Capsule Reviews Are GO! (Part 3)

Back in 1995_01

Ever have one of THOSE days?

While I won’t be totally going this way in terms of reviewing bigger and longer titles, I’m finding it a nice challenge to play some of these shorter games and write less about them while trying to convey in a few sentences (well, two paragraphs) how well most of then do at delivering sometimes unique, sometimes similar gaming experiences to those that pick them up. Some of the games in this series might seem like just easy ways to earn fast trophies in a few minutes, but often there’s quite a bit of replay value under the hood or you get games that may SEEM simple on the surface unless you take a closer look and see what’s what. Granted, in some cases, a few things work better than others as you’ll see below:

Back in 1995 ps4Back In 1995 (PS4/PS Vita Cross-Buy, $9.99): Very much an intentional visual, aural, and gameplay throwback to the 32-bit era, indie developer Throw the Warped Code Out (Takaaki Ichijo) has recreated a game with both the look and feel of those old days of “tank” controls, fixed camera angles, and oddball “what the hell is that weird blocky thing coming at me?” monsters. While the game has flaws in storytelling and seems more meta exercise than “serious” horror game, the best thing to do here is take away more of the former meta feel than the latter serious horror thing and enjoy it for the nostalgia factor if you remember those not-too far away days. Ratalaika Games handled the console ports and publishing, but this one’s not your average easy Platinum, that’s for sure.

If you don’t remember or even like that era, expect some confusion and likely, frustration here. The game doesn’t break any new ground and isn’t supposed to, and I’ve the feeling that Ichijo was going more for evoking an particular atmosphere and sense of time more than making a game that would be “perfect” at the end of day.  It’s sort of like the scent of something familiar from the past one might recall when walking into a room, but it might end up not being a favorite scent when you stop and remember everything good and bad about it. I got it right away, so I’m scoring it accordingly with the big caveat that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Score: C+ (75%)

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Review: Construction Simulator 2 US – Console Edition (Switch)

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It I could name my trucks here, I might go with Tonka, Tootsie, and Dinky…

cs2 switchI’d been sleeping on these assorted Simulator games for a while because they take quite a while to play, but thanks to a friend asking about them (he’s getting his kid a Switch and happens to be in the construction field). I finally took the plunge and can report that yes, hours will go by with a well-done sim like this. Astragon’s got a solid game in Construction Simulator 2 on Switch ($19.99), and while it’s a highly complex game that requires quite a bit of precision and patience to play, parents into this sort of game might find it educational if their kid is say, about 12 and wants to get into the business at some point in the future.

That said, the game is pretty daunting even for adults even though it has a wealth of tutorials and tips to get players up and starting a little (and soon to be rather large) construction business. You’ll need to constantly make sure whatever equipment you buy or rent is in the PRECISE position when operating on a job or errors will be made and learning where and the game covers so much ground (ha-ha) that you’ll be working up a real sweat from the level of difficulty as you learn a lot in the process. The game is no joke when it comes to the simulation elements, especially with all the settings up.

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You better know how to use that, pal…

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Review: Lost Ember (PS4)

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Might as well jump…

Lost EmberFor the record, I’m a Kickstarter backer of this game, but to be perfectly honest, I never review any game and give it an automatic positive score whether I get code for free, buy a game outright, or write it up based on a (very tiny, in this case) pledge or reward as if it would make the game “better” if it turned out not to be. That’s a weird way some look at crowdfunding games (or any funded product, for that matter), especially when there’s NO guarantee the project will be fully funded or even produced. Besides, as it says on its site, Kickstarter is not a store. That said, I found that briefly chatting with someone at developer Mooneye before and I think after I pledged some years back sold me on the game’s concept and freed a loose buck from my wallet. Funded or not, I felt that what they were working on was a nifty idea.

