By: Jeff Cater
It has been a great while since the bullet hell genre has had any truly standout title — since Ikaruga charmed us with its unique flip of the scene. Final Form Games has brought us an updated version of the 2011 PC hit Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony in the form of Jamestown Plus. Uncover the mysteries of the lost colony of Roanoke and territories far beyond our own world, and perhaps even find out why these events are referred to as mysteries in our history books.
On top of being able to fully customize your control mapping in-game and now being able to switch bindings of any button on your DualShock 4 thanks to a recent update in the PS4’s firmware, Jamestown Plus is a game that is very easy to get into.
You’ll use the left stick to weave your ship in and out of waves of gunfire, while suppressing the endless rank of the enemy with the X button. Upon collecting enough gears from downed foes, you can press square to activate your ship’s Vaunt attack, which can be anything from enemy-seeking missiles to an energy-wave producing turret.
Of course, as mentioned above, any of these buttons can be re-mapped as you see fit, so if you can’t adjust to it it’s your own damn fault.
As with most games in the bullet hell genre, Jamestown Plus is viewed from a top-down vertical scrolling perspective. It harkens back to the golden arcade shooter days, and the action is fast, constant and packs the screen with masses of enemies and hundreds of projectiles. And even with four players there is virtually no slowdown during the most intense of fights!
The wide variety of enemies you blast to bits are animated and drawn very well, but it’s pretty hard to notice given the average enemy’s lifespan. All of the action and combat is tied together perfectly by a unique Steampunk take on the 16th century history of the British Colonies and the crazy inventions that allowed heroes such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Guy Fawkes to take to the skies.
The musical score is an epic construct that induces pride and justification in your fight against the menacing aliens, while the screams of them exploding is a constantly driving effect. Also, when you complete a level you’re treated to a “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner!” type of celebratory fanfare which is reward enough itself, all other gameplay aside.
As Sir Walter Raleigh, you’ve been framed for treason and sentenced to death, but the facts just don’t add up. So what do you do? Find a bitchin’ sky ship with a beam cannon and assemble an elite team of historical bad asses to liberate yourselves and the skies.
You earn gold by participating in missions, which is then used to buy new heroes with unique ships, weapon upgrades and even peripheral gameplay modes ripe for adding a substantial amount of replay value to the game.
The waves of enemies are vicious and seemingly endless, as are the waves of projectiles that you’ll be constantly dodging. Against the insurmountable odds, you are given a “Vaunt” ability unique to your hero. These brutal attack can range from placing a ghost image of yourself (that still does damage) while controlling your main ship that now has an energy sword jutting out of the front, to being able to toss exploding barrels all about the battlefield.
Inevitably, you’ll need help. In order to progress further into the game, you must beat previous missions on progressively ascending difficulty levels, and thus the game gets insanely tough pretty early on. Luckily help is only a friend away, as long as they’re in the same room (there’s no online co-op). With a buddy blasting away with you things get considerably easier due to bullet-coverage, and with a full four-player setup the action is even more hectic.
Jamestown Plus really surprised me — I’ve grown tired of the genre, but this game was such a well presented package and offered a good variety of gameplay thanks to the awesome ships you can control. Anyone who has been jonesing for some great local co-op action in a fresh, wondrous setting need look no further than Jamestown Plus.
By: Matthew Striplen
Who doesn’t love a lighthearted puzzle game? Sparkle 2 is a casual marble popper with a few extra goodies sprinkled throughout. For those unfamiliar with the term “marble popper,” chances are if you like mobile or early-to-mid 2000s Flash games, you’ve probably played one before. Think Stone Loops of Jurassica or Suma: The Lost Treasure.
Unlike most entries in this genre, Sparkle 2 has a story, though it doesn’t matter much. Nothing in the story ever affects gameplay, which makes it feel like it was just tacked on.
Gameplay consists of clearing lines of colorful marbles by matching at least three of a kind. By clearing multiple groups in a row, combos are formed and bonuses are awarded depending on the strength of said combo. Most of what sets Sparkle 2 apart from other titles in the same genre are the specific types of power ups. These play a major role in decreasing the difficulty.
After finishing a few levels, upgrades to the marble launcher become unlocked. These range from faster shots to making each stage easier but longer. After completing even more levels, multiple upgrades can be equipped simultaneously.
A few other game modes are available in addition to the main campaign. These include survival and challenge modes. Survival pits the player against an endless stream of marbles until you lose, while the challenge mode faces players with a large number of stages. Each stage must be completed multiple times before it can be completely cleared.
The graphic style is brightly colored and each backdrop makes the colored marbles stand out. Plus, the various power-ups are always accompanied by a flashy effect. The music is a synth orchestral score, and the minimal story is delivered by a narrator. Both the narrator’s performance and music composition are quite nice as well.
As for the controls, everything handles very intuitively. I never once had to think about the controller in my hand, which is the best possible result for any game.
