MEMBER PROFILE FOR Chewie-XBA

Total Reviews: 20
Average Overall Score Given: 6.88500 / 10
Total Forum Posts: 5

Reviews
Planet of the Eyes

Narrative-driven, LIMBO-style puzzle/platformers have become popular ever since PlayDead unleashed the challenging, black and white-hued tale of a boy who finds himself on the edge of Hell. We recently reviewed Black the Fall, which took a similar form, and now there’s Planet of the Eyes, which has just migrated over from Steam.

Developed by Toronto-based Cococucumber, Planet of the Eyes is a short but memorable game that was crafted with help from the Ontario government. Their efforts, support, and aid paid off too, as the title ended up as a finalist for “Best Indie Game” at the Canadian Video Game Awards. That’s an honour that not only hangs prominently everywhere this thing is sold, but one that is also well deserved, even if there are factors that keep the interplanetary experience from being exceptionally great.

This brief one-and-half hour-long tale begins after a crash landing, during which a human piloted craft has found itself marooned on an alien planet. That is, the titular Planet of the Eyes, which forms the environment in which this entire excursion takes place. However, while such a name promises something epic, perhaps in the over-exaggerated style of 1950s science fiction, it doesn’t deliver as much as it could’ve in that department. The planet is home to quite a few eyes, many of which have tentacles for bodies, but they're not focused upon enough given the name.

At the centre of this alien excursion is an unnamed, sentient robot, whose creator speaks to him through discarded audiotapes. Our hero, who never speaks or utters any sort of distinguishable form of dialogue, awakens outside the large shuttle craft and is propelled from left to right as ‘he’ explores his new surroundings. What results is a LIMBO-esque puzzle platformer, which combines both physics and environmental hazards to create the majority of its thinking man’s challenges. After all, fictional alien planets are never portrayed as hospitable environments, and this one is no different, what with its falling lava, robot-eating fauna and pinpointing laser beams.

Don’t go into Planet of the Eyes expecting something super challenging, or even obtuse, because you won’t find it here. Instead, what results from the aforementioned premise is a game that makes you think but is hardly ever punishing, or even all that challenging. Instead, the experience that exists is quite serene, explorative and fantastical as opposed to being downright difficult or frustration inducing. Its short length aids this too, because the game never overstays its welcome or becomes boring. Then again, the other side of the argument is that an hour-and-a-half is perhaps too short for such a title.

It’s good to take your time here, because there are hidden secrets and caverns to explore, as well some water-filled depths to swim. Beware of the monsters – electric eels, large fish, dangerous plants, giant spiders and robot eating beetles – that exist throughout though, because they care little about ending one’s metallic life. This exploration certainly has its rewards, because achievement seekers will find that almost all of the game’s Gamerscore rewards are based around going off the beaten path.

Outside of being able to walk and jump (decently, but not with the same grace and execution as Mario or Luigi), this unnamed grey robot can not only swim, but also grab onto things and use vines to swing. This allows him to get across dangerous crevasses; which is something that is also accomplished by using the world’s physics to your advantage. Through this, falling platforms, sliding trees and self-propelled carts become friends and allies, and act as the only way forward despite their occasional attempts to kill you.

Visually, Planet of the Eyes is a treat, albeit a basic one. Despite using a Flash-style engine to create its characters, environments, and everything that exists within them, Cococucumber’s flagship effort stands out due to its use of colour. The music and sound effects are also very fitting, while the only voice of any sort comes from the robot’s AI creator who fleshes out the storyline with his plot and relationship driven dialogue.

At the end of the day, Planet of the Eyes’ value depends on the type of gamer you are. If you’re someone with limited spending ability, or someone who values substance, then this may not be the title for you since it’s very short and doesn’t have a lot of replay value. However, if you’re someone who likes to have different experiences within the realm of gaming, or someone who simply likes to support solid and ambitious indie titles, then this is something to definitely look into. After all, there’s a good game here, even if it’s over rather quickly.

***This review is based on a copy of the game that we were provided with***

Overall Score: 7.4 / 10 Agents of Mayhem

After several successful Saints Row games, Chicago-based Volition decided to do something different. The result is Agents of Mayhem; a game that marks a change of direction, albeit mostly just in a gameplay sense. You see, though it is not Saints Row in name, nor in direct comparison, there’s still a lot of its predecessor’s DNA to be found within its coded veins.

Best described as a loose spinoff, Agents of Mayhem takes place in an alternate dimension within the same multiverse as the Saints games that came before it. As such, it drops players into a different world that has never known the colourful gang. Instead, it looks up to M.A.Y.H.E.M., a group of unique heroes who’ve joined together to fight incoming threats under its raven-haired and black dress clad leader, Persephone.

All of the action held within actually takes place following the retconned ending of Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, which will make sense to those who’ve played through that game and remember a lot about it. Those who haven’t needn’t worry though, because story isn’t the primary focus of this title, nor does it possess a rich plot, let alone one that is explained in great detail. All you really need to know is that the world is under attack, and that the worst of it is centered upon Seoul, South Korea.

Fighting against M.A.Y.H.E.M. is a criminal organization known as L.E.G.I.O.N. which is made up of more than one arm, all of which are named after sins like greed, gluttony and envy. It’s the Ministry of Pride that is up to no good here, and it’s all thanks to one Doctor Babylon and his lieutenants, the list of which includes not one but two pop stars, as well as a mad scientist and a crazed expert programmer.

Following a crippling global event known as Devil’s Day, the world has fallen under the control of L.E.G.I.O.N. and its several different divisions. Having crippled the world’s governments, these evildoers are continuing their fight against humankind, all while scouring outer space for powerful crystals.

The problem with this storyline isn’t its colourful cast of original characters, or the way it’s presented through Saturday morning cartoon-inspired cutscenes. No, what holds it back is its lack of depth. Lots is referenced – including Devil’s Night – but little detail is actually given about the event. The same is true of L.E.G.I.O.N. itself, as well as how M.A.Y.H.E.M. actually came to be. Sure, there’s lots of talk about how Persephone used to be a part of one of the evil Ministries, but we’re not told why she switched teams.

To be honest, I actually had to look at the game’s wiki page, in order to find out more about what actually went on. These are details that the campaign should have given to me instead of simply hinting at them. Then again, story wasn’t meant to be the main focus of Agents of Mayhem, and at the end of the day it definitely isn’t. It’s the twelve different heroes that are meant to take center stage, and that they definitely do.

At the onset, players are given control of three different agents, those being Hollywood (a famous actor who carries an assault rifle and is of the all around type), Fortune (whose dual pistols pack quite the punch, while complementing her stun abilities and damage-focused stats), and Hardtack (who’s a shotgun wielding tank). Together, these three form the Franchise Force, which is just one of several nicknamed M.A.Y.H.E.M. trios.

Through progression within the main storyline and optional character-based missions, players will unlock up to nine other agents, all of whom possess their own weapons, skills and special abilities. Some of the more memorable ones include former Russian elite soldier, Yeti, whose cold skin and freeze ray are the result of special experiments; Daisy, the drunken roller derby chick whose love of booze is only matched by the excitement she gets from using her mini-gun; Oni, the Japanese criminal who looks and plays a lot like an Asian version of John Wick and Braddock, the female (American) marine who can not only take a lot of damage, but also dish it out through the use of her SMG and annihilation rays.

Truth be told, all of the agents stand out for different reasons, making it hard to list just a handful of them. All of the above were fun to play as, but I also enjoyed my time with the others, such as the soccer-loving hooligan, Red Card, and Joule, the turret-loving hacker. The same is true of Kingpin, who just so happens to be Pierce Washington from Saints Row fame, and the ninja, Scheherazade, who is perhaps the best of the bunch. After all, it’s hard to beat ninjas, especially when they carry incredibly powerful swords that can take out basic enemies in just one slice.

The way things work is that you can only employ the services of three different agents at one time, by creating a three-person squad. This is done every time you leave the Ark, which is the fancy name for the floating sky fortress that M.A.Y.H.E.M. runs its operations out of. It can be visited at whim, simply through the press of a couple buttons. Then, once you’re there, you can upgrade or alter your agents’ loadouts, choose a different vehicle to equip, research and develop different types of technological buffs or participate in thirty-one different VR testing challenges. Going further, this flying hub is also where you’ll find the global operations map, which allows you to send (up to three) agents to different parts of the globe, in order to both fight against L.E.G.I.O.N. threats and collect loot. That is, new character or weapon skins, money and scrap materials that can be put to use in your R&D department.

After choosing, outfitting and equipping your chosen trio (with special buffs that give them bonus health, increased rounds, or the ability to cast different status effects against foes), you’re ready to go and tackle whichever mission you choose. For the most part, all of the main objectives allow any type of team to tackle them, but there is one that requires you to have an elite hacker in your grouping. Why, I don’t know, because it’s not the first to require players to hack into enemy computers or security systems. In fact, that’s a common objective and something you’ll do a lot throughout the game’s fifteen to thirty hour runtime. It’s not like it’s difficult, either, as all you need to do is press the A button a few times.

This is just one of the questionable design decisions that have combined to make Agents of Mayhem a middling game instead of a great one. The most perplexing one, though, comes from Volition's decision to abstain from adding any sort of multiplayer or co-operative play into the mix. Although this game screams for co-op, it doesn't offer it at all, and is a completely solo adventure instead.

The idea behind Agents of Mayhem is that each character you play as will offer a different experience, as you shoot and explode your way through thousands of enemy troops. This is definitely true, but the agents’ personalities and unique abilities are not able to make up for the shortcomings that are so prevalent throughout the game’s mission structure. I mean, you can only shoot the same enemies for so long before it gets tedious, or battle (and hack) your way through terribly similar looking underground bases before you realize that variety is lacking. Therein lays the main problem with this experience: its lack of variety, which leads to tons of repetition.

Unfortunately, Agents of Mayhem is nowhere near as creative or inventive as the Saints Row games were, nor is it as fun. It’s a shame too, because Volition has a lot of talent up its collective sleeve and is one of the better developers in modern day gaming. They’ve been around for a while, and have created some of my favourite games, including the original Red Faction and some of its sequels.

It must also be said that the campaign, itself, is surprisingly short. Even though the game consists of fifty-seven different missions, twenty or more of those are specific to different agents, leaving the rest as story content. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider that the engagements are generally quite short, lasting only five to twenty minutes at most, you can understand how it goes by so quickly. That’s not to say it’s over in an instant; it’s just not as long as one would expect, and despite the fact that there are several different L.E.G.I.O.N. underbosses to battle against, there’s hardly enough time to get to know each one. In fact, it seemed as if each boss’ arc was only made up of three or four missions. Then, it was on to the next one.

Truth be told, the most fun I had with Agents of Mayhem came from its optional content, that being the open world foot races and the optional, agent-based missions. The latter are what stand out most, though, because they let you get to know each of the unlockable heroes and what they’re fighting for. It’s also a good way to find out how they play, especially since you’re locked in as that one character for at least part of their story.

Still, what this all boils down to is doing the same things over and over again. You run, drive or jump from one part of the city to the next, and blow away multiple groups of enemies as you do so. Sure, there’s some variety in the types of baddies you’ll fight, but not enough to avoid repetition, and even having 12 different heroes can’t make up for that. Even the boss battles aren’t all that great, as they generally just boil down to the same thing: shooting at this or that, then shooting at something different, all while waiting for your special Mayhem ability to unlock so that you can unleash additional damage and look awesome while doing so.

Speaking of Mayhem abilities, it’s important to note that every character can pull off two different specials. One, which has timed delays, is handled using the right bumper button, with some examples being sending out self-firing turrets, shooting underground grenades or gaining haste as you await your mini-gun’s cooldown period to end. The Mayhem ability, on the other hand, is triggered whenever you’ve killed enough enemies, or by picking up a purple fleur de lis. That is, the Saints’ iconic logo, which M.A.Y.H.E.M. wears within this alternate universe.

Mayhem abilities can be pretty badass, not to mention devastating. Braddock’s is by far the best of the bunch, too, because it brings down powerful sky rays that obliterate everything they touch. On the other hand, there are some who simply receive bonus damage or stealth, which makes them less appealing. The women also tend to just generally steal the show here, as the female gender makes up most of the best playable agents, including Braddock, Scheherazade and Daisy.

Picking up a fleur de lis can also heal or revive your allies, but that’s not the only way to do this. In fact, the game is made much easier by a piece of tech that you can research then create as many times as you’d like. When equipped, this helpful gadget can be used to revive and heal all of your heroes whenever one or two of them fall, and can also bring all three back to life if you fail in battle. Needless to say, it’s a pretty helpful asset, especially when you consider that Agents of Mayhem has more than ten different difficulty levels.

I can’t remember a game ever having so many difficulty levels, nor can I remember one automatically changing its challenge level as often as this one does. For some reason, I would regularly have to alter it when I’d visit the Ark, because the game had automatically adjusted it upwards to a level that I didn’t want to be on. This may prove frustrating for those who go for the achievement that rewards you for beating every story mission on the seventh difficulty, or higher. I say that because I’ve read that the difficulty will also automatically lower if you keep dying, and it likely won’t alert you when it does so.

Moving on, it’s time to talk about Seoul, which is definitely an interesting choice for a video game’s setting. It’s hard not to appreciate the developers’ outside of the box thinking when it comes to that, but they definitely could’ve created something better and less repetitive than what we’ve received here. AoM’s version of Seoul is the city of the future, with tons of neon and many holograms strewn throughout. This ties in well with the game’s heavily cel-shaded and futuristic look, but tends to get quite repetitive since there’s no real variety, nor are there any discernable sector changes. The city looks the same throughout, and it suffers because of it. That's certainly not aided by the lack of interesting things to do, because outside of some races, some hidden lairs (which are also practically identical to those that are found in the campaign) and some L.E.G.I.O.N. weapons to take down, there isn’t much of substance available. Sure, you can drive, but the mechanics are somewhat floaty and it’s often more fun to run and jump your way through the city. Motion blur is also a factor, and it may be enough to keep some from wanting to drive, due to the mix of speed and cel-shading.

If the above sounds a lot like Crackdown to you, you’re not imagining it. Although Agents of Mayhem comes to us from a different developer, it does feel similar to Microsoft’s open world series in many ways. The Agents’ triple jump ability is one, as is the fact that red crystal shards are hidden throughout Seoul, with many being found on rooftops. Then, there’s the similar-looking mission icons, as well as the heavily cel-shaded visuals and neon-heavy world. The gameplay is different, for sure, but not incredibly different to the point where it doesn’t sometimes feel similar.

