Review: Graceful Explosion Machine

Graceful Explosion Machine
Cost
$11.99
Format
Digital
Size
295 MB
Available On
Switch (Timed Exclusive)
Release Date
04/06/2017
Developer
Vortex Pop
Publisher
Vortex Pop
Modes
Single Player, Online Leaderboards

Graceful Explosion Machine is a shoot ‘em up developed by Vertex Pop. It is a colorful fast paced space shooter that tests the gamer’s skills, reflexes, and sometimes patience. The game in general is rather simplistic. It doesn’t have deep gameplay or a plethora of variety in game modes—but it’s core-gameplay is pure fun. As the first “shmup” on the Switch and a fairly low price-point, it is definitely worth your consideration and it’s a great addition to the Switch library.

Graceful Explosion Machine’s gameplay is both simple and fresh. The shooting mechanics are smart and genuinely fun. Each of the four face buttons (a,b,x,y) control a different weapon. Your standard blaster shoots out small bullets that are great for taking out weak enemies or spraying into a large hoard. Your sniper beam is perhaps the most satisfying to shoot and creates a massive “Kamehameha” like blast that is essential for taking out the toughest bad guys. The energy sword is the most versatile weapons. When used it creates a quick barrier that circles around your ship that kills all enemies around it slices and also deflects incoming bullets. The missiles are the deadliest weapon, as it seeks out and hits enemies all over the screen. The standard blaster runs on a cooldown, if shot to much it will overheat. Meanwhile the remaining three weapons run on an energy that is collected by picking up yellow orbs that each enemy drops. There is also a boost that allows you to quickly get out of trouble by flying through the enemies without taking damage, however a bullet will still kill. At first all of this is rather overwhelming, but the first world is easy enough that I was able to pick up the skill and improve rather quickly. By the second world the game gets very intense and the battles are just plain fun. The dance of cycling through different weapons, boosting out of trouble, picking up orbs, and blasting through enemies is really rewarding. On a pure gameplay perspective, Graceful Explosion Machine is smooth, responsive and pure. Rarely did I feel like my death was my own cause, instead it feels like every moment I am in total control and my deaths come from a split second poor decision or bad move.

In true SHMUP form the game also runs on a highscore and online leaderboard system that adds to the entertainment. The added pressure of trying to keep a combo going only amplifies the fast-paced frantic action. There are four worlds and at the end of each world there is a warp level. These levels have no check points. Normal levels work on a three phase system, each phase saves your progress. But the warp levels are much more difficult and stressful. I would have liked a boss at the end of each world, some massive creative alien monster that is challenging and different. It’s a bit disappointing that the climax of each world is just a level that is slightly more difficult than a normal level and that’s it. Once a world is beaten you can try a score attack level in that world that gives a bit of a different feel and also a warp + level that is just an even more difficult version of the warp levels. All in all the gameplay is so much fun, I just there was another gamemode or two that changed things up a bit.
The enemy diversity is another strong point. Very quickly I learned all the different enemies and how they attack in diverse ways and finding out the best way to take them down was a fun puzzle. Meanwhile when the screen is filled with hundreds of enemies the challenge of taking down each diverse enemy strategically and ruthlessly with the different weapons is satisfying.

The graphics are good, maybe not overly special. They don’t have the same “pop” that a game like Geometry Wars or the same polish and gorgeousness of Rezogun. However the simplistic art style is very appealing. Enemies stand out and don’t seem to get lost which can sometimes be a problem in these types of games. Explosions look wonderful. And no matter how insane the action got, I never had a framerate issue or hiccup in any way and that is really impressive. The music is rather dull and not memorable, it’s one area I would have liked to see an improvement in. But the sound effects are great. The “HD” rumble features were bragged about by the developer and seconded in some media outlets but I personally didn’t feel a difference between this and any other “rumble” in any other controller.

Overall Vortex Pop has a fun game on its hands. Graceful Explosion Machine has very satisfying fast paced gameplay that is a great mix of challenging and fun. It doesn’t have difficulty that seems unfair or over the top, meanwhile it gets more difficult by each level and paces itself in a way that by the third world the difficulty seems insane yet totally doable and incredibly gratifying. It’s simplistically pretty and satisfying to the eye. It’s not deep when it comes to modes or replayablility and the music is bland. But the second to second gameplay trumps all and it’s a game I recommend if you like frantic fast paced fun.

