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11:00 AM on 03.31.2015

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China gives the series a fresh perspective

It's not often we see a major player in the big leagues of yearly releases reinvent itself in a more modest and distinct way. With Assassin's Creed titles expected every year, it's been a bit of a challenge for Ubisoft to kee...

Alessandro Fillari



Mekazoo has a cheeky rhyme for tricky gameplay photo
Mekazoo has a cheeky rhyme for tricky gameplay
by Brett Makedonski

“When in doubt, switch them out.” Sage-like advice, really. That’s what Mekazoo’s creative director Jarrett Slavin had to tell me to do when I showed obvious struggles playing his demo. I’m no stranger to platformers, but this one has a learning curve about it that’s difficult to grasp, but so rewarding once you find a rhythm.

His suggestion was one that developers Good Mood Creators coined whenever someone seemed to temporarily forget that Mekazoo features a dual-animal system. It’s easy to fall into the trap of cruising right along with your game-assigned, tech-glimmering creature -- so much so that repeated failures of a section are likely less a case of “you’re bad at this game” and more “you need to try with the other animal.”

Half the reason that Mekazoo players have a tendency to put strategy on the back-burner is because the game looks so damn enchanting. Sporting a “2.5D” aesthetic, the camera has a way of wrapping and zooming around  in a controlled frenzy that adds depth to the levels. When it’s time to slow things down again, a standard two-dimensional approach is taken.

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Dirty Bomb aims high with its focus on hardcore FPS action photo
Dirty Bomb aims high with its focus on hardcore FPS action
by Alessandro Fillari

The folks at Splash Damage have been busy over the last two years. Since the release of Brink and a stint on Batman: Arkham Origins' multiplayer, they figured it was time to return to their roots with a heavy focus on PC-oriented competitive multiplayer gameplay. As the masterminds behind the legendary Quake 3 Fortress mod and the multiplayer for Return to Castle Wolfenstein, they were keen on rekindling the magic found in their earlier work for their shooter. With their upcoming title Dirty Bomb having been in closed alpha for the some time now (since 2013) the developers are now ready to get the masses in on their return to form FPS title.

With a deep focus on free-to-play and pay what you want gameplay, the developers seek to keep Dirty Bomb fair for all with its "Free-to-Win" mantra. Published by Nexon, it's one fo the rare Western developed titles for the F2P publisher. Though this one's got quite a pedigree from the developers who've worked on Enemy Territory and the multiplayer for Return to Castle Wolfenstein. At a special event hosted by the publisher Nexon, we got to go hands-on with this over-the-top and self-proclaimed "hardcore" shooter, where we got to speak to some folks from Splash Damage about its development. With access to the game available now, they wanted to hit the ground running by showing what their title is all about.

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Beyond Eyes abstracts the world as perceived by a blind girl photo
Beyond Eyes abstracts the world as perceived by a blind girl
by Darren Nakamura

I have been following Beyond Eyes since I first heard about it a year and a half ago. Videogames can be powerful tools for relating experiences that may otherwise be difficult to comprehend. Blindness both fascinates and terrifies me; I know I would be utterly useless without my sense of sight, but others manage impressive feats despite the disability.

So when I heard that Team17 was bringing Beyond Eyes to PAX East, I had to go and check it out. Despite starring a blind girl, it makes excellent use of color in telling her story. Not only that, but it uses other visual tricks to represent her perception of the world through hearing, smell, and touch.

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Talk turns technical with Masquerada: Songs and Shadows' Ian Gregory  photo
Talk turns technical with Masquerada: Songs and Shadows' Ian Gregory
by Rob Morrow

While at PAX East, I was fortunate enough to schedule a chat with the co-founder and creative director of Singapore-based Witching Hour Studios, Ian Gregory, to talk about the studio's beautiful upcoming "pause-for-tactics" 2.5D isometric RPG Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, planned for release on PC, Mac, and consoles (TBD) sometime in early 2016.

The game takes place in a Venetian-inspired fantasy city called Ombre, and as it happens, is the only place in the game's world where magic exists. However, discovering and donning rare masks are the key to learning and harnessing that magical power. Gregory describes the mask's function in the game as that of "batteries," storing built-up magical energy to be released in the form of the different classes' skills and abilities.

Players follow the story of Inspettore Cicero Gavar as he returns from exile to solve a kidnapping that, as the game's description states, will  "shake up the foundations of the city." Cicero, your starting character in the game, is a Maestro, a hybrid class that draws from the skills of all three main character classes.

The three main classes available in the game are the Sicario, who fills the role of an assassin; the Pavisierre, the tank in the group; and lastly, the Dirge, a bard-like character who can cast both summons and buffs. Each class will have access to eight to ten different abilities, all of which possess their own skill trees.