Of course, Crackdown doesn't have the same type of humour as Saints Row, and by extension that is true here. You won't hear dick jokes, overexaggerated dialogue or such caricatured acting there either, but you will here. Agents of Mayhem doesn't get too stupid, though, and doesn't even go as far as Saints Row did. There's still a good amount of toilet humour, though, and the voice acting is fitting. The music, on the other hand, is severely lacking.

So, is Agents of Mayhem worth a purchase? That really depends on how much extra cash you have laying around. If you’re someone who has limited spending ability and can only buy a select amount of games each year, you’re better off saving your money for something else and maybe waiting for a sale or price drop on this one. There’s nothing about this game that really stands out or separates it from the pack in any meaningful way, which is disappointing for more than just one reason. Still, it's got a few funny lines, has some solid moments and can be somewhat fun.

**This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.**

Overall Score: 6.1 / 10 Black The Fall

Those of us who live in first world countries tend to take our freedom for granted. It’s not because we’re unappreciative of what others have done for us during wartime, nor is it because we’re unaware of their sacrifices. Instead, it’s blissful ignorance that comes from not having to think or worry about such things during day-to-day life.

The sad thing though, is that life isn't like that for every inhabitant of this planet we call Earth. Many continue to suffer under communist regimes, and many have suffered similarly or worse throughout history.

Enter Romanian developer Sand Sailor Studio and its debut game, Black the Fall. It is a very depressing and dark Orwellian experience that doesn’t hold any punches in its portrayal of the communist attitude and everything that has come with it. Things like distrust, food rationing, abuse and dehumanizing work environments.

In Black the Fall, you take control of an unnamed machinist who’s had enough of his day-to-day life inside a dark, heavily secured and outright terrible work camp. One that is partially underground and forces its workers (read: prisoners) to run themselves ragged until they cannot work anymore. The result is lots of premature death, although those at the helm could seemingly care less.

This two to three hour-long experience takes the form of a LIMBO-style puzzle platformer, albeit one that doesn’t have the same amount of charm as PlayDead’s beloved classic does. This means gameplay is based on right to left movement across 2D environments, as well as tons of running, jumping, climbing and hiding. Sometimes being quick on the draw with one's platforming can also mean the difference between solving a puzzle and staying alive, or dying and having to try again.

Those who decide to give this mature game/political statement a chance can expect to do lots of running, and you can also look forward to lots of puzzles involving lasers. You see, although the main character is never introduced, and never speaks (there’s absolutely zero dialogue in this game, nor is there any text), our protagonist is a spry and inventive man. As such, it isn’t far into his escape attempt that he comes across and steals a laser pointer of sorts. After that, the tool becomes the key to solving the majority of the campaign’s remaining puzzles.

Aiming the laser pointer is accomplished by moving the right joystick around and pointing it at switches, mirrors or other workers. Through this, you can make others do your dirty work, or bounce and angle the light where it needs to go. Elevators also require a similar mechanic for use, as holding the white laser upwards makes them ascend, whereas holding it downwards makes them descend.

The first half or more of Black the Fall is all about using this laser to bypass dangerous situations, including blockades, turrets, guards and red laser grids. For the most part, it’s all pretty straightforward, as is the platforming that goes along with it. Platforming as in jumping from one bridge to another, or climbing and maneuvering oneself across vents and catwalks in order to avoid detection.

Later on things open up more, although everything still remains on a 2D plane. It’s at this point where mechs that resemble Star Wars’ AT-STs are introduced and must be avoided.

Our machinist isn’t alone during this section, as he ends up coming across a friend that is best described as a misshapen robotic dog. And, after joining your cause, this robot ends up becoming the key to solving quite a few puzzles, some of which require you to climb onto or hold onto its metallic body. There are others though, that will require quick platforming, fast thinking and knowledge of basic physics.

Getting the robotic dog to go where you want it to is actually pretty simple. Although it follows you around by nature, telling it to go to a certain place, or interact with a specific object, is as simple as aiming the laser pointer and pressing a button. You can also walk up to it and press the interact button in order to turn the thing into a platform of sorts, which then allows you to reach greater heights. Needless to say, it’s pretty helpful.

What’s good about Black the Fall is that it has a point. That is, to educate the western world about the terrible and inhumane indignities that people in Romania (and other similar countries) have endured throughout history. Sure, it’s not exact in its storytelling, given that sentient robots and Star Wars-like mechs never factored in, but sometimes eccentricities are okay.

That said, Black the Fall isn’t exactly the most entertaining game around, nor is it the longest or the most memorable. It’s interesting while it lasts, for sure, but it does suffer from tedium due to repetition. Variety is also lacking, so make sure to note that before spending any money.

My time with the Xbox One version was also not without its moments of frustration. I say that because I ran into glitches on several different occasions, starting with the first time I loaded the game up and found that it wouldn’t start. I’d pressed the correct button, but the loading wheel simply kept spinning while the main menu animation looped over and over again.

Black the Fall can be finicky and isn’t without gameplay glitches; however, the one that I experienced most often was crash related as opposed to anything else. As I played, I would occasionally check the Microsoft Edge app for a second before going back to the game. Well, two or three of the times that I did this resulted in the game crashing and I needed to restart it before I could continue. I’d pause it, go to the guide, select the browser app and do what I wanted to do. Then, when I tried to go back to the game it’d need to boot up all over again.

I guess it goes without saying, but due to all of the above, Black the Fall isn't something that the average gamer will really enjoy or appreciate. It’s made for a certain and mature audience, for sure. That’s okay though, because those who are looking for something different (or just happen to love LIMBO and games like it) will appreciate what Sand Sailor Studio has attempted with its debut effort, even if it’s somewhat repetitive, occasionally tedious, sometimes glitchy and a bit rough around the edges.

So, now that that’s all out of the way, how does the game look and sound? Well, the best way to describe its art style would be to call it muted. The colour palette is generally dark and drab, the human characters all lack facial features, and you almost never get a good look at the machinist you’re playing as because the camera is zoomed out so far. This is all purposefully done though, in order to create a depressing atmosphere and show how inhumane similar institutions were.

The only audio to be found comes in the form of sound effects and music, or the odd TV showing communist propaganda. There’s never any dialogue though, even from the televisions found in game. Instead, different noises come out of their speakers, while the machinist’s platforming and puzzle solving create other expected sounds. The music itself is original and orchestral, but it’s not used to excess.

At $14.99 USD/$19.99 CAD, Black the Fall is a tough recommendation. On the one hand, it’s a decent video game with something interesting to say. On the other hand, it’s hard to see the value in such a price tag, as this is merely a two to three hour experience, and one that doesn’t have any replay value.

Overall Score: 6.2 / 10 Get Even

The terms ‘underrated’ and ‘hidden gem’ are thrown around a lot, but it’s often for good reason. Get Even, the latest game from Polish developers The Farm 51 (Painkiller: Hell and Damnation, Deadfall Adventures) is one of these cases, as it provides a great example of a quality game that will most likely be overlooked due to a lack of marketing and limited word of mouth.

Here’s hoping that this won’t end up being the case though, because mature gamers owe it to themselves to give this dreamstate mindbend at least one playthrough.

Taking the form of a first-person shooter, albeit not the typical, bullet-heavy type, Get Even is a game about exploring one’s memories in order to piece together what happened. Specifically, how a young woman was kidnapped, who’s to blame, and what their motive was. Even then, the answers are clouded in mystery and can leave more questions than they answer if you don’t do enough exploring or figure out exactly what’s gone on.

Within these confines, you play as Cole Black, a former criminal turned security official (and man for hire) who’s lost the ability to remember. After watching him succumb to the effects of an explosive blast, we find our protagonist outside of an abandoned mental institution. It’s a location where Mr. Black should have stayed out of though, because it isn’t long before he’s knocked out and comes to with a strange device strapped to his head. An experimental, high-tech memory exploration device, if you will.

Upon waking, you’re greeted by a man (or woman) named Red, whose communication with the player (and Mr. Black) takes place through radio chatter and TV screens. Red is as mysterious as anything in this game too, because the character’s face is blackened while on-screen, and their voice alternates between male and female frequencies. All we know about this shadow figure is that he or she serves a purpose and it’s not hard to deduce that they’re behind our entrapment within the closed down, deteriorating asylum.

The whole concept behind this game is that, through photographs, Cole is able to travel back in time and explore memories he’s otherwise forgotten. The machine is to blame for this ability, and it’s finicky beyond belief, meaning that it can’t always be trusted. Fragments can be missing, glitches do occur and killing enough enemies can cause disruptions, although those are warned about more often than they’re actually experienced.

Over the course of the next eight hours, players will find themselves hopping between memory state and the present, wherein they get to explore the asylum and talk to its unique and sometimes dangerous patients. Along the way, they’ll come across some interesting moral decisions, such as whether to let certain characters out of holding. Your choices will always matter too, because who you help will determine how things will play out later, and can lead to the deaths of important characters who play notable roles in the asylum’s story. Furthermore, making the wrong choice can affect your ending, as well as which achievements you’ll unlock.

How you tackle each memory sequence also affects the endgame, because you’re rated on how well you handled every situation. Being stealthy and avoiding conflict, or foregoing gunfire in favour of quiet takedowns, isn’t easy though, because the game’s somewhat limited enemies have good vision and some impressive hearing. It’s possible though, and will earn you the most credit if you’re able to manage it.

When spotted, enemies will alert each other and will work together to take you down, whether it’s by shooting or flanking then shooting. They’re pretty good shots, too. The good news here is that Black has some impressive tools at his disposal, those being a cellphone (with lots of apps) and a special corner-gun, which has a viewfinder that can be used to see (and shoot) enemies who happen to be located to the left or right of any corner you’re using for cover. This same principle also works when you’re crouched behind cover, as looking up at the ceiling can allow you to angle the viewpoint in a way that you’re able to shoot over the top of the blockage.

Needless to say, the corner-gun is not only neat, but also very helpful, especially if you plan to go through the game stealthily. Its basic attachment is a silenced pistol, but you can also pick up and add a louder machine gun to it if you don’t mind making some noise. Enemy assault rifles also get dropped, making them available for use as well.

That said, Get Even is less of a shooter than you’ll expect. It’s more of a narrative-focused detective experience, wherein shooting is often optional. Enemies are limited (some memories don’t have any), and there are only a few major encounters worthy of that title. Most of your time will actually be spent exploring environments, in search of newspaper clippings, letters, emails and photographs, which can be used to piece the story together.

In fact, a recurring photograph can even be used to travel from Cole’s current location to a police interrogation room of sorts. Once there, you'll find multiple light boards house all of the intelligence that you have collected, making it easier to look at things as a group and piece together each individual event. There’s a lot of evidence to find though, meaning that you’re looking at quite a bit of reading and the slowdown that comes with it. Hell, there are even patient files and audio recordings that can be listened to and explored.

All of the above combines to create an interesting, thought provoking and downright good experience, which deserves an audience. That said, Get Even will not be for everyone because of its slow pace, limited combat and occasional bit of horror. It’s for these reasons that I would only recommend it to mature gamers who appreciate something different, and love to find those diamonds in the rough.

That said, Get Even is not perfect. While it may end up being one of 2017’s sleeper hits, it isn’t without its faults. The most prominent of these is how, despite being full of great ideas and concepts, the game’s unique menagerie of mechanics isn’t fleshed out to its fullest potential. It’s simply too short to really take advantage of everything it introduces, though its' developers deserve credit for trying and for doing everything they did.

Sometimes things can get a bit obtuse too, as even though Cole’s smartphone has a lot of helpful apps, the game’s limited puzzles aren’t always properly explained. I got through them, though, and I don’t consider myself to be very good at puzzles or the puzzle genre itself.

Speaking of the in-game cellphone, it’s important to mention exactly what it offers. From text and call features (both of which are incoming only) to a flashlight/UV light feature, it has everything you’d expect. It also doubles as your gun’s viewfinder, can track heat sources, and features a helpful map that displays the location of each and every enemy, as well as their field of vision. Think of Metal Gear Solid when you imagine that.

What I can’t stress enough though is taking your time to explore each and every nook and cranny as much as possible. If you don’t find enough evidence, you may end up confused once the game comes to an end. Get Even is too much of a mindbending experience to play quickly, because if you fail to read or listen to the things that you find, you’ll lose out on vital information.

Now, when it comes to performance, there’s thankfully little to complain about. For the most part, Get Even runs very well and looks good in the process. Its realistic art style, quality textures and detailed environments aid its dark story, as do the digital glitches that occur throughout the memories themselves. Going further, some impressive writing and solid (British) voice acting also help to flesh out this quality experience.

The downsides to the Xbox One version come in the form of slowdown, which appears every so often. It’s usually during gunfights where it shows its ugly face, although it rarely ever hampers the gameplay much. In fact, there was only one occasion where I would’ve called the slowdown bad. Then again, considering how cryptic and stylish the game is, it’s possible that the developers wanted that to happen.

Alas, I’ll conclude this review by simply saying this: Get Even is a winner, and if you like film noir, dark crime stories and/or games that make you think, then you need to check it out.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 DiRT 4

Few things are more entertaining than a good arcade racing game, which is why Codemasters’ DiRT series has enjoyed longevity in an always-changing interactive landscape. However, ignoring 2012’s testosterone fuelled DiRT Showdown spinoff and 2015’s overly challenging DiRT Rally, fans of the franchise have had to endure a more than six year long wait in-between sequels. The good news, though, is that said wait is over, thanks to the recent release of the all-inclusive DiRT 4.

Those who go into DiRT 4 hoping for a return to the fast, visceral and pulse-pounding days of DiRT and DiRT 2 may be a bit disappointed. Not because this game is bad, by any means, but because it’s changed with the times and isn’t the same entity that once began life on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. No, this is a combination of parts, which tries to make two different camps happy.

This time around, players can choose from two different handling styles, as well as a bevy of customizable difficulties and settings. First is racer handling, which exists as the more arcade-inspired option and targets those of us who weren’t exactly good at the Dark Souls of racing (DiRT Rally). Then, there’s simulation handling, which is what those who loved the series’ most demanding outing will likely prefer to use, as though it’s not as challenging as what’s found in Rally, it’s still more realistic and skill-based than its peer.

