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Magnetic: Cage Closed let me fling myself around with physics

Mar 13 // Darren Nakamura
Like most modern first-person puzzle games, Magnetic is broken up into several discrete challenge rooms. Everything necessary to find a solution is contained within and nothing can be brought in or taken out of a room, aside from the magnet gun central to the mechanics. One of the hooks that sets Magnetic apart is that each room is a cube, part of a large facility full of others like it. The cubes can move and rotate with respect to one another, but as a spectator on the inside, it isn't obvious exactly how. So a particular exit may lead to different rooms on separate playthroughs (or even within a single playthrough in some cases), depending on choices made. In the PAX demo, one introductory choice was shown. I was ushered into a room, stripped of my magnet gun, and placed in front of a big, red button. Will I press the button or not? (I pressed the button.) Guru Games said the later choices would hold more weight, dipping into morally ambiguous territory, but none were shown. [embed]288987:57763:0[/embed] The meat of Cage Closed will feel familiar to most puzzle fans. There are pressure plates to activate, weighted boxes to manipulate, deadly traps to avoid, and exits to reach. The magnet gun does bring its own unique gameplay to the table, thanks to the realistic physics. Not only do the magnets behave like real (extremely powerful) magnets would, but the Newtonian principles are at work as well. If the player tries to attract (or repel) something with a large mass, it's the magnet gun wielder who will move. This sets up some extreme platforming, where pointing downward at a magnetic plate and repelling can set up for some huge jumps. Pointing toward a plate on the wall and hitting the attract button can keep the player suspended over a dangerous chasm. The rooms can be completed methodically, but Guru Games is also building Magnetic to encourage speed running and other high-level play. The most difficult level in the PAX demo was one with an emphasis on speed rather than thought. It took a few tries, but I eventually was able to careen through the spike-ridden corridor and make it out the other side without being impaled. It took a bit of trial and error since it required rounding a corner and seeing what traps awaited in the middle of the jump, but it was manageable. Breaking up puzzle gameplay with something more skill-based lets different parts of the brain rest, though I can imagine it being a little frustrating for players hoping for a more singular experience in either direction. Both styles of play were done adequately in the PAX demo, and I hope a good balance of the two is maintained in the final release. Magnetic: Cage Closed is bringing its magnet-based puzzle platforming to PC later this month.
Magnetic: Cage Closed photo
There were some puzzles too
"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 affecti...

Dropsy challenges perceptions of beauty, proves that love really can conquer all

Mar 13 // Rob Morrow
[embed]289013:57770:0[/embed] Dropsy features a defined story, though it will require a little effort on the player’s part to put the pieces together to form the whole. Like most good stories, it has a beginning, middle and an end. And as such, the game can be played as a straight point-and-click adventure all the way through; but I think those doing so would be missing out on a great deal of what it has to offer. If you take the time to venture off the preset narrative path, I think you’ll be pleased to discover that the alternate objectives that may seem unrelated to the main storyline are perhaps just as much a reason to play as the objectives that move the game’s plot forward. Dropsy doesn’t waste your time if you choose to do so, though. Unlike typical side quests in games, these have a unique and satisfying quality that are not only fun to complete but offer further insight into this intriguing character in a meaningful way. The ones featured in the PAX demo that I played were what Jay calls “hug puzzles.” As you explore Dropsy’s world you’ll encounter people from all walks of life, as well as animals from time to time. Each seem to be in some form of distress and it’s up to you to discover the nature of their problems and set about to make things right. If can you deduce what’s making them unhappy, you’ll be rewarded with a satisfying hug or fist bump from the NPC, and collect their picture to hang above your bed. This gallery functions as a sort of tally board for all of the good deeds you’ve done and the positive changes you’ve made in the world. It's quite addictive, and one of the most fulfilling side quests that I've seen in a game. The mechanics in Tholen's point-and-click are what you’ve become accustomed to in the genre – certain objects in environment are interactive, serving to either shed light on the broader backstory of the game, or move the narrative forward. Items that can be collected are stored in Dropsy’s pants. A drop-down menu at the top of the screen allows you to access these as needed. One of the first puzzles you’ll encounter is a large yellow bird that is blocking the exit from Dropsy’s tent. When you attempt to communicate with it, the bird screams at Dropsy, startling him, and a series of pictures appears above its head cluing you in to the nature of its distress. In this instance, the bird is hungry, and it just so happens that Dropsy has recently acquired the snack cakes the bird’s icons indicate. Bring down the menu, select the item required and offer it to the NPC. Now that the bird's no longer hungry it flies away and the path is clear. By displaying kindness and an unselfish, caring demeanor in the face of a fearful and prejudiced world, Dropsy overcomes the obstacles that are placed in his path, proving that if given the chance, perhaps love truly can conquer all. This seems to be the central theme in Jay's game and it's a beautiful one. I won't go further into detail on the particular puzzle elements or the many weird and wonderful characters you'll encounter in the strangely enchanting world of Dropsy at the risk of possibly spoiling the game for you. I'll just leave off saying that for those who are planning on picking up this exceptional title, you're in for something truly special.
Dropsy preview photo
Let's go on a hugventure
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 some...

Amplitude's multiplayer mode has been reworked for the better

Mar 13 // Darren Nakamura
At its core, the multiplayer mode plays the same as the single player. Different tracks are set up, each representing a piece of instrumentation used to build a song. Gems are arranged on the tracks, and it's up to the players to hit the right buttons with the beats to collect the gems. Standard rhythm game fare. In multiplayer, everybody is sharing the same set of tracks, but only one person can score from a given track at one time. Whichever player has been on a track the longest is at the front of the line; those behind have to switch to a different track to collect gems. One of the great things about Amplitude is that it encourages a sort of zen state, where the player is not only focusing on the track at hand, but also dedicating some almost subconscious processing power to the periphery. Not only does a high-level player watch the track currently being played, but also the next track to jump to. Additional players and another layer to this. Now it's necessary to keep tabs on other players, predicting their movements and reacting accordingly. [embed]288465:57583:0[/embed] There are other ways to interfere with opponents. While a track is usually first come, first served, certain powerups can tip the balance. One allows the player to jump to the front of a track, essentially stealing it from another player. In my play time at PAX East, I was able to hop in behind another player, deploy a series staple Autocatcher to delete his track and claim it for my own, then zip off before he realized what had happened. Classic. Harmonix's Annette Gonzales also described a cooperative mode, though I didn't get a chance to try it out. It came from experiences similar to my own with the older titles. When there is a significant skill gap between players, competitive modes aren't really fun for anybody. Like Rock Band, Amplitude can be a place where people come together to (re)create music, not just to see who can press buttons better. Amplitude is expected to release for PlayStation consoles this summer.
Amplitude at PAX East photo
Vying for position
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...

Let Ashes of the Singularity change your notion of large-scale RTS

Mar 13 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]288981:57764:0[/embed] While the demo we were shown wasn't playable, it was a real-time simulation of a game. The developer could pull the camera out until the various troops were nothing more than barely-visible dots. The size of everything was simply enormous. I was told that it was one of the smaller maps. If controlling 10,000 of anything sounds unwieldy to you, you're probably right. Each unit can be controlled directly, but Ashes of the Singularity gives the player to group various troops into meta-units. Meta-units are made up of any arrangement of troops the player desires. They function as a cohesive whole that are much more manageable in theory. The example given to me was that of a meta-unit consisting of tanks and artillery mortars. Without player input, that make-up will automatically put the tanks in front to provide defense, allowing the mortars to lob artillery shells from the safe cover. The player can tinker with that on an individual basis, which offers a nice sense of customization. However, it wouldn't make much sense to, given that a single unit out of thousands is the equivalent to a proverbial drop of water in a bucket. In all honesty, the demo seemed more like a boasting session for Nitrous than it did a glimpse at Ashes. Maybe, given that it's the first title on the engine, they'll become synonymous in a sense. But, it's impossible to not be impressed by the infrastructure. Thousands of units individually tracked, and creating unique shots and explosions is a solid framework for any game. However, that doesn't mean Ashes of the Singularity will necessarily be good. We have to wait a bit longer to find that out. Oxide Games and Stardock are going the Early Access route with this one, taking feedback into consideration to mold a better final product. Ashes of the Singularity will hit Early Access in the summer, and it's shooting for a proper retail release later this year. Even if we don't know how it'll ultimately turn out, we know for certain that its strength lies in its numbers.
Ashes of the Singularity photo
Strength in numbers
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 t...

CrossCode is a beautiful 16-bit ball-filled adventure

Mar 13 // Jed Whitaker
[embed]288984:57762:0[/embed] Balls are your weapon of choice -- that's right balls. They're useful in both combat and puzzle-solving. The balls can be charged up for a boost to damage, or they can be bounced to activate hard-to-reach switches. A melee attack can also be executed, which inflicts massive damage to an enemy crab boss. I played the demo with a mouse and keyboard, and aiming felt spot on; playing with a controller is also an option.  The story centers around Lea, an avatar in an MMO that is seemingly mixed with the real world in some fashion. The demo's mostly mum on details. Lea no memories and she's also mute -- the latter because her speech modules are having issues and her in-game designers need to fix them. Plenty of cutscenes show Lea nodding or emoting to get her point across, and the story in the demo was interesting enough to make me want to see more. Do everyone a favor and go help CrossCode get made by throwing some cash at it if you see fit. As of writing, CrossCode is just over a quarter of the way to its goal of €80,000 (just shy of $85,000), with 15 days left. A Wii U version is one of the stretch goals, a console it would surely feel at home on.
CrossCode photo
From the window to the wall, till puzzles take your balls
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 w...

