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Posts Tagged ‘XBLA’

Raskulls

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Raskulls review is up at Reso as well, you should check it out! The game and the review. Grab some mates, a lot of grog, and have fun destroying each other during the multiplayer. It’s fun that can only be measured in tonnes.

“FROM THE fine folk at Halfbrick Studios who recently offered us Fruit Ninja, Monster Dash, and Age of Zombies on the iOS, comes the long-awaited first of their forays into the Xbox Live Arcade – Raskulls, a puzzle platformer come racing game that features adorable little characters with very pronounced skulls. Raskulls laughs at itself and asks you to laugh with it too, with personality injected into every available crevice via gratuitous spanks and whacks, including the constant throwing of bricks at people in the cutscenes (half-bricks, actually, see what they did there!) andcharming dialogue. Raskulls is adorably self-aware in that old school pantomime way (“What does it do?! It’s important to the plot that’s what it does!” “Pipe down love interest!”) that gives you the motivation to keep clearing levels in the single player campaign just to see what they’re going to say next. It’s that delectable mix of cutesy and difficult that make you think twice about calling it a kid’s game.”

Review: Hydrophobia

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Hydrophobia review for Play2Compete.com.

Dark Energy Digital are attempting to broaden their horizons having mostly dabbled in pool and snooker games in the past, and their flagship no-white-ball game is survival-adventure Hydrophobia. 3 years were spent lovingly crafting and shaping Hydrophobia’s dynamic HydroEngine, the first fluids engine focussed on modeling free-flowing water with a high degree of realism. Special care was given to make sure it would interact with the Havok physics engine so inanimate objects could be swept away in the flood of water, making the liquid characteristics as authentic and life-like as possible. Boy oh boy did they succeed there.

Set on the ship named “The Queen of the World”, Hydrophobia puts us smack dab in the middle of the 21st century, where the world’s biggest problem is overpopulation. People breeding like rabbits and creating more mouths to feed without creating enough food to feed them all has made earth a desperate place. In order to create a haven from this pain, the Queen of the World was created by insanely wealthy men known as The Four Founding Fathers. It’s the biggest ship ever made, the size of a city, and was created as refuge for the richest of the rich. Underneath all this grandeur and lavishness, an uprising is rippling beneath the surface. Terrorists calling themselves Neo-Malthusians (after Thomas Malthus, an 18th century political economist who predicted one day population growth would occur so rapidly that ensuring sustenance for all those people would become impossible) have stormed the ship on her 10th Anniversary bash to start their ambush, with the main aim being to curb population growth in the good old fashioned way, genocide. A game with an incredible physics engine needs a great premise to go with it, a reason to show it off. Boy oh boy did they find it.

We meet Kate Wilson, our dread-locked protagonist, in her apartment getting ready for work. She’s a systems engineer for the ship and is in almost constant contact with her Mouse-esque colleague Scoot, a Scottish engineer, via earbud. As the game progresses you are witness to some shockingly pretty graphics, the first glimpse of an exploding water drum or shooting the glass door of a water filled tank and watching the water cascade out of the opening is enough to make you sit back and make some impressed non-vocal noises with your mouth. As the game progresses further however…. the novelty wears off. The game play has been struck down with a crippling case of the Samey Sames. Boy oh boy did they cock that up.