Your chosen handling option can be changed at almost any time, and what’s nice is that DiRT 4 features a detailed practice area where you can test your skills with each one. It’s here where the game technically begins, with a plethora of helpful tutorials and demonstrations, which teach you all of its ins and outs. This includes how to drive on different surfaces, such as loose gravel, dirt and pavement, as well as the differences between handling in front wheel drive cars and rear wheel drive cars. The rest features talk about weather conditions, of which there are quite a few, and tips on how to take both corners and jumps.

Once you graduate from tutorial school (or opt to ignore it altogether), you’ll find yourself staring at a menu screen that is less flashy than it’s ever been. This is the first indicator towards DiRT 4 being more than just an adrenaline junkie’s rally racer. Then, following that, you’ll be able to choose from different gameplay options, including Free Play, Global Challenges, Multiplayer, Career and Joy Ride.

For the most part, Free Play is what it sounds like, as it allows you to create your own events, by choosing their locations, longevity and unique settings. There’s something different about it, though, which comes in the form of the Your Stage feature. This, you see, is essentially the basis of all of the game’s tracks, or their building blocks if you prefer that term.

With Your Stage, players can create their own courses within seconds. All it takes is choosing a worldwide location like Spain, Sweden or The United States of America, then adjusting a couple of sliders to determine the track’s length and complexity. What results is a procedurally generated course, which you can opt to save and share with friends or trash and begin anew.

It seems like this tool was used to create all of the rally courses that are found in DiRT 4’s Career mode. As such, every time you enter a new event, you can expect to find something a bit different from what you’ve played before, even if the location remains the same. This is a good thing as far as longevity goes, but after a while you will start to see the building blocks that go into making these courses, and wish for more variety in their settings. Essentially, it’s a bit of a catch-22, because this system creates an almost unlimited amount of tracks, but its building blocks don’t have enough variety to keep them feeling fresh.

Over the course of this game’s many hours of gameplay – a lot of which are found in its deceptively lengthy campaign – you’ll find yourself speeding through rainy forests, attempting to stay on course on tracks with snowbanks for walls, racing through exotic countryside and hitting the road Down Under. Its many rally events take place in several different locations, including Fitzroy, Australia; Tarragona, Spain; Michigan, USA; Varmland, Sweden and Powys, Wales. Plus, each one brings something different to the table in terms of not only geography, but also road types, track hazards and sometimes even weather, as is the case with Sweden’s snowy roads.

DiRT 4’s Career mode is somewhat strange in design, because although it features four different racing disciplines (International Rally, Landrush, Rallycross and Retro Rally), only the first three factor into unlocking its final championship, that being its Triple Crown. I guess Retro Rally is just an optional throw in, even though it’s listed alongside the others.

Rally, which we’ve already talked a lot about, is of course a timed event wherein drivers must negotiate challenging tracks with the help of a co-driver. The best time wins, just like in real life, and the game’s many championships are separated into sets of up to six different events. At the end, you’ll find that you’ll need to complete five different championships, totaling 30 different events, in order to walk away as the International Rally champion and unlock that portion of the Triple Crown.

Retro Rally is the same, except you’ll find yourself driving cars from yesteryear. It’s also quite lengthy, which fans of the sport will love.

Those of us who usually prefer the more frenetic, circuit-based confines of both Landrush (racing with trucks and buggies) and Rallycross (multiple laps around a track, with one needing to be an extended joker lap) are unfortunately overlooked a bit here. Sure, both disciplines are included in DiRT 4 and have their own spots in Career mode, but neither one is as fleshed out as either of the two Rally types happen to be. In fact, it won’t take you long to complete Land Rush and become its champion, because it only has several different championships to tackle. Rallycross is lengthier, which is nice, but it still doesn’t compare to the time sink that is Rally. Of course, not all gamers will be disappointed in this, because those who loved DiRT Rally and play these games for such events will feel right at home in this campaign. I just feel as if they could have done more to spread the events out evenly, thus increasing the amount of variety within this campaign.

Therein lays a contributor to one of DiRT 4’s biggest problems, that being its lack of a true identity. Even now, after putting more than 20 hours into the game, I feel like it’s missing something. A true identity, I guess you’d call it, because in an attempt to appeal to different groups of players, Codemasters has created something that suffers from an unfortunate identity crisis and doesn’t feel like it’s all that it could have been. It wants to be like DiRT Rally, while also harkening back to the days of the first DiRT games, but it ends up getting stuck along the way.

Don’t read the above as me crapping on this thing, because it’s more of an observation and detraction than it is a game breaking issue. I do, however, miss the days when DiRT was less structured and had more personality, but this is still a very solid game despite its lack of a true identity. There’s a lot of great racing to be found within, and the attention to detail it showcases is truly impressive. Each car sounds differently, each type reacts to terrain and weather differently, and all of the vehicles are prone to realistic destruction and damaged parts if you’re not careful. This includes flat tires that rumble and blow before forcing you to either stop for repairs (and face a penalty) or drive on rims, as well as misfiring engines and destroyed headlights.

Weather also plays a large role here, especially during Rally events. Rain slickened roadways cause you to slide and drift, while ruts form in their most traveled crevices. Fog, on the other hand, can reduce your visibility to next to nothing, and can appear and disappear at will. Snowbanks also line some tracks, and can cause you to flip or roll without much effort, while the slushy roadways that weather triggers can also affect your handling. Then, there’s nighttime, which makes everything more difficult. However, like every other time of day, all of which are recreated viscerally by the game’s impressive day/night cycle, you’ll get used to it and learn to deal with what it has to offer.

As you progress through the Career, you’ll earn money that will allow you to start your own team by purchasing vehicles (either new from their manufacturers, or used through the in-game classifieds) and hiring staff members. This currency can also be used to upgrade your team’s headquarters, R&D labs, PR department and more, which leads to more skilled workers and greater team morale.

Although being able to create your own team (and drive for it) is an asset in DiRT 4, it is not entirely necessary. You may earn more money this way, but it’s very possible to get through Career mode while driving for different sponsors and their own teams. Sticking with one team will also increase your relationship with them, so long as you perform well and achieve some of their posted tasks. These are things like completing an event without any restarts, coming in first place, or incurring zero penalties.

Continuing on, while DiRT 4 isn’t as challenging as its very demanding predecessor, it can still be difficult, especially if you make it that way through settings choices. Even on its easiest difficulty and lowest level of AI competency, this game can still be challenging whenever your competitors decide that they really want to go for it. Then, at other times, you’ll find that they’re docile and easily beaten. This is evidence of another problem, which is an uneven difficulty level that can sometimes create frustration, especially as you near the end of the campaign.

Moving on from Career, it’s important to talk about Joy Ride, which is somewhat of a campaign in and of itself. This is where you’ll go to unwind and have some fun, through time trials and challenges, whereupon you’ll be tasked with trying to knock over a set amount of boards in a limited amount of time. This fun and offbeat arena is a nice change of pace, which will surely please fans, especially those who like to challenge their friends. It helps, too, that you can earn different medals, which are good at enticing folks back for just one more try.

Of course, there's also multiplayer, which is affectionately called Jam Sessions. It’s here where you’ll be able to hop online and play against others from different geographical locations. Championships can be set up, and their standings can change based on how you do in each of their different events. Make sure to play some single player first, though, because the competition can be quite stiff out there on the Internet.

Like the single player modes it complements, Codemasters’ latest features solid online gameplay that is sure to please those who like to race against real people instead of programmed artificial intelligence. It looks good, plays fast and seems devoid of lag. The rest of the game is quite similar, for the most part, with some impressive lighting effects, great weather, a very good day/night cycle and an excellent licensed soundtrack. There are, however, some problems, including a small amount of screen tearing and visuals that won’t wow folks as much as one would expect.

Alas, we’ve come to the end of this review, where I must admit that DiRT 4 wasn’t exactly the game I was hoping for. Going in, I dreamed of a more frenetic and arcade experience, which would feature a good mixture of Landrush and Rallycross events alongside its Rally tracks. However, what I got was something that favours one event type over the others, and is more like an accessible DiRT Rally than its most enjoyable predecessors. Still, despite this change, I was quite impressed with most of what I saw and experienced herein, even if its drawbacks keep it from being exceptional.

If you’re looking for a game that features a lot of attention to detail and places a great focus on its handling mechanics, then DiRT 4 is a very worthy pick-up. Just don’t go in expecting a game that is as ‘arcadey’ as the first several DiRT titles were.

**This review is based on a copy of the game that we were provided with.**

Overall Score: 8.1 / 10 Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island

Although the 3D mascot platformer likely piqued in popularity during the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube era, the decreased interest hasn’t killed the genre entirely. In fact, we’ve seen a bit of a resurgence as of late, thanks to the remake (and theatrical debut) of the original Ratchet & Clank, as well as the release of Team17’s retro-inspired Yooka-Laylee. Granted, one achieved more success than the other, with Yooka-Laylee seemingly having failed to make the splash that it was intended to, due to some unfortunately boring gameplay, lots of unnecessary frustration and a general lack of creativity.

Now, a new attendee has arrived to the party; that being Right Nice Games’ Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island. A student developed game, it’s the debut effort from a small team based in Stockholm, Sweden, which has been published by the folks over at Grip Digital.

As its name suggests, Skylar & Plux is a wholesome platformer that harkens back to the heydays of Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank, with some inspiration from Banjo-Kazooie thrown in for good measure. The result is a game that all ages can play and enjoy, although there is a bit of intended profanity to be found. The swear words are swapped for less offensive terms, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see past them.

This short indie romp begins with a rather basic motion comic cutscene, which shows a two-legged cat creature being tormented by a moving television. This strange and slightly cheesy opening introduces us to two of our main characters, those being Skylar Lynx, the human-like cat, and the CRT, a floating television that serves as the game’s big baddie. It isn’t until later, after Skylar escapes with a mechanized arm attached to her, that we meet Plux, a bird who mistakes the cat’s escape pod for the return of his long lost father.

Together, the two explore the local tropics, and soon find themselves staring at an imprisoned white blob-like creature. It’s this alien being -- which the game refers to as the Elder Lo’a -- who helps kickstart the adventure that is referenced in the title. She does this by telling the pair about three missing orbs, which are normally used to power the island’s generator of sorts. It seems that CRT’s interference, which is driven by a desire to destroy and repurpose Clover Island and its outlying areas, has caused two of the orbs to return to where they were created, while the other remains in the big TV’s possession.

I guess it goes without saying, but Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island definitely isn’t lacking in the strange department when it comes to its storyline. After all, we’re talking about a game that has you going toe to toe with a giant CRT television who’s hellbent on ending the world. The good news is that it all comes together, for the most part, and creates what is a decent and somewhat satisfying conclusion, even if it’s all a bit too predictable.

What you’re looking at, gameplay wise, is a rather traditional mascot platformer, which does a lot of harkening back to the good old days. This means lots of jumping, melee combat, collectible finding and colourful scenery. Skylar & Plux also borrows the 'gadget mechanic' from some of its peers, presenting players with tools that they must use in order to solve basic puzzles or manipulate the environment in order to progress. The list is short though, as you'll use a time stalling orb, a limited use jetpack, and the ability to move and manipulate metal objects.

If you take the shortest path from point A to point B in each of the game’s three levels (a wintry mountain, a desert and a metallic fortress), you’ll find that this is a surprisingly short affair. After all, this is a game that can be completed in about two to two-and-a-half hours by someone whose goal is to rush through it. It took me just over three hours to finish it, but I searched for a lot of the hidden Lo’a, and also took my time exploring each environment out of habit. Trying to find the hidden creatures was a good approach though, because the Elder will increase your heart capacity every time you save five of them.

Of course this is an indie game we’re talking about, and one that was made by students. As such, one should go in knowing not to expect the same amount of polish that is typically found in a big budget platformer like Sony’s Ratchet & Clank remake. Despite its developers’ blood, sweat and tears, this is an experience that could have used some more time in the oven, and one that shows its lower budget roots.

Although it’s ambitious, relatively fun, and can be rather pretty, some middling level design, occasionally imprecise platforming mechanics and somewhat frustrating combat mar it. The worst issues to be found, however, are performance problems that bring things down to a crawl, framerate wise, during the latter part of the game, as well as an overly safe approach that has resulted in a game that doesn’t stand out as much as it could have.

Skylar and Plux, the game's mascot characters, also aren’t the most memorable. They do the job, and present a somewhat surprising duo (after all, cats normally kill birds), but neither one has much in the way of unique traits or specialties. Sure, Skylar Lynx has her metallic arm, which allows her to punch the mini TVs and annoying rocket turrets that litter each level, but her feline traits never come into play. The same is true of Plux, who’s mostly just an observer that generally only comes into play during cutscenes, during moments of dialogue or during puzzles where he sometimes gives you hints. So much more could have been done to make these two memorable, but as it stands now, they could be swapped with other creatures and little would be missed.

Still, this definitely isn’t a bad game, nor is it something that deserves to be shat upon. Yes, it’s short, somewhat uninspired, a tad clunky and quite cheesy, but it can also be rather endearing and pretty enjoyable at times. Its colourful and cartoony visuals are also pleasing to the eyes, for the most part, while its half-decent voice acting breathes somewhat believable life into its exaggerated characters. It’s just too bad that the endgame has such noticeable performance problems, including momentary freezes.

At the end of the day, whether Skylar & Plux: Adventure on Clover Island is worth a purchase will depend on what you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to spend. Longtime platforming fans who’ve been looking for something to tide them over will find things to like about what is a decent game, while others may balk at a $15 price tag for just three hours of gameplay.

Overall Score: 6.2 / 10 NBA Playgrounds

If hearing “Boomshakalaka” brings back great, nostalgic memories, then you and I have a lot in common. You see, although I didn’t own the game, I spent many hours playing NBA Jam with friends during the early and mid-nineties. Hell, it and NFL Blitz were also two of my regular go-to games whenever I was lucky enough to visit an arcade.

There was just something about the original NBA Jam that perfectly captured the elements that make up a great arcade sports game. Of course, it helped that its gameplay was pure, unadulterated fun that never got old, especially when you were playing against friends. Overall, it was a near perfect game, and still remains near the top of the arcade sports game podium close to two-and-a-half decades later.

In the years since, there have been imitators and spiritual successors, like the NBA Street series, as different developers have tried their hands at recreating the interactive icon. However, despite all of these best efforts, nothing has been able to top the original. Even 2010’s NBA Jam: On Fire Edition didn’t quite hit the same mark, despite being a quality follow-up and a very solid game in its own right.