We Happy Few's bright exterior hides a dark secret

Mar 12 // Darren Nakamura
Compulsion was fairly tight-lipped on the story of We Happy Few, but did give a few details to get me started. It takes place in a dystopian city on an island, where everybody exists in a constant state of euphoria thanks to a drug called Joy. At least, everybody except the player, who finds himself to be the only lucid person among the smiling drones. The goal is to find a means and an opportunity off the island, but neither is clear from the outset. Without much obvious direction, the more immediate concern is survival. The player has a few meters to keep track of, including hunger and thirst. Eating and drinking keep those at safe levels, but finding supplies is the tricky part. Or it's one of the tricky parts. Another thing to consider is that the government laces the town's water supply with Joy. It sets up a sort of push and pull, where drinking too little causes dehydration and drinking too much will put a lot of the upper into the player's system. This has some beneficial gameplay effects like increased stamina, but comes with a hard crash after a while. Overdosing can cause the player to black out and lose a day entirely. [embed]288935:57741:0[/embed] Past basic need management, there are other supplies to be found in the world of We Happy Few, many of which can be crafted into more interesting items like lockpicks or weaponry. Fighting isn't always the best option; stealth is often preferable. The interesting thing about We Happy Few's stealth is that it isn't about skulking in the shadows, but about blending in with the population. Walking down the street in broad daylight will garner no suspicion from the locals, but loitering in one spot for too long or sprinting will. I could almost imagine my character passing others with exaggerated arm movements and a forced smile just to avoid any second glances. There is a planned day/night cycle, with different events occurring at different times throughout the day. I was not able to see that in my time with the game, because I jumped out of a third floor window and broke my legs in a botched escape attempt before the day could turn to night. It seems like it's meant to be a fairly short but replayable game, because the team at Compulsion is putting some effort into procedural generation for the city. Though the overarching story and player goals will remain the same from run to run, individual playthroughs may yield different buildings or events, and the layout of the city will always change after the player dies. Creative Dude Guillaume Provost didn't use the word "roguelike," but it did seem to lean in that direction. Combat in the preview build was mostly melee-based, with angry Joy addicts coming at me with skillets and cricket bats. Unlike the crafting and stealth systems, straight combat didn't feel particularly deep, but I didn't have enough time or resources to create any of the cool toys that were available in the menu. Compulsion has already nailed the atmosphere for We Happy Few. As it turns out, there are some cool ideas for a game under that too, and the way the gameplay and the narrative interact via the unique stealth system is a great touch. It certainly needs some more time to fully flesh out the ideas laid out, but so far this looks like one to watch.
We Happy Few photo
Happy, happy, joy, joy!
For a while, the general aesthetic in games was dark and grimy, with muted colors to convey dismal feelings. The more recent counterculture of color was welcomed, bringing happiness back to the medium. But a funny thing happe...

SMITE's Xbox One alpha is off to a great start

Mar 12 // Chris Carter
While many of you out there probably dislike the lack of ingenuity when it comes to SMITE's roster, I must admit I still love the gimmick of tapping into existing spiritual and celestial beings. SMITE has playable characters representing Norse, Greek, Roman, Hindu, Chinese, Mayan, and Egyptian mythology, and odds are you'll recognize at least a few faces in the crowd. I'm addicted to scrolling through the little bios for each character, like binge-reading a series of Wikipedia entries. Hi-Rez has done a great job making them their own aesthetically. For those who aren't familiar with SMITE, gameplay comes in three varieties currently with the Xbox One alpha -- Arena (5v5 all-out combat), Siege (4v4 with two lanes, the most traditional MOBA experience), and Joust (3v3 with just one lane). Assault and Conquest from the PC version are currently not enabled, but the three aforementioned Xbox modes have a "first win of the day" bonus that grants you extra currency. It's a smart move, as it encourages you to boot up the game, relax, play a few matches, then retire for the evening after getting your bonuses. Heroes of the Storm and many other MOBAs have similar practices, but it feels especially at home on a console for me. The alpha currently does not allow you to connect your existing PC account (although it is promised for the future) or purchase "Gems" (the premium currency), but it has a decent selection of free characters at the moment, as well as the ability to earn "Favor," which allows you to "buy" characters by playing the game. I expect Gems will be sold by way of Xbox Live, and so far, the interface isn't confusing -- all of the cost info is right up front. Currently the going rate is roughly 400 Gems for $8, and each character in the alpha costs 200. The good news is that you can earn about half of the roster by buying each character with Favor, with the earn rate working out to a little less than a week of casual play. It's a little on the high side, but I've seen worse. Plus, the free rotation has been generous so far. [embed]285826:56801:0[/embed] Surprisingly, it controls great on the Xbox One. Everything is extremely easy to pick up, including movement, aiming, and getting to know all four of your character's abilities, which are mapped to the face buttons. Line targeting and even area-of-effect (AOE) powers are easy to aim using both sticks, and I had very little problem getting my powers where they needed to go. Since basic attacks are all done manually, a controller lends itself well to the action-oriented scheme, and using some character's dodge abilities felt more natural. Having the rumble feature go off when a queue is finished pre-match is a nice touch. Currently, the user interface needs a little work. It's a bit dated, and can stand to look a lot sleeker with its console debut. There are also a few minor issues with the current build, like the lack of indication that you're holding down the left trigger to "prep" your currently equipped items. Often times I'd need to use an item like a speed boost in a sticky situation, and it wouldn't go off because I apparently wasn't holding the trigger correctly. So far the visuals are very smooth, even for an alpha, but this is a testing phase after all so everything didn't go off without a hitch. My first match was rocky and unplayable, constantly lagging and counting back the game clock -- I tried to leave, but I couldn't jump into a new game until it was completely finished, which took a fair bit of time. I must say though that nearly all of my matches were very smooth, with little lag involved at all. This bodes well for Hi-Rez considering that it's still early in the console version's life cycle. If Xbox One owners are willing to take the plunge on SMITE, Hi-Rez stands to make quite a bit of money from daily players. The studio is going to have to stay on its game this year however, as there is plenty of competition as more and more developers are jumping into the space. While SMITE still isn't quite at the top of my MOBA list, I think I'm going to make an effort to play more when it arrives on the Xbox One later this year.
SMITE on Xbox One photo
Hi-Rez's MOBA has transitioned well to consoles
There aren't a whole lot of fully featured MOBA games on consoles. While a handful of them exist, some faring better than others, there's going to be a bigger push this year with games like SMITE and Gigantic headin...

Harmonix Music VR could supplant Audiosurf for me

Mar 12 // Darren Nakamura
Harmonix had two zones on display at PAX East. One was a serene beach scene and the other was an on-rails trip through a constantly changing techno landscape. I chose the latter, and loaded up The Foo Fighters' "Everlong" for my run through. It works a bit like those old school music visualizers in that it reads the characteristics of any song and generates visual content from it. The mini environments were designed; I saw birds flying, giant structures, and other recognizable elements. However, their behaviors and appearances are determined procedurally. I actually had to ask about that last bit, because some sections of the visual content synced up so well to the audio that I wasn't sure if the transitions were built specifically for the limited library on display. During the long snare roll build up near the end of "Everlong," it kept switching between various scenes. The switching increased in frequency until the crescendo when the guitar and vocals come back in, at which point it stuck with one scene that was more colorful and alive than it had been previously. It was incredible. When it was over, it was strange to take off the VR headset. By the end, I definitely felt like I had been in another place, and removing the headset transported me back to the show floor. As a way to enjoy music, I haven't ever experienced anything else like it.
Harmonix Music VR photo
A new way to experience music
Audiosurf is more than seven years old now (wow), but it still holds a place as a desktop icon on my computer. I still play it regularly. The thing is, I almost never play it on any setting other than Casual with Mono. It is ...