Such promise! It’s pretty, it has a good story, how can you mess that up? A few ways. Clunky awkward controls, boring repetitive level design, a dull main character, overly-tense sound, and lacklustre voice acting. Every mission you were sent on seemed to involve needing to go through a certain door, which was encrypted by the Malthusians. You needed to find a “frequency key”, then find a cipher the Malthusians left to communicate with each other. Once you found the frequency key and the cipher you could unlock the encrypted door. I lost count of how many times I had to do this, it felt like it was all I ever did. Even the dialogue acknowledged how boringly repetitive the game was being: “Kate you need to go through the door to the loading bay, and guess what! It’s encrypted!” Scoot says in a tone that just makes you want to punch him. Every corridor looked the same, every mission was roughly the same. You can’t do X because of Y, so address Y then achieve X. Rinse and repeat. Most likely using lots of that pretty-but-fairly-useless water lying around everywhere. The music was overly tense to the point of me catching myself tightening my stomach muscles while playing or lifting my shoulders – even at a point where the game play was not exciting or particularly difficult, which gets exhausting after a while. The combat was interesting for the first few hours, mainly using environmental items in which to take out any rogue Malthusians. You could shoot gas tanks to make them explode, use the water to your advantage, shoot electric lines to make them drop onto unsuspecting victims, and of course shoot the classic red splodey barrel. But after a while it just became clunky and the cover system was mediocre. You had to wait for a “Toggle A to Cover” sign to appear on screen before you were actually allowed to cover, and this didn’t come up until you tried to move through the wall, sometimes not knowing which wall you were wanting to lean against. Very irritating when a pissed off terrorist is slowly approaching to not be able to cover and find yourself just standing there. Using the Mavi (a device used to scan for ciphers, it picks up the invisible ink the Malthusians are using to communicate with each other) was a nice touch but overused when using it for detecting ciphers AND hacking consoles, which involved you wiggling your 2 control sticks to bend wavelengths to match each other.

Kate Wilson herself was anything but inspiring. It was fantastic to see a strong female character that wasn’t sexed up, but she was still just beige. The opening cinematic shows her as a young girl almost drowning, giving her a morbid fear of water (hence the name, despite Hydrophobia not being a fear of water at all, that’s aquaphobia). Yet she decides to work on a ship surrounded by it. When the ship is attacked and starts going down you would think she would start having some sort of fit, but for someone who has had a near drowning experience she’s surprisingly calm. In one mission she needs to swim for a long way underwater, holding her breath, with no room to surface for air until she’s at the end. This would be utterly traumatic for the best of swimmers let alone Wilson, but all she says at the end of that between huffs and puffs is “s**t!”. Just when I got excited to see a strong female character, she ended up needing saving too. Sigh.

Hydrophobia does many things right, but not enough to excuse its wrongs for me. For a title that took 3 years to develop there should be a stronger polish than this, there should be a stronger story to our resistant protagonist who just found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. There should be more love in the details. Hydrophobia is episodic, and there wasn’t enough to impress me in this game to play any further adventures. It was pretty, and if you subscribe to the “good for an XBLA game” mentality then you’d most likely be impressed, but looking at things on a level playing field (the developers want you to, they refer to it as a AAA quality title) it has not rocked my socks. Side effects may include: A monotony induced controller slam, the urge to write on your walls with invisible ink, an uncontrollable desire to see how long you can hold your breath underwater, and ‘meh’.

Review: Dance! It’s Your Stage!

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

This review was done for the extremely lovely people over at Play2Compete.com and you can find it here.

Dance! It’s Your Stage! No one else’s! YOURS! You hear that? You get a whole stage! What are you going to do with it? I’ll tell you what you’re going to do with it. You’re going to get your boogie on, my friend. Or at least your control sticks. Dance! It’s Your Stage is the latest installment from ze friendly Austrians over at Sproing, and while it has some strengths, the painful truth is unfortunately that it’s mostly just another rhythm game. You choose which out of 6 stereotypes characters you would like to play as, and you are quickly thrust into your first public performance, all the while being told by a flamboyant dance expert that the pressure is on and you must be professional at all times and bring the funk. As you hoof it around the game, you slowly unlock more dance-able areas than the 3 available from the start. When you unlock all the areas, you’ll find yourself shaking a leg on the Street, at the Dance Club, the Airport, a Training room, the Heliport, a Tunnel, a TV Studio, and a Marina. Each area has 3 songs to perform, increasing with difficulty (sometimes quite abruptly) as you go on.