Now, let’s fast forward to present day, where another balling competitor has entered the ring. That is, Saber Interactive’s NBA Playgrounds, which is now available on the Xbox One, as well as a few other consoles. The first time I saw screenshots and video from NBA Playgrounds, I immediately flashed back to the days I spent playing NBA Jam with friends. After all, just by looking at it, it’s obvious that this is a spiritual successor that draws lots of inspiration from yesteryear’s gem.

NBA Playgrounds is based around a fun mentality, where all out, arcade basketball action takes place amidst colourful, playground-esque backgrounds. There’s London, which lets you play ball on a pontoon boat as it floats on the River Thames; Paris, with its café bordered court placed on a busy street with lots of onlookers; Venice Beach with its wooden backboards, and Japan with its cherry blossom trees. These are merely half of what’s available though, with each playground having its own unique look, feel and types of onlookers.

The players themselves are all designed in a caricatured way, with big heads on smaller bodies. Their defining features are made more prominent this way, and the result is pretty impressive. Then again, outside of being a bit dark, this is a solid looking game, which has lots of colour and a ton of personality. It even has a couple of licensed announcers, although their basic and oft-repeated commentary leaves something to be desired.

Still, at the end of the day this remains a basketball game through and through, meaning that what borders each court is merely there for colourful decoration. What matters is what takes place on the planks, where some of the National Basketball League’s best and most talented show their skills in visceral, arcade-inspired ways.

The whole conceit of NBA Playgrounds is that the player is a virtual card collector, who must level up and unlock new packs in order to earn new players. You start off with a couple of randomized freebies, then you're on your own. It’s not hard to unlock new packs though, nor will it take a lot of time before you’ll have a decently fleshed out roster.

One problem with this game, however, is that it doesn’t offer enough incentive to change things up roster wise. Its two-on-two gameplay promotes employing one good three-point shooter and one good dunker, but those can be found in your first couple of free packs. Sure, there are legendary players like Allen Iverson, Scottie Pippen and Walt Frazier to unlock, but even then a lot of their stats are similar to the rest of the league. I guess that helps with parity, but the downside is that it limits the excitement that comes with earning a new pack of players.

Granted, legendary players do have their own set of special moves, so you may be enticed to use them just for those. There’s nothing stopping someone from using their favourite modern players though, as I was doing great with both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Then again, as long as I had a good three-point shooter to use, I was more than fine.

There’s another caveat with NBA Playgrounds, which is that it’s simply too easy to drain threes once you get used to how the shooting mechanic works. After a while, I was able to win most games by focusing just on that, although I’d try to spice things up with the odd showboat jam. Of course, that’s where this game is at its most flashy and visceral, as its jams are impressively choreographed and a treat to watch. I could do without some of the lengthy showboating dances that come afterwards though, because all they do is slow down the game.

By taking advantage of the three point shot, I was able to complete the six ‘campaign’ tournaments without much issue. Sure, I lost a couple of games, but some of that was because I got too cocky and spent a lot of time trying to score from my own back court. There didn’t seem to be a difficulty option, which I found odd, though I can confidently say that there are such options for exhibition play.

It’s online where the most mileage lays, though. You will take on another player in the traditional 2 vs. 2 in terms of on-screen players. Lag was noticeable during the loading/introductory screens, but it seemed non-existent during gameplay. The online play is the same as the core single player game, just with another person on an Xbox One somewhere else playing against you.

What adds creativity to all of the above is the game’s lottery pick system. By filling up a meter through blocks, steals and dunks, you’ll earn a randomized lottery pick and gain a timed advantage. Examples include an automatic shot that gives you extra points, highlighted zones that can double, triple and then quadruple your scoring, and a power-up that halves your opponents’ shot clock. They’re helpful, to say the least, but the inconsistent AI means that you won’t always need to rely on them.

Although my computerized opponents would fill their meter two or three times during a five minute championship match (the regular ones are only three minutes long), I would be lucky to do so once or twice. What I didn’t realize was that by shoving my opponents in order to make them drop the ball, I was actually depleting my lottery pick bar. This was never taught through any of the in-game pop-ups that would offer tips and tutorials, but definitely should have been, even if they weren’t exactly necessary against the middling AI.

Defense was always a bit difficult to play, regardless of whether I’d try to shove, swat or block while in the air. The computer never seemed to have much trouble blocking my dunks and long-range shots, but I could never get it to work all that well. I’d usually rely on my AI peer to try for that, because ‘he’ was better at it. He wouldn’t always listen to me when I’d ask him to jump for an alley oop, but he wasn’t a bad defender.

Sometimes the players will also jump to the side while shooting, which is almost a guaranteed miss unless you’re the computer. I don’t remember landing one of those shots, but I saw quite a few go in for the other side as I made my way through the tournaments. Each time I’d try, it’d hit the rim or go wide, whereas 85% of my regular three-point shot attempts would go in. Hell, quite a few went in without touching anything, offering me an extra point.

It’s these inconsistencies that make NBA Playgrounds an occasionally frustrating game to play, and keeps it from being the modern day NBA Jam that it hopes to be. There are some great building blocks and decent mechanics to be found here though, which gives me hope that a potential sequel could end up being great. As it stands right now however, is that this NBA Playgrounds is merely a decent but unspectacular game with legs that will depend on how long its online multiplayer stays populated.


**This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.**


Overall Score: 6.9 / 10 Little Nightmares

As human beings we’re wired to experience and deal with fear, whether it manifests itself through physical dread, overwhelming anxiety, or something else. This emotion can help us survive, get us through difficult times, and lead to some extraordinary things, but it’s almost always overwhelming whenever it appears. Of course, that’s especially true of nightmares, which are the result of a myriad of factors that allow our brains to take us to dark, disturbing, and downright scary places as we slumber within the safety of our bed sheets.

It’s in the realm of the horrific where Swedish developer Tarsier Studios found the inspiration for its latest project, Little Nightmares. As such, it goes without saying that what unravels within the game is not for those who are easily scared, or anyone who finds it difficult to sleep without a light on. There are things that go bump in the shadows here…and there are lots of them.

Developed by a team that previously worked on LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway Unfolded, Little Nightmares is very much a LIMBO-esque puzzle platformer. It’s dark, dreary, and leaves almost everything to the imagination, while forcing you to deal with uneasy situations, not to mention the near constant risk of death. Through this, it’s also part survival game, as the lead character must do anything in her power to run, hide or jump away from the danger that surrounds her.

As the almighty player, we take control of a young, raincoat clad girl named Six. Alone and scared, she finds herself in the middle of a strange and downright disturbing vessel named the Maw. It’s where she first wakes up, confused and hungry, and where she must attempt to escape from if she hopes to survive.

You see, the Maw isn’t a nice place, nor is it sanitary or holy in any way. It’s something straight out of nightmares, and has trapped unsuspecting kids (and gnome-like creatures) for both game and pleasure. Kids who were likely taken from their homes without anyone knowing, having their lives and destinies changed forever.

Our young, always covered heroine begins her journey in the vessel’s damp and dingy bowels. There, she must run, jump and climb her way through dangerous environments, all while solving somewhat basic environmental puzzles. Examples of such tests include finding a power switch in order to avoid being electrocuted while going through a metallic gate, using a gear to move a box so that it will take you to where you need to go, and grinding meat into something that can be used as a swing.

Still, while Little Nightmares offers a hefty dose of puzzles that one must solve in order to safely progress, it’s the game’s dangerous take on hide and seek that ends up being most memorable. I say that because it’s the creatures that inhabit the Maw who make this experience what it is. They’re out for blood, you see, and want to satiate their most inhuman desires by killing or eating Six in awfully gross ways. As such, it’s important to lure them away from you, or hide from them whenever possible.

Sometimes that isn’t an option though, and a disturbing chase will ensue.

Six is defenseless, scared and alone, and there’s almost always something after her. In fact, after the first act of the game, each progressive chapter (and environment) offers up its own types of frightening enemies. This includes a long armed humanoid who can’t see, but can smell you awfully well; multiple bloated and diseased chefs, whose sleeping arrangements remind me of something out of a demented take on Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie; engorged, obese and downright horrifying rich folk who will chase you like a herd of sea lions, and the Lady of the ship herself.

Needless to say, the Maw is a dark and disturbing place, which exists as a tapestry of horror. What goes bump in the night there is real, and not just a figment of your imagination. Thus, it behooves you to run, hide and inch your way through its horrors, else you risk losing both life and limb. Be warned, though: While it may be possible to survive all of the denizens and deathtraps that this vessel has in store for you, what you’ve gone through will end up changing you as it does Six.

Don’t expect everything to come easy either, because Little Nightmares has some issues that combine to make it more frustrating than it ever should’ve been.

For starters, the platforming is not always as polished or pixel perfect as one would hope. What makes things more difficult though is the game’s camera angle, which offers a side view of everything that unfolds. It’s cinematically pleasing, yes, but it can make it hard to gauge whether Six is walking down the middle of a plank of wood, or if she’s at risk of falling off the edge. Of course this also factors into the platforming, as the occasionally wonky depth perception can lead to more than its fair share of falls.

It is also true then, that Little Nightmares is more of a trial and error game than many will like. It doesn’t hold your hand, which is a good thing, though it also suffers as a result, because some puzzle solutions are rather obtuse. It can also be unclear as to where Six is supposed to go, which adds to the fright factor but leads to a lot of unnecessary deaths due to trial and error. Plus, there’s the darkness, which – at the recommended brightness level – can sometimes engulf switches that you’re supposed to use, making you run around like a chicken with your head cut off until you somehow stumble upon them.

The aforementioned flaws turn what could have been a great game into one that is merely quite good, which is unfortunate given that there’s a lot of heart to be found here. Still, even with its problems, Little Nightmares is an easy game to recommend to those who happen to be fans of games like LIMBO. That’s because not only is it scary, disturbing, and full of rich symbolism, but it’s also quite the experience, thanks to some great-looking visuals, excellent character design and some of the most unsettling music and sound effects that you’ll ever hear.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Talent Not Included

There was once a time when platformers were king, and both Mario and Donkey Kong were at the forefront of it all. Hell, following the successes of both Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. the genre (and those titles) essentially became synonymous with the term video games. However, that was then and this is now, and these days people tend to think of shooters like Call of Duty when they first imagine video games, leaving the once insanely popular platforming genre behind.

Of course platformers are still around, and we've gotten some great ones in recent years, including New Super Mario Bros. U, the retro inspired Shovel Knight, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. That said, while two of the above-mentioned three happen to be first-party, triple-A games, it’s indie developers that are mostly to thank for keeping the genre’s pulse going.

One of the latest releases from this long line of indie platformers is Talent Not Included, which just made its way to Xbox One after stops on both PC and Mac. We’re lucky to have it too, because Frima’s new indie is a rather enjoyable – albeit quite challenging and occasionally frustrating – experience.

Talent Not Included takes us to the fictional land of Notthatmuchfurther, where three insanely bored monsters named Derp, Zordok and Kevin have decided to write and produce their own zany play. The trio sees this exercise as a chance to cure their boredom, but it’s also a way to justify everything that happens in-game, as crazy as it may be. This includes a knight who fights for a spell caster’s helmet, a rogue who loves muscles and a mage who is awfully good at teleporting.

To mimic a play's structure, the campaign is separated into three acts, each of which forces the player to use a different hero. On top of that, each individual protagonist has its own play style, story, and special ability, forcing you to change your approach each and every time. Said acts aren’t insanely lengthy, nor is the game, but you're looking at fifteen stages per act, including a few quality boss battles. As a whole, this all culminates in a game that will take you about three to four hours to finish, so long as you’re able to best its three increasingly difficult chapters and say goodbye to their culminating final boss battle.

Don’t think of Talent Not Included as a side-scrolling, Mario-style platformer though, because it’s a different beast. In fact, its 2D stages are best thought of as challenges as opposed to levels, because that’s more in line with what they are. They’re always changing, increasingly difficult obstacle courses that you must best in order to move on.

When you imagine one of these scenes, think of a theatre’s stage. Lit up and ready for action, this wooden podium is home to multiple different props, all of which can deal death at any moment. From evil animals and shielded soldiers to repeatedly firing bullets and moving circular saw blades, there’s a whole heap of death dealers awaiting the hero’s flesh. Though, while they may be there at one point, nothing is ever permanent, as the course is constantly changing, even during the midst of each level.

As each of these three heroes, it’s our duty to get from point A to point B over and over again without dying. The goal? To score as many points as possible while doing so, in order to earn yourself an even greater ovation, not to mention a special mask and an envious spot on the leaderboards. Getting to this point won't be easy though, as earning a high score requires you to collect the majority of each level's precariously placed candy pieces, kill all of its enemies, and pick up each of its occasionally available heart pieces.

When you start a scene, you’ll sometimes see some witty dialogue that references things in pop culture and gaming history in comedic ways. What you will always see though, is your chosen character amidst another (seemingly) random obstacle course. In front of you will be candy, and said sugar pieces will lead you to a large balloon, which, when touched, makes everything change. Do this multiple times, while avoiding the loss of each and every one of your hearts, and you’ll get applause. Fail to do so and it’s a restart for you. There are no checkpoints in Talent Not Included.

Expectedly, hearts mean the difference between life and death, and one disappears each time you get hit. More will appear from time to time, but the game is never all that generous; at least, not during its later and more challenging scenes. What’s also interesting, and awfully devious, is the fact that, with each progressive act the player gets fewer and fewer hearts, to the point where the mage only has three to work with. In comparison, the knight gets five, which will end up feeling like a ton after a while.

In order to succeed at all of the above, you’ll need to get good at using the knight, the rogue and the mage to your advantage. Sure, each one may be drastically different, but they all have abilities that will make your attempts easier. These include the knight’s horizontal dash, the rogue’s roll (and ability to shield herself momentarily), and the mage’s multi-directional teleportation. I’d also be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention walljumping, bullet bouncing and double-jumping as being other incredibly helpful options.

Those who don’t take advantage of the heroes’ unique abilities will quickly learn of their importance, because Talent Not Included is not an easy game. Hell, it’s pretty far from it, although not to the extent of Dark Souls or anything like that. It’s simply a challenging, often devious and sometimes frustrating platformer, which will never hold its players’ hands. As such, those who pick it up should be looking for a fight, as opposed to a cakewalk that they’ll be able to play in their sleep.