Mortal Kombat X brings back some familiar faces for Story Mode

Mar 12 // Alessandro Fillari
Mortal Kombat X (PC, PS4 [previewed], PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360)Developer: NetherRealm StudiosPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentRelease date: April 14, 2015 I think we were all pretty shocked by the culling of the majority of the Mortal Kombat roster in the last game. Many of the central characters that have been with the series for the long haul were killed off unceremoniously during the story, which was crazy because it was permanent. And although descendants and new variations of the characters are set to return, the cull was about giving Mortal Kombat a fresh roster for its next installment. During our hour spent with MKX, we saw quite a bit of the game's content, and even a few surprises that we can't share at this point. But I'll let Abel explain his thoughts on the future of MK. Abel: So let's get the big news out of the way: Johnny Cage is back! NetherRealm hasn't lost its touch with Story Mode. Like Mortal Kombat before it, Mortal Kombat X breaks its story into chapters, each following a specific character. It's absolutely the best storytelling in the genre, allowing you to play with most of the roster while delivering a cohesive narrative. We've come a long way from beating arcade modes with every fighter and trying to piece together the events. During our preview, we only got our hands on chapter one starring Johnny Cage. It was a great chapter though, packed with character reveals -- we got to fight against Scorpion, zombie Jax, and Sub Zero, as well as Shinnok. Oh, and Fujin is back, tearing armies up with his bestie Raiden. If I had to pick a gripe though, I was not a fan of all the choreographed fights in this chapter, some of which dragged on to the point of annoyance. I'm all for kicking back and watching Johnny Cage beat the stuffing out of Scorpion as a helicopter goes down, but there came a point where these scenes would drag on so long as to actively annoy me that the real fight hadn't started yet. The quick-time events didn't help much either, especially considering that success or failure in them had no bearing on the real fight, like they did in Injustice. Here's to hoping Johnny's chapter is the only one like this. [embed]288771:57744:0[/embed] Alessandro: I was a big fan of the previous MK's Story Mode, so it was exciting to see them continue on with that. What surprised me most was that chapter one with Johnny Cage essentially served as the epilogue for what happened in the ending with Shinnok and Quan-Chi in MK9.  It only takes place about a year or so after that story, and by the chapter's end it seemed to have the MK9 storyline wrapped up for the most part, which will lead the way for MKX's central story (which is set over the course of 25 years). But I suppose this goes along with this game being a somewhat clean break from the mythos into something new.  Abel: A new mythos will definitely be welcome, and from the recent story trailer and what we've played, it seems headed firmly in that direction. If I had one fear before playing Story Mode, it's that MKX would retread the stories of MK4 through Deception, the same way MK9 covered MK1-3. Alessandro: After Deadly Alliance, I felt that the series maybe got a bit too away from itself, and just went for a more 'kitchen-sink' approach. As in they threw in everyone from past and present into the story at once. A lot of the content and characters felt like filler, and catered more to the ridiculous side of Mortal Kombat. That's not necessarily bad, but I appreciate that the series is going for a more leaner and refined approach now. MK9 did a lot to help bring it back, and I'm really pleased with MKX following suit with its gameplay. Abel: HEY!!! I liked Chess Kombat, but you're right, combat is king in MKX. This was my third time playing MKX, and what struck me most was how comfortable the combat felt. None of the combos you spent time mastering in MK9 will translate, but familiarity with those games will be a leg up. With returning characters, a lot of the special moves either have the same input as MK9 or a similar logic. Down-back-something for a teleport, down-forward-something for a projectile, etc. What has changed the most though are projectiles and teleports, both of which feel much more punishable. Projectiles in generally all feel much slower than MK9, with lots of telegraphing to boot. Make the mistake of missing with your opponent nearby, and you're open for a big punish. Same goes for teleports which, when thrown out in a pinch, more often than not led to me and Alessandro trading hits.  Alessandro: I basically stuck with my favorites, Sub-Zero and Ermac. The variations system made them feel familiar, but still pretty fresh. I think this system will add a lot of nuance for the characters, as each style will completely change their modus operandi. Interestingly enough, the variations were locked during Story Mode, so it seems like they'll switch between the styles during the chapter's narrative for specific moments. I also really dug the fact that it's taking cues from Injustice for the meta-leveling system. You got experience and koins for completing matches in Story Mode, which could be invested towards factions and other rewards. I appreciate that it's all connected together. Abel: Speaking of connectivity (SEGUE!), NetherRealm announced a Mortal Kombat X iOS version, not unlike what was done for Injustice. By "not unlike" I really just mean "the exact same thing." Combat is the same tap for light attacks, swipe for heavy attacks, then build up meter to unleash a super move or X-Ray attack. Characters all come as cards and fight in teams of three with bronze, silver, and gold variations of each. You upgrade your cards, improve their stats, and fight your way up increasingly difficult ladders. Again, it's exactly the same. The monetization plan is the same too, offering a store to purchase new characters cards or energy to fight. The most interesting thing are the unlocks you can get by linking your WBID to your app and full game. The Batman Beyond suit in Injustice was amazing, so here's to hoping MKX will have similarly cool rewards. ----- Our time with the MKX came to a close after our hands-on with the mobile devices. We definitely wanted to give the versus mode another shot, as we obviously only scratched the surface of the game's content, but it's probably best we left at that point. Thankfully, the game is not too far off. I'm hoping that NetherRealm keeps a tight lid on what's in store for Mortal Kombat X till release. With new characters being shown off so often, I worry they're likely giving away too much. Regardless, we're plenty excited about what MKX has to offer. Abel totally geeked when Fujin appeared with Raiden to fight off Quan-Chi's forces, and I can tell that there will be plenty of those fan-service moments that diehard MK players will enjoy. For me, Story Mode in MK9 was the best the fighting game genre has ever had, and with the upcoming game pushing that even further, it's looking like we're in for something really special next month.
Mortal Kombat X photo
Heeeerrre's Johnny!
It's been less than a year since its reveal, and we're already rapidly approaching the release of Mortal Kombat X. After its predecessor essentially rebooted the franchise with a return to 2D-style combat, many fans got a new...

Sega brings back OutRun with style for the 3D Classics Series

Mar 11 // Alessandro Fillari
For those not quite familiar, OutRun is an arcade-style racing game that tasks players with racing their shiny Ferrari Testarossa across a stretch of land. At several points, you'll be able to choose which path you'd like to take, which will take you to a brand new setting that you'd likely not see in previous playthroughs. This nonlinear gameplay was rather unconventional for a racing title, which made it quite popular with arcade goers who wished for repeat plays. Over the years, it's developed quite a legacy for Sega, and it has even inspired musicians like Kavinsky for its portrayal of style in high-speed. It was a rather seminal title for Sega, earning a lot praise and finding much success in the arcades. Developed by Yu Suzuki, the creator of Shenmue, Virtua Fighter, and After Burner, it focused on fast gameplay while giving players a soothing and equally pulsing soundtrack to listen to. It even got several followups over the years. But with this remaster of OutRun, the folks at Sega had to put in extra work to retain the the original's style and feel without watering down the experience. "OutRun and After Burner II are two games that were the most important games in Sega’s history through the 1980s. However, due to a number of reasons, there was a time when there were no opportunities to port these two titles to other platforms," said producer Yosuke Okunari. "The most important thing for these kinds of games, and this is apparent from a video of the game you may have seen, is not to take these important games and try to remake them completely from scratch, but rather to recreate the playstyle as faithful to the original as you possibly can. And because the game preserves the feeling of the era it was made in, that history and the memories of those times can be communicated to everyone." During my playthrough, I immediately noticed how much smoother it felt. I played a bit of game when I younger in the arcades, so seeing this in action on a handheld was kind of a trip. And with the 3D enabled, the game doesn't lose performance one bit. It was impressive to see that a super fast racing game like OutRun would be able to make the transition so well. Honestly, it felt a bit hypnotic going over 200 km an hour. Once you're in the zone, you're kinda in a trance. Okunari-san explained that with the success of the previous titles on 3D Classics, they were able to tackle the necessary hurdles porting OutRun would take. "The 3DS is a notable piece of hardware, but it’s not a console that’s particularly well suited for creating faithful ports," he explained. "And so we were not able to include these two titles when we first began the development for the Sega 3D Classics. Only through the success of the first batch were we able to obtain the technical know-how and development budget to work on these two titles. It’s because of all the fans’ support." Often times, the 3DS tends to have some trouble with handling ports of classic or even recent titles. Which made porting the game, despite its age, somewhat of a challenge. One of the techniques that titles like After Burner and Space Harrier use is a way of presenting 2D sprites as pseudo-3D visuals, which is done with unique sprite-scaling designs. But in order to keep it consistent with other titles, the developers had to double the performance on OutRun, upgrading it from thirty frames per second to sixty. "Tying to get squeeze out more performance that the original title supported was a very difficult undertaking," said the producer. "Simply straight porting the game as is would prove to be a challenge in and of itself, but we had to optimize and improve the programming so it would run twice the speed as the original. Also, we added two new songs to the game, and made a point that they had to blend naturally and feel completely natural in the game, which was also a great challenge. Essentially using the same sound sources as the original, while ensuring that they would sound different and unique compared to the original three songs. New songs in the style and feel of the era when the game was originally released, back in the '80s." It's certainly eye-opening to see the amount of work that goes into remasters for classic titles. I supposed with the technology we have now, it's easy to think of products and software from the past as easy to make, or even easy to transition onto current hardware. Given the limitations they had and parameters they had to work within, I'm very impressed with what I played. I spent a good amount of time with OutRun on the 3DS, and it played like a dream. I highly recommend giving it a shot, especially if you're a first-timer. The sense of speed is just as sharp as it was back in the arcade days and experiencing it within the palms of your hands is real rush.
Sega 3D Classics photo
Race with flair on March 12
One of the great things about Sega's ongoing 3DS Classics series is that it allows retro games from the publisher's past to find a new audience. And given its rich and diverse history of quirky and fan-favorite titles, there'...