Unfortunately, most of Sparkle 2 poses little challenge. Even once you pass all the easy levels, things don’t heat up too quickly. That being said, there are tons of levels. Between the main campaign, the challenges and survival modes, there is plenty to do. Plus, there’s usually some sort of completion bonus in the form of an upgrade, so maxing out everything is generally worth your while.
Sparkle 2 is a fun, casual game. Although it doesn’t bring anything particularly innovative to the table, the polish of the product demonstrates that simple games can still hold up. If you’re looking for a terrific time-waster, Sparkle 2 is the way to go.
By: Ted Chow
With roguelike dungeon delving and an Anime story to package it up, The Awakened Fate Ultimatum is a game that tries to bring the best of both worlds. In doing so you get a game that is light hearted visually, but one that can be punishing if you die. It is a weird disconnect as most roguelike games embrace the sinister undertones while this game nonchalantly dresses up the angel genocide with cute monsters and chibi characters. In the end, however, The Awakened Fate Ultimatum is ever so polarizing in its identity; as it is in your story driven decisions as you ascend into Godhood.
You control the protagonist, Shin, as he traverses the realm of phantasma in your epic dungeon delving action! But in all honesty, the game is split between story driven cut scenes and going through dungeon stages in a world outside your haven. Much of the controls felt understandable, though the sensitivity could be a little much as the slightest of flicks can move you multiple tiles or accidently input a move command when all you meant to do was face the enemy and fight.
The battles themselves felt a little lackluster and unsatisfying as it was primarily a one-button press combo without much though process behind the combat system. Overall, all of it felt standard without any noticeable points worth mentioning.
As far as the anime visuals, the graphics and the soundtrack really didn’t hit it with me this time around, and this is my inner otaku talking. The user interface felt clean and the cut scenes and backdrops were pleasant to the eye, yet the in-dungeon chibi characters and cute monsters were off putting to the overall tone.
The soundtrack for an anime game such as this is usually a big selling point, but the introductory song didn’t set the mood for me. The rest of the soundtrack was pretty standard without all too many noticeable mentions, but at least you have a menu opinion to listen to them in your downtime.
The Awakened Fate Ultimatum plays like a solid dungeon crawler with procedurally generated levels and punishing mechanics in the form of losing all your equipment on hand if you die. While the premise sounds cool, the execution felt a little lackluster. Never did I feel any attachment to my equipment nor felt threatened with the thought of losing progress when all I needed to do was reload a previous save.
In hindsight, it felt like a slight nuance rather than a reason to feel any reluctance or trepidation when turning that next corner. While I can understand the mechanic, it is negated when you get into random situations such as three monsters ganging up on you; at which point there is little you can do in those instances.
The dungeon crawling aspect also comes with your standard RPG mechanics in the form of equipping/looting new items, one-time use items and ways to improve your overall stats. Upon leveling up, you are given points that you can spend in either the angel or devil trees to acquire new skills and buffs.
Accessing these powers requires a resource called SP, which is gained through continual movement and depleted when you use abilities tailored toward the angel or devil. Health also regenerates in a similar fashion. Another resource called AP is most accurately compared to a dungeon stamina bar that needs to be replenished in order to remain in the dungeon.
Back in your haven of Celestia, you are given a list of things you can do from replaying earlier dungeons to purchasing items at the shop. A storehouse is also available if you want to stash valuable items that you don’t want to lose in a dungeon run if you accidently die. Additional features, such as the music and art hall, are available for you to see all the music and gallery art that you’ve acquired throughout your playtime.
Story mode in The Awakened Fate Ultimatum is similar to a visual novel where you read through text and make critical story branching choices that tether between light and dark. The connotation of said choices will affect your story ending, so multiple playthroughs will be needed to see all the endings.
The Awakened Fate Ultimatum is decent at best with a few interesting mechanics here and there to round out its offerings. The story was rather generic, as are the characters, with no real emotional development. There was just no reason to feel any attachment, creating a lingering feeling of apathy throughout my play experience. It’s a shame as there could have been much more possible with this fusion, but alas, the underlying fundamentals turned out to play it safe rather than innovate.
By: Casey Curran
And here we are again; another game that has you guide a child through a dangerous world while solving puzzles with htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary. It’s seemingly the backbone of indie game development, as important to smaller developers as invoking nostalgia is to Nintendo. Yet, Nippon Ichi Software proves that there is room for another game like this in the market.
The Firefly Diary is controlled entirely with the touch screen. First, a little disclosure, I am fine with touch screen controls. I wish the 3DS had more touch screen controlled games like the original DS had, as many of my favorite games for the system used them extensively. That being said, the controls here are not good.
The game controls exactly like the DS Zelda games, as you move a fairy around by dragging it across the screen, with the main character following the fairy. Meanwhile, tapping on the touch screen will perform actions on certain objects. Lastly, the rear touchpad is used in the shadow world, as you move across shadows to manipulate items with a second fairy.
These controls are well polished, but they suffer from a bizarre design decision. Rather than the fairy instantly moving across the touch screen, it moves very slowly, staying in place once you remove your finger. This makes sense on the rear pad, as you can only traverse through shadows. In the main world, however, it makes the game feel too unresponsive and frustrating.