The gameplay consists of 2 little circles on the bottom left-hand-side of the screen, where cascading colour-coded arrows will fall in time with the music. If you flick your control stick (and I mean flick, you almost have to let go of it, a gentle push won’t cut it) right as the coloured circle is smack-dab in the middle of the circle outline, you’ll achieve more points. Points are required to score your performance, with gold, silver, and bronze medals for each dance routine. Each level has a different number requirement for these medals, gradually getting harder as you unlock more areas and levels. There is also a way to increase your points harvest by using the “Magic Power” function (a lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into naming that one). As you dance your power metre fills. A sound signals when this metre is full to let you know you should hit RT and activate it. Once activated it causes your avatar to glow, and spray sparkles everywhere in a Cullen-esque extravaganza. Some levels will require you to be perfect in every move, not making any mistakes, to activate your Magic Power at every given opportunity (around 4 times per routine), and to get the circle dead centre with each move in order to get enough points to continue. For a game you would think would be marketed towards a younger audience, the difficulty curve is surprisingly brutal. (Perhaps it would be easier with a dance mat, I used just the xbox controller for this review.)

Graphics wise it’s surprisingly pretty for such a title. The avatars you’re playing as are cell shaded and while standing still look quite impressive. As you get your groove on though, they start to look a little flouncy and lack the weight you’d want to see with people jumping about on stage. Their faces stay completely deadpan as they’re busting a move and apparently having a grand old time, making them look bored. Being asked by the narrator/dance instructor “It’s great but WHERE’S THE PASSION?!” and having avatar’s faces not moving at all makes me feel like he’s asking me for more than I’m capable to give. As far as the dance sequences go, they seem quite solid – if you can see them. The problem with trying to analyse how well they’re dancing or even trying to learn the dance moves yourself (which I imagine some people would want to do) is that you can’t watch the dancing because you’re so worried about your arrows on the left-hand-side. There didn’t seem to be a playback option where you could view a video replay of the dancing, which would have been good for those wanting to learn the sequences at home. I have an inkling why this wasn’t included though – if there was video replay of your performance, you would expect to be able to spot the places in which you made mistakes and it would become blatantly clear that the moves you make have absolutely no bearing on the actual movements of your avatars. This was supremely disappointing to me as I watched expecting that when I flick my control stick to the right it would fling some limb in that direction, and it didn’t. Your moves don’t correspond with your avatar in any way and this thrust me squarely into a state of disillusionment. To have a dancing game where you could take the dancing out and it wouldn’t change a thing, is something I just cannot get past.

Considering it’s not a dancing game then so much as a rhythm game, you’d expect the music and sound to be something really special. While a lot of work went in to making the original songs for each routine, they’re all shady counterfeits of songs we’re mostly familiar with. It wasn’t until I’d played a few that the penny dropped and I started realising the introductions and backing beats were almost directly ripped off songs recently in the charts. It felt like I was wandering through a dodgy flea market having fake Chanel and Prada purses thrust in my face. Vague “appearances” of Good Charlotte, the Ting Tings, and the Black Eyed Peas amongst others all left me feeling dirty and tawdry (and not in the good way). If real world songs were involved it would be one thing, if completely original songs were used it would be another, but to meet in the middle with tinpot rip offs felt really disenchanting.

In terms of being a genre-defining game, Dance! It’s Your Stage! falls short of the mark. Unfortunately as a silly ‘just chuck it on and have a bash’ game it also falls short due to it’s abrupt difficulty curve. The jump in difficulty from a one star song to a 2 star song is harsh at best and game killing at worst. While it was fairly pretty to look at, the clunky menus and the bitchy queen dance instructor suck the fun out of it. He’s hard to please and isn’t satisfied with anything less than absolute perfection. I play games to get away from people like this! Just to hit you in the face with a wet fish the songs are eerily familiar and smell of cheap perfume. The actual rhythm dynamics however are strong, and the controls are easy to pick up. With a few minor changes this game could be a whole barrel of fun, but as it stands, it’s disappointingly just more of the same.

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