PROS:
1) Fantastic Fluid Gameplay
2) Simple pretty art-style
3) No frame-rate issues

CONS:
1) Little varity in game modes
2) Bland music

7.3
Good

 

Review: Mr. Shifty

Mr Shifty
Release Date
4/13/2017
Cost
$14.99
Format
Digital
Size
3.6 GB
Play Modes
TV
Tabletop
Handheld
Players
1
Pro Controller?
YES
Developer
Team Shifty
Publisher
TinyBuild
Available On
Nintendo Switch

If you have ever wondered if a reviewer has actually finished a game before writing a review then Mr Shifty is here. I hope that everyone reviewing Mr. Shifty finished it first. The reason being the whole thing is a paltry 3 hours and 6 minutes. And you can ask out loud, “Swaggers, you must be estimating that!” And I would respond, “No. The game tells you your time for each stage and a total run time and whole thing took 3 hours and 6 minutes.” 

I am now going to go over all the many things that are wrong with Mr. Shifty and then hopefully I can come up with a few good things. 

Chairman Stone has the Mega Plutonium and he’s a bad guy so he definitely should not be allowed to have Mega Plutonium so we’re going to go get that Mega Plutonium from him. And go! That is the story and they work on it a bit in the first few levels and then all of a sudden the plot becomes Chairman Stone yelling at you and telling you that you will surely die this level. Every. Single. Level. “You are going to die now.” Anyone know who the Dread Pirate Roberts is? He said that to Westley every day.

You are left wondering the age old chicken vs egg questions. Which came first: The name Mr. Shifty or the ability to Shift? I believe that all the Council members (You get the fact that you are “employed” by a Council in maybe one line in the middle of a level so if you missed that it’s understandable.) were all gathered in the conference room looking over the final two applicants for taking their experimental shiftonium drug. It had been some kind of secret qualification process so no one knew much about anyone else. Both were extremely qualified. Had all the major markers for someone to go on a dangerous mission. One’s family business of 100s of years was probably ruined by the Chairman Stone’s illegal business practices driving the candidate’s dad to drinking and suicide. The other’s sister was murdered by the Chairman Stone’s entitled son during a night of coked up debauchery and Chairman Stone’s sleazy connections to the police chief got him off with no charges. You know, both typical backstory situations. 

Council Member: “Looking over these two reports you are both extremely qualified for this project. It’s going to be a tough decision. What’s your name son?” 
One: “My name is Jack Teleportation.” 
Council Member: “Ohh. That really works with the project. Clear leader here. And you?” 
Two: “Sam Shifty.” 
Council Member: “Your hired!” 
One: “But Teleportation works too!”  
Council Member: “Teleportation is good but this is really just more of a… shift. It’s like 5 feet tops. Shifty is our man. Welcome to the team Sam Shifty!” 

So there is no story Swaggers. That’s not really a big deal because it’s a speed running type game with timers and all that. A couple things get in the way of this speed style game. First there are no leaderboards. Is my 2:56.948 for Stage 1 any good? I really don’t know as there is no way to check it. (Zero deaths by the way. Yeah, I know, I’m that good.) Team Shifty replied to my question about it on Twitter with a, “Leaderboards are something we wanted to put in but had to leave out of the first release. We’ll try.” So at least they acknowledge the shortcoming but it’s not looking hopeful. I also like the “first release” part. DLC? What else is planned for Mr. Shifty? But as the game stands the only replayability is if you ADD and want to try to beat your own score. Leaderboards would go big towards replayability in Mr. Shifty. 

And during your super speedy run through, whether it’s your first time playing or your 10th (and why would you ever play any of these levels 10 times?) you are stuck in sections having to read through the same story over and over. Sometimes you are sitting waiting at the exit for a conversation to finish so you are being artificially held up for no good reason. 

As far as straight up bugs are concerned I had 2 game ending bugs. On one level the end door would not activate after eliminating all the enemies and on another the game simply froze when trying to leave the level. Now 2 bugs might not seem like a lot but when your whole game is only 3 hours long it’s too many. The biggest problem with stage ending bugs in Mr Shifty is there is no real continue. Continue simply means start the entire stage again no matter the reason you leave whether it was by choice or a bug.

I also experienced a LOT of framerate issues, especially in the final 5 or so levels where the number of enemies really ramps up. Framerate issues to the point of complete and total stoppage in the gameplay for seconds at a time. Team Shifty / Tiny Build say a patch is coming to fix this and I’ll re-visit this review if that every happens. 

The gameplay itself is interesting. There are really only 2 actions in the entire game. You are either shifting forward a set distance or hitting someone, preferably from behind. And with only these 2 actions I never really got bored playing. Frustrated at framerate and mad at the game ending bugs, but never bored. New mechanics are added as you go in the form of areas you can’t shift to and minor things like that and levels change slightly so it’s doesn’t get super repetitive but almost all of the stages the goal is simply to kill everyone even if that is not the stated goal. Now to be honest some levels you can fly through but it never really makes that clear so I usually just murdered / knocked out everyone to be safe.  