Tumblestone is the most intelligent 'match three' game I've ever played

Mar 11 // Patrick Hancock
Tumblestone contains both single-player and multiplayer modes. I spent most of the time in the multiplayer mode, which was the most interesting balance of speed and wits that I have seen in a long time.  The idea behind the game is to clear the board of the colored blocks. To do so, the player needs to shoot three of the same color from the bottom of the board. So far, everything is pretty straightforward. However, doing this in the wrong order will result in no possible matches after a while, which then forces the player to reset the board and try again. Yes, it is important to be fast, but it is more important to be correct! In multiplayer, everyone has the same randomly generated board. From there, it's a matter of who can clear the blocks in the right order the fastest. This is possibly the only game of its kind that made me, in a competitive multiplayer match, stop and stand back to really think about my next move. I could hear other players rushing to remove blocks while my section of the screen was motionless, yet I wasn't panicking, just concentrating. [embed]288776:57720:0[/embed] Things only get more complicated when different variants get thrown into the mix. Wildcards, for example, add in multicolored blocks that can go with any color. However, each color needs to use one Wildcard in order to clear the board, so the player must then keep track of which colors have already used Wildcards and which ones haven't. Ty Taylor, the developer, said he wants to make it more obvious to the player as to which colors the Wildcards can be used with to reduce the stress a little. Another interesting modifier was Color Lock, which restricted the same color from being matched up back to back. Though it sounds simple, the puzzle layouts make it quite complicated. The Shot Blocker modifier throws a stone in the middle column that switches on and off with each shot. Knowing this, players need to plan out their shots accordingly, since pieces in the middle will not be available every other turn. Perhaps my favorite modifier was a more complicated version of Shot Blocker, though I can't recall the specific name at the moment. The mode placed a Shot Blocker in the column the player uses for three consecutive shots. So, if a player takes a match from columns one, two, and three, those become off limits after their respective shots. However, the fourth shot will remove the first Shot Blocker placed and move it to the column the fourth shot was in. If it sounds confusing, it is! But only at first. This mode really forces players to think ahead, and "speed" almost becomes an afterthought in this mode. There were even times where I forgot I was competing against other people right next to me! Each modifier forces players to think completely differently, and aren't hard to understand. After a few failed attempts, most players will realize exactly what's up and start going very methodically. Ty also mentioned that future builds may be able to mix modifiers together, which I don't even want to think about right now. A sense of progression quickly becomes noticeable. While at first I felt a bit overwhelmed by some of the game modes, it didn't take long to become acclimated and start churning out victories. It's a pretty great feeling to know where you messed up in a puzzle, then breeze through the first half only to stop and think three moves ahead before diving into the second half.  My time with the single-player components was limited, but there are plenty of options for those who will be going it alone. A Marathon mode is an untimed, infinite mode for those who want to go for high scores. A Story Mode is also included, with 360 puzzles in 12 worlds, each world introducing a new modifier and likely pushing that modifier to the limit. Oh, and for those curious, Tumblestone is just fine for red/green colorblindies like myself. I was worried at first, but not only does each color have a specific face on it, but the reds and greens are at a very different brightness (dark red and light green) and were easy to tell apart. In addition, choosing a wrong color to match with in multiplayer will bring up arrows pointing to possible correct options. Both the single- and multiplayer offerings in Tumblestone come off as incredibly substantial modes. The competitive multiplayer got really heated on the show floor, even with occasional pauses to go into a deep, zen-like thought. This was one of my favorite games of PAX East, and luckily it's headed to just about every platform out there later this year! 
Smart puzzle photo
From the creators of The Bridge
The first impression of a game matters a lot at PAX. If people aren't intrigued almost immediately, they may never play the game at all. My first impression of Tumblestone was "oh cool another match-three game." I don't ...

Harebrained Schemes nails it once again with Necropolis

Mar 10 // Rob Morrow
Another noteworthy difference between the games is the absence of a rolling mechanic in Necropolis. The analog in Harebrained's title is the dash ability -- once tapped, your character will hop back a short distance. By limiting the character's ability to quickly roll out of the way of danger, Necropolis' combat feels riskier to me. Obviously, you can use the dash to escape from danger, but the distance you travel is much shorter, so it may take a few stamina-draining hops to get far enough away from an enemy to avoid its attacks. Before I move on to discussing the game's environments, I wanted to add one last thing about the combat systems that I found intriguing, and that's what the team refers to as its "living ecology of threats." I'd read about it before but with scant details available at the time and wasn't sure what to make of it. In the demo, however, its use was made very clear -- the Gem Eater, or as we've described him, the Shark Man -- has an insatiable appetite for (you guessed it) gems. And, as it happens, the Grine creatures mentioned before are composed of a crystalline substance that the hulking monster finds irresistible. [embed]288700:57694:0[/embed] Mike McCain, art director for the project, tipped me off on this, suggested that instead of going toe to toe with the brute that perhaps I should use him to my advantage instead. McCain pointed out a nearby mob of Grine and advised me to kite the beast in, letting him do what came naturally. As soon as he spotted his prey, he forgot about me entirely and began battling my foes for me. This opened up a wonderful tactical opportunity as I could swiftly and safely move in for a few strikes, gradually chipping away at his health before inevitably having to face off with him by myself once he was through with the Grine. Where Necropolis really sets itself apart is outside of combat, however. As you can see in MMORPG's footage of the PAX demo above, the procedurally generated environments have a stylish and clean look to them, standing in stark contrast to the oppressively gritty-looking From titles that helped inspire it. Necropolis' gorgeous low-poly environments look almost dream-like in their abstract, geometric structure and layout. It's quite impressive, really. For a title that's going for such a minimalistic design, the effect is paradoxically lavish when taken in as a whole. The game also differentiates itself from typical roguelikes in its approach to level design. Harebrained Schemes manages to trick the eye in the way that it handles the procedural elements; the end effect looks more like preplanned environments than randomly assembled rooms tacked together. If you didn't know that the levels were being procedurally generated with each new game, it would be easy to come away thinking that the layouts you'd just played were static. I'm not sure if it's the utilization of wide-open spaces where you can look out into the distance or stare down into an abyss that makes it feel so, but in any case, the effect works very well. Out of all the titles that I saw at this year’s PAX East, it was a no-brainer to choose Harebrained Schemes' stunning new action-roguelike as one of the two games that I would select for my editor’s choice awards for the show. Its elegant and thoughtful combat, both familiar and new, was an absolute pleasure to experience firsthand. For fans of third-person action games, especially those who enjoy From Software’s titles, Necropolis is one to fix firmly on your radar.
Necropolis preview photo
Murderous beauty
As I explored the opening area of Harebrained Schemes' third-person action roguelike Necropolis at PAX East 2015, I discovered an inviting treasure chest. Upon opening it, I realized too late that I wasn’t alone in that...

Heat Signature is the best game I saw at GDC

Mar 10 // Mike Cosimano
[embed]288833:57687:0[/embed] Heat Signature (PC)Developer: Suspicious DevelopmentsPublisher: Suspicious DevelopmentsRelease Date: When it "feels ready" If you look at Heat Signature, it’s not difficult to see a through-line between this game and Gunpoint. There’s a lot of opportunity for emergent gameplay in both titles, with an emphasis on improvisation. I often found myself cracking up whenever something went wrong. Rebounding from a mistake never felt impossible. Here, you play a little dude in a little ship. That’s all I know for sure; there’s currently no story attached to the game. Francis is dedicated to feature locking before he starts writing a story around the mechanics, but there will be some form of narrative component in the final product. Your ship is designed for boarding, so your only form of interacting with other ships is smashing into their airlock and hopping aboard. The build of the game I played had three different kinds of missions: steal an item, assassinate a crew member, or hijack a ship and fly it back to a certain spot. They’re simple enough on their own, but the missions take on a whole new life when things start going wrong. For example, I accidentally blew up part of a ship during a mission. I had to kill a target in a different part of the ship, but the corridor I was supposed to take was in pieces, floating through space. So I docked my ship in the blown-out part of the mining vessel, creating a new airlock, only to find a locked door. The only option? Spawn more explosives and make an even bigger mess. I never actually got to my target, but I could have hijacked a nearby ship with actual weapons and blown my target to smithereens, if I were so inclined. So many games claim to offer open problem solving, but Heat Signature actually delivers (much like Gunpoint). For example, in the build I played, it’s possible for your breaching ship to be destroyed. So, in lieu of a breaching ship, you can launch yourself out of an airlock towards another ship’s airlock, steering yourself with a gun. Even the death state feels exciting and improvisational. If you get killed while on a ship, you have to remote control your ship in your direction before you bleed to death. Since your ship has realistic thrusters (e.g: the only way to slow down is to thrust in the other direction) as opposed to being able to turn on a dime, you’re forced to master the controls if you want to keep a particularly lucrative run going. This also factors into the game’s title. Running your engines heats up your ship, which causes your *ahem* heat signature to become visible to enemies. I often ran my thrusters at full blast for a second, launching me across the galaxy but keeping my ship cold. However, this often caused me to slam against the hull of the enemy ship, causing me to careen off in the opposite direction. Closing the distance between you and your quarry -- a simple mechanical loop in any other game -- feels like an adventure unto itself. And that’s Heat Signature in a word. It feels adventurous. It feels big. It captures the imagination. Maybe it’s unprofessional to express this level of enthusiasm, but I’m not going to sit here and lie to you about how I feel. This game is awesome. I can’t wait to play the full thing.
Heat Signature GDC photo
What's cooler than being cool?
Gunpoint ultimately had very little to do with guns. It was a smartly designed puzzler with an immensely satisfying core set of mechanics and witty dialogue. But the title never came into play; pointing guns at people always ...