The Firefly Diary is absolutely gorgeous, with an art style evoking a variety of areas from a creepy forest to a dark steampunk world. These worlds have their own distinct flavor, offering plenty of variety. However, each has one thing in common: a bunch of dangerous hazards as well as some hidden monsters all waiting to attack.
The music is very soft and ominous, adding to the tension while the sound effects either mirror the music or throw a sharp sound, demonstrating a clear sense of danger near. This game just nails its look and feel resulting in a fantastic atmosphere.
This game is pretty much Limbo controlled with a touch screen. You play a vulnerable character in a mysterious and dangerous world and must solve puzzles to prevent the many nearby hazards and monsters from killing you.
The dual worlds are a great mechanic for these puzzles, requiring you to consider every idea demonstrated in the past and check if there’s any potential for a new solution. The puzzles pretty much achieve the right balance in that they offer plenty of difficulty and will result in deaths, but they never feel too obscure.
The problem, however, is that these controls hold the game back in the main world. The game is very slow paced, which helps keep the cheap deaths caused by the controls from piling up too high. This extremely methodical pace combined with the controls, however, makes experimenting and trial and error super slow, which goes against what makes figuring out the solutions fun.
So with any wrong ideas trying the next idea takes an annoyingly long time, making some segments a chore to play. I’m fine with a slow paced game, but this one requires everything to take way too long, which hurts the game overall.
htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary is an unfortunate kind of game, where the developers are clearly talented and thought out everything well, but they just made one design decision that doesn’t work and brings everything else down. It’s still a quality experience, but revolving the game around leisurely fairy movement makes the pacing too slow to stay fun consistently.
When I first heard of LA Cops and saw a couple of screenshots I fantasized it was going to be the second coming of Police Quest: SWAT 2, the late-90s real-time strategy game, perhaps mixed with a satirical, cliché riddled story riddled. Instead, developer Modern Dream has drawn on Dennaton’s Hotline Miami for its inspiration while introducing a few new elements.
Just two months from retirement, will LA Cops be collecting a healthy pension? Or is it destined to be gunned down in the line of duty? Clock in, Officer, it’s go time.
Using twin-stick shooter basics — walk with the left stick, aim with the right — LA Cops keeps things pretty simple. In addition to free aiming, pressing “X” locks on to a perp for better accuracy, and you can either go lethal by pulling the trigger or arrest your enemies with a melee strike. You can also switch between you and your partner with “Y” or send them to a set location with “A.”
In theory this is done with strategy in mind. For instance, you might position your partner on the other side of a door with a clear line of sight on anyone entering and then lure your foes through said door, allowing your concealed partner to drop them from safety. Sadly, your partner has the survival instincts of a bi-polar lemming, alternating between deadly accuracy and complete incompetence, which all but negates any semblance of tactical thinking.
So, rather than a viable backup, your partner is a liability to be hidden from danger. Left behind until you’re killed, reducing their role to that of an extra life. It doesn’t exactly ruin the game, but it’s hard to believe this is what the developer had in mind when they designed it.
There’s a certain kind of simplistic charm to the graphics. The blocky, solid colors do a fine job of giving LA Cops the retro vibe it’s looking for, and there’s something humorous about the characters’ collective lack of mouths. As with Hotline Miami, rudimentary visuals are augmented with plenty of blood as every baddie you drop sends plasma everywhere. Level design and implementation are decent, and many of the objects can be destroyed if you’re so inclined.
On the audio side of things, however, it’s nothing but disappointment. The voice acting is atrocious, doubly so when you consider how much raw material is out there to mimic. For the safety of myself and those around me I disabled the soundtrack after about 15 minutes. Maybe it got better, but given how awful the rest of the audio was I wouldn’t bet on it.
Presented with decades of source material to ape, LA Cops still fails to create an enjoyable story. It misses the mark with its stereotypes, settling somewhere between semiserious and a complete farce, which just doesn’t work on any level. It’s thankfully short at least (probably less than 10 minutes), and you can feel free to skip all of it since it adds nothing to the game.
As noted earlier, LA Cops plays similarly to Hotline Miami. You and your partner are tasked with clearing a series of locations — there are eight “story” missions and five bonus missions — from an isometric perspective. Each of the 13 levels has three difficulty settings: normal, hardcore (tougher enemies) and nightmare (even stronger enemies and no target lock). Things are straightforward early on, but as you progress the difficulty ramps up.
Part of that increase is from more densely populated areas and less stationary targets, but it also has to do with the fact that, no matter how far back you pull the camera, you can’t see chunks of the level. Pop a guy only to watch a half-dozen more come pouring in from off screen. Dead. Start moving up a long hallway and suddenly eat a bullet from an enemy you hadn’t reached, yet. Dead. It’d be one thing if your partner was competent, but he’s not, and, at the same time, your enemies are deadeye shooters.
One thing LA Cops does to combat this is to allow you to upgrade your officer’s health, strength, speed and clip size. There are six to choose from, but since they all progress identically it really just comes