Mr. Shifty has seems to treat Stages 1 to 14 as the tutorial levels. I completed them all in under 10 minutes each with just a couple of deaths, and those mostly from gotcha type situations. Then from 15 to the finale at 18 my times are 20 minutes plus. It’s like the actual game is only 4 levels long. But those 4 levels show what the game could of been. They are long and involve a lot more planning and strategy to complete.

The graphics aren’t going to knock any socks off but they are detailed and from the first time to the last time it was a real joy to knock someone through a glass window and watch them drop into the oblivion below. That probably says something dark and sinister about me as a person.

In all honestly it doesn’t seems like it would take much to make this a better experience. They are already working on improving the framerates and adding leaderboards would at least add a competitive side. The final few levels are a real challenge but end too soon. Overall it’s just too short, too expensive for length and just too broken to be really enjoyable.

PROS:
1) Final 4 levels are exciting
2) Graphics are simple but detailed

CONS:
1) Lack of leaderboards
2) Lack of story
3) Serious framerate issues
4) Extremely short game

6.2
AVERAGE

 

Review: Has-Been Heroes

Has-Been Heroes
Cost
$19.99
Format
Digital
Size
752 MB
Available On
Switch [Reviewed], Xbox ONE, PS4, PC
Release Date
March 28, 2017
Developer
FrozenByte
Publisher
GameTrust
Modes
Single Player

Has-Been Heroes is a rougelike action strategy game developed by Frozenbyte and published by GameTrust. It’s available digitally for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. A physical release is available exclusively at GameStop. The premise is very simple in nature, there are some old heroes that have been summoned by the king for one last mission. While starting that mission the villain of the game starts his apocalyptic plan and it’s up to the old heroes to save the day. And right along the line of a true rougelike, there is only one live and one try for the player to save the day. One party member dies and the game is over. The gameplay itself is unique and creative, Frozenbyte has something cool on its hands here. However the game feels unpolished and ridiculously difficult. There’s a grind and many deaths that the player needs to go to before they can even understand and move forward in the game and I’m afraid that after an hour or two most players will give up before they can get to the aspects that are somewhat redeeming.

Gameplay is king in any video game, at its core a game needs to be fun. Has-Been Heroes gameplay is very cool but incredibly difficult to grasp early on, and the simple tutorial section doesn’t do a good job of explaining itself. Basically there are three heroes running through the levels at max speed and as the battles start the game goes into “slow-mo”. While in battle enemies are running towards our heroes and each character is controlled with a different button on the controller to attack and rotate. Enemies can block and have stamina, it will almost never work for one hero to wail on an enemy to take it down, the enemies need to be weakened by one hero and finished off by another. Once the stamina is depleted after a couple of hits, it becomes vulnerable for another hero to swoop in and do damage. It’s a fun and novel idea, but it certainly takes some getting used to.

The game’s difficulty is of the charts, and for the first 3-5 hours it seems like it is completely unfair for multiple reasons. One reason is that the learning curve is really taxing, it honestly takes a few hours to get a grasp of how to successfully take on dozens of enemies on screen. The second reason why the game seems unfair at first is because there are a ridiculous amount of unlockable items and spells and these can only be unlocked by playing the game and getting them over time. So you are better suited to fight the wave of bad guys after you’ve played the game for 5 hours and have better goodies to fight with. Speaking of spells and items the way you collect them is a bit strange. Basically there is an over world to travel through and each area might have a battle or it might have a treasure chest or a merchant selling things. The treasure chests and merchants are the ways to get items and collectables, but if you are unlucky in what they are selling or what is available to you than you might be screwed when it comes time to battle. Those spells and items are key, without them there is no way to beat the boss levels. So that’s where the repetitive and difficult gameplay comes in. It’s basically a crap shoot for the first few hours before you unlock the ability to possibly collect good items and spells—and even if you do unlock them you might not get lucky enough to collect them during a play-through so again you’re kidna screwed. I had quite a few play-throughs where I had no chance because I just wasn’t lucky enough to collect the right spells and items and that luck factor just doesn’t seem fair. And to make matters worse the over world map has different paths and choices you can go to, so you might think hey I should just go on every possible path to find every item and spell before I face the boss! However there is a silly and unexplainable design choice where if you backtrack to an area you’ve already gone to that area will be covered in darkness. The only way to survive this darkness is to have a candle, and I’ve yet to fully understand how to get more candles. Basically you are forced to not be able to explore the whole map because you will die in the dark. Why will you die in the dark? Who knows there is zero explanation. So if you’re hoping that you can backtrack on different paths to find more items and spells you are out of luck because the dangerous and ridiculous darkness will kill you… And I thought we were taught to teach our children to not be afraid of the dark…. I digress…