With that said, reviewing Lost Ember on PS4 ($29.99), turned into a fun exercise for the brain as the game is mostly flawless in execution, but is in need of a few technical fixes I found that hamper the experience (a patch is in order to clean up a few things). It’s certainly quite lovely to look at once you get out of the intentionally dull-ish (but very nicely lit) cave the game starts out in. Then it takes cues from a few open-world titles where stepping outside shows off the game world to be a wide, wondrous place worth fully exploring. “Where do I go now?” will be the question many have (I’d skip any walkthroughs posted this early in the game’s release, frankly). But the game points you in the right directions by making where you need to go a map’s focal point, and then leaving it up to you to choose how to get there.

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Review: Bee Simulator (PS4)

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You’ll bee a busy bee and like it a lot here if the premise hooks you in.

Bee Simulator coverSneaking in its well-written and simple to grasp science and nature lessons in little bits over time (the loading screen and ever expanding journal are excellent), Vasrav Games Studio and publisher Bigben Interactive have a superb and beautiful game in Bee Simulator ($39.99). It’s not without its flaws, but it’s definitely a game worth a few plays in single and couch co-op modes. Come into this with an open mind and you’ll bee pleasantly surprised and even perhaps learn some important things in the process.

The main story is a bit of fluff where you’re a new honeybee who has to help save her hive’s tree from being chopped down, but here’s a game that gets more mileage out of its basic gameplay than its more basic plot when all is said and done. That loose flight control you’ll discover takes a bit of getting used to (you’ll likely bounce off and into many things at first), but it’s entirely doable once you practice (go watch a few real-life bees do their thing if you’re safely near any and it’s bee season). The attention to detail is phenomenal (well, despite the talking insects and a few other “game-y”elements) and enough to make me think a certain two Japanese developers could make their own insect-filled and far more explosive bug and ‘bot-based series a bit more impressive it they added more realistic giant bug nests to the levels. But I digress (EDF! EDF!)

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“Hi, those big horns are are meant for playing, right? Oh, they’re not horns, but you’ll play anyway? Cool!”

Back to the game at hand, it starts in and around a honey bee hive with a few tutorials that get you buzzing about and pulling off a few moves, learning to fly and boost, use a bee sight power that allows you to see and locate certain flowers and other items you’ll need to progress. If you’re not in the bee camp because you think they’re somehow awful or terrifying menaces to humanity (you’d be wrong on the honeybee front, at least), the tutorial drops enough info on you to get you curious and the main game will have you beeing so much of a helpful bee that you (and the kids, if you have them play) might bee-come bee cheerleaders each time you boot this up.  I think the bees would like that, by the way.

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Review: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (Switch)

 

mario and sonicSega, on a roll, II: While its appeal might seem to be more towards super-fans and younger gamers, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 ($59.99) is quite a fun game overall for all ages. That said, you’d better have a few Switch controllers in tip-top shape and prepare to do a bit of of a workout with your fingers in some of the trickier events. 24 zippy mini-games are here with bright and colorful visuals and a soundtrack that’s suitably Olympic-sounding.

Nostalgic fans who may be a bit older or keen on old-school visuals will very likely love the retro 2D goodness found in the time traveling (via oddball game console trap) Tokyo 1964 storyline and its additional 10 events. The nice thing is the game lets you play through its story modes in order and also lets you have at it in any mini-games here if you just want to grab a few friends and family members (up to 8) and play together. Online play and cloud saves are of course, all aboard if you want to play with a few folks online. That said, it’s good to see the game supports couch play (something more games need).

While it’s kid-friendly, and only supports the less fancier means of control (well, Joy-Cons, motion controls, and some first and third-party game pads), the game doesn’t skimp on the challenge for new players in some events where every bit of precision counts. The 2D retro mode’s games are far easier, bit everything here is well done any guaranteed to get you grinning. You can stay on the couch, too in either mode, but prepare to work those controllers in some events where a bit of precise button pressing, some rapid jamming and other moves need to be pulled off. Notably, there are no voices for the characters outside some generic grunts, but there’s enough of a plot that ties things together if you’re into it and prefer not to skip through short cut scenes and dialog segments.

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Featuring… a cast of DOZENS!