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StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void seeks to conclude the trilogy with an exciting finale photo
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void seeks to conclude the trilogy with an exciting finale
by Alessandro Fillari

Where were you when that debut trailer for StarCraft II popped up online? It made its announcement all the way back in 2007 at the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in South Korea. Much has changed since then. With the release of two StarCraft II titles so far, Blizzard has been trying to keep things interesting for the series in the face of evolving tastes and new games.

But one thing sure hasn't changed in the time since its debut all those years ago. People are still very much into the series, and with the final expansion rearing its head, the developers at Blizzard want players to get some hands-on time with the legendary real-time strategy title before its official release. Which, of course, hasn't quite been revealed yet.

During GDC, I got the opportunity to speak with Blizzard about its plans for the future of StarCraft, and how the upcoming expansion plans to tie everything up in dramatic and epic fashion. 

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RIVE was my favorite twin-stick shooter at PAX East photo
RIVE was my favorite twin-stick shooter at PAX East
by Rob Morrow

When I learned that Netherlands-based Two Tribes Studios (Toki ToriToki Tori 2) was bringing its snazzy metal-wrecking, robot-hacking, twin-stick shooter RIVE to PAX East this year, I jumped at the chance to set up an appointment to see the current state of the game.

I finally caught up Two Tribes co-founder Collin van Ginkel at the RIVE booth where he sat me down for a little hands-on with the game. I'd had some time playing an earlier version that was released last fall before leaving for the show, but what was on display at PAX East this year had obviously seen some major improvements.

For starters, the demo on hand had my previously ground-based, spider-like vehicle transformed into a nimble spacecraft, dodging and blasting its way through an asteroid belt on route to the facility to where the rest of the demo takes place. The addition of side-scrolling flying sections was a pleasant surprise and I hope that in the final version, there's even more of them.

The touchy but precise movement controls while flying were a little tricky to get used to, but by the time I had passed (collided with) a few asteroids I had full control of my ship, chewing through all that was in my path and easily outmaneuvering the spinning, laser-firing turrets that appear towards the end of the section.

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Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries is a dark reinvention of classic fairytale fiction photo
Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries is a dark reinvention of classic fairytale fiction
by Alessandro Fillari

Over the last three years, Kickstarter has totally changed the game for many developers. With the option to crowdfund projects, cut out the middle-man (publishers), and communicate directly with fans to help create the game, we've seen a number of projects find audiences well before their release. And many of these projects seek to offer something a bit different than what you'd expect from retail releases.

That's what the developers at GRIN Game Studio (no relation to former developer GRIN of Bionic Commando: Rearmed fame) are planning with their uniquely macabre journey through fairy-tale fiction in Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries. In this re-imagining of the classic tale, Red must exact revenge against an army of clockwork soldiers while traveling through a dark and twisted world filled with monsters and other foes from fairytale fiction.

During our chat with the CEO of GRIN at the Game Developers Conference, we learned about their vision for this two-part adventure, and how crowdfunding breathed new life into the project.

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It's easy to zone out in the open ocean of Windward photo
It's easy to zone out in the open ocean of Windward
by Darren Nakamura

The PAX East expo floor is one of the least peaceful places to play a game. There are sweaty crowds, children who haven't learned to use their inside voices, and booths blasting dance music and/or eSports commentary. And yet, at the back of the floor sat Tasharen Entertainment's booth, where I was able to don some headphones, relax, and lose myself in the high seas of Windward.

Before I knew it, half an hour had passed, a line was forming behind me, and I felt like I had hardly scratched the surface of the genre-blending ship game. I needed more time with it to get a really good feel for it. I started up the Early Access build the other day and the time melted away. I managed to get six hours of play in that same day.

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Gigantic made me gigantic in the pants photo
Gigantic made me gigantic in the pants
by Jed Whitaker

At PAX East this year I walked past many of the larger booths and gave them little attention, as I am typically more interested in indie games. I got invited to a press-only demo for Gigantic -- a game I only knew of by seeing the signs for the booth on the show floor -- by fellow Destructoid editor Rob Morrow, so I went to see what it was all about. I'm glad I got to get hands-on time with the game, otherwise I wouldn't know just how fantastic Gigantic is.

When I first laid eyes on Gigantic it was breathtaking. The colorful graphics pop off the screen and are reminiscent of something you'd expect to see from Pixar or DreamWorks. The characters are all unique and really stand out from the equally colorful environments. The animation of character movements are all really fluid, especially for the game only being in alpha.

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Just Shapes & Beats is bullet hell without the shooter photo
Just Shapes & Beats is bullet hell without the shooter
by Kyle MacGregor

"Congratulations, you just survived the tutorial," Just Shapes & Beats coder Mike Ducarme teased the small crowd clustered around Berzerk Studio's PAX East booth. A quartet of us had just run the gauntlet, bobbing and weaving our way through an imposing cannonade of pink missile fire.