If you somehow manage to beat the boss of the first world you will be treated to a second world that feels identical in nature with pretty much the exact same bad guys. The final boss who is some kind of pirate king from the underground world is ridiculously hard, and again I felt like the only reason I beat him was because on my run I was lucky enough to get a few really helpful spells. Once you kill the pirate zombie king guy you beat the game! Sorta… Basically by killing the pirate king dude (I really don’t know his name) you unlock a new character to play with, you basically bring him back from the dead. And now you can set off on your adventure again! This is the nature of rougelikes, you have one life and when you beat the game you unlock stuff to help you go beat it again. If the game’s gameplay loop is superb than this can be truly fun. Along with setting one of the old heroes free and being able to play with him/her, you also unlock a bunch of new spells and items that are attainable on your play-through. You also unlock new enemies to fight. This is bitter sweet because the enemy diversity is absolutely awful at first so having new guys to fight spices the game up a bit, but it also makes the game much harder because these new enemies are that much toughter. Again this is all normal in the rougelike gameplay loop. Also once you beat the game for the first time the next time you have to beat three worlds instead of two. And the next time you have to beat four worlds instead, I suppose it continues but I couldn’t beat the next boss, I’m working on it.

The animation, art design, character design, enemy design, and overall graphics are horrid. They are just really bad. It reminds me of early Xbox Live Arcade games from a decade ago. The characters are also genuinely uninteresting to me, they are supposed to be diverse and lively but instead they just feel like they came out of a strange and boring cartoon from the early 90’s that didn’t catch on. The cut scenes, if that’s what we want to call them, are boring at best and unprofessional. The story is also just goofy and bland. That might not matter a whole lot but it would have helped the game for sure to be a bit more cinematic. The music really confuses me. The first few worlds have unequivocally terrible music, ear-wrenching and repetitive. But then the third world has good music, really catchy and eerie and fun. By no means is it going to win any awards but it sounds nice. It’s confusing to me that a game that is so difficult and repetitive would have awful music early on, just another reason for a player to give up on the game early. All of the visual, musical, and story-telling flaws are especially disappointing to me when I take into account the developers. Frozenbyte made a game called Trine, along with its sequel Trine 2. The Trine games have a nice little story, really pretty graphics, and a great eerie soundtrack and tone. Trine is a puzzle platformer and a hidden classic in my eyes, and part of the reason is the overall presentation with its great art style, tone, and music. It’s sad that Has-Been Heroes gets a big fat “F” grade in comparison to Trine. I’m not sure why Frozenbyte dropped the ball this badly when their previous series did it so well.

Has-Been Heroes is a disappointing game. I played it on the Switch, although it’s being released on all major consoles, I felt like it could be a great fit and a fun little game for the Switch with its home-console/portable crossover attributes. However the game falls short in a multitude of ways and just doesn’t live up to what Frozenbyte has created in the past. It’s really unfair, difficult, and is based far too much on luck. The art style and music certainly don’t add anything to the experience, on the contrary they hurt the game. If you can fight through the repetitive and difficult first five hours or so of the game you might find yourself really enjoying the gameplay loop. I started to enjoy the difficulty and fun unique gameplay after I drug myself through the early monotonousness. But to be honest, if I wasn’t reviewing the game I might have given up before I found some of the hidden fun baked into Has-Been Heroes. I do give Frozenbyte some credit for the gameplay that really feels fresh and different. If you like rougelikes and you like to try new things than maybe fighting through the steep learning curve and generally unpolished nature of the game will be worth it for you. But to be honest I might wait until the game goes on sale—especially if you’re like me and anything that pulls you away from Zelda feels like an unpardonable sin.

PROS:
1) Unique challenging gameplay
2) Fun gameplay loop (after the first five hours)

CONS:
1) Lackluster art-style and music
2) Based too much on luck and unfairly difficult
3) Not easy to learn and doesn’t feel like you can master

6.2
Average

 

Review: Hyper Light Drifter

Hyper Light Drifter
Cost
$19.99
Format
Digital
Size
1.24GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, Windows, OSX, Linux
Release Date
7/25/2016/th>
Developer
Heart Machine LLC
Publisher
Heart Machine LLC
Modes
Single Player

Hyper Light Drifter is an old-school 2D action adventure game with RPG elements that harkens back to the original Zelda on the NES. Funded by Kickstarter, the game smashed its original $100,000 goal and raised over $640,000. The game is Alex Preston under the developing name of “Heart Machine”. Preston has had a terminal heart condition since birth and wanted to tell his story through his game. Hyper Light Drifter is an incredible game that feels simultaneously new and refreshing yet somehow classic and nostalgic. Every aspect of the game is developed with love and care and it’s bursting with a personality unique to itself. Few games leave me thinking and feeling the way I do about Hyper Light Drifter. And fewer still remain in my mind and heart for years to come, I believe Hyper Light Drifter is one of those few true treasures in gaming.