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MARS: PDP Brings Lightgun Arcade Fun Back For PS4 And Xbox One Players

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Talk about a vacation from hell…

I’m smiling too much while playing a detective on holiday (and on a few replays, a cheery British gal pyromaniac) aboard a huge cruise liner that’s suddenly become filled with zombies. A few comically big-headed biters go down with ease, M-rated blood splashing and splattering when they’re hit, but I’m soon jumping out of my skin when I spend too long on a large pack of undead that suddenly appear to my left (oops), and I get waylaid by some swarming in from the right (double oops, and GAME OVER). Ah well. A few shots to the menu later, I’m trying again and yes, having a blast. Yeah, some pleasure cruise vacation this is turning out to be, huh?

The game is called:

voyage-of-the-dead_logo_600pxIt’s an Unreal engine-based rail shooter downloadable PS4 or Xbox One title from developer Gaming Corps Studios, one of three games currently available for PDP’s new MARS LIGHTCON (lightgun) peripheral and IR STATION camera setup ($99.99, game included).  The wireless LIGHTCON is sturdily built and came with 2 AA batteries installed that gave it a nice heft, but it’s light enough to be comfortable for long play sessions. It’s not cheap feeling at all, mind you, but something that’s very well-made and made to work precisely for the games that come out for it. I did replace the alkaline batteries with rechargeable ones because that’s how I roll these days.

Oddly, you need to have a wired or wireless controller handy to initialize or pause the games and definitely a wireless one if you happen to have an external hard drive plugged into a USB like I do. The IR STATION requires one port, your main controller another if it’s not wireless. PDP also sent over a nice controller charger set (I’ll review that in a separate article), but the PS4 has always suffered from a lack of USB ports. Personally, I think the console should have shipped with an extra side port and/or one on the rear because of peripherals like this and the fact that heavy users like myself need a larger storage.

mars lightcon

The Orangesicle color scheme is familiar, but the tech is modern.

Back to the game, it’s quite fun overall and offers up enough zombie types to keep things interesting (aliens, voodoo, and magic using undead pop in as the missions go on). The PS4 version generally runs smoothly, but there are a few areas with hiccups in the frame rate, and some scene transitions aren’t as smooth as they could be. That said, it’s got a certain charm and makes a good first impression.

The game also packs in eight characters to play as (some unlocked via mini-games), a single-player mode, a versus mode, six mini-games for up to four players (I’m especially fond of the quirky pinball , UFO, and “golf” games here). Overall, it’s worth a look if you like all things zombie-related. While it’s not rated for kids, given that there are a great deal of wee ones that find zombies awesome and kind of hilarious, if you’ve got them (kids, not zombies!) and you’re OK with the gory stuff, they might find this pretty cool.

While the campy voice acting gets repetitive, the audio design and soundtrack are quite excellent overall. You can expect about 2 hours or so in Story mode (well, experts will probably blow through in less time and nope, I’m no expert). unlocking everything in every mode depends on a player’s dedication to seeing it all as soon as possible or on their own time. While you need to restart the game each time (like most arcade games, there’s no save system in place), the game does track all your stats so you can see that progression if you’re curious.

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Ghost Parade: If Ever There Was a Game Made for Halloween, It’s This One

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As soon as I saw Aksys Games‘ gorgeous looking game Ghost Parade (created by the fine folks at Indonesia’s Lentera Studio), I knew it was going to be something extremely cool and very Halloween themed with its mix of Tim Burton meets Vanillaware style artwork at the forefront. It’s also a peek into another culture, as Indonesian ghosts are the subject and yes, it’s a great thing to see some more of what’s scary overseas coming to US audiences. Granted, I’ve played a few games with some of that countries’ terrifying spirits or horror themes in them (DreadOut and My Lovely Daughter being the standouts), so this game is going to be right up my dark alley once I get to playing it.

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Love the art style here.

Here’s a look at the trailer. The game is out NOW for PC, PS4 and Switch and Aksys has run a nice digital comic on the game’s official site.

I hope this gets a wide enough audience, as I’d love to see Lentera become a household name among gamers here. As usual, we shall see.

