PS Vita Review: Gravity Crash Ultra

August 18, 2014 Leave a comment
There's no shortage of colorful pixels in Gravity Crash Ultra.

There’s no shortage of colorful pixels in Gravity Crash Ultra.

Developer Just Add Water, who is coming off an extremely strong reboot with Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, has been tasked with revamping 2009’s Gravity Crash and porting it to the PlayStation Vita under the moniker Gravity Crash Ultra. Now it’s time to see if JAW can work their magic again and give Sony’s handheld another solid title to download.

There are three control options available: anti-grav, dual stick and classic. The first two sound very similar, mapping movement to the left stick and firing to the right, but anti-grav negates the effects of gravity, making the game far easier. Classic, meanwhile, utilizes the left stick only to rotate the ship, while the right trigger is used to fire your thrusters. That leaves the face buttons to shoot standard and special weapons. With anti-grav diminishing the difficulty considerably, and classic making maneuvering a real chore, I’d recommend going with dual stick for the proper balance.

That being said, none of the setups offer crisp, responsive handling. In fact, much of the game’s challenge stems from you trying to move your craft through tight spots or dodge incoming projectiles. Momentum is a huge factor here, and moving the left stick is actually rotating your ship and then sending little boosts to propel you in a given direction. It takes a little while to get the hang of, and at no point does it become easy to pilot.

Visually, Gravity Crash Ultra features a lot of rudimentary objects and landscapes, but it blends that with a very appealing use of colors that stand out amid the simplicity. Easily the highlight of this is the particle effects that occur when boosting — a blue mist emanates from your ship — or blasting enemies into colorful explosions. While the sound effects and music are nothing special, at least they never get in the way or become grating to listen to.

Although each mission has a small textual briefing, there is no story to speak of, leaving the campaign mode a collection of 30 unrelated jaunts through enemy territory. They all play out the same, too, as you’ll simply need to complete the primary objective to open a worm hole that allows you to move on to the next planet. The final planet in each system features a boss fight. Defeat it and you’re on to the next system for more space shooting.

It definitely has its moments, and the levels have plenty of other goodies (gems, artifacts, etc.) to hunt around for. Where Gravity Crash Ultra runs into major problems, however, is when its arcade roots come face to face with the reality of it being a one-time purchase. Instead of having to insert another quarter, you simply continue from where you died. The lone cost: your level score resets. And the only way in which your score matters is in the online leaderboards.

With no consequence of substance for failure, the game loses any sense of urgency. You just sort of putter around, shooting enemies and trying to navigate increasingly elaborate mazes of tunnels. That’s fine in five- or even 10-minute bursts, but since there appears to be no way to open the tiny map in the corner of the screen (and thus no way to plan a route) you can find yourself flying around aimlessly trying to figure out where that last target is hiding.

Upon completing a level in campaign, you can replay it in Planet mode to try to clear the target time or track down any items you missed the first time around. The most important would be the artifacts, as collecting all five in a system unlocks a hidden level. Beyond that, however, there’s no incentive to come back with no options to upgrade your ship or different takes on the combat.

OVERALL (3/5)

In many ways, Gravity Crash Ultra is a game stuck between two eras, offering an old-school setup but without the accompanying challenge to make playing compelling. Priced at $8.99, it’s cheap enough to justify a look, though it doesn’t match up against games like PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate or Super Stardust Delta.

OUYA/PC Review: So Many Me

August 15, 2014 Leave a comment
Even the enemies are adorable!

Even the enemies are adorable!

By: Casey Curran

I really wanted to like So Many Me more than I did. This is one of the most adorable games I have ever played, with some funny gags that are just as likely to make you laugh as say, “Awwww!” The central mechanics, meanwhile, are both interesting and fun in the context of a puzzle platformer. Unfortunately, the areas it stumbles in really hamper the core experience, if not quite ruining the game.

CONTROLS (2/5)

While the game’s graphics are certainly well polished, the same cannot be said for the controls. So Many Me not only works with a slightly frustrating control scheme, but the bulk of the game is based around controlling several characters at once who you can turn into stone blocks almost anywhere. These blocks are used to create platforms, activate switches and block obstacles.

The issue with this control scheme is how (on a controller) the X button is used to create a new platform while Y, L and R are all used to transform an ally back into a character and immediately transport them to you. The game allows player to do so in mid-air, which can consistently be used to clear large gaps. This must be done in a short amount of time, however, and to press A, then X and then Y in the correct order when the game creates a time pressure feels awkward and counter-intuitive.