After a short cryptic opening sequence, the game plops the player into the world controlling a nameless hero known as a drifter in an open world. From the start the player can go in any direction in any order to progress through the game and story. There are four main areas to discover; North, South, East and West and it’s up the player to choose in which order to explore. This truly open world feels a lot like the original Zelda for the NES to me. The game opens in a small lively town hub. There isn’t a single piece of text in the whole game, the story is told through the world and through interactions with the characters of the world. Even the NPCs communicate through storybook style static images. Although the story is very mysterious it’s incredibly interesting and thought-provoking, and the added knowledge of understanding that the developer has a terminal condition fleshes out the story in even more intriguing ways.

The gameplay of Hyper Light Drifter is fluid and challenging. The main weapon is a sword but in time guns and bombs can be earned. The drifter has a dashing ability that can be used to dodge and maneuver around enemies. There are multiple guns to collect that all have varying attributes like a long range sniper and a powerful up close spread shotgun (my personal weapon of choice). Back in the hub town there are shops that sell upgrades to the guns, more room for health packs, new dash and sword moves, and more. These upgrades are purchased with yellow collectables that are hidden throughout the world. Speaking of things being hidden, Hyper Light Drifter is showered with secrets, yet another aspect that reminds me of old-school classics. There are hidden things everywhere and there’s always a reward at the end of the rainbow. The game can get perplexing at times, as there are few clues as to how to get to each objective. But it’s extremely rewarding discovering the answers to the various puzzles and they never feel unmanageable. Enemies are diverse and clever. Each enemy seems to have its own character and style and learning how to dodge and attack each enemy is key to surviving. And surviving is not easy! The game is very challenging, but in a completely fair way. I never died and thought that I had been screwed over or that the game unfairly attacked me, if I died it was my own fault for not managing the situation properly. And if I did die, it would always place me at a checkpoint that wasn’t too far back from where I was. There’s a fine line between satisfying challenging combat that feels amazing to master and overbearing impossible gameplay that drives the player crazy. And Hyper Light Drifter walks that line to perfection.

The world of Hyper Light Drifter is gorgeous. Every aspect of the game seems like it was hand painted, like it belongs exactly where it was placed. The game was partially inspired by Studio Gibli’s “Nausicaa of the Wind” and it can’t possibly look any better. Created in amazing 8/16bit, it feels both like something that could have been on the SNES or NES and like something that those consoles wouldn’t have dreamed to create. The enemy and character design is flawless, they all feel real and full of life. The carnage after a bloody battle is awe-inspiring and even with the entire screen filled with enemies and projectiles the game never even hiccups. The music and sound design is also remarkable, it sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard and it fits the world perfectly. The sound design and music fit the tone like a glove and it never lets up. The quiet somber moments are met with ominous music reverberations echoing through the game. And the action packed moments are met with powerful melodies and sounds.

Overall I can’t say enough about how remarkable Hyper Light Drifter is. The gameplay is perfect. The story is cryptic and mysterious in the best ways possible. The art direction and music is unique and beautiful. Every aspect of the game is married to itself perfectly. Often times I play games that don’t agree with themselves. The world and gameplay and story and art direction just don’t fit, there’s always something that just doesn’t feel right. Hyper Light Drifter is that EXTREMELY rare game that somehow manages to pull everything together to create a game that fits perfectly in itself, every aspect of the game feels like it belongs and fits perfectly in its world. I haven’t played a game this magical for a very long time. Hyper Light Drifter looks and feels and sounds and plays like a game from a lost era, almost as if the 3D world of gaming never happened and this is what 2D games have progressed to. In fact Hyper Light Drifter feels like a dream—or possibly nightmare. Like the type of dream you wake up from wondering and wishing if it could be real but thankful that it’s not, but wishing you could somehow return.

PROS:
1) Flawless Gameplay
2) Gorgeous art style and music
3) Engaging cryptic story-telling
4) Perfectly executed tone and feel

CONS:
NONE!