-GW

Lost Ember Gets a November Release Date

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“All the animals come out at night…” Well, to be fair, in this game they’re out anytime they want to be.

Hamburg-based Mooneye Studios absolutely gorgeous looking game, Lost Ember, now has an official release date (November 22, 2019 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One), a nice new trailer and more lovely art to look at. I’ll just shot up here and let those images and trailer do all the talking:

Some images for you? Okay, then:

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There’s a load of other images to run, but I stopped with these because I was taking too much time poring over the rest. I’ll get the rest up closer to the games release. Oh, a Switch version is in the works, so we’ll see how that turns out at some point.

-GW

Mega Cat Brings The Halloween Freaks Out, Retro Style

Want some classic-inspired Halloween fun? Mega Cat Studios has you covered like a freshly found corpse with these two games that look and play like NES classics of yore, but are available on Switch (and NES of you happen to own one or a compatible system). Fist to face combat, pixel pushing goodness and fun time await with this pair of titles:

 

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First up, is Creepy Brawlers ($4.99, eShop), an homage to the classic Punch-Out!! with a horror theme, monster and alien fighters and quite familiar (albeit very tough) fun. While it’s a single player only game, it’s cool enough that you’ll be passing around a controllers so everyone can get a turn. There’s a physical cart version for the NES if you have access to one and can run it without issues here.

 

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Next up, is HAUNTED: Halloween ’86 ($9.99), a side-scrolling platforming, beat-em-up adventure that’s kind of like the classic River City Ransom (Downtown – Nekketsu Monogatari) but with a horror vibe. Also single players, the game recalls the look and feel of classic NES games and is pretty much guaranteed to have you burning with nostalgia throughout. This one is only currently available digitally (it was initially released in 2016 as a cart version), so get it now if you like what you see.

Oh, and make sure to check out Mega Cat’s recent blog post on scary retro games and their free ebooks selection, as they’re more than just some folks who cook up a witch’s cauldron of retro games.

-GW

Review: Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince (PS4)

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There are a few ways to handle this…

Trine 4_covAbsolutely beautiful and back to its 2.5D roots (although I did like the last game, I seem to be in the minority, so I’ll shut up about it), Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince ($29.99) is a wonderful and wonder-filled visual treat. Solo play is excellent, but It’s also great to play with a few friends for the engaging co-op and unlimited modes, which become more of a blast when you get new players in on the fun who’ve never tried this series before yet manage to come up with some quirky and/or intelligent out of the box means to solve some of its puzzles. Amadeus the Wizard, Pontius the Knight, and Zoya the Thief are back and in an even more stunning to look at game packed with enough content outside the story to last a while. The main game has a pretty basic story, but there’s a good deal of replay value when you get a few friends and get to messing around.

Developer Frozenbyte’s choice to let players cook up their own solutions to puzzles is a genius move where the game never gets dull because there will be those moments when someone pulls of a nice move and discovers either through trial and error or just mucking around for fun how to proceed. In solo mode, the game is great stuff, as switching between its trio of characters and using their powers comes off easy. Well, battle sequences aside where some solo players may want to rely on switching to Pontius and his trusty sword and shield until because he’s usually best at dealing with those shadow beasts quickly. The other team members do fine here (and as you play through the game, all get some nifty skill upgrades), but for my tastes, I used Pontius whenever I could for combat.

Even though the game world is presented as a side-scrolling affair, developer Frozenbyte has lovingly packed so much rich detail here that some areas feel as it you can travel out of the boundaries and go off in the distance if you wanted to. The gorgeous fairy tale looks and excellent character animation help bring the game to life and it’s all family friendly stuff right down to a few exaggerated, oversize boss enemies which manage to be both somewhat comical and scary (well, not that scary). In the game, a young and somewhat reckless prince tries to learn some powerful magic outside his skill level and our heroic trio get reassembled as a team and have to go after him. Unfortunately for them, he’s actually got a few tricks up his fancy embroidered sleeves. Can you say dipping our three heroes’ minds to bring forth nightmares, folks?

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