3D Realms: Bombshell is the only one who could kick Duke Nukem's ass

Mar 10 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]288478:57688:0[/embed] So, much like Bombshell herself, 3D Realms rebuilt the game. A lot of the grit and edge was suppressed. Her steely, crude mechanical arm was traded in for one that looked technologically useful. Her exposed midriff was exchanged for a functional suit of armor. And, what was once a half-shaved head is now a full head of hair. Most importantly, Bombshell looks like a significantly better game than we were led to believe almost a full year ago. Even if it may not seem like much variation for most studios, Interceptor and 3D Realms are spreading their wings with Bombshell. This isn't a first-person shooter. It's an action RPG with an isometric view. Again, it's an attempt to differentiate from Duke. 3D Realms acknowledged that when you specialize in a single genre, you become too comfortable. When you move outside of that comfort zone, you're able to look at everything from a different point of view. Actually, "different point of view" also extends to long-time 3D Realms fans, as it perfectly describes what they'll find most jarring about Bombshell. This has an isometric view, a top-down camera that gives a clear look at everything in the near vicinity. There's also a jump mechanic to go alongside some light platforming that may or may not prove frustrating. The role-playing aspect may be 3D Realms' greatest trick. Bombshell features two different currencies that are used for upgrading passive stats and weapons. This forces the player to figure out what they want their strengths to be, and to adjust gameplay accordingly. When you think about it, that's so wonderfully not 3D Realms. But, where 3D Realms doesn't stray too far from its tried-and-true roots is that Bombshell asks the player to kill everything in sight. It doesn't matter how it's done -- simple shooting, blowing things straight to hell, or even detaching Knuckles (her mechanical arm) to serve as a temporary turret. Just know that there will be foes, and they will ultimately die. Those enemies come in the form of three different races of aliens. In an unlikely twist, they're all working together. Predictably, 3D Realms wasn't too eager to talk about the story. What it was willing to say is that there's something valuable on Earth that the aliens want. Also, they've captured the President of the United States. Where Bombshell comes in is a "just one last job" sort of plot device. Her backstory is that she was the leader of the Global Defense Force, and her career came to an end during something called "The Washington Incident" -- a mission gone wrong in which she lost her arm and her crew. With the President abducted, they rebuilt her stronger than ever. Okay, admittedly, this story eschews all semblance of nuance or subtlety thus far. The dialogue's equally gruff, with Bombshell usually spouting off exactly what you'd expect Generic '90s Action Hero to say. Of course, 3D Realms promises that there's lots of plot to discover along the way. Hopefully it serves as a way to introduce Bombshell as a deep and interesting character -- not just a less crude, female Duke. Maybe the biggest uncertainty -- and there are a fair number -- is just how seriously 3D Realms takes itself with Bombshell. Is a lot of this tongue-in-cheek? Is it completely straight-faced and lacking self-awareness? Will it somehow shape up to be less ridiculous (and that's in no way a slight against the game) than during my 30-minute demo? The tone is a giant question mark, but then again, maybe it doesn't really matter. '90s clichés will come off as entertaining and badass, regardless of Interceptor's and 3D Realms' true intentions. Whatever the answer may be, we won't have to wait too long to find out. Bombshell has its sights set on on a summer release for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. It remains to see whether it's enjoyably explosive or a dud. But, rest assured that it's definitely not the Bombshell you knew a year ago.
Bombshell preview photo
She's got the arsenal to do it
3D Realms is keenly aware of what players know it for. Sure, there are plenty of titles in the publisher's history that should stand out, but for all intents and purposes, the company might as well re-name itself The Duke Nuk...

Severed is full of one-handed vengeance

Mar 10 // Caitlin Cooke
The colorful art style of Guacamelee! makes its return in a beautiful, dark package. In Severed you play a young heroine set out on a course of vengeance after losing her home and her arm in a brutal attack. Her dark story coupled with the deserted surroundings made for a chilling atmosphere, and etched within the demo were moments that tugged at my heart ever so slightly.   The movement style is a refreshing version of old-school first-person dungeon crawlers, allowing you to choose directional paths in a four-pointed compass-like system. Enemies spawn immediately when arriving to a location, and players swipe to attack while moving directionally to combat multiple monsters in a room. Each enemy has its own rhythm in terms of attacking, blocking, and parrying, and when various monsters start to compound together in a room it becomes advantageous to memorize their patterns.  Once enough successful attacks have been built up, players can enter a mode that slows down the monster’s movements and allows them to sever appendages to go in for the final kill. Once slayed, enemies drop various objects which can then be used to upgrade health, defense, and severed power. Health is only given from a mysterious orange fruit which hangs in solitude on a magical tree.  The final boss in the demo took me a while to master, but once I did I felt like I was on top of the world. He dropped a piece of neat-looking armor, which supposedly imbued my character with a special power for the rest of the game. I learned later that all bosses drop a piece of armor with a unique power, and that both the power and the armor can be upgraded throughout the game. At first it took me a while to adjust to the movement and touch screen-style exploration, especially when I needed to move and attack at the same time. I have such tiny hands, so having to hold the Vita while swiping and hitting the directional pad proved to be difficult at times. However, I quickly came to appreciate the interactivity of the world, especially when it came to fighting monsters.  Although the demo was pretty fleshed out, the team mentioned that it plans to make a lot of improvements before launch. Vertical elements will be added to levels, like staircases in rooms that will expand the dungeons vs. one flat area. A daytime/nighttime feature will also be included, which will enable environmental puzzles in the world. The team also plans to feature NPCs, who will introduce more dialogue to the story. Personally, I loved the quiet nature of the character and general silent plot progression, so my hope is that the team keeps it as simple as possible. Severed comes out this summer for the PS Vita, and Drinkbox also anticipates releasing it for other touch screen-friendly devices as well. I can tell that there are big things to come from this game, and can't wait to get my hands on the full release.
Severed photo
But hopefully, you'll have two to play with
There’s something serene about exploring a desolate place for the first time. Too often in games I find myself dropped into an environment, expected to pick up the pieces quickly to achieve a goal and left with little t...

Windows 10 makes it even easier for gameplay videos to go viral

Mar 09 // Brett Makedonski
In our demo, the presenter chose to record footage of Goat Simulator running on Steam. Goat Simulator was selected because "[It] shipped on Steam about this time last year. The developers haven't really touched its base functionality since it shipped. It has no knowledge of Xbox One, or Game DVR and Windows 10. But, Game DVR is a feature of the Windows 10 operating system, and it's available to any game played." After just a bit of nonsense in Goat Simulator (which isn't difficult to accomplish), he recorded the clip and showed how Windows 10 saves it. "No smoke and mirrors, no magic, no special file formats. They're just 1080p .mp4s sitting in my videos folder." From there, users can either use the Xbox app on their computer to select start and end points, or they can use any video editing software to make more nuanced edits. Once the clip's suited to their liking, it can be uploaded anywhere, just like any other video. When we asked whether users will find this feature to be resource intensive for Game DVR to always be recording in the background, Microsoft responded by saying "We're working on what the performance profiles of different hardware configurations are. You're going to have best experiences with modern GPUs, but you're still going to be able to use it if you have an older system. We're going to be very upfront about whether it's on or off by default because of the performance profile of your system." But, limitations of your system aren't the only way to turn Game DVR off if it isn't to your liking. The presenter elaborated "We want to put that flexibility in the user's hands. If they say 'frame-rate is unequivocally the most important thing; I don't care how tricked out my rig is.' If they want to turn it off because that's what they want to optimize for, they're going to be able to." A decent chunk of today's gaming space is occupied by sharing unique gameplay videos on sites like reddit. Some personalities thrive on it; others are just normal players that had something wacky happen to them. Whatever the case may be, Windows 10 will make it easier than ever to get those special moments out in front of a crowd.
Windows 10 photo
'No smoke and mirrors'
The latest generation in gaming has brought with it an emphasis on sharing. Screenshots and gameplay videos can be relatively easily captured and uploaded for anyone's audience to see. It's a smart way to drive interaction --...