Everything about the game is colourful though, including the scenes, their backdrops and the action that takes place in front of them. It’s a nice, eye pleasing art style, which fits right in with the colourful text that is found in each and every one of the dialogue bubbles, not to mention the script itself. All of the above is tied up nicely too, thanks to the inclusion of a mumbling crowd who will often make their presence known.

Alas, if you’re a platforming fan who yearns for something challenging to play on their Xbox One, you can’t go wrong with Talent Not Included. It is a solid, difficult and funny experience, and definitely worth a play through, especially if you have a friend around for local co-op. Just don’t go in expecting anything groundbreaking or overly long, because it’s neither of those things.

Overall Score: 7.3 / 10 LEGO City Undercover

Although the Wii U didn’t receive a lot of great third-party support it did possess a handful of exclusive gems that weren’t developed and published by Nintendo. One such title was TT Fusion’s LEGO City Undercover, an original experience that looked to bring the Grand Theft Auto formula to the all-ages market with the LEGO humour and storytelling intact.

If you’re new to the fold, LEGO City Undercover is the story of Chase McCain, a police officer with love for the ladies, who has returned home to help the city’s ragtag group of parodied officers with their biggest case yet. You see, before Chase went away he was responsible for arresting one of the area’s most notorious criminals, the appropriately named Rex Fury. Now, that same bad dude has broken out of the local jail, which bears an awful resemblance to Alcatraz, while being full of homages to Shawshank Redemption.

Chase’s attempt at stopping and recapturing Rex plays out over fifteen chapters, some of which house more than one mission. Along the way, you’ll earn new abilities, find more outfits, and cycle between said disguises in order to solve basic puzzles.

Almost all of the disguises (civilian, police officer, criminal, miner, astronaut, fireman, farmer and construction worker) have their own abilities, which is something that you’ll be used to if you’ve played any other LEGO games. For instance, as a robber Chase can use his crowbar to pry things open or use his stethoscope to crack open safes, while police officer Chase has the ability to scan for clues and hidden objects and use a grappling hook. Going further, the miner can use dynamite, while the farmer can glide with chickens, both of which can lead to some rather comedic events.

As you progress, you’ll switch between these disguises in order to solve puzzles, progress through each of the game’s story missions, complete city challenges and find collectibles. There’s a lot to do in LEGO City Undercover, so prepare to give up a lot of your free time if you plan to complete the game with the magic 100%.

Unfortunately, the combat doesn’t exactly change with each costume, like one would hope, so it ends up being pretty basic overall. There are no guns or super powers allowed in LEGO City Undercover, and those who have 'beefs' with each other are forced to settle it the old fashioned way, with fists and feet. The result is a somewhat lacking combat system that eschews guns and powers for grabs, throws and basic punches.

Truth be told, though, the campaign does have some issues, and tends to drag at times. Then again, this entire game isn’t as impressive as it once was four years ago. Still, it’s a fun take on the Grand Theft Auto formula, and there’s lots of great humour to go around. The city is also rather large, and shares an obvious likeness with San Francisco, with its rolling hills, majestic bridges, cable cars and an island prison. However, there is one weird thing to note, and that is the fact that although all of the characters and civilians are made out of LEGO, the buildings are not.

Before we move forward, it’s also important to mention what’s new this time around outside of achievement support and the lack of the unnecessary second screen of the Wii U gamepad. When LEGO City Undercover was first released back in 2013, it was built as a single player only game. That has changed with the addition of two player co-op, which brings the campaign in line with most of the other LEGO branded video games. That’s not to say that the co-op is anything special though. All it does is allow another player to take control of a second Chase McCain, whose clothing is merely a different colour. That’s all. As such, it feels more like something that was shoehorned in to increase sales, as opposed to a mechanic that was given a lot of thought or care.

Of course, it’s very possible that co-op was left out of the original version due to fears of added performance issues. I say that because, as those who played this on the Wii U will know, it didn’t run perfectly. There were performance issues, pop in was evident, and the loading times left a lot to be desired. The good news is that this current-gen port addresses some of those problems, and looks rather good in 1080p. It is, however, not a complete home run, especially since its long loading times haven’t been improved upon all that much.

Thankfully, the framerate is a lot more consistent, and the visual pop in has been decreased. There are still visual anomalies to be found during cutscenes though, and there’s also a noticeable amount of blur at times. Still, for what this is, and where it started, LEGO City Undercover looks and plays pretty well on the Xbox One.

Unless you absolutely hate LEGO games (surely, you don’t, as why would you be reading this review if you did?), LEGO City Undercover is something that you should play through at least once. I say this because while it’s not a perfect experience, and it remains somewhat dated, it’s a nice change of pace and a hilarious experience. The writing is spot on, with some great one-liners and a ton of excellent homages, and the campaign has more than a couple standout moments.

Some of my favourite homages include a police officer who looks and acts like Dirty Harry, a Morgan Freeman impersonator who does a bang up job of sounding just like him but doesn’t want people to say his name for legal reasons, and a character who loves to spew Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes. These are just a glimpse at what you’ll find in game though, as it seems like every scene features a nod towards pop culture royalty.

If you’ve yet to play it, give LEGO City Undercover a chance on Xbox One. It’s a smartly written and often hilarious game that has a lot to offer for the first time player, while also being a good option for kids who are simply too young to play Grand Theft Auto proper.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Aaero

Although Guitar Hero and Rock Band seem to be headed back out to pasture, their fate doesn’t mean that the music genre is dead. Nope, while it may not be flourishing like it once did, it’s still hanging in there, and for that I’m thankful. The latest entry into the once mega-popular genre is Aaero, a very stylish and futuristic game that comes from indie developer Mad Fellows Games. Having dubbed themselves as the “Purveyors of the Finest Video Games,” they’re right on track with their Kickstarter-funded debut, as it’s something no rhythm-loving gamer should sleep on.

So, what exactly is Aaero? Is it a Guitar Hero or Rock Band-esque type of note hitter, or is it something more cerebral, like REZ? Well, it’s definitely more like the latter, eschewing traditional instruments and note charts for something that mixes ‘ribbon’ following with some third-person shooting elements.

In total, there are around 15 songs to play, almost all of which are electronic in nature. What’s neat, though, is that each song has its own level designed around it, meaning that you’ll always be playing something different. Environmental elements, like lightning, are timed to the beat, and the same can be true of enemies.

Each of these three-or-so minute-long stages is comprised of two parts that don’t follow a specific order. One is directional in nature, and will have you using your left joystick to follow a line (well, what they call a ribbon) as it weaves its way through tunnel-like environments. The white line will go up, down, left, right, loop and curve, and you’ll need to follow it somewhat closely if you wish to stay alive (and earn enough points to move forward).

The other part? Well, it’s a lot like REZ, in that it’s a third-person shooter type of design where enemies will appear in front of your small ship and need to be dispatched of. Some will just float there, waiting for you to shoot them as score fodder, while others will go on the offensive, shooting projectiles or going kamikaze on your ass. Needless to say, you’re kept on your toes, and it’s imperative that you pay close attention because you’ll only have three lives per stage attempt. And, as you’d expect, each loss of life resets your multiplier, which increases up to a maximum of eight as you cling to the ribbon.

Shooting said enemies doesn’t require a lot of button mashing, but it does require skill, patience and a good eye. That’s because you’re usually better off shooting multiple targets at once, as opposed to firing one single bullet each time. Thankfully, the game makes this easy by incorporating a simple, straightforward and accessible shooting mechanic that involves using the right joystick to highlight up to six targets (if memory serves me correctly), before pressing the right trigger to unleash all of your bullets.

While only the latter stages are heavy on enemies, you’ll always need to be on your toes, because Aaero’s environmental hazards don’t pull any punches. Even on normal (the first of three difficulties which complement a ‘Chill’ mode that lets you enjoy each stage without worry), this game is quite a challenge. So much so that it’s perhaps a detractor, as it limits the title’s accessibility level. I honestly would have liked to have seen an easier starting difficulty, which would then ramp up to normal and so forth. Not that normal is unforgivingly difficult or anything – it’s just more challenging than expected and demands more from you than a starting difficulty should. It just drops you into the chaos and expects you to be good from the get-go.

In a way, it’s trial by fire, albeit an engaging, immersive and musically pleasing variation of that. You’ll watch the tutorial video (if you choose to), then get down to business, attempting to navigate challenging ribbons, avoid enemies and earn enough stars to move forward while doing so.

Yes, Aaero loves its stars, and you’ll need to earn 54 of them in order to unlock its final song. That won’t be enough to unlock its advanced difficulty though, as you’ll need to earn 90% of normal’s stars in order to progress. Up to five stars can be gleamed from each stage, and the best way to guarantee yourself the majority of them is to not die. That’s easier said than done of course, especially when levels throw moving blockades and other such dangers at you, but it’s definitely one of the main keys to success here. After all, dying resets your multiplier, and given that your score determines how many stars you’ll earn, it goes without saying that keeping yours as high as possible is of the utmost importance.

Another thing that can aid your cause – at least in terms of achievements – is trying to find all of the in-game collectibles. They appear in the form of red lights, which can be found in most stages and must be shot in order to be collected. Make sure to keep an eye out for them, but don’t expect to be able to get them all on your first attempt, because enemies will often distract you.

Not all stages are the same, of course, and a few even contain boss battles that last from beginning to end. One is a giant worm whose mouth you end up flying into, another is a massive mechanical spider, and the third is something from the deep sea. The latter comes out of the water, latches itself onto a nearby ship, then attempts to drag it down into the depths that are so prevalent in the game’s later stages.

What’s different about Aaero, however, is that its bosses don’t need to be defeated. You can still ‘beat’ their songs without fully draining their life bars, but you’ll miss out on points and achievements if you don’t. This is something that I didn’t notice at first, but I eventually realized that I didn’t completely kill the worm and felt compelled to go back and do just that. If you’re like me, you’ll probably spend some time backtracking in order to earn stars that you originally missed out on. It becomes almost paramount, because unlocking the final stage requires you to have four (or more) stars from most of the others. Three won’t always cut it, nor will two or one.

Moving on, it’s worth noting that outside of the above-mentioned ‘campaign’ there’s little else to Aaero. That’s not a bad thing though, because this is a game that sets out to do something and does it very well. It’s actually quite impressive, given that this thing was created by a team of just three people.

It wasn’t until I watched the credits roll that I learned how small the Mad Fellows team truly is. I had known that Aaero was developed by a small indie studio, but I didn’t realize, let alone think, that it could ever be that tiny. They deserve commendation for this, because what they’ve created is not only engaging and immersive, but also addicting and beautiful to look at. Truth be told, the only real downside to it all is the odd frame rate hitch.

The music is also perfectly fitting for the game. It encapsulates the look, feel and emotion that the developers were trying to bring forth with their futuristic cities, open landscapes, scary depths and ribbon-filled tunnels. This is all helped by the fact that each song is licensed, with many of them coming from well-known musicians, such as Noisia, Katy B, Flux Pavilion, Neosignal and The Prototypes. It’s not music I would normally go out of my way to listen to, but I enjoyed it a lot in-game.

With all that having been written, it goes without saying that Aaero is something that shouldn’t be slept on. While it may not have the big budget or heavy advertising of something like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, it’s a very impressive, engaging and standout addition to the music genre. One that I sincerely hope will end up receiving the appreciation it deserves, as well as an even longer sequel.

Suggestions: A more accessible starting difficulty.

Overall Score: 8.3 / 10 Blackwood Crossing

As gaming has matured, its developers have become much better at telling intricate storylines and dealing with mature subject matter, such as love, loss and the resulting grief. It could also be said that indie studios have been leading the way in this respect, as they never seem to fear pushing the envelope or delving deeper than their big budget peers. The result of this has been something special, as games like Fragments of Him, That Dragon, Cancer, and the recent release, Blackwood Crossing, have all done an excellent job of conveying raw human emotion through interactivity.

Lovingly crafted by PaperSeven, whose core team is made up of former Black Rock Studio (Pure, Split/Second) employees, Blackwood Crossing is a stunning debut that you may end up hearing a lot about. Ambitious in the way it approaches difficult subjects, and impressive in the way that it combines an emotion-filled storyline with interesting gameplay, it’s a downloadable title that needn’t be overlooked. Hell, it won’t surprise me if it ends up on some end of year lists as one of 2017’s best indies.

Presented in a way that puts its narrative first, Blackwood Crossing is a game about emotions. To be more specific, it’s about saying goodbye to and living without the people that you’ve loved the most. Difficult subject matter to say the least, but it’s handled with delicate care and a lot of skill.

You assume the first-person vantage point of a girl named Scarlett, who’s recently entered her teenage years and has discovered boys, nail polish and other such things for the first time. Joined by her younger brother, Finn, she’s there to help push things forward as the boy deals with his own worries, thoughts and examples of both grief and loneliness.

What you won’t know at first is that these two kids lost their parents when they were quite young and ended up being brought up by their grandparents. The two elders did a seemingly great job, allowing their kin to play, love and enjoy life, but it still wasn’t enough and issues persist even years later. It’s understandable, and part of what those of us who’ve lost the people we were closest to deal with everyday. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons as to why I bonded with this game so much, with the same being true of Fragments of Him.

Although I wish I could talk more about the storyline, the truth of the matter is that I can’t. If I were to say much more about the plot in Blackwood Crossing it would spoil everything for those who’ve yet to play it and I’d hate myself for that. Just know that what you're signing up for by buying and playing this game is something deep, with lots of layers and character.. It will make you sad, yes, but it will also make you happy and endear the heck out of you with its charm.

Now that the plot has been explained in limited detail, it’s time to talk about what kind of a game this is. At its roots, PaperSeven’s debut is most definitely an adventure game, although it’s got a bit of that walking sim/interactive movie DNA within it. Don’t let that scare you away though, because this isn’t a boring experience, nor is it too complex or obtuse. It’s accessible, but engaging, and it may have you in tears before the credits roll.

What some will see as a downside is that Blackwood Crossing is a relatively short game; however, while it does clock in at between two and a half to three and a half hours in length there’s a reason for this. If the game were much longer, its narrative would suffer, and frankly it wouldn’t be so good and such a meaningful game to play.

