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Picking up houses and riding butterflies in SCALE photo
Picking up houses and riding butterflies in SCALE
by Darren Nakamura

Aside from the conversation that Jonathan had with developer Steve Swink, we haven't done much to cover SCALE. Fortunately, the Phoenix area indie game developer group Game CoLab put together an event at the Phoenix Art Museum this past weekend, and the ingenious first-person puzzle platformer was one of the highlights.

That description of Scale may invoke thoughts of Portal or Quantum Conundrum, and those comparisons wouldn't be completely off base, but after some time with the game, I couldn't shake the feeling that it is more like Super Mario 64 than anything else. At least, it's like Super Mario 64, except you have a gun that can grow and shrink objects in the environment at will.

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Trippy cyberpunk comedy spy thriller Jazzpunk is my jam photo
Trippy cyberpunk comedy spy thriller Jazzpunk is my jam
by Steven Hansen

I'd be convinced Jazzpunk was made by some actually-talented, alternate universe me, for me, if I didn't meet and chat with one half of its creative team, Necrophone Games' Luis Hernandez, for myself.

It's a first-person joke box riffing on some of my favorite themes. An-Airplane styled goof that delivers its jokes with both panache and clinical deadpan. It's smart, clever, and zany, but not above putting a whoopee cushion on your chair. Literally. 

Even in the games I've seen that have managed humor well, few as there are, I'm not sure I've ever played anything quite like this. It's hard to codify my feelings on the game because I have so many different feelings on so many disparate elements of it, albeit all of them resolutely positive. The colorful, cartoonish cyberpunk affair is the weirdest amalgam of some of my favorite things: noir, jazz, Blade Runner. The over-arching spy theme feels appropriately like secret agent parody Get Smart, given the comedic parallels between Jazzpunk and the indelible Mel Brooks. 

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Hero worship gone wrong in Hotline Miami 2 photo
Hero worship gone wrong in Hotline Miami 2
by Hamza CTZ Aziz

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number picks up after the events of the original game and focuses on two different groups of people you'll be playing as. While both groups are very different from one another, they both happen to be dealing with the same subject matter: Hero worship. The "hero" in this case being Jacket from the Hotline Miami, who has made waves after going on his killing spree against the Russian mob.

A new story, but that original brutal satisfying gameplay is very much intact. You'll be smashing, slashing, shooting, and slamming people's bodies into bloody pulps all to the cool tunes of the '80s-inspired music once again, and that's a good thing.

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Preview: Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded photo
Preview: Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded
by Fraser Brown

Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded - Land of the Lounge Lizards -- my, that's a big title -- threw some nostalgia my way immediately. Just as in the original '87 version of the game and its '91 VGA remake, Reloaded begins with a series of questions designed to prove the player's age. It's a throwback from an era when most assumed that all games were for kids, and even a nine-year-old could walk out of a shop with a softporn adventure. Al Lowe designed the questions believing that no child would know the answers. 

He was right, because back in the '90s I needed a cheat sheet. The now out of date questions have been updated with more appropriately modern ones, emphasizing the fact that we've entered remake territory. Likewise, the original MIDI soundtrack kicks in before being transformed into a modern interpretation of the theme.

Reloaded is still very much an LSL game, complete with the lewd humor and the awful, but somehow still lovable protagonist, Larry Laffer -- but it's chock-full of changes and additions.  

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Viking shenanigans in Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods photo
Viking shenanigans in Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods
by Fraser Brown

Over the last year and -- almost -- a half, Crusader Kings II has grown considerably. What started of as a vast grand strategy game where players could take the reins of a Christian noble dynasty now contains playable Islamic dynasties and merchant republics, a fictional Aztec invasion, and the ability to carve out empires, and that's all great. But what I really wanted, right from the beginning, was to troll medieval Europe with a fleet of Viking longships.

With The Old Gods expansion, I've finally been able to do exactly this. Not merely a Viking expansion, however, The Old Gods introduces playable pagan dynasties all over the map and a slew of tweaks, improvements and new additions. It's been difficult to tear myself away, and it might very well be Crusader Kings II's best expansion yet -- it's certainly the largest. 