What is worse is that the controls are not always responsive. Sometimes the character will fall through a freshly made block, other times pressing a button will not perform said action. There are even times when the physics go out of control, making a character jarringly appear in a random spot. These instances and others happen far too frequently and can make the game incredibly frustrating to control.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4.5/5)

Everything about So Many Me is cute, from the characters to the enemies and hazards. Levels are bright and colorful, with a high amount of polish to its visuals. The game does not have the level of detail as the recent Rayman titles, but the simple style fits it well.

The models and art style invoke Winnie the Pooh more than anything else. While not reaching the same levels of adorability as that lovable bear and his friends, the simple fact that it comes close speaks volumes to the amount of charm this game has.

While the music is nothing memorable, the sound effects do a good job in aiding the cuteness of the game. Even if you do not play the game, I would highly recommend looking up a video on it, as it delivers a vibe that never fails to make me smile.

GAMEPLAY (3.25/5)

So Many Me starts out strong. The game oozes charm, and the challenge is low enough that the control issues do not creep up, yet. It also opens with some pretty strong puzzles for a tutorial level. As you slowly progress, getting more followers opens up new possibilities. Then the first world ends with one of gaming’s most uninspired boss fights and everything goes downhill.

The game resets you every time a new world starts, which ends up being a poor design choice. It is as though Metroid Prime removed most of Samus’ skills not just after the beginning of the game, but every time you reach a new area after a long stretch in the last. Had the number of characters slowly grown throughout the game, this would’ve worked better for the game. As is, it feels like the game punishes you for completing each world.

Puzzles are mostly satisfying, but they can get a little too obscure — to the point where I even had to look up how to solve some on the internet, and then wondered how the developers thought I would think of the solution. Puzzles also can focus a little too heavily on platforming over critical thinking, which does not suit the controls.

The optional pure platforming segments meanwhile are torture. The checkpoint system is awful, the challenge is unreasonable and the whole experience is just frustrating. I highly discourage anyone playing this game from going after any of these challenge maps as they were some of the worst platforming levels I had ever seen. Had these not been optional, it would have been enough to dock a full point from the overall score.

OVERALL (3.25/5)

So Many Me has just enough charm to make up for the somewhat lackluster gameplay. There are moments of greatness with the puzzle solving and the core mechanic is a fantastic idea, but the controls are too unpolished and the platforming is just not fun. I would recommend this title for the aesthetic, though how much that’s worth depends on whether that is enough for you.

PS Vita Review: Table Top Racing

August 14, 2014 Leave a comment
It’s time to burn rubber at this BBQ!

It’s time to burn rubber at this BBQ!

By: Uma Smith

If you enjoyed playing with toy cars, such as Hot Wheels or Micro Machines, then it’s time to bring back your childhood (or perhaps adult) memories. Here comes Table Top Racing for the PlayStation Vita thanks to Ripstone as you’ll be able to race your way through various everyday objects at a much larger scale. Will this particular title be the “top” racer to date amongst players’ eyes? Read on.

CONTROLS (4.25/5)

Driving around and racing in a video game calls for tight and responsive controls. And in the case of Table Top Racing, you get exactly that. Maneuvering and making sharp turns couldn’t get any easier than this, and with the use of the Vita’s rear touchpad, you can quickly change your view to see what’s on your tail. Although this can be detrimental for those who constantly activate this function accidentally, it can be very convenient and accessible nonetheless.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.5/5)

Table Top Racing’s graphics are decent at best. The overall look is filled with a colorful display of sprites that offer some degree of detail. However, there doesn’t seem to be much variety when it comes to the environments. Still, the game runs very smoothly with no hiccups in frame rate whatsoever.

Audio wise, the sound effects do the job well in delivering some excitement to the driving experience. Meanwhile, the racing gameplay wouldn’t have been as enjoyable if it weren’t for some of its catchy tunes.

GAMEPLAY (3.5/5)

As mentioned, Table Top Racing will have you racing in environments through the lens of a toy car. Its combat is similar to that in Mario Kart where there are wooden crates throughout the tracks that give you various weapons and abilities, such as speed boosts, mines and homing missiles. This is pretty standard when it comes to the gameplay, which can prevent this title from appearing unique to players.

There are four championships to complete in total. Each consists of at least 30 events, including standard races, time trials and eliminations. Additionally, you also get the chance to try out some drift challenges as well as participate in other specials events.

In terms of challenge, players may find the computer opponents to be a bit too easy for the most part, thereby robbing them from any satisfaction when it comes to winning. On the flip side, the rubber banding AI may seem unfair considering how you are prevented from being too far ahead of your computer opponents.