There are environments to explore, collectibles to find and puzzles to solve, all of which will take people varying amounts of time. As such, each person’s completion time will depend on their thoroughness and their puzzle solving abilities. Thankfully, though, the puzzles aren’t very obtuse and won’t have you smashing your controller in frustration. There’s a tiny bit of difficulty to them, sure, but nothing that the average person couldn’t solve with some thought and a bit of trial and error.

In fact, most of the puzzles in Blackwood Crossing are dialogue based. Additionally, most of the game takes place on a train that morphs and changes depending on Finn’s mood, or what he wants to show his sister. Outside of it, there are only a couple of locations: one being a treehouse and the other a small island.

While on the train you’ll come across several recurring characters, all of whom have played a large role in Finn’s life. Wearing intricate animal masks for reasons better left unsaid, their dialogue acts as both the clues and solutions to quite a few of the game’s puzzles.

Think of this as a match game exercise, where you’ll need to listen to and match the conversational dialogue of two characters before moving on to the next pair. For instance, the earliest version of this has you matching Finn’s former teacher and a schoolyard bully, then doing the same with similar family members. It’s simple on paper, and not all that difficult to execute, but it befits this style of game and its unique narrative. Additional puzzles will have you using the environment to your advantage, or using your memory to arrange made up words to form a password. Heck, you may just find yourself putting pen to paper in order to create bugs and draw faces.

As you progress through the game, more abilities and options will become available, including the ability to give things life by blowing on them. You’ll also be able to pull fire out of campfires and use it to solve puzzles, or pull on black energy that dissipates when light touches it. And, while all of this may not sound great on paper, it’s better in action and serves its purpose.

Not all things are perfect in the gameplay area though, but the issues I found are small and far from game breaking. There are only a couple to mention, that being some slight framerate hitches and the occasional input problem. In terms of the latter, I mean issues selecting certain items as a result of the game not highlighting them properly, or unnecessarily, requiring you to talk to Finn before you can grab them.

The above problems are thankfully minor and far from common, so they shouldn’t be detractors to those who plan to purchase this game. That said, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention them. The truth of the matter though is that a review can’t really do a game like Blackwood Crossing justice. Try as I may, I worry that my descriptors make it sound boring, when, in fact, it’s actually magical.

A lot of the above has to do with how the game looks, sounds and feels. PaperSeven’s art team has done a fantastic job of creating a wonderfully colourful world that mostly exists in a dreamscape. One that looks beautiful, and feels believable, despite being a bit supernatural in nature. What really stands out most, though, are the character models and their extremely impressive facial animations, especially Finn’s.

Of course, with a game such as this, where the narrative and its well-written and haunting dialogue are the focus, voice acting becomes ever important. Blackwood Crossing doesn’t falter, or even stumble here, because it couples its visceral world with fantastic voice acting that turns these digital characters into believable people. In fact, the voice acting is better here than it is in most games.

Needless to say, Blackwood Crossing is a gem, though a couple of slight problems cloud its shine just a bit. This truly is an impressive, memorable and spectacularly human game that does a better job than most of conveying real human emotions through interactive experiences. As such, it behooves you to check it out and give it a chance to warm your heart.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 MX Nitro

Since the days of Excitebike 64, and later on MX 2002 Featuring Ricky Carmichael, I’ve had a love for games featuring a mixture of dirtbikes, ATVs and extreme stunts. Well, the good ones at least, and what’s unfortunate is that those have become increasingly more difficult to find as of late. It’s too bad too, because a great developer could really do something special with today’s advanced, 4K-allowing technology.

It was due to my love of this subject matter that I entered into this review of MX Nitro – a game that I hadn’t heard much about until I saw it on a release list and decided to look it up. Unfortunately for me though, this Trials inspired racer/trick fest didn’t live up to the marks set by its much more enjoyable predecessors.

Developed by Miniclip - whose previous focus mostly had to do with mobile and free-to-play PC games - MX Nitro is a Trials-esque game with smartphone and tablet roots. The result is an experience that, while playable on console, feels more like a mobile game than a true console game and suffers as a result.

That’s not to say that MX Nitro is wholly bad, or really anywhere close, it’s just mediocre, and would have been better had it done away with some of its mobile trappings, like its modified star system. The game’s main problem, however, is its frustrating difficulty, which may be as high as it is in order to promote replay value.

As much as I went in wanting to enjoy this nitro fuelled experience, it got to a point where I decided that enough was enough. It was around that time that things had begun to stall and my progression across the game’s world map had almost stagnated.

While I like to think of myself as a talented gamer, who can clear quite a few games on hard and has had a lot of success in the past, I know that I’m far from the best and never declare myself as being in that realm. It’s especially true of Trials-like games, as I haven’t had too much experience with such titles. Sure, I played a bit of one of the Trials games in the past, but it was a bit too demanding for me at the time.

The reason I decided to take on MX Nitro was because it seemed to be something different. That is, a more lenient, Trials-lite experience, with more of a focus on racing and tricks rather than the uber challenging, physics-based stages of the latter series. However, while it’s surely a bit more lenient than Trials, and is more racing focused, it’s also a game that is much more frustrating than it is fun.

At the center of this problem lays a lack of difficulty options, coupled with cheap rubber-band AI. Simply put, MX Nitro is the type of game where you really need to be perfect and have all of the bumps go your way, or else you risk yet another restart. This is especially true come the mid-way mark and into the latter portion of the game, where things quickly change from challenging, but fair, to cheap and aggravating.

Generally, it’s just you and two or three other racers, all vying for first place as you rocket across a sandy and hill-heavy dune, or race down a mountain slope and then head back up again. Physics are key, as they are in Trials, because you need to negotiate every single bump with expertise in order to win later events. The AI is always on your tail, though, and will overtake you with ease, lest you have a near perfect or absolutely perfect run, which is hard to achieve.

The easiest way to get through these challenging races is to use your nitro at the absolute best moments, but sometimes that’s easier said than done because the game’s physics aren’t always your ally. MX Nitro, you see, is a game where you must use the left and right joysticks to maneuver your bike and its individual wheels after each bump, wheelie and jump. For the most part the controls for this are okay, but they’re very touchy and can sometimes be too finicky for their own good. And, through them, MX Nitro often demands more perfection than it should, which ends up making its gameplay so frustrating.

Truth be told, the races are usually much more doable and less frustrating than what comes after them, that being trick-based events and boss battles. It’s here where Miniclip’s foray into Xbox One is the most aggravating, as you practically need to be perfect in order to have any success in these events around the mid-way mark.

It was during a boss battle against a Mexican-themed trickster that I started to become annoyed with this game. Before that, it had been challenging but fair, but that particular encounter was just a pain in the ass. Why? Well, I’d often be leading going into the last part of the third and final lap, only to be passed by him at the last moment. And, in a**hole fashion, this would usually involve him taking an almost absurd final jump, soaring over the top of my head, then right over the finish line.

I did have some good runs against said boss, and eventually beat him, and the same was true of a handful of the trick attack challenges. However, it often seemed, and felt, as if the game and its controls were fighting against me, which isn’t a good thing when it comes to such a precision based genre. In fact, there were multiple occasions where the controls failed me during a trick attempt, resulting in my avatar not pulling off the move that I had asked it to.

What can also be confusing is MX Nitro’s bike system, which allows you to unlock and purchase new types as you progress through its campaign. Not all bikes are created equal, of course, and this game takes things a step further by employing a system that makes it so that not every accumulated ride is better than your last. Each one, you see, has its own name and abilities, and you’re supposed to strategically use them for different event types.

While this isn’t a wholly unique, let alone a new mechanic, it isn’t exactly handled as well as it could have been. I say that because it’s not always evident as to which bike you should use for which event. I sometimes felt like I hurt my progress by upgrading the wrong bikes at times, but I tried to spread my cash out as much as possible.

Speaking of cash, a good tip is to not worry about buying much in the way of cloting, be it coloured shirts and pants, badass-looking armor, or uniquely designed helmets. Although they allow for some appreciated personalization, the cash you must spend to buy them comes from the same pool of winnings as your bikes’ upgrades, which are much more important and ten times more vital.

Take note that there is some multiplayer to be found here, although it’s merely ghost-based. The idea is that as you play you’ll unlock new campaign tracks for online play, and will be put up against another player’s best attempt each time you decide to hop into the multiplayer portion of the experience. Needless to say, it’s pretty basic and somewhat limited, meaning that it won’t keep you hooked for long.

Now that all of the above has been said, how does everything look, sound and function? Well, for the most part, MX Nitro is a fine-looking game, although it should be said that it looks more like an up-rezzed mobile title than a full-fledged, built from the ground up, console release. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that given this game’s genre, its price tag and its developer’s mobile roots. Unfortunately, though, things are not all perfect on the presentation front.

As you progress, you’ll start to notice more and more screen tearing, especially during the opening sections of different events. The racers, and their rides, also lack some of the texture work, detail and more realistic shaping seen in other games. What may annoy some people more than anything though is the heavy soundtrack, which is very, very repetitive, to the point where many will likely just turn it off completely.

MX Nitro is a title that had a chance to be good, but it failed to really make much of a mark as a result of several unfortunate mistakes. The game’s frustrating rubber-band AI and the need for near perfect runs on the included tracks really hurt it, which is a shame because those issues could have been aided if not wholly corrected by the inclusion of a difficulty system. Do your research before buying this one folks, because it’s not the easygoing, fun experience that its title makes it seem like.

Suggestions: - Include a difficulty system or lighten up on the cheap AI
- Improve the controls to allow for the required precision
- Work on reducing screen tearing
- Make the game, and its bike selection system, more accessible

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Candleman

A candle’s flame can only burn for so long before it’s inevitably extinguished. Such is the life of one of history’s oldest and most beloved light sources, which has provided sight and atmosphere to some of humanity’s biggest moments.

Thinking outside of the box has led to a solitary candle being the hero in one of the Xbox One’s latest and more noteworthy winter releases. All of this is thanks to Spotlightor Interactive, who have created an endearing, memorable and visually impressive little indie game called Candleman.

Developed in Beijing, of all places, Candleman is a game that stands out for more than just its quality campaign. After all, China is a place where video game consoles were banned until 2015, and where video game development isn’t as big or as welcomed as it is in other parts of the world. For those reasons, Candleman – like Koi before it – is a welcomed sight and something to embrace.

So, outside of being based around a candle, what is this title all about?

Beginning on a desolate, beached, and somewhat destroyed ship; Candleman’s quest is one of adventure. It starts with a once dormant little stick of wax catching flame in front of a mirror, then leads to the normally inanimate creature waxing poetic about his existence before setting out to find answers.

It’s not long after this that a bright and distant lighthouse is seen through one of the ship’s many portholes, infusing our basic and dimly lit friend with wonder and excitement. Immediately after, he sets out on a journey towards the man-made beacon, with hope of learning how to shine as brightly as it does.

Over the course of Candleman’s three to four hour-long journey, he’s faced with a plethora of different obstacles, many of which threaten his very existence. Early on, the most pressing challenges are that of darkness and dangerous chasms, but later levels change things up by introducing ghastly enemies, mirrors and spiky plants. No new world is the same in Candleman, whether it’s the creaky ship’s storage area with its swaying boxes and their chains, the boat’s flame-filled engine room, or the outside world with its water, lily pads, vines and thorns.

The result is a slightly challenging title that mixes platforming with light puzzle solving and requires precision-based jumping. Thankfully though, the game engine and all of its mechanics are almost always up to the task, making it easy for the player to become one with his wax-based friend. That’s not to say that things are perfect, though, because bits of lag will sometimes mar your adventure, especially later on in the campaign when enemies are introduced and stages become more complex.

However, despite its imperfections and short length, Candleman stands out for what it is and what it does well, not to mention its origins and unique protagonist. It’s not often that we get to play games from China, nor is it common for a candle to star in a video game. The developers also deserve credit for their unique approach to platforming, as their decision to make light a focus was a very good one.

How exactly does light factor in? Well, as I mentioned before, darkness is a common obstacle, especially during the ship section of the game. There, in the shadowy hull of the boat, there’s next to no light and it’s always at a premium. This is where being a candle becomes an asset, as Candleman is able to light himself at will and use it to his advantage. Furthermore, this limited flame can also be utilized to light other stationary candles that help you see your way, act as collectibles, and are sometimes used as checkpoints.

Where the added challenge comes from then, is the fact that our small candle friend can only burn for a limited amount of time before he fades away to nothing. This ten-second time limit means that every time you light up it must be for a strategic reason, else you risk leaving yourself at a great disadvantage. And, while death isn’t a be all, end all type of thing, each level attempt only offers the player ten lives.

Light can also affect the environment in negative ways, by making dangerous flowers bloom and spiky balls fall from the sky. As such, it’s always important to time your flame bursts and always be aware of the environment.

That said, Candleman’s design isn’t always so strong. As you enter the last third of the game, things become more dangerous and less fun. The gameplay also ends up being more about the environment than about using light to your advantage, thus reducing its uniqueness. Furthermore, the final encounter and following finale leave something to be desired, as they offer a less than satisfying conclusion.

All of the above is wrapped up in and presented in a way that resembles a classic storybook. Each of the game’s stages are titled using verses from Candleman’s rhyming story, and a female British narrator does an excellent job of setting the tables for each and every level event. Outside of this audio however, there’s little to be found apart from environmental sound effects. That’s a good thing, though.

It’s too bad that lag is present, because outside of that, there’s little to complain about on the visual front. Candleman is a good-looking game, and one that will please those who play it, especially anyone who’s aware of its origins as a Chinese indie game. While it won’t win any graphics-based awards, it’s a bonafide looker that almost always impresses. The lag can really mar this at times, though, especially when it becomes more prevalent near the end of the campaign.

Now, with all that having been said, I surely don’t need to say that Candleman is a recommended must have experience, but I will though. Despite having a few faults, it definitely deserves attention and love, because it’s solid, memorable and generally well made game.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Knee Deep

Although Telltale is seen as being responsible for the modern revival of the classic point-and-click adventure genre, it’s not the only company that is trying to make a mark within it. Other, mostly independent, developers are also throwing their hats into the ring these days, including Prologue Games with its campy Twin Peaks-inspired title called Knee Deep.

Set in a smelly, gator-fearing Florida swamp town, Knee Deep is the tale of three different investigators who find themselves working on the same strange case. The first one – a twenty year-old blogger who calls herself Phaedra – stumbles upon the death of a once popular and bankable action movie star after getting sick of waiting in congested traffic, while the others (an aging reporter and a private investigator hired by the actor’s studio) end up being directed there by their employers.