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An afternoon with Daedalic's The Night of the Rabbit photo
An afternoon with Daedalic's The Night of the Rabbit
by Fraser Brown

There're few things quite as enjoyable as spending a rainy afternoon indoors, playing a fantastical adventure game. I recently got my grubby mitts on a preview code for prolific adventure game studio Daedalic's upcoming magical romp, The Night of the Rabbit, and sought sanctuary from the gloomy Scottish spring inside Mousewood.

Outside of my flat it might have been wet and cold, with people scurrying about under umbrellas, but inside I was chatting away with eccentric mice, defending an adorable owl chick from a malevolent crow, and learning how to be a magician in a gorgeous, sun-dappled forest. It's a hard life. 

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Preview: Never the same levels in Cloudberry Kingdom photo
Preview: Never the same levels in Cloudberry Kingdom
by Abel Girmay

The challenge in creating a platformer is figuring out what you could do differently from everyone else. While the same could be said about any genre, you have to admit that it's especially challenging for plaformers, a genre that is so simple at its core. Cloudberry Kingdom's answer is in its AI level creator, which switches up the design of every level you play, every time you play it.

Originally a Kickstarter-funded project, Cloudberry Kingdom was  developed by a core team of four -- including around 12 contractors -- at Pwnee Studios. "When we did the Kickstarter thing, we had distribution deals on Wii U, PSN, and Steam, but Microsoft just really wasn't playing ball with us," said Pwnee Studios' Jordan Fisher.

In need of a major publishers backing to get on the restrictive XBLA, Pwnee started shopping around, eventually finding a partner in Ubisoft. "We actually met Ubisoft at E3, and they liked the game a lot, and they could get us onto XBLA." On the previously mentioned publishing deals, Fisher continues: "That was sort of the  trade-off. We would let them have a slice of wherever it was published in exchange for them getting us on XBLA. It's definitely been worth it though, since they've been getting us marketing and all sorts of support."

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Ray's the Dead is Pikmin with zombies photo
Ray's the Dead is Pikmin with zombies
by Patrick Hancock

When the co-founder of Ragtag Studio, Chris Cobb, told me that Ray's the Dead was Pikmin with zombies, I was just about ready to hand over my wallet. I'm not even a huge fan of Pikmin, but for whatever reason this idea perked my ears up. What if instead of commanding cute little plants to fix a spaceship I was working with zombies to understand why and when I became a zombie? The premise certainly was interesting.

Perhaps the best thing about Ray's the Dead is its light-hearted humor. These aren't gritty Walking Dead zombies with entrails hanging out and blood everywhere -- the art style is way more cartoony and adorable. For the undead, think less DayZ and more Plants vs. Zombies. The gameplay is indeed reminiscent of Pikmin, but with a lot of mission variety.

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PAX: SmashMuck Champions is a faster MOBA photo
PAX: SmashMuck Champions is a faster MOBA
by Joshua Derocher

I love games like League of Legends and Dota 2, but their matches can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour. SmashMuck Champions is looking to give us a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) with faster matches and game modes that are easy to get into.

The game plays like a standard MOBA for the most part, but it's a little bit more action-focused and easier to get into. It's different enough from other games to make worth checking out.

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PAX: Two Brothers brings the old-school ambition photo
PAX: Two Brothers brings the old-school ambition
by Brett Makedonski

After more than doubling its modest Kickstarter goal of $6,000, AckkStudios has been hard at work on Two Brothers. The team's perseverance shines in the demo that's on display at PAX East, as its crowdfunded project shows signs of being something truly special.

If the style seems familiar, that's because it is. The developers enthusiastically admit that the game's heavily influenced by Link's Awakening, Pokemon, and Legend of Mana. While it borrows from past works, Two Brothers has a premise that's wholly its own.

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Explore the four-colored world in Pioneers photo
Explore the four-colored world in Pioneers
by Joshua Derocher

Pioneers was chosen as IndieDB's "best indie of 2012," and after spending some time playing it, I can see why. The classic graphics are inspired by old-school Apple or Atari, and while they only use four colors, it still looks great. The gameplay is basically a turn-based role-playing game where you create a party of characters who have stats that determine how good they are at certain skills. The game is also a good mix of Oregon Trail, Pirates!, and Dwarf Fortress.