Luckily, Table Top Racing has plenty of content in terms of the number of vehicles to be upgraded and unlocked. After each event, you are given coins that can be used toward your car for improvements, such as the ability to jump and spikes to use against your opponents. You can even go as far as purchasing new vehicles, each with their own unique look and kickbacks. And with the ability to customize the paint job of your car, it’s quite easy to get involved in this game.

What gives Table Top Racing its replay value is the ability to play with others, be it via ad-hoc or online. Still, while engaging in a race with three other friends can bring some joy, it would’ve been nice if more cars could enter into the mix.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

Since Table Top Racing is best for short, casual sessions, it’s not a make-or-break racing title. Still, with plenty of customizations, unlockables and events to participate in, it’s suitable for your PlayStation Vita for a decent price.

Throwback Thursday: Win Sniper Elite III on XB1 or PS4!

August 14, 2014 170 comments

SEIIIOne shot, one kill. That’s the sniper’s mantra… or, at least it sounds like it’d be a pretty cool mantra. Anyway, this week we’re celebrating the legacy of people like Thomas BeckettBob Lee Swagger and Pvt. Daniel Jackson by giving away 505 Games’ enjoyable shooter, Sniper Elite III on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One!

HOW TO ENTER

To enter simply let us know what your favorite shooter (first- or third-person) is along with your console preference (XB1 or PS4)  in the comments section below. Also, if you’re on Twitter please include your @handle as well. If not, just make sure the email address you use when entering is valid.

Sample Comment
BioShock
@WouldYouKindly
Xbox One

THE FINE PRINT

Winners will be selected on Wednesday, August 20th. All entries must be submitted by 8 PM EDT/5 PM PDT on Wednesday. Please note that although anyone can enter you must either be following me on Twitter or submit a working email address to win.

Good luck!

PS4 Review: Road Not Taken

August 13, 2014 Leave a comment
Dawwwww! It’s moments like this that make Road Not Taken special.

Dawwwww! It’s moments like this that make Road Not Taken special.

By: Jeff Cater

Road Not Taken, developed and published by Spry Fox, is a genre mashup between match-three puzzlers and roguelike elements courtesy of randomly generated levels and a collection of puzzles and enemies intent of not letting you succeed in your goal.

As a nameless, mysterious robed stranger, you happen upon a town where children have vanished after going to collect berries and resources from the surrounding forests. Your task is to win over the hearts of the village’s inhabitants and return the children to their mothers, all while wracking your brain by dealing with limited movement and randomly generated levels and puzzles.

CONTROLS (4/5)

The game is built completely around grid-based movement, so the directional pad and thumb stick offer equal accessibility and immediate comfort — it’s similar to sliding chess pieces across the board. Aside from selecting between a couple of dialogue and trade options here and there, menu interaction is minimal and, of course, simply dependent on the directional pad or thumb stick. Picking up objects and throwing them with the X button is about as complicated as the controls get, but in no way should that be viewed as any indication on the mechanics of the gameplay.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4/5)

Road Not Taken features a unusually warm presentation for a game that takes place in the harsh of winter. Sometimes light, lazy snowflakes will fall down from the sky, while at others there could be a blizzard that completely whites out the screen. As all of the characters follow the grid-based movement, animation is often limited, but what we are given are well done and fun to look at.

Entities you encounter can range from a simple, cute white bunny (for catching purposes) to shamanistic troll creatures that are only there to block your progress. Despite the severe objective of the game, finding missing children in freezing conditions, there’s a friendly visual presentation: characters are plump and cute, complete with rosy cheeks, and each new character or enemy variant you come across is fresh and interesting to study.

The soundtrack also lends to the game’s foreboding vibe of the snowy, lonely forests you delve into. Whether it is wind splitting your ears, or the dead calm of the level, the tone of the music has an amazing way of just fitting any situation you encounter perfectly.

GAMEPLAY (3.5/5)

In order to increase the villagers’ trust in you, you are tasked with finding and saving lost children in the forest. They had gone to collect berries, but they have stopped returning and their mothers are worried. Once all of the children in a given stage are all rescued, you’re teleported back to the entrance of the area and treated to a heartwarming scene of all the children reuniting with their families.

During the first handful of randomly generated stages you’ll be presented with a few “Match Two” or “Match Three” of any given item. The tricky part starts when you need to pick up an item that may be surrounded by a few other items, and by activating your telekinetic lift ability you’ll also grab any object adjacent to your stranger.

While moving just one object depletes little energy, you’ll often have to move several objects at once, and that drains your energy pool very quickly. You may also throw any given object you are currently lifting, but you cannot control how far they are thrown, which lends to the puzzle element of the game.