Although the player’s three investigative avatars start out alone, they eventually come together in the midst of what is a strange and very offbeat narrative. One that manages to combine backwoods craziness with death, political misdoings and a strange, cult-like religious organization named the Church of Us.

What’s unique about Knee Deep – outside of its weird storyline, of course – is how its setting is constructed. You see, instead of being a traditional, third-person adventure game with movable characters, this entire campaign spends its three to three and a half hour-long runtime on one stage. It’s a play, and one that caters to a live audience.

Since things are confined to one stage, and the game’s budget was obviously limited, all of Knee Deep’s playable protagonists automatically move from set to set. There is no player control like you’ll find in one of Telltale’s games. Instead, your only real input will come in the form of button-based dialogue choices. Well, that, and the social media reports/stories that you’ll post from time to time, using an in-game basic smartphone interface.

Although the dialogue options are not up to par with the best in the business, there is some choice to be found. Characters can respond to situations carefully, with intrigue and excitement, or with a rude or strange response should they want to. It depends on the character though, as Phaedra tends to be the weird one, while the men can be more on the rude or gruff side.

The same type of system applies to reports and stories, which can be posted online (in-game of course) in varying forms. If you want to be careful and avoid pissing anyone off, then it’s best to go with the guarded option. However, sometimes it’s better – or at least more fun – to go with something exclamatory, even if it has the chance of angering a witness, or someone else. It should also be noted that the characters’ bosses will comment on your performance, although this is a half-hearted system that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere or affect the narrative all that much.

Due to the above, Knee Deep is not a game that someone looking for excitement, or someone who’s looking for control, should check out. It’s a very simplistic game that relies on its odd narrative to create worthwhile intrigue. Thankfully, it does just that, for the most part. That said, if you’re not into slow burn games where what you say impacts what happens later, then you’ll want to pass on this one.

At the very least, there are some puzzles to be found within the game, although they’re few and far between. A few will task you with putting together fingerprints, by rotating different pieces and making them fit together, while others will ask you to link wires together using a template that is somewhat similar to BioShock’s pipe puzzles. Granted, it’s not nearly as good, or as user-friendly.

I always groaned whenever a puzzle came into play, because their user interfaces are both ugly and unfriendly. Fingerprint pieces wouldn’t always fit together like they should, and there was simply little fun to be had with most of the designs. On top of this, the developers made things too idiot proof, by making the screen flash yellow whenever a puzzle piece is in place. As such, you can solve some of them by just guessing and moving the cursor throughout the grid.

Man, is Knee Deep ever slow, though. Few indie games have ever presented me with such a slow campaign to work through, let alone one that is so dialogue heavy. And, while I’m not one to scoff at individuality, with a heavy reliance on dialogue, or just reading in general, it did become too much at times. It was during those moments where I wondered if it would have been better served as a book, movie or TV show.

Thankfully, things did pick up as I progressed through the latter half of Knee Deep’s three act run. Intrigue started to infiltrate the narrative, and the town’s weird happenings started to really pick up. As such, by the time I was done with the game, my opinion had changed quite a bit from when I first started it, during its slow first act. Still, this is not something that I was ever blown away by, nor is it a title that is easy to recommend to most gamers. It’s a niche experience, through and through, and one where player choices may not affect the narrative as much as they could.

Going forward, it’s important to note that, despite taking place on a theatre stage, Knee Deep isn’t much of a visual powerhouse. Obvious budget limitations and independent means have led to a game that looks quite dated in appearance. Characters, sets, and almost all of the trappings almost feel as if they were ripped out of the PS1 era, and that isn’t helped by the fact that the camera is almost always positioned quite far away from everything.

That said, the audio is surprisingly decent, thanks to an eclectic soundtrack and some unexpectedly solid voice acting. The actors seem to have truly embraced the weirdness that is Knee Deep, and have run with it while avoiding going too far with things. Sure, there’s some overacting, but not as much as one would expect, and even when it does appear it fits in as part of the game’s odd charm.

At the end of the day Knee Deep is a unique and somewhat decent niche game that will only appeal to a certain group of gamers. Those who might be on the fence in regards to purchasing it should definitely do their research and watch some gameplay videos before jumping in, because at $15 USD, it’s an expensive proposition as a blind buy. Hell, even those with interest would be best to wait for a sale, given that the current asking price is a bit on the high side for a three hour-long game with limited replay value.

Suggestions: Don't put spoilers in your achievement list. Use secret achievements.

Overall Score: 6.1 / 10 Momonga Pinball Adventures

Although it’s not as popular or commonplace as it used to be, pinball still seems to be alive and well. Not just in the real world either, as more than a couple of related video games have been released over the last few years, some of which have offered tons of themed tables as paid downloadable content.

A new combatant has recently entered the console arena after first making its way to Android, iOS, and Windows devices. What I’m referring to is Momonga Pinball Adventures – a colourful arcade game that does away with the trappings of traditional wood and glass-based pinball tables. Developed by Paladin Studios – a team of thirty that bases itself in The Hague in The Netherlands - Momonga Pinball Adventures tells the abbreviated tale of a troubled squirrel village....small, Asian flying squirrels, that is.

The campaign, for lack of a better term, given how short it is, begins with an attack on the Momonga village by some bullish owls who want nothing more than to stir up unnecessary trouble. They swoop in, cause pandemonium and enslave (I believe) all of the members of the peaceful squirrel tribe. Well, except for one, that being our hero, Moma.

As mentioned above, this isn’t your typical pinball game. It looks and sounds a lot like something you would have seen on the N64, except with better visuals as you’d hope and expect in 2016/2017. It is, however, very much a mobile game, and one that may disappoint a lot of console gamers out there due to its lack of content and incredibly short length.

In total, there are 9 stages, plus three mini-game bonus levels. The first two or three stages are tutorial-based too, meaning that there’s little meat on this game’s bones, especially since the average level is only a few minutes long. Sure, there are some boss battles and a few lengthier stages, but unless you run into trouble you can expect to be finished and looking at the credits screen within about thirty minutes. I must admit that it took me a bit longer though, because there were a couple of tricky sections, including one frustrating stage where I had to control two different characters. Well, as much as you control pinballs that you pretty much only interact with using flippers and the occasional bumper.

In truth, there are flying sections that add a bit of variety to Momonga Pinball Adventures’ gameplay, but there’s only a couple of them. Then again, given how short it is that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Most of the gameplay involves shooting (is that what you call it when you flick a paddle to send a pinball flying right?) the main character at targets and blockades throughout semi-three dimensional stages that look like they’ve come out of an N64 platformer. There is some strategy involved, but it’s not shoved down your throat, and it is instead saved for challenges that you can choose to attempt or ignore.

What I noticed is that the challenges is how the developers tried to make the game seem longer than it is. That’s because each campaign level has several of them (think things like “Beat the level,” “Destroy all blockades,” “Collect all stars,” and “Get all stars during the flying sequence”), but only one challenge can be attempted at any given time. The game also automatically chooses which one will be available, which may annoy some.

The other problem with Momonga Pinball is that it’s not as precise, let alone as fair, as it could be. The ‘balls’ will sometimes show strange and unpredictable physics, and the final boss can be a pain in the arse because of some cheap mechanics. Overall, though, it’s not too, too bad, especially for a mobile turned console game.

Achievement hunters will also either appreciate the game’s 'cheevo' list or find it frustrating. It’s a pretty simple affair, but is time consuming, which is kind of strange given how short the campaign is and how there’s little in the way of replay value unless you go for all of the challenges and attempt to three star each stage in the process. Every achievement seems to be worth 100 points, but you’ll have to play 100 stages, collect 1000 stars, and three star every stage if you hope to get the full 1000 gamerscore.

At the very least, the mini-game levels do provide some replay value, as they’re relatively entertaining and can be addicting for a short period of time. One involves flying through the air while trying to eat as much fruit as possible and avoid every cloud in sight. The next one is a variation on The Price is Right’s Plinko minigame, whereas the third happens to be a score-based challenge. I enjoyed these as they were a nice change of pace.

As for the game's presentation, the visuals are cutesy and colourful, the menus resemble something out of an iPhone game, and the scoring system revolves around time, spent lives, collected stars, and earned points. As far as the audio goes, it does the trick but is nothing memorable and also features lots of ‘Simlish’ type ‘dialogue.’

Technically the game ran well for the most part, although I did encounter a bit of stutter, which I was surprised about, and I also dealt with some cheap deaths (some of which were the game’s fault, because it dropped the ball in a way that it went through my two paddles). There was also one occasion where I fell through the map and died during a good attempt at its most challenging stage.

I must say that Momonga Pinball Adventures is a tough game to fully review. It has some good things going for it, and is a relatively interesting take on arcade pinball, but it’s just so damned short and lacking in many departments. As such, I find it hard to really recommend this one, but I also don’t want to throw the "proverbial poop" on it either. I’ll just say that I hope its sequel is a lot more fleshed out and ends up being more polished than this one is.

Suggestions:
- Flesh out a sequel if you make one (which you probably are doing given that the game ends with "To be continued")

- Improve ball physics and respawn locations

- Reduce cheap death frequency

- Add more minigames and a traditional pinball level

Overall Score: 5.7 / 10 Silence: The Whispered World 2

Prior to taking on the task of reviewing Silence, I knew nothing about the game and had no idea that it was a sequel (mostly because the Xbox version’s cover art doesn’t bear its full title). This was something I quickly learned, however, as it wasn’t long before the characters began to mention their previous journey to the magical world of Silence, which exists in a state between life and death.

As fans of Daedalic Entertainment surely know, Silence was preceded by 2010’s The Whispered World, which hit European shores before it made its way over to North America. A Windows, Mac and OnLive release, that point-and-click adventure game took players on a journey to Silence, where they controlled a clown named Sadwick, who found himself in the middle of an end of the world threat.

At the end of that game it’s revealed that Sadwick is, in fact, a dreamt contraption found in the mind of a comatose young boy named Noah. It’s this now teenaged character that we first control in Silence: The Whispered World II, although he's soon joined by his kid sister Renie, who acts as the sequel’s second of three playable protagonists. The third member of this trio, then, is a caterpillar-like creature named Spot, who can change his shape at will.

Things begin in a quaint, wood-sculpted town, where the threat of death is imminent and approaching. War has hit the region, and bombers have been sent to destroy everything in sight. It’s here where we find Noah and Renie, who make a mad dash for a protective bunker and hunker inside as those they know and love vanish in explosive bursts.

At first, the old bunker seems to hold up quite well against the airborne attacks, but it isn’t long before a couple of well placed hits cause parts of it to cave in, disorienting Noah and seemingly trapping his young sibling under a pile of rubble. However, all is not as it seems, and it isn’t long before Noah finds himself in a cave filled with relics of The Whispered World and hears his sister’s call from its distant exit.

Thus begins the several hour-long campaign that is Silence: The Whispered World II, as players take control of the young man and help him navigate over dangerous crevasses towards the end of the tunnel. There, of course, lays a changed version of Silence, which players must explore as they puzzle solve their way towards a distant throne room.

Like its predecessor, this is a rather traditional point-and-click adventure game, which doesn’t venture far from the genre’s decades old trappings. It is however, a beautiful one, which will impress both those who play it and those who decide to sit down and watch someone play.

Truth be told, the best thing about Silence: The Whispered World II is its visuals. They’re comprised of a beautiful layered design, which features characters and locales that look as if they were painted in. It’s an impressive sight to behold, and something that will help this game remain memorable for years to come.

Things play out on a mostly two-dimensional landscape, where both Noah and Renie must enlist the help of secondary characters. Their end goal is to return home, although they’ll have to jump through hoops in order to (hopefully) do so. This story is told over the course of three chapters, which will take adventure fans several hours to complete. Online estimates tout it as being a five-hour experience, although due to my limited experience with the genre (and mediocre puzzle solving skills), it took me longer.

Although none of the puzzles are cheap or offensively challenging, they’re not a cakewalk either. Some are obtuse, and many will force you to put on your thinking cap, but they’re never difficult to the point of controller slamming frustration. Not that I’d ever do that type of thing anyways, given that controllers are $80 or more now.

Clues are available to those who wish for them, but they’re not the most helpful things in the world. Most of the time you’ll get just a slight hint and that will be all. Hell, sometimes it will only be your objective, which isn’t of much help at all. This 'problem' is furthered by the fact that Silence's audio has an annoying habit of drowning its dialogue out with music or environmental sound effects.

From start to finish, Silence: The Whispered World II is an inoffensive, solid, beautiful, charming, and rather polished point-and-click affair. It can be very slow at times, though, and can also border on obtuse, making it something to avoid if you prefer a faster pace.

In fact, the one thing that bugged me most about this game was its pace. Although it was a treat for the eyes and had a halfway interesting storyline (albeit one that could’ve used more depth and a greater sense of urgency), it plodded along far too much. Then again, I’ve never been the biggest fan of puzzle games, though recent adventure games like Telltale’s series and The Little Acre have both impressed and entertained me.

Playing on console may also have affected my opinion more than playing the PC version would have. I say this because, after looking at videos of the game being played on PC, it’s become apparent to me that the console interface is more cumbersome than its mouse-based equivalent. Instead of simply being able to move your mouse and click on something, you must actually walk towards it and be standing near it in order to input a command. The highlighting feature can also be finicky and untoward, making it tough to highlight the exact environmental item you’re hoping to make use of.

With all that having been said, those who are looking for a charming, puzzle-based narrative could definitely do a lot worse than Silence. Well-worth playing for its visuals alone, it’s something that will likely satiate fans of the classic genre. That said, it’s unfortunately overpriced, bearing a $29.99 US asking price that is arguably ten or fifteen dollars too high.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 Rise & Shine

On the distant planet of GameEarth, a war is brewing between its peaceful inhabitants and the heinous, warmonging space grunts who wish to do them harm. In the middle of this battle is a gun, nicknamed Shine, which falls into the hands of a ten year-old boy named Rise, who immediately becomes its carrier, protector and ally.

Such is the premise of Rise & Shine, the aptly titled debut project from the talented folks who make up Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team. They’re new to the fold under this name, but they happen to have lots of experience gleamed from working on games like Worms and Plants vs. Zombies. Combining a classic “one against many” tale with challenging gameplay and lots of homages to classic video games, Rise & Shine is an interesting experience that won’t soon be forgotten by those who play it. At its heart, though, it’s best described as a side-scrolling action game and bullet hell hybrid, one that doesn’t hold any punches and loves to throw everything it can at the player, resulting in a few frustrating chokepoints.