Firewatch has topless teens, meaty hands, and mystery

Mar 09 // Steven Hansen
Henry clambers up rocks in the Wyoming wilderness with some effort. When I walked towards a little broken bridge, the distance between the side was so small that I felt, in other games, I might be able to walk right over it without jumping. For Henry, it required a little wind up, a jump, and a moment to steady himself on the other side. This mundane pace isn't a slog, it's an important part of Henry's characterization. And, so far, it is there without feeling "unfun," if that's a worry for you. It is restrained, but not patience taxing, and you're constantly engaged in radio dialogue while milling about (atypical in narrative/dialogue heavy games that have you focused on text or choices at the expense of movement). It is Henry's first day on the job as a park lookout. On the other end of his radio is his supervisor, Delilah. They are surprisingly glib for being recently acquainted, especially given their professional dynamic, but otherwise the dialogue felt natural. Except for Henry's bumbled, "p-p-p-p-p-p-panties." [embed]280443:55506:0[/embed] Tasked with investigating some fireworks, Henry finds an abandoned camp with fireworks and booze strewn about. I opted to hang onto the still full whisky bottle, which Henry assured me was a good brand. After kicking out the fire, you can follow a trail of undress all the way to the lake. Delilah is unfazed by reports of bras and underwear, and maybe even chastised Henry's bumbling use of the word "panties," which, c'mon, "underwear" is fine. Down at the lake the two nude swimmers in the distance are illegible against the sun and real creeped out by the weird old guy wandering around. You can yell at them (or ask nicely) to quit with the fireworks, or just throw their boombox into the lake and kill their tunes. They also issue Henry a sick burn in the form of a Sizzler buffet joke. I am pro Sizzler jokes forever. More intrigue abounds as day gives way to a brilliant blue night. A mysterious figure in the distance that Delilah assures you is just a hiker becomes more ominous when you find your lookout tower broken into. What Firewatch has done right in this piece of the game so far, removed from the overall narrative, is provide enough grounding detail to its gorgeous world. That and use the radio mechanic to weave "choose a response" style dialogue divergence a bit more neatly into walk-and-talk play.
Firewatch hands-on photo
Firewatch with me
I've been firewatching out for Campo Santo's new 'exploration mystery' since hearing about the talent behind it. Artist Olly Moss, Mark of the Ninja designer Nels Anderson, and season one The Walking Dead ...

Affordable Space Adventures is the Wii U experience I imagined in 2012

Mar 09 // Darren Nakamura
Affordable Space Adventures puts players in the role of space tourists, in control of a Small Craft™, a ship woefully underequipped for the perils of interplanetary exploration. It starts with only a flashlight, but gains new components over the course of the game. Early on the fuel-burning engine activates, and the explorers can get moving. As new systems come into play, they are controlled on the GamePad, referred to in game as the "heads down display" (heh). Some systems are binary; they are either on or off. Most have variable levels of power, from zero (off) to five (max). Success hinges on managing which systems have power at which times. For instance, pushing the thrusters' power up to the higher levels can allow for a quick escape but will overheat the engine if left for too long. Further on, the explorers encounter armed drones to circumvent. Though they are dangerous, their sensors are limited. Some detect heat, some detect sound, some detect electrical activity, and the most robust detect a combination of the three. Each ship component produces some amount of each, so the key to getting past the sentries is figuring out which systems are essential and which can be temporarily powered down or shut off. [embed]288785:57661:0[/embed] At this point, Affordable Space Adventures becomes a sort of puzzle game. It starts simple: if a drone senses heat and/or sound but the ship just wants to descend, then the trick is to hover above the danger zone, kill the engines, then restart it after passing safely by. Climbing through a similar situation would require the electric engine, which has a different feel to it in addition to producing different detectable effects. Later on, things get more complicated. Some drones can sense both heat and electricity, so players have to come up with clever solutions for avoiding detection or destruction. One section had us turning off the decelerator and coasting through a drone's area of effect. Another had me crank up the antigravity to gain upward momentum, kill the engines, then restore them just in time for my pilot to navigate us to safety. The game can be controlled by a single person using the GamePad, and it works fine, though it can get a little hectic coordinating the systems management on the touch screen with the piloting on the big screen. Where Affordable Space Adventures really shines is in two- or three-player cooperative mode. With two players, the one with the GamePad controls the systems and the flashlight while the other controls piloting, scanning, and firing flares. Almost everything players can do is interconnected so communication between teammates is essential. For instance, while the pilot is the one who activates the scanner, the engineer is the one who aims it. Adding a third player splits the labor further, adding a science officer to the mix. I was only able to play with two during my time, but even that was a great experience. It simulates the action on a spaceship bridge, where each person has specific roles and success comes from coordination and communication between teammates. Other games have done this, but Affordable Space Adventures is probably the most accessible of its ilk, requiring fewer players and just a single console. As a single-player or a cooperative game, Affordable Space Adventures makes excellent use of the Wii U GamePad. Any who like asymmetric cooperative multiplayer would do well to check it out. When the team works well together it can overcome some tricky circumstances. When the team doesn't work quite so well and the ship explodes and everybody dies, well, that's funny too. Affordable Space Adventures should be available on the Wii U eShop on April 9. The final price has not yet been decided.
PAX East photo
Better late than never
When Nintendo first unveiled the Wii U, my mind raced with ideas for games that could be created with the two-screen interface. A lot of the cool stuff that the DS did could be transferred to the big screen. Better yet, title...

Hands-on with Cuphead: Equal parts charming and challenging

Mar 09 // Steven Hansen
[embed]288823:57676:0[/embed] While the old-school difficulty (three hits and you're dead) is just reflective of developers' design inspirations, it does feel fitting that something this labor intensive to make won't be easily beaten. In fact, piratical ship helm Captain Silver remained unbeaten as long as I stayed at the event, despite a (joking) $2,000 reward. I was able to dispatch the first boss after running across the overworld to a vegetable patch. A grumpy potato pops out of the ground and begins spitting balls at you, every third one or so a pink ball that Cuphead can straw slap (pressing jump while in the air) to charge a super meter. The hit box and timing window for straw slapping pink bits is tight and after the first boss, the bits get real small, so straw slapping instead of straight dodging is risk reward. Again, three hits and you're out. After shooting up the potato enough -- it is adorable that Cuphead's gun is just cute little pew pew beams out of a a pointed finger and raised thumb -- a creepy carrot emerged in the center of the stage. It had red eyes circle in opposite directions and would rub deeply at its temples while bringing homing missiles down. I missed a super to its face, but was able to beat it. [embed]288823:57678:0[/embed] From there I skipped some of other fights I'd seen others play and went straight for the white whale (of the demo) Captain Silver. Silver stands atop his boat on the right side of the screen, occasionally shooting you with pink pellets. The best way to blast him it to get right on under him, but a pesky barrel that drops from the sky screws things up for you. Silver has a couple other cronies he'll whistle to call, too. From the front (right), a series of four tiny sharks with dog collars will plop on deck and slide left, chomping all the way. You can jump over them or crouch and shoot them, but you may also be dealing with Silver gunning for you and that barrel drop at the same time. Like any good classic boss fight, managing screen space is key. Same goes for the big great white Silver calls. It crashes in from the back (left), filling up much of the dock and forcing you forward, which can be extra troublesome late stage when the ship's mouth opens up and starts spitting cannonballs at you. There's also a squid who comes up with a wry smile shaking ink from an old-school ink pot, muddying the screen, which I found hilarious. Cuphead's two-player co-op wasn't playable in the demo and there wasn't much of the overworld, sidequesting, or platforming bits to mess with, but these boss fights are on point, it feels good, and it's charming as hell.
Cuphead hands-on photo
The holy grail
Cuphead has existed in a state of unreality to me since its E3 reveal. Despite seeing footage of the game, it remained in my mind a concept. One that I was in love with, mind. 1930s style animation. A character whose head is ...

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a brilliant asymmetrical game

Mar 08 // Patrick Hancock
The player with the Oculus Rift can manipulate the bomb by rotating it or by choosing one of the many different sections on the bomb to interact with. There are many different possibly sections that could be on the bomb, but the simple ones consist of a series of wires or symbols, or even just one single button with some text on it. The game allows for players to mess up two times. After that, the bomb detonates. Bombs are randomly generated each time, so it's not feasible to memorize what to do in specific situations. Plus, the sections themselves change so it would take a ton of memorization. The player with the binder has a series of instructions that need clear communication as to what the bomb actually shows. For example, one section of the beginner bomb has a set of about six wires. However, depending on what colors those wires contain will affect which wire needs to be cut. The binder will say something along the lines of "If the section contains any yellow wires, cut the third wire." It becomes a constant back and forth between players in a race against the clock that is absolutely exhilarating. [embed]288752:57653:0[/embed] After beating the beginner bomb on day one of PAX, my partner and I decided we were up for the harder bomb on day two. We were not. The first obstacle on the second bomb brought us all three strikes. It was a more complicated series of steps that also included memorization. I was not prepared to keep notes while frantically communicating, but that's exactly what I had to do in order to win. Step five would say "If the number display is a four, press the position of the button you pressed in step two." What the hell did we press in step two? BZZZT-BOOM! Well, shit. Apparently there are even harder bombs. As I was perusing the binder of information, I saw steps that were entire pages long, something called the "Who's on First" section, and mazes. Mazes! Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes looks like it would be a perfect party game for just about anyone. This may be the first and only game ever to bring me back every single day of PAX!
Asymmetrical Oculus photo
Great use of the Oculus Rift
In Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, a game originally developed at a game jam, one player wears the Oculus Rift and sees a bomb that needs to be defused but doesn't know how to defuse it. Their partner only has a binder...