That leads to many occurrences of “OK, if I grab these two items ABOVE the one I need, I can move them with one frame and throw them to save energy, so I can then move my desired object solo and conserve!” Among these objects to be thrown are the children, who will land with a gruff “Oof!” but are ultimately grateful to be reunited with their mothers.

This is all good and challenging right off the bat, but having to match three items in order to unlock another path in the forest can truly wear thin quickly. Plus, the difficulty ramps up extremely high by levels four and five (or, by the game’s terms, Year Four and Year Five, because over the years these damn kids haven’t learned their lesson). This includes having to throw items from one zone of the forest to another, while contending with a constant stream of new foes that like to do anything from block you into a corner, to surrounding an object that you desperately need.

It’s not all obstacles, though. Fountains can be found that regenerate some of your energy, and various items that are scattered around the forest can be traded to the villagers, who then in turn reward you with an otherwise unattainable gift — a gift that can usually be given to another villager in turn for another reward.

OVERALL (4/5)

Road Not Taken is a very solid puzzler with the roguelike elements of limited movement and entities that, while not quite enemies, can deter you from making progress all the same. So yeah, come to think of it, they are enemies. Still, that shouldn’t mean you should be scared of taking the Road Not Taken. After all, someone needs to save those kids!

PS4 Review: Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty!

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment
Ah, Elum. So fast... yet so dumb.

Ah, Elum. So fast… yet so dumb.

I like to think of myself as a reasonably sophisticated gamer, able to look past trivial things to see what lies underneath. That’s not always the case, though, and just like the cover art for BioShock kept me from playing 2k’s masterpiece, so too did the strange looking creature adorning Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. I learn my lessons, however, so with Just Add Water releasing a remake of the 1997 title with Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty on PS4 (and PS3/Vita) I wasn’t going to bypass it again.

CONTROLS (3.25/5)

Imprecise and occasionally infuriating, movement in Oddworld is easily the weakest part of the game whether you’re trying to be stealthy and deliberate or quick and decisive. There’s an odd momentum to everything you do that just doesn’t jive with platforming. Now, given this is a remake of a 17-year-old game I have no doubt it’s faithful to the original. Games have progressed since then, however, and a tighter, more fluid control scheme would’ve eased the learning curve substantially.

All that being said, the controls eventually become palatable as you sink more time into the game and get familiar with its idiosyncrasies. There are even times where you’ll blow through a section and think you’ve got it down. And then you’ll miss a jump a half-dozen times in a row or hop when you only wanted to stand, alerting a guard and ending your life in the process. You can absolutely work around it, but that’s literally what it feels like: advancing and enjoying the game in spite of its controls.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4/5)

To Just Add Water’s credit, Oddworld New ‘n’ Tasty doesn’t just feature a new coat of paint over old visuals. Everything has been completely reworked from the ground up and looks really sharp. The game’s locations offer a nice variety, and the imagination shown behind the character design of this alien world’s various races is excellent. Plus, for a game that contains a fair amount of silliness, New ‘n’ Tasty doesn’t spare the blood during the hundreds of deaths you’ll witness and endure.

While there isn’t a lot of dialogue, Abe‘s sheepish voice is perfect for a character that has spent his life as a slave to Rupture Farms. It does check in on the quiet side, possibly as a result of suspect audio mixing, so be prepared to turn up the volume (or turn on the captions) if you want to catch everything being said. The musical accompaniment is strong, and I really came to enjoy the diverse shrieks and honks of Oddworld’s native inhabitants.

GAMEPLAY (4.25/5)

Working late one night waxing floors, Abe overhears a plot by Rupture Farms’ owner, Molluck, to begin killing the Mudokons (Abe’s race) and selling them as meat since the company’s current supply of livestock is dwindling rapidly. Abe makes an immediate break for it, and from there it’s up to you to lead him to safety.

What Oddworld neglects to tell you, at least initially, is that it wants Abe to rescue the other imprisoned Mudokons along the way. This is done by guiding them safely to areas where a circle of birds appears. These birds can then be transformed into a portal by chanting (R2+L2). It’s very strange, especially by modern standards, not to relay this information immediately as I’d already made my initial escape and left dozens behind before the game explained the purpose of chanting.

As you progress you’ll gain some additional abilities as well, turning Oddworld into a mix of puzzle solving and platforming. It’s the blend of cerebral challenges and quick reflexes that make the game stand out, creating an exhilarating experience that never feels hopeless. I lost count of how times I tried and failed a strategy, learning enemy patterns and reactions in the process, but it never got to the point where I wanted to stop playing. In fact, I binged on New ‘n’ Tasty with some lengthy play sessions.