We barely managed to scratch out a victory -- and that was only the tutorial? Glancing around the throng, there was a clear sense bewilderment and excitement among us. We wanted to see more.

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Magnetic: Cage Closed let me fling myself around with physics photo
Magnetic: Cage Closed let me fling myself around with physics
by Darren Nakamura

"It's not a gravity gun; it's a magnet." Guru Games, developer of Magnetic: Cage Closed, stressed this to me at PAX East. It works like a real magnet, with fields radiating out in all directions, rather than affecting only a forward-facing space.

In practice, it functions similarly in a lot of cases. Attract to pull objects closer, repel to push them further. It's a bit of an oversimplification, but the magnet gun is central to solving the puzzles found in Cage Closed. However, puzzles aren't all the title has going for it; Magnetic also features more action-oriented sections, branching pathways, and a focus on player choice.

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Dropsy challenges perceptions of beauty, proves that love really can conquer all photo
Dropsy challenges perceptions of beauty, proves that love really can conquer all
by Rob Morrow

One of the highlights of my time at PAX East was sitting down and chatting with Dropsy’s creator, Jay Tholen. Jay’s a quiet, thoughtful man with what seems to be unlimited creative energy at his disposal. His sometimes offbeat, but unquestionably engaging creative force shines through in his surreal point-and-click “hugventure” Dropsy. At first glance, the Devolver-published game may seem as though it could be reduced to a psychedelic walking simulator built to shock or surprise the player, offering no real substance beyond that.

For some players that will surely suffice, and they’ll be very happy playing that game. That’s part of the sly brilliance Tholen’s weaving into Dropsy, in that it can be enjoyed, or perhaps more accurately said, interpreted, on many different levels.

In some ways it functions like a mirror – the observer, or in this case, the player, unconsciously injects something of themselves into the experience, ultimately shaping their perception of what the game is really about. Which is quite refreshing in that the game doesn't lead you by the nose, telling you what to think; it offers plenty of room for your own interpretations.

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Amplitude's multiplayer mode has been reworked for the better photo
Amplitude's multiplayer mode has been reworked for the better
by Darren Nakamura

I have some good memories of playing single player FreQuency years ago. However, the only memories I have of the multiplayer mode are of me playing against my friends in high school and crushing them, then going off to college and playing against a guy in my dorm and being crushed. Neither situation was particularly fun.

With Harmonix's new Kickstarter-funded Amplitude, the multiplayer is getting a nice upgrade. Instead of FreQuency's simple head-to-head score attack, it uses something closer to the system found in Amplitude (2003). From that starting point, the player count has increased from two to four, and a handful of other tweaks have been implemented, turning it into a party game I can imagine a group switching to after arms and voices are shot from playing too much Rock Band.

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Let Ashes of the Singularity change your notion of large-scale RTS photo
Let Ashes of the Singularity change your notion of large-scale RTS
by Brett Makedonski

Real-time strategy titles often feel large-scale by design. There are a whole bunch of units on the battlefield, and the player's tasked with directing them all simultaneously. Even if there aren't that many actual parts in the faction, controlling an entire army is powerful by nature.

Ashes of the Singularity laughs in the face of that model. The upcoming RTS from Oxide Games operates under an ambitious mindset: If you're billing these combat scenarios as epic, let's actually make them epic. Sheer quantity is Ashes' greatest strength, and it's certainly nothing to laugh at.

This is all possible because of Nitrous, an engine that Oxide put years into building from the ground up. It was created with the real-time strategy genre in mind, specifically to forge battlegrounds where there are more than 10,000 units on-screen all performing individual and unique actions.

Let's slow this down and dwell on that for a second: More than 10,000 units on-screen.

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CrossCode is a beautiful 16-bit ball-filled adventure photo
CrossCode is a beautiful 16-bit ball-filled adventure
by Jed Whitaker

CrossCode is one of those games where I've heard mention of it by word of mouth, saw videos of it, but never though much of it. Then, I got bored and decided to try out the demo and boy, am I glad I did, because the game is wonderful.

The world of CrossCode reminds me of A Link to the Past in the sense that it has dungeons filled with puzzles, and an overworld replete with items waiting to be found which upgrade the protagonist's weapons and stats. The demo, which can be downloaded or played in-browser, is fairly lengthy for an early product that is looking to get crowdfunded. It includes a story mission, a dungeon and an overworld area to explore. Each portion feels really polished with gorgeous 16-bit graphics, a nostalgia-inspiring chiptune soundtrack, and an interesting story complemented by engaging gameplay. 

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