I nuked the God of Lightning in Mayan Death Robots

Mar 08 // Patrick Hancock
Each player chooses one god, each with their own special attacks. The design of these gods is absolutely fantastic, and I found it hard to choose one to stick with based on design alone. Eventually I chose the Sun God, who was basically a nuke with a face who could also launch nukes and regular missiles. In retrospect, I guess that was the only answer. A nuke with a face! My opponent chose the Lightning God, who could also reign down attacks from the heavens. The object of the game isn't to kill each other -- though that certainly helps -- but to destroy the opponent's power source. Each god has four options: two unique attacks, jump, or build. The two attacks vary by god; the Sun God could either launch a Flare, which fired a tracer and then a rocket that came in at an angle. His other attack launched a different tracer, and then the next turn reigned down a massive nuke on top of wherever the tracer landed. Firing these takes some calculations. Aiming uses a power and angle line, similar to the classic Tanks game but without a meter for power. Jumping works in the same way, and is used to maneuver the god into a better position, whether it be to get a better shot or to get out of the way of the opponent's shot. Building allows the player to create terrain within a certain radius of the controlled god. These terrain pieces are placed in Tetris-esque shapes and help to protect the power source or possibly even imprison the enemy god! There's only a certain amount of terrain that can be placed, so it's not like you could just cover the screen in terrain. The most interesting part is the fact that turns happen simultaneously. Each player has a few seconds to choose which option they will perform, and then has a few more seconds to either move the angle and power of the attacks/jump, or to build the terrain. This not only keeps things moving, but also keeps things intense as you watch both sides' actions happen at once.  Every so often, a giant wheel comes up that grants each god a new single-use attack. Though it may seem pertinent to use it immediately, the situation may not call for a Cluster Grenade at that particular moment. Plus, it can be a little predictable to always use the new attack after acquiring it. Never be predictable! There are also Mayan statues and civilians running around and worshiping each god. Killing the opponent's statues and Mayans will grant buffs and can help give the player more options as to what kind of battle plan they execute. Should you go straight for the power source? Or will you go for a slower burn and start to aim for the statues? The whole match moves at a steady pace and there were event times where I was too busy watching the action unfold and totally missed choosing an action (it defaults to the last used action). Players need to be attentive, think quickly, and be unpredictable to be victorious. Mayan Death Robots is a fantastic strategy game that doesn't drag on and keeps up the intensity. The game has already been Greenlit and it is just a matter of time until we see it on Steam.
Mayan Death Robots  photo
Fast paced Worms-like
There's been a lot of games that try to copy the success of titles like Worms or Tanks, but often come off feeling too derivative. "Yeah, it's like Worms, but not quite as good" has definitely left my lips a handful of ...

Final Fantasy XV looks great and feels even better

Mar 07 // Kyle MacGregor
After getting acquainted with Prince Noctis and his entourage, Episode Duscae gives players the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the action-oriented battle system. The combat is fast and fluid, vaunting stylish special techniques and a warp ability that allows Noctis to teleport across the battlefield and strike opponents when they least expect it. The basic controls involve holding down or hammering at the attack button, and discerning when to back off and elude oncoming attacks. There are dodge and parry moves to do this, but my personal favorite (though least effective) is an awkward scrambling animation where our hero is on his hands and knees trying to get out of the way of an enemy assault. Noctis is equipped with a handful of different weapons, all of which have specific abilities and are useful in varying circumstances. Anticipating which technique is appropriate for the situation at hand will be key to mastering the combat system, as is monitoring the MP gauge, given just about everything the player does on the battlefield requires its use. Since players only have direct control over Noctis, the rest of the squad acts as support, and they're certainly no slouches. The other guys always followed my lead, rushing to join me in the fray and retreating when I ran for the hills, while also pointing out nearby objectives. One of their most important qualities is reviving fallen teammates. Upon depleting the life bar, characters will stagger around helplessly until they succumb to their wounds. Luckily, a helping hand from one of your pals should keep the game over screens to a minimum. Clashing with the local fauna or imperial patrols feels incredibly satisfying, especially so after dusk, when larger and more dangerous bands of frightening creatures materialize out of the pitch black night. These encounters are avoidable, though, as camping plays an important role, giving the party a safe haven to wait out the dangers of the witching hours, recuperate, and gear up for whatever hardships await on the long and winding road ahead. I look forward to coming across those obstacles and going toe to toe with the behemoth, a voracious beast causing trouble for the Duscaen residents. After following a rather bloody trail of breadcrumbs, I managed to track the monstrosity back to its lair in a lengthy stealth (!) sequence before a Square Enix representative pried the controller from my hands.  I'm not sure what happens next, but I'm certainly eager to find out. You can too, starting March 17.
Final Fantasy XV preview photo
Our first trip to Duscae
Even though the clock was ticking, it was difficult not to stop and smell the roses. I had a behemoth to hunt, but couldn't help myself. A gorgeous landscape teeming with majestic wildlife distracted me from my objective. I w...

Planet of the Eyes is a treacherous place for Polaroid robots

Mar 06 // Darren Nakamura
Indeed, the most striking element of Planet of the Eyes is its art direction. The vivid blues and purples and the sharp edges look amazing. In a conversation with Destructoid, writer Will O'Neill described the art design as retro futuristic, which is evident from the protagonist, a robot whose head resembles an old Polaroid camera. The planet itself is more organic, featuring the titular eyes on tendrils that just seem to want to watch the havoc. Early on in the demo, the robot finds an ominous audio log from a gravelly-voiced man. Addressed to the robot, it hints at the bot's function and at what the player might find on the adventure. It ends with an apology, perhaps in advance for all of the horrible deaths awaiting the robot. The environment is hostile, and survival requires the player to be alert. A lot has been put into making the traps feel ominous, where a pillar teeters for a few seconds before crushing the robot or the ground slowly sinks away. With enough wits, the player can react and push through, but the tension of an imminent death is special in its own way. [embed]288688:57638:0[/embed] The puzzle section featured fairly standard gameplay. I found myself pushing and pulling on objects to circumvent deadly obstacles, and sometimes setting in motion the very things that would crush or maim me. The more action-oriented half of the demo focused more on precision timing over bottomless pits or spikes that seem to take pleasure in skewering hapless passersby. It betrays slightly loose control, where the robot seems slow to respond at times. With constantly toppling platforms it got pretty dicey toward the end. Cococucumber has been quietly working on Planet of the Eyes for a couple years, and the studio is closing in on a final release. The puzzle platformer blazed through Steam Greenlight in just four days, and is set to come out in summer or fall of this year.
Planet of the Eyes photo
I always feel like somebody's watching me
Crash landing on an alien planet is the worst. There's hazardous flora, deadly fauna, and even rock formations that seem to have some sort of blood lust. That just piles on top of the existential crisis of being a robot with ...

Downwell has a simple premise but it's damn fun

Mar 06 // Darren Nakamura
In the well, there is an assortment of enemies to shoot. In the first area, frogs hop, bats fly, and spike-shelled snails climb up the walls. Some of the foes can be stomped, but the more dangerous ones must either be shot or avoided. So there's a lot of shooting involved, and the shooting serves a dual purpose: keeping from falling and defeating enemies. However, there's also a drawback. Platforms can be fired through, but most of the blocks are destructible. Fire too much and the nearest safe landing will disintegrate, leaving the player to plummet into unknown territory. Still, there are reasons to destroy blocks. Nestled inside some blocks (and all enemies) are gems, which also serve a dual purpose. Collected gems can be spent at any of the randomly-occurring shops that line the well. Here, the player can restore or increase health or increase the magazine size on the gun boots. The more interesting function for gems is a system wherein a steady gem income will result in more powerful shots to be fired. What falls out of that is a constant risk/reward assessment, where the player can opt to advance downward quickly, chaining together gems to keep the power shots fueled. Another approach is to take it more methodically, carefully dispatching enemies to avoid taking damage, but at the cost of reduced firepower. The impressive thing is that both are equally valid philosophies, though I found the most success with a hybrid of the two. Downwell is releasing for PC and mobile platforms. I tried it on both, and while the controller and the big screen were ideal, it only took a little bit of time to get used to playing it on an iPhone. The big pitfall with the mobile version is that a lot of the action to keep an eye on is at the bottom of the screen, precisely where the controls -- and therefore the player's thumbs -- are set up. That said, the mobile version still worked well enough to dig into. Perhaps ironically for a game about a semi-chaotic descent down a well, Downwell is built on a solid foundation. Like other recent lo-fi games, it focuses on gameplay, and it really nails it. I had a ton of fun playing, so much that developer Ojiro Fumoto commented on how long I stayed at his booth. The PAX weekend is still young and there is still a lot to see, but I can imagine going back just to get a few more rounds of Downwell in.
Downwell at PAX East photo
Three-button bliss
A glance at Downwell's tricolor palette in still shots doesn't really do it justice. Watching it in motion gives a better idea what it does, but not until actually playing it does it all click. It is built around a simple mec...