Based on how many of your fellow Mudokons you rescue along the way you can see either a good or bad ending — and unless you already know what you’re getting into I’d be prepare for the bad one the first time around. Given how interesting much of the gameplay is it’s easy to envision making more than one trip through the game trying to go as quickly as possible, or rescue every since Mudokon, many of whom are hidden in secret areas you’ll need to explore to find.

Like I mentioned earlier, the imprecise nature of the controls can test your patience, and with the checkpoints spaced fairly liberally this could’ve really chipped away at the fun. The ingenious inclusion of a quick save/load function renders that point moot thankfully. A quick tap of the touchpad saves your game at any point, and upon your death you simply hold down the touchpad to jump right back where you were rather than getting tossed back to a checkpoint. It makes a huge difference.

OVERALL (4/5)

As much as the controls annoyed me, and as much as the timing of introducing gameplay elements after they could be used puzzled me, I truly enjoyed Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty. Its level and puzzle design is excellent, and I knew the second I saw that bad ending that I had to play through it again and see the good one. If you’re looking for a stiff but fair challenge, this is damn good purchase.

PS Vita Review: Starlight Inception

August 11, 2014 Leave a comment
PEW! Pew. pew?

PEW! Pew. pew?

By: Uma Smith

It’s interesting that Mark Hamill, who was featured in the classic video game Wing Commander, is making an appearance after being out of the scene for such a long period of time. If you check out the film, Sushi Girl, you’ll see Hamill making his return to his acting career. Meanwhile, a new PlayStation Vita title, Starlight Inception, is being promoted as a “rebellious step-child” of Wing Commander. In this case, will fans of the classic title be as receptive and welcoming for their Vita?

CONTROLS (4/5)

Considering how Starlight Inception will have you primarily maneuvering a spacecraft in a third-person perspective, the controls are quite solid and tight. Attacks are easily executed with the button schemes while flight movement is very responsive — it made flying around in space pleasant and simple due to its reactive and intuitive controls. While there is some incorporation of the touch screen on the Vita, you’ll primarily be making use of the shoulder and face buttons.

The only complaint is when you take control of the human character in the first-person perspective, as moving and executing commands are awkward and clunky. Otherwise, the controls are pretty much tip top for the majority of the gameplay.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.75/5)

Visually, Starlight Inception has a beautiful and stunning presentation for the most part. Even though the textures of the spacecrafts are well designed, however, there are aspects of the game where the appearance is pretty archaic. In fact, there are time Starlight Inception can look quite grainy and primitive. That aside, the background makes up for this downfall. Watching the Earth appear from the horizon within space is simply magnificent.

Where the game shines is the musical score courtesy of David Arkenstone. The soundtrack really helps immerse gamers into the space environment. Not only are the tunes appropriate, but so are the audio effects. Hearing the engines of the spacecraft along with the firing of weapons will get your heart throbbing with excitement and awe.

GAMEPLAY (3.25/5)

In Starlight Inception, you take on the role of a space pilot who has been assigned to the U.S.F. Carrier. With the setting taking place during World War IV, you’ll be engaging in a number of battles, mostly in outer space! While the story may seem intriguing from the start, it does get hard to follow as the details become more complicated. This could possibly lead to players’ attention waning.

That aside, the gameplay revolves around completing a variety of objectives, including finding certain items as well as saving your allies. Some tasks will have you traveling to a diverse number of planets as you fly over the cities within. With a bunch of different waypoints to fly to in order to complete your mission, the gameplay can feel tedious and monotonous the longer you play.

As for the enemies you face in Starlight Inception, their AI seem to be quite deficient since they can simply be blasted away without any challenge added to it. Just shoot straight through at them, and they won’t bother to dodge or put up a fight. Considering that this is taking place during World War IV, I’d expect the battles to be both tough and exhilarating. Instead, I get the exact opposite.

Still, Starlight Inception does deliver on its customization, which has a lot of involvement and depth. There are different types of spacecrafts and weapons to equip and play around with. And thankfully, this particular Vita title has some additional content to keep you occupied. One offered game mode will have you protecting a mother ship from waves of enemies. Additionally, there is an online area where you get the opportunity to compete with friends. As a result, the content and customization do compensate a bit for the game’s repetitive nature.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

While Starlight Inception does seem to diminish in terms of challenge, it remains as a promising title that aims to rekindle a long lost spirit. Players who are longing for gameplay similar to that of Wing Commander may find this a satisfying Vita title.

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