10
Perfection

 

Review: Bridge Constructor Stunts

Bridge Constructor Stunts
image
Cost
$9.99
Format
Digital
Size
353 MB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], Mobile
Release Date
12/16/2016
Developer
Head Up Games
Publisher
Head up games
Modes
Single Player

Bridge Constructor Stunts feels like a mix of the “Trials” series and bridge building PC games from the 90’s. It attempts to take those two game play mechanics to mesh them into one game. It’s a cool concept and in theory it sounds like it could be fun. Building bridges and ramps to skillfully launch yourself through levels seems like a nice idea; but in reality what we have here is a game that feels unfinished and like it would be found on flash gaming websites in 2002.

The gameplay of Bridge Constructor Stunts (BCS) is quite simple. Build bridges and ramps through the creation tools and then get to the end of the level by driving through to the end.

BCS’ game modes are very lacking. The only option for playing the game is simply the classic level 1 world 1 type format. When you beat level 1 you move onto level 2. When you beat level 2 you move onto level 3. Once you complete a world you move onto world 2 and so on and so forth. I was honestly surprised when I saw this and it instantly reminded me of the mobile game market today, it doesn’t feel like an Xbox One game. The game was initially on mobile, but why not update the game when you bring it to home consoles? Why is there no creation game mode? I don’t see why this game couldn’t have a gamemode where we have empty worlds where the creator could build whole levels to replay or send to friends through Xbox Live.
Each level feels like a tutorial, as the game adds a new gameplay mechanic often, like steel beams, wires, and “no-build” zones. Giving me one gameplay twist at a time and letting me master one thing at a time is smart, but when I’m playing level 6 of world 2 and I’m still being introduced to new things, it starts to get old. At some point the game just needs to give me full reigns. And it takes a long time to get there, it feels like a VERY LONG tutorial. The best way to teach a player how to play a game is naturally through the gameplay. In BCS whenever I’m introduced to something new I get some boring text that says, “here’s this new thing and here’s the very specific way we want you to use it to get through this level”. That’s not fun and it doesn’t properly teach the gameplay mechanic in a natural way.
When I finally get to levels that let me play with all the tools, I still felt limited. The level design is such that it feels like there’s only a few ways to properly build, and that’s just the opposite feel of what creation is. Building should be something I intuitively do and find my own way to complete the task, instead it feels like the levels have specific options on how to get past the obstacle. It’s just not fun.

The building tools and the controls on how to use them work great. In general the building aspect of the game is its strongest point. If I could just have an empty level to use the creation tools, I would genuinely have fun. There are also smart options like a “simulation” button where you can test out the bridge’s or ramps’ structure to make sure they hold up before actually playing through.

Driving with the trucks is a mess. The button layout is ancient, no one presses A to accelerate anymore, but that’s how BCS handles it. The B button is breaking. Why RT and LT don’t handle these features is beyond me! It feels like I jumped into a portal to 2005! Also you can’t drive backwards. This is insane to me because it looks like some of the levels are designed with driving backwards in mind but it’s just not a feature, which is ridiculous! The truck feels very light and airy, it just feels off. And accelerating feels sloppy at best, having the tactile control of the RT button would have fixed this easily.

The graphics are also hideous. I’m not gonna sugar coat it, it’s an absolutely disgusting looking game. There’s no need to go into detail about this because the developer seemed to not care about detail either. The simple music that plays during the building moments of the game is nice, but it’s jarring that whenever I pressed the “simulation” button to test out my work the music resets, it instantly takes me out of that tranquil mood of just building and having fun. The music when you drive around is terrible, it’s some crazy over the top rocky sounding song that again sounds super dated.

Overall developer Headup Games has a really cool idea here. And honestly the tools in the building mechanics of the game are really neat! I wish the game did a better job of teaching me the mechanics without stretching out that tutorial over dozens of levels. I took one peak at the trailer of the game and suddenly I learned more about the building features and how to tackle tricky spots than the actual game taught me itself. The driving aspect of the game is just not good. In my opinion the game would have been significantly better if they honed down on the building mechanics and just let the AI drive the trucks around. This way I could learn the minor tweaks I needed to make to adjust ramps and bridges and not worry about the sloppy driving controls. If you LOVE to build things and like the idea of grinding through level by level and mastering each challenge than you might have found a decent game here. However I highly recommend the $3 mobile version because the price tag and lack of new features on the Xbox One version just isn’t worth a buy.

PROS:
1) Building Tools

CONS:
1) Driving
2) Lack of game modes
3) No creation game mode
4) Long unhelpful tutorial

5.2
Dull

 

Review: AIPD

AIPD
Cost
$9.99 / £7.99
Format
Digital only
Size
0.26GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4 & Steam
Release Date
30/01/16
Developer
Blazing Badger
Publisher
mamor games
Modes
Single player and Local Co-op

AIPD (an acronym for Artificial Intelligence Police Department) is a top down twin stick shooter in the same vein as Geometry Wars and Ultratron. Luckily, as Xbox One owners we have been spoilt for choice as far as twin stick shooters are concerned. Just how does AIPD fit in to the ever growing catalogue?