Soul Axiom is a cross between Journey and Tron

Mar 06 // Mike Cosimano
[embed]288643:57628:0[/embed] Soul AxiomDeveloper: Wales InteractivePublisher: Wales InteractiveRelease date: Q3/Q4 2015  Soul Axiom takes place inside Elysia, a social network-type system that allows users to upload their memories and experiences, creating a sort of virtual self. You play as one such agent, sans memories. It was hard to glean any sort of plot from a hands-off demo without sound, but there seems to be something quite sinister happening inside Elysia. Over the course of my demo, I spotted a shadowy figure dragging away a coffin, and a shark attacked the player character towards the end of my time with the game. Unlike Master Reboot, which had a psychological horror bent, Soul Axiom will be more like a thriller. The game will still have a few scares, but Soul Axiom is not designed for spooks. It seemed too ethereal for that, for one thing. The game’s story will be delivered environmentally, similar to the excellent Gone Home. As you learn about the character you’re playing as, you’ll also learn about other people who have used Elysia. According to Wales Interactive co-founder David ‘Dai’ Banner, the team wants to communicate the story without resorting to infodumps. "We’ve got a story to tell, and we want to tell it," Banner said. In order to better understand the story they’ve written, Wales Interactive looks to focus groups. But they aren’t trying to appeal to a wider audience, as is so often the case when a developer uses focus groups. Banner was very adamant that the team wasn’t looking to make a "realistic" game. Soul Axiom is the game they wanted to make, even with the changes that come from playtesting. "We don’t want [Soul Axiom] to be so polished that it loses all personality," Banner said. Instead, the team is asking their focus groups what they thought was happening in the story, tweaking things based on the responses. This mindset is the primary reason behind Soul Axiom’s Early Access release. Unlike most Early Access games, this isn’t an unfinished beta. You aren’t paying for the privilege of bug testing. Banner is okay with tweaking the puzzles, if that means players will reach the end of their story. "We want everybody to see the whole game," he said. The game’s puzzles revolve around powers the player gains access to, like a 'phase' ability that lets players bring objects in and out of existence. Although most of the puzzles I saw were fairly simple (the first level is a linear tutorial), there were a few clear examples of Portal-esque environmental puzzles. It’s hard to not see shades of The Talos Principle in the game’s Egyptian level, so if either of those games are your bag, this might be also your bag! Please come pick up your bag. Soul Axiom was being shown off at the Xbox lounge, but it will be released simultaneously on Xbox One, PS4, and Wii U once the Steam version has been fully playtested. The team is aiming for a six month release window, with their worst case scenario a Q4 2015 release.  
Soul Axiom Preview photo
This Ain't Axiom Nexus
Everything you could say about Soul Axiom feels reductive. It looks like Journey mixed with Tron, except when it looks like Tron mixed with Tron. It’s a puzzler that evokes The Ta...

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection shines in some spots, has problems in others

Mar 05 // Brett Makedonski
Having demoed both games in The Handsome Collection, The Pre-Sequel came off as simply unimpressive. Moving it to current consoles and harnessing the increased power of the PS4 isn't enough to make the four-player local co-op consistently work. Requiring the game to render everything four times over took a noticeable toll on game performance. Despite playing a level that was relatively unpopulated, the frame-rate dropped an annoying amount. It's likely that this won't be the case with fewer users, and there's always the possibility it'll be patched out through optimization in the coming weeks. Another niggling spot in The Pre-Sequel was the menu interface. It's oddly zoomed in by default, and the player needs to zoom out to see the full picture. Although it didn't present much of a problem in our brief demo with a throwaway character, players who actually care about their character builds and weapons will be in and out of those menus with great frequency. [embed]286397:56948:0[/embed] For as much as The Pre-Sequel didn't impress, Borderlands 2 absolutely did. Playing the Tiny Tina add-on, our group of four made our way through extremely busy sections with no dip in performance. That's where Handsome Collection players who look forward to local co-op are going to be most pleased with this package. Apart from those impressions, these are basically identical to the two games as they were on legacy consoles. Gearbox confirmed that nothing's been changed with regard to any overarching systems such as drop rate. It's the Borderlands you already know and (maybe) love. Actually, as far as The Handsome Collection goes, you might be better off not knowing Borderlands yet. It seems like it's a nice introductory package for those that held off on exposure to the series. Anyone that has an extensive history with it will welcome the ability to import characters from legacy consoles (including level, Badass Rank, and campaign progress), but nothing shown marks much of an improvement from what's already been played. Aside from four-player local co-op, it probably doesn't offer enough incentive to most people to convince them to re-invest.
Borderlands preview photo
Borderlands 2 impressed, The Pre-Sequel did not
Traditionally, Game Developers Conference is a very busy show. After what seems like a three-month hibernation, the game industry slowly creaks back awake and GDC is the first time everything's in full gear again. As always, ...

Dyscourse is a survival game that's light on survival

Mar 05 // Mike Cosimano
[embed]288640:57626:0[/embed] DyscourseDeveloper: Owlchemy LabsPublisher: Owlchemy LabsRelease date: March 25, 2015  "[Dyscourse] is a story that happens to be about survival," Schwartz clarified. In Dyscourse, you play as Rita, an artist turned barista who has crash landed on a deserted island with a motley crew of "useless tourists." By virtue of being the player character, Rita will determine the group’s focus, be it escape attempts or long-term survival plans. Is your time better spent gathering water or building a giant SOS out of driftwood? It’s a very basic risk/reward system, but what sets the game apart is just how different each playthrough will be. There are no superficial choices. When a character is injured or insulted, that will affect how effective they will be. There’s even unique character models for exhaustion, described by Schwartz as multiple levels of "dishevelment." Since each in-game day contains multiple opportunities for physical exertion and mental exhaustion, there's a good chance you could end a day with a dead survivor, or at least a very incapacitated one. Post-day conversations allow you to potentially mend broken bridges. However, broken bones are another story. According to Schwartz, the game contains an enormous amount of content. “There are about 80,000 English words in the game,” Schwartz said. “So if an American novel is about 100,000, our writer basically wrote a full novel.” A standard playthrough will only see around 15% of that 80,000. It also seems like the team at Owlchemy has succeeded in making their characters feel memorable. Schwartz recounted an anecdote from earlier in the week where a GDC attendee was praising a survivor’s competence, when a total stranger who had demoed the game earlier in the week stopped to accost the attendee. In the other person’s mind, that survivor was bringing the whole group down. I played Dyscourse on an Xbox One controller hooked up to a PC running a “near-final” build of the game. It played quite well, leading me to ask whether the game was headed to consoles. According to Schwartz, they’re “talking to everybody” about bringing the game to other platforms, but right now they’re focusing on the Steam version. They have to be focused; the game comes out in just under three weeks. I’ll certainly be giving Dyscourse a look when it comes out. The game’s sense of humor really works for me and the art style is memorable. There’s also a free expansion planned, starring a host of indie developers (Tim Schafer, Rami Ismail, and more) who get stranded on the island on their way to GDC. In my mind, that’s the real reason to pick up the game. The branching stories and clever dialogue seems like a nice bonus.
Dyscourse preview photo
It's also not Early Access
Owchemy Labs’ Alex Schwartz is one of the bravest men I know. In the midst of GDC, perhaps the most inside baseball-heavy of all conventions, he told a member of the press that Dyscourse was a "survival game." Of c...

Volume is a more thoughtful approach to Metal Gear Solid VR Mission-like stealth

Mar 05 // Steven Hansen
[embed]288637:57627:0[/embed] You do move around in real time, somersaulting over low walls and sticking to others for cover, but Volume isn't about hunting, human-like AI (especially not with the standard pawns). If you're spotted and cut enough corners to get away or duck into a locker, guards will simply reposition and you'll have another chance to get past them correctly. Thanks to plentiful checkpoints, each level -- there will be 100 -- acts as a series of connected stealth puzzles that tasks you with getting all the little blips and getting out.  Locksley will also be outfitted with gadgets picked up on the scene. You can hold one at a time and they add to the mind teasing. The Oddity will attract the undivided attention of any guard in sight, Figment sends a ghost clone running in a line, Mute will silence your footsteps so you can run, and so on. One other nice thing about the checkpoint system is that every time you die and get sent back, the stage timer reverts to whatever time it was at when you first activated the checkpoint. That way one screw up won't kill a leader board run or require you to replay the entire level from start. While I was enjoying sneaking about and feeling out how Volume plays, there is some story here as a, "near future retelling of the Robin Hood legend" starring the voice talents of Andy Serkis (Lords of the Rings, Enslaved) and Jim Sterling (Destructoid). There will also be hefty map-making and customization options to play with.
Volume preview photo
From the creator of Thomas Was Alone
Volume is a fitting name for a polygonal, Metal Gear Solid VR Missions-looking stealth game with enough rectangles to feed a geometry class for the entire year. In the case of Mike Bithell's Thomas Was Alone follow-up, howeve...

BOXBOY! photo
Block buds
HAL Laboratories (Super Smash Bros., Mother) has been busying itself with a couple Kirby games recently, but it looks like someone over there had an idea for a lil puzzle game and rolled with it. BOXBOY! (already released on...







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