strip-mine a solar system. Players assume the role of Chip, a workaday robot employee of a massive mechanical conglomerate, tasked with scraping all the materials off of a number of worlds for his/its demanding boss. Unfortunately hordes of feral robots do their best to make that as difficult as possible. With Chip's job, relationship and life on the line, you'll need to use both strategy, quick reflexes and the local wildlife's genetic code to pull it off.Click here to read more...
I've longed for this day. The intricacies of modern operating systems and the tangled web of litigious bureaucracy and inept management meant that when my Grim Fandango CD became completely unplayable over a decade and a half ago, there was little to be done in the years that followed. Those years were spent desperately hoping that more stock would magically appear, that when GOG.com popped up, maybe there would be a second coming for Manny Calavera and chums. Maybe, just maybe, I'd finally get to play one of my favourite games of all time again.
Yeah, about that...
It took the destruction of LucasArts as a franchise and the Lazarean resurgence of Tim Schafer and co. in this new age of crowdfunded resurrections to do it. But finally, after seventeen long years, Grim Fandango is back on (digital) shelves again. Having railed against the shameless cash-ins of remastered reissues for games no less than a year old, this perhaps represents that most worthy of remastering endedavours: the restoration of an old classic for a new generation to sample, and for old fans to delight in once more.
Tempering expectations here are key, though, and this release needs to be seen for what it is: a seventeen-year-old game rendered playable again for fans, available a retro-reduced price. In the same way that Ocarina of Time 3D was a slightly spruced up trip down memory lane to appeal to everyone who already thought that game was the mutt's nuts, this Remaster is geared towards a friendly audience, one that already understands Grim Fandango's place in history, though don't let that put you off if you're coming to this new.Click here to read more...
I need a cold shower.
Oh, you and your filthy mind. Behave. But I can forgive you for jumping to conclusions, since Criminal Girls: Invite Only has an infamous reputation. This dungeon crawler was often seen as being too edgy for a Western release, seeing as its skill system encourages you to spank, electrocute and indulge in kinky foreplay with a collection of scantily-clad moe girls via some touchscreen minigames. The mind boggles, and NISA have finally brought the game over to British shores after some judicious editing and translation.
However, I don't need a cold shower to cool off, so to speak. I need it to stay awake. I expected Criminal Girls to be an embarrassing and kinky guilty pleasure, but the shocking reality is that it's criminally boring.
It shouldn't be. After accepting a new temp job in purgatory, you're tasked with leading a team of female reprobates up through a sprawling tower in order to find redemption. The characters are all arch moe archetypes to a fault, but they're arch enough to at least be vaguely interesting as they gradually reveal more about themselves over the 20-hour runtime. This might have been a decent foundation for a frisky little jaunt, but Criminal Girls falls down in the execution.Click here to read more...
I rated Unmechanical when I reviewed it back in... 2012?! Wow. How time flies. Either way, this charming physics-based puzzler captivated me for its four hour duration.
"Unmechanical provides four wonderful hours of mechanically-perfect puzzling, trapping you willingly in its gorgeous labyrinth for the duration," a younger and somewhat slimmer version of me wrote. "Despite a couple of issues and a slight lack of real innovation, Unmechanical joins the wealth of fantastic student projects that evolved into excellent games, and provides an experience that's more polished and balanced than any number of big-budget titles I could mention. It's time (and money) well spent."
Nearly three years later and Unmechanical has returned, this time on PS3, PS4 and Xbox One as a new "Extended" Edition. The good news is that it's just as sweet as it ever was.
The bad news, sadly, is that the "Extended" version hasn't been extended by very much at all.Click here to read more...
I'm being chased by men with guns, which seems particularly unfair given that all I have is a loose piece of plumbing equipment being gently warmed by a battery duct-taped to one end. But Dying Light isn't really a game that wants you to fight very often; it would much prefer that you run.
So off I tear, racing down side streets and narrow alleyways, gently nudging the right bumper to kick off towards nearby ledges, scrambling over fences and rooftops, and dodging legions of the walking dead, occasionally sliding between the festering legs of these shambling zombies to deliver the odd crunchy powerslide attack... because it feels good. I race to the top of a high building and realise that I've inadvertently solved my earlier problem. The men with guns are now being ripped to shreds by the undead masses.