There isn’t much in the way of a story line in AIPD so I’ll dive right into the gameplay. To begin with, you need to kit out your ship. You start off with the Gatling Gun for your weapon and the Allrounder Modification. As you continue to play and rack up the points, you’ll be rewarded with new weapons and modifications to use. Personally, my favourite combination was to use the Phaser for the weapon and the Automatic modifier which activates your power ups as soon as you pick them up. You get to unlock a total of 6 weapons and 6 modifiers and they offer many ways to play the game based on what load out you choose. The game throws 15 waves at you that gradually increase in difficulty. Every few waves or so you are introduced to a new type of enemy with different weapons and attacks to keep you on your toes. If you lose all of your health, that’s game over and you have to start over from wave 1.

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm.

Along with the main mode, there are 4 other game modes you can have a go at which have different modifiers enabled to increase the difficulty, the fourth mode being a custom mode which you can pick and choose which modifiers are enabled for the game.

Like with other twin stick shooters, you move around with the left stick, aim with the right stick and shoot with the right trigger. Enemies can sometimes drop power ups to help you along your way and you can activate them with the A button. These power ups range from slowing down time to giving yourself a shield. Lastly, you periodically have Transporters fly across the map which, when destroyed, will drop a special weapon like some missiles or some torpedoes, which can be fired using the left trigger.

There are a couple of things that make this different from other twin stick shooters I have played. Firstly, all weapons can overheat, which isn’t to much of an issue on it’s own. But when you combine that with the fact that every time you overheat your weapons, a mine comes flying out of the back of your ship ready to blow you up and take valuable HP from you, it makes you think twice about spamming that right trigger.

The second and most intriguing difference were the challenges that add modifiers to your game. After every wave you go into some kind of wormhole and you are offered up two choices. These choices are modifiers that increase the difficulty of the game in exchange for bonus multiplier. In total, there are 24 different modifiers and upon completion of a wave, two are randomly chosen for you to pick from. Some of them are almost ignorable like the leak modifier which leaves you leaking multipliers constantly throughout the wave, whereas others can be a complete nightmare to deal with. This opens up the opportunity for each playthrough to be somewhat unique depending on what modifiers you get to choose from which, I must say, was a pleasant surprise.

Decisions, decisions..

Decisions, decisions…

When I finished the game my first time I was a bit disappointed it was over so quickly, but upon playing it again on a harder difficulty I found it just as enjoyable (albeit harder) as my first playthrough. The random modifiers can be a bit frustrating at times though. On a few occasions during my attempts at beating the game on Hard mode, I had the distinct feeling that the game was screwing me over after having a few modifier choices that gave me a major disadvantage towards the very end. This is probably my issue and mine alone though based on how I opted to play the game.

AIPD does a great job at catering for different play styles. I opted for the run and gun option and ignored my overheating bar. With my setup I was able to easily work around overheating every now and then and avoid those pesky mines popping out of my backside. Like I said above, I did get burned a few times with the modifiers making my play style very difficult, especially when I had to choose the Short Fuse modifier which shortens the fuse on the mines that pop out when you overheat. I tried other methods as well which didn’t work so well for me but there are definitely many ways to go about AIPD.

Phaser FTW!

Phaser FTW!

Something I wanted to touch on briefly that I don’t generally mention in my reviews is the graphics. I was genuinely impressed with how the game was able to portray the retro style graphics but at the same time you know it’s a brand new game using the Unreal Engine 4. I don’t think I encountered a single bit of lag or screen tear at all. I’m not going into any more detail than that because I would be pretending to know what I’m talking about.

To be honest, my only real criticism of AIPD would be the length of the game. I know I explained above that there is real replayability due to the modifiers but I would have enjoyed it more if there were more waves to contest with and a few more different enemies to destroy. Or failing that, having a boss fight every 5 waves or so. Instead you get 14 waves against the run of the mill enemies and 1 final wave against the boss.

One thing I haven’t touched upon is the local co-op aspect of AIPD. I am a huge fan of local co-op games but it would have been nice to see some online functionality other than the leaderboards (which is a nice addition). From what I got to play in local co-op, the game was as much fun as it was playing solo.

Now onto my favourite part, the achievements list. Anyone who enjoys their twin stick shooters and has a decent skill level will complete AIPD with few issues. The only achievement which can be a pain is defeating the boss in hard mode. With practice it isn’t too bad. Other achievements range from not overheating at all through all 15 waves, unlocking all weapons and modifications and scoring 1 billion points.