The goal is to create a party of adventurers to explore and map new lands, meet the natives, get rich from trading, and trying to survive while you complete quests. It's strongly reminiscent of older games from the Atari and Commodore era, but the gameplay is also very rich with a modern twist.

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Preview: Sang-Froid - Tales of Werewolves photo
Preview: Sang-Froid - Tales of Werewolves
by Alasdair Duncan

Don't know about you, but I have a real soft spot for supernatural tales set during the frontier times in North America. The mixture of exploring a new world mixed with the superstitions and myths of the time is heady stuff. Sang-Froid - A Tale of Werewolves has just that sort of story with gameplay that combines third-person combat and tower-defense-esque strategy.

Greenlit by the Steam Community, Sang-Froid is currently in a closed beta for those who have pre-purchased the game. Despite having some interesting ideas, it's still quite rough round the edges.

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Preview: Prison Architect leaves me a broken, guilty man photo
Preview: Prison Architect leaves me a broken, guilty man
by Fraser Brown

I've been designing some prisons recently. Well, I can scratch another item of my list of sentences I never expected to utter. I've been running them, too. Actually, facilitating the running of them, more often than not. I suspect that actual prison architects have a lot less hands-on time with functioning penitentiaries, but I don't know any to ask. 

I'm not sure why, but I thought it might be a good laugh, this whole Prison Architect lark. It's probably rather telling about my lack of experience with the prison system that I actually expected whimsy. I feel a bit foolish now. Like someone drinking toilet wine. 

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Preview: Leviathan: Warships had me go down with the ship photo
Preview: Leviathan: Warships had me go down with the ship
by Fraser Brown

I'm such a big fan of nautical combat that I continued to play Assassin's Creed III -- a game that bored me beyond belief within the first two hours -- just for the ship missions. So when Leviathan: Warships was announced just over a week ago at the Paradox Convention in Reykjavik, you could say that my interested was piqued.

That it turned out to be a turn-based co-op strategy romp with cross-platform play between PC, Mac, and tablets was the icing on the cake. I donned my captain's hat, went head to head against another writer, and came up with all manner of excuses when he blew up all of my ships. 

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The Showdown Effect scratches that '90s multiplayer itch photo
The Showdown Effect scratches that '90s multiplayer itch
by Fraser Brown

I was sliding across the floor -- or more precisely, my dapper, gentleman cyborg warrior was sliding across the floor -- though I wasn't sure why exactly. The reasons didn't matter, as sliding is simply fun. I slid right through a door, and started to fire round after round from my oversized hand-gun. Yippee kay-yay mother-- I was sliced in half by a sunglasses-wearing monk wielding an energy blade before I could finish my battle roar.

The Showdown Effect is immensely silly. It's a smorgasbord of '80s tropes from cringe-inducing one liners and larger-than-life caricatures, to sanguine gore and flashy violence. That analysis is merely surface-deep, however.

After only half an hour of deathmatch shenanigans, it became clear that this ultra-violent multiplayer deathmatch bonanza is also a precise, skill-based affair that draws from a broad pool, including Super Smash Bros. and GoldenEye, the two games that Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt cited as major inspirations for the game. 

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Your first city in SimCity will suck, and that's okay photo
Your first city in SimCity will suck, and that's okay
by Hamza CTZ Aziz

One of the very first games I ever owned that truly showed me the joy of gaming was SimCity 2000 for the Mac. I lost hours of my life managing the shit out of my various towns, altering the land to best serve my capitalist needs, and repeatedly failing to save Oakland after the firestorms.

I never got around to the other Sim City games after 2000, largely due to becoming primarily a console gamer. Now that I own a beast of a PC rig, there's no way I can pass up the new SimCity, even with as intrusive DRM measures as there are.

Last week, I got to visit Maxis's offices just east of San Francisco where I finally went hands-on with the city simulation title. I've certainly kept up with all our coverage, but it didn't really prepare me for what I was about to experience. I went in with the strategy I used to use when creating my utopias in SimCity 2000, but quickly found out that my old plans wouldn't cut it. While a bit jarring to my sense of nostalgia at first, I quickly found myself getting sucked into the experience.

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