The sun is going down, and the vision below me is captivating. Gory, disgusting, and peppered with sickening squelchy sounds, but undeniably beautiful to me with my slim sliver of health.
I'm really enjoying this game, and that's not something I really thought much during my first few hours with Dying Light.Click here to read more...
#IDARB is free on Xbox One. Go get it! So long as you're reading this in February 2015 and subscribe to Xbox Live Gold, just click here, sign in and queue up the download.
It's a small file, but you'll have just enough time to invite at least three friends over, preferably with their own Xbox One controllers.
Once you've grabbed a few snacks and perhaps thrown a few tinnies into the fridge, I'll have just enough time to explain why this bizarre mashup of Super Mario, Supraball, basketball and FIFA is one of the local multiplayer events of the last year... but a game that absolutely has to be enjoyed with at least three mates or not at all. And preferably while it's free, because value is going to be very hard to call.
In case you don't know, #IDARB (It Draws A Red Box) is a uniquely crowd-sourced project. Other Ocean tweeted an abstract picture of a red rectangle then reached out to the community for ideas about what the game should actually be. The result is a 4v4 team sport with one ball, two goals, enthusiastic commentary and an emphasis on brotastic team play... only with the mechanics of a sidescrolling platformer.Click here to read more...
Let's get this out of the way so we can move on: Citizens Of Earth is a love letter to EarthBound. It's an RPG that finds the humour, horror, wonder and weirdness lurking behind everyday life, a skewed perspective on American culture with wry left-field jabs and groan-worthy puns aplenty. As the Vice President of Earth, you'll recruit an army of followers to fight against an otherworldly invasion within the picket fences of your home town, coffee shops, the big city and realms beyond, encountering some bizarre and hilarious foes in traditional first-person turn based battles.
So Citizens Of Earth owes a lot to Mother 2, then, but there's more to it than that. It feels like a painstaking fan project developed by someone who loves the source material and JRPGs...but doesn't have much experience in actually making them.
Because that's exactly what it is. Eden Industries have never made a JRPG before, but in fairness there's a first time for everything. No-one attempted to create an execution puzzler based on light waves until Eden had a crack at it, and Waveform turned out great. As such they approached the marathon task of creating an enormous RPG by throwing everything they had at it, along with some new ideas of their own.
The result is infinitely more than just an EarthBound homage, yet simultaneously the sort of game I hate to review above all others. A game that's packed with clear passion and enthusiasm that I desperately want to love, but makes a number of basic mistakes I just can't ignore.Click here to read more...
Okay. You got me. My Spiderweb Software RPG reviews are getting pretty formulaic. I typically kick things off by bemoaning the state of gaming these days, then wax lyrical about the Infinity Engine and the importance of writing over visuals. Thankfully Jeff Vogel is still around, though, creating enormous and engaging RPGs with rich fundamentals and masterful command of the written word. Which I praise highly and breathlessly, pausing briefly to criticise the terrible interface before slapping on a ripe old score and an editor's choice award.
In my defence, however, my reviews are so formulaic because Spiderweb Software follows a winning formula of their own, down to the same basic systems and iterative engine that remain largely unchanged after two decades. As an expanded remake of a remake (Avernum 2 originally released in 2001, which was itself a remake of Exile 2!), you might expect Avernum 2: Crystal Souls to be old rope that's fraying around the edges somewhat.
So I'm delighted to report that Avernum 2: Crystal Souls manages to feel fresh and unique despite its pedigree, thanks to the timeless quality of Vogel's writing and its impressively unique campaign structure. If you have 40-odd hours to spare and don't mind reading a novel's worth of text, this is a old-school trip worth taking. It's certainly the gaming highlight of my year thus far.
We return to Avernum, a sprawling subterranean world in which generations of exiled prisoners have started new lives and scratched together a brave new civilization against the horrors of the dark. Unfortunately the surface world has launched a crushing offensive against its former outcasts, scattering and crushing the beleagured yet determined rebels. It's a unique and complex setting that feels alive and authentic, underpinned by powerful themes of poverty, desperation, rebellion and racism, but what's remarkable is that the world and its inhabitants are brought to life though the writing, not the graphics.Click here to read more...