All in all, AIPD is a brilliant top down, twin stick shooter and I would highly recommend anyone who enjoys these games to go and buy it now if you haven’t already. The gameplay is fast paced and enjoyable and the graphics are on point. Although, the game does only have 15 waves and it doesn’t have any online gameplay, the modifiers certainly help to add replayability and the local co-op is a blast. AIPD fits into the catalogue very neatly near the top.

A review code for AIPD was provided by the Developer for the purpose of this review.

PROS:
1)Fast paced, entertaining gameplay
2)Modifiers really increase replayability
3)Local co-op
CONS:
1)Too short
2)No online play
8.4
EXCELLENT

 

Review: Cubot – The Complexity of Simplicity

Cubot – The Complexity of Simplicity
Cost
$1.99 / £1.59
Format
Digital only
Size
0.35 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, Steam
Release Date
01/08/16
Developer
NicoplvGames
Publisher
NicoplvGames
Modes
Single player

Cubot has a very straightforward mechanic. You control a coloured block (or cube if you prefer) and you need to get it to the like coloured square on the floor. But, as the name suggests there is a great amount of complexity to the implied simplicity. See what I did there?!

The game is split up into 10 episodes each with 8 levels with varying degrees of difficulty. They start off really simple, requiring you to guide your block to the coloured square on the floor by just avoiding some obstacles. As you progress through the levels the game introduces more complicated mechanics, such as extra blocks, different coloured blocks that move differently and teleports.

These pesky blocks move two squares at a time

These pesky blocks move two squares at a time

Cubot does a really good job at introducing a new mechanic during the beginning of each episode so you don’t feel overwhelmed by it. By the time you hit the mid levels of the episode you’re fully comfortable with how the levels work and you can really get into solving the puzzles put in front of you. By the end of some of the episodes I had some real head scratching moments…I just couldn’t figure out how to get the level done.

I’m not going to lie, I struggle with puzzle games and I did end up having to use some guides for the later levels but that didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the game. Anyone well versed, or even average at puzzle games would probably be able to figure them out without the need for a guide.

Blocks moving in different directions gave me more trouble than I care to admit.

Blocks moving in different directions gave me more trouble than I care to admit.

If there is anything to complain about it has to be the length of the game. You could probably finish it within 2-3 hours without the use of guides, maybe even less than that depending on your puzzle skills.

As far as achievements are concerned, the list is pretty unimaginative. There are a total of 10 achievements each for 10 which unlock at the end of every episode. This game is a must buy for any achievement hunters out there without a doubt.

Initially, I was sceptical. That scepticism didn’t last long. This game is a fantastic little puzzler and will give you a few hours of enjoyment. I know I painted the length of the game as a negative, but when you consider the price of the game sits at just $1.99 it is an absolute steal. I mentioned above that this is a must buy for achievement hunters and I would recommend it to pretty much anyone who enjoys casual puzzlers to give it a go.

A review code for Cubot – The Complexity of Simplicity was provided by the Developer for the purpose of this review.

PROS:
1) Great introductions to new mechanics
2) Excellent puzzles
3) More than reasonable price point
CONS:
1) Quite short
2) Achievement list is meh
7.9
GOOD

Review: Teslapunk

Teslapunk
box_teslapunk_w160
Cost
$9.99
Format
Digital
Size
458.78 MB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed]
Release Date
10/7/15
Developer
klutzGames
Publisher
klutzGames
Modes
Single Player

PROS:
1) Good musical tracks
2) Fun while it lasts

CONS:
1) Very short and only 2 modes
2) Disconnected feel to the game
3) Lack of SFX

6
Average

 

Review: Inside My Radio

Inside My Radio
box_insidemyradio_w160
Cost
$14.99
Format
Digital
Size
1.15 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed]
Release Date
9/18/15
Developer
Seaven Studio
Publisher
Iceberg Interactive
Modes
Single Player

PROS:
1) Fun story mode
2) Excellent music

CONS:
1) Incredibly short
2) Frustrating gameplay mechanic

6
Average

 

Review: Guns, Gore and Cannoli

Guns, Gore and Cannoli
box_gunsgoreandcannoli_w160
Cost
$9.99
Format
Digital
Size
4.58 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed]
Release Date
9/25/15
Developer
Crazy Monkey Studios
Publisher
Crazy Monkey Studios
Modes
Single Player and Co-op

PROS:
1) Good variety of weapons and enemies
2) Great music and voice work
3) Detailed levels

CONS:
1) Can get repetitive quick

7
Good