Things begin in a partially destroyed shopping mall, wherein a young boy (our new friend Rise, of course) is staring down death at the hands of an evil-looking grunt. Before his short life can flash across his young eyes, our unsuspecting hero is saved from the brink of death, thanks to the land’s beloved hero. In the process, the protector ends up giving up his own life for the young stranger’s, and drops his beloved gun as he collapses to the ground.

Unaware of just how significant of a moment that this was, Rise shambles forward and comforts the dying hero, before picking up the gun that he dropped. Almost immediately the lead shooter begins to talk, shocking the young boy before telling him that he’s not only its new protector, but that he has also been tasked with taking over the hero’s quest; that being to take Shine to the king’s castle. Shine, you see, is a magical weapon. Not only can he talk, but he’s also able to grant his chosen carrier with unlimited respawns, which bodes well for you given how challenging (and occasionally cheap) Rise & Shine happens to be.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering how this all works out. That is, if the gun is able to gift its carrier with unlimited lives, how did the almighty hero manage to die for good? This is brought up in game during a humorous moment where the question is raised and the given answer is to simply forget about it and not read too much into things. What unfolds from that harrowing, near death experience is a short but memorable campaign that will challenge and frustrate those who give it a chance.

It must be said though that Rise & Shine is unlike most other side-scrolling action games in existence. In fact, it’s somewhat unique in terms of its gameplay mechanics, which task the player with moving, dashing or jumping away from incoming fire, or shooting at it to make it disappear. Cover is sometimes available, but even it is a risky proposition, because large amounts of enemy bullets can destroy your blockade and leave you vulnerable at the worst possible moment.

The key to success here is to develop quick reflexes and make good use of every bullet you fire. Whether it’s a standard bullet, explosive round or an electric one, every expended shell must be used intelligently. So, if you use your ammo to harm an enemy, destroy incoming energy bullets, or blow something to smithereens, you must strategize your attack to make it worthwhile, because getting caught during a reload is a surefire game over.

Those aren’t the only types of shots available to you, though, as Rise & Shine also features a player-controlled shot. Slow but helpful, these bullets can be moved and aimed through bubbles that appear in the sky around enemies and by radio antennas that emit their required waves. Any time a bullet leaves a bubble, it flattens out and crashes to the ground without any sort of provenance, making it important to stay within their means.

Certain puzzles, as well as most mini-bosses and traditional bosses, require you to adeptly move a bullet through obstacles in order to hit a desired switch, electrical outlet or something of that ilk. It’s not always easy, and it can take a few tries, but it’s a strong mechanic that adds some challenge to the game, while also forcing players to use their minds.

This interesting combination of genres works well for the majority of Rise & Shine’s three to four hour length (which is artificially padded by its difficulty and resulting retries), but it comes unhinged sometimes. This generally always happens whenever the game becomes too much of a bullet hell for its own good; particularly during its last level where the shit really hits the fan.

Positioned as the second to last of about fifteen different chapters, the game’s true final level can be a real bitch, putting it lightly. Although earlier sections were difficult and required some retries, it was this stage that took the majority of my lives and ate up a lot of my playtime. I wondered if I would ever beat the final boss, but eventually did after quite a few tries.

Like most of the game’s stages, this chapter begins with a cover-based battle against a horde of enemies. However, as one would expect, this particular battle is much more difficult than most of those that came before it. The enemies don’t stop coming for quite some time, bullets litter the air and there’s even a rolling death dealer to avoid. So, if you’re not smart, you’ll quickly find yourself staring at a retry screen.

To get past this segment, you’ll need to be smart and methodical with your shots and usage of limited explosive barrels. It’s generally fair, and mostly challenging as opposed to cheap for most of its runtime. However, the developers went a bit too far by throwing tiny flying enemies into the mix, especially since they’re able to fly over top of you and shoot you when you’re behind cover. As if dealing with tons of other enemies – some of whom can kill Rise with one hit if allowed to get close – wasn’t enough. At the very least, those enemies were fair, whereas these little bastards I’m referring to are cheaper than anything.

The little asshats also factor into the final boss, which appears shortly after the conclusion of that aforementioned battle, and takes the form of a hulking robot. As you move from left to right, and vice versa, avoiding incoming bullets, rockets, rolling bombs and robot hand slams, you must also deal with the fliers from hell from time to time. They generally appear during the bosses second and third health bars, and come into play once you’ve dwindled his livelihood down halfway or more.

If it wasn’t for those particular enemies, I don’t think Rise & Shine would have frustrated me as much as it did as I approached its credits. On top of that, the game would have been far less cheap if they hadn’t of been used in such a way. They’re small, and thankfully only shoot small bullets that don’t harm you as much as regular ones, but they’re distracting and their bullets can get in the way of you trying to destroy larger ones. The worst part though, is that they’re very difficult to shoot due to their size, requiring far too much precision for such battles. It’s hard enough to avoid everything else coming at you, without having to worry about them.

Part of this problem is the fault of Rise & Shine’s aiming mechanic, which favours precision over anything else. To fire a shot, one must hold the left trigger to bring Shine out of hiding, and then use the right joystick to aim his laser sight before pressing the right trigger to fire. It’s a system that takes some time to get used to, and one that isn’t exactly ideal for a game that becomes this insane. Thus, it creates some frustration in and of itself and leaves the player at somewhat of a disadvantage.

Though its gameplay is sometimes too cheap and convoluted for its own good, Rise & Shine continually excels when it comes to its presentation. In fact, it was the game’s visuals that first caught my attention, thanks to their colourful, comic-inspired design. Simply put, the entire campaign is a treat for the eyes, with varied locations, continually switching colour palettes and performance that rarely falters.

What’s also great is that Rise & Shine’s audio is right up there with its visuals, offering an original soundtrack that is worth listening to by itself. The music ramps up as the on-screen tension does, and it’s always fitting. There is no spoken dialogue, though, as the developers chose to go with colourful, fullscreen comic panels instead. It suits the game, and is in line with its overall style, so no complaints here.

There’s little more that I can say about Rise & Shine now, having put all of my thoughts down onto paper (well, so to speak). For the most part, it’s a special little game that will challenge and impress players with its charming presentation and unforgiving gameplay. It is, however, not a perfect game, although that’s easier to overlook given that this is a studio’s debut effort, and a very good one at that.

Overall Score: 8.3 / 10 Ittle Dew 2

They’ve always said that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, so one must assume that Zelda's Link is the most flattered video game character in existence. Well, outside of Mario that is, given that his jump-based mechanics, three hit boss battles, and his simplistic, but effective life system, have been copied more times than I can count in the video game history.

Back when The Legend of Zelda first hit Japan in 1986, before making its way to North America and Europe in 1987, it sent a shockwave throughout the budding industry. One that to this day, can still be felt.

Among the many clones, copycats, and imitators lays ittle Dew 2 (yes, that is not a spelling error), the recently released Xbox One title from Ludosity Interactive. An extremely colourful, whimsical and far from serious affair, it combines a classic, grid-styled map like the original Legend of Zelda but with a more modern take on the genre’s gameplay principles. Well, that as well as a lot of intelligent and witty dialogue that will have you chuckling throughout your somewhat brief adventure.

As you’d expect, ittle Dew 2 continues the tale of ittle and her magical fox friend, Tippsie. Like before, they’ve managed to find themselves marooned on another strange island, having destroyed their ever-important raft in the process. This leads to a player driven quest where seven different dungeons must be explored and bested in order to recreate that most basic of seafaring vessels.

Generally speaking, all of the above is handled through a modernized take on the formula that The Legend of Zelda made famous during the late 1980's. You move from screen to screen, exploring a decent-sized and uniquely varied map, which is home to not just dungeons, but monsters too.

What’s neat about this take on the design though, is how open-ended it is. Instead of being forced to take a direct and planned path, you’re free to explore at will and can complete dungeons in any order. There’s also good reason to explore your surroundings thoroughly because the island is littered with hidden caves, special puzzles, and loads of secrets. This includes boxes of crayons, which help increase your overall health.

Discovered weapons also aid your cause, not only acting as offensive tools, but as puzzle solving items as well. For instance, certain block puzzles (of which there are many) will require you to somehow push blocks that you cannot touch. This is accomplished using a projectile-shooting wand of sorts, which is able to pass over obstacles like missing floorboards. All of your main weapons will double as puzzle solvers, making them more than just enemy killing sticks and staffs.

In fact, most of ittle Dew 2 is very similar to what’s come before it, be it Zelda or its imitators. That said, this is no mere copycat or half-assed attempt at a cash-in. It’s a very funny, enjoyable, and easily accessible game that is well worth one’s attention. Still, it’s not without its faults, including an overemphasis on block puzzles and a somewhat short campaign. Then again, it’s not like we’re talking about a $60 triple A title here, given that this review is about a $20 indie.

Visually, ittle Dew 2 resembles old-school Zelda while adding its own flair to things. The characters are unique-looking, the world pops with colour, and the whole package is brought to life using a cartoony, Flash-esque art style. It won’t win any awards, but it’s very fitting and does the quirky game world a lot of justice while delivering visual humour in its own comical way.

The audio continues the simplistic to carry an original theme, with playful and joyful-sounding music and creative sound effects befitting this unique world. It’s accented by some hilarious dialogue, which is, of course, stuck in word bubbles for nostalgic effect.

All in all, ittle Dew 2 is a very easy game to recommend. I didn’t know what to expect from it when I first started playing, but it wasn’t long before I fell in love with it and found myself ardently exploring the ins and outs of every one of its themed locations. Sure, the campaign may be brief if you go about it directly, but there’s lots to explore across an island that is littered with hidden caves, secret treasure chests, and copious amounts of loot. If you’re looking for something fun, nostalgic, and lighthearted to play this holiday season, or during the upcoming holiday release lull, look no further than ittle Dew 2.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Kyurinaga's Revenge

If you’ve never heard of Kyurinaga’s Revenge before then you can rest assured that you’re not alone. A follow-up to 2015’s terribly received Yasai Ninja, it’s yet another broken, frustrating and wholly forgettable release from indie developer Recotechnology S.L. One that I can safely confirm, without a glimmer of doubt in my mind, will not be remembered six months from now, let alone a year or two down the road.

To preface this review, I must admit that I’ve never played Yasai Ninja. Although it was once on my radar, due to its unique cast of vegetable samurai, I missed it at launch and ended up deciding to avoid it altogether after reading impressions from both friends and peers. Now, after having spent time with its sequel – which is terribly disappointing in its own right – I’m glad that I made that decision.

An action/platformer with rhythmic elements, Kyurinaga’s Revenge is a co-op enabled trip through vegetable-filled Feudal Japan. It’s there where the titular evildoer has returned to his devious ways, following the conclusion of Yasai Ninja’s quest. Equipped with troubling new powers, he poses an even greater threat to the realm, and it’s up to Samurai Kaoru Tamanegi (whose design is based around Asian vegetables like buk choy) and his ally, a street fighter named Broccoli, to save the day.

I promise that I’m not making any of this up.

If you’re able to find a second person to play this game with (which might be tough, especially after they see it in action), it’s possible to work your way through the campaign in tandem. However, if you opt to go through it as a solo gamer, you’ll have the option to switch between the two heroes at any given time. This is a necessary aspect of Kyurinaga’s Revenge, because each character has his own special ability, and both are required for basic progression.

What’s surprising is that instead of going the stealth route like you’d expect, the rugged samurai is equipped with bombs that he can plant at will. Detonation is another skill entirely though, and you’ll need to switch to Broccoli (whose name is as bad as the game he inhabits) in order to throw darts at the bombs to trigger explosions. These darts also factor into puzzle solving and combat, and can be used to hit targets or cut ropes holding environmental objects such as logs.

The game’s three to four hour-long campaign brings forth a mixture of puzzle solving, combat and basic platforming. With limited lives, golden coins to collect, and a blue coin that can be touched to trigger a timed collection challenge, it’s a lot like Mario except not nearly polished and much, much more frustrating.

You won’t always be jumping onto platforms, avoiding spike traps, solving puzzles or pushing blocks, though. In fact, there are a couple of other gameplay tropes to be found in Kyurinaga’s Revenge, the first of which is combat.

When you think of combat in a game such as this, your mind will likely be drawn to basic sword slashing or jumping on enemies’ heads to dispatch of their livelihoods. Let it be known though that touching an enemy results in instant death, as Broccoli and his samurai pal are both as weak as can be.

There is some basic swordplay, which can be triggered using the X button, but it’s as dreadfully simple as you’d expect. You simply swipe your sword and dispatch the foe in front of you.

Outside of this though lies what the game calls combat: engagements in which you stand still and press highlighted button prompts in order to kill incoming enemies. At the end of the day, it’s very reminiscent of a rhythm game, especially when you factor in having to switch between the two characters, and the fact that the button prompts get more complex as the engagements go on.

Mentioned previously, the other notable gameplay facet found within this uninspired insomnia cure is boss battles. These also leave a lot to be desired, and can induce a lot of frustration as a result of cheap deaths and imprecise controls.

The first boss is a ginormous vegetable, who just happens to be standing in a large pit of lava. His attacks consist of the most basic giant enemy attacks there are, that being fist slams and hand swipes. However, instead of having to wait until the beast’s hands are vulnerable, you must attack him by making your way to fallen lanterns and pressing X. This triggers a boulder to fall, but leaves you vulnerable in the process, meaning that if you hit a lantern as the boss is about to attack, you’re likely to die. There’s no safety whatsoever, and that’s a glaring oversight in what is a shoddily developed game.

On the presentation side, things are as you’d expect. A drawn out camera is used to cover visuals that are lacking in both detail and variety, and a game world that resembles something from generations gone by. It’s dark, bland and utterly forgettable, and the same is true of both the music and sound effects it incorporates. Loading times are also rather long; almost to a point that compares with how long the wait between checkpoints is in game.

Alas, Kyurinaga’s Revenge is a downloadable affair that is far from being worth anyone’s limited free time or hard-earned money. It’s offensively boring, frustratingly clunky and an absolute chore to play through altogether. As much as I hate dropping 'bombs' on indie developers, I cannot recommend this turd to anyone.

Overall Score: 2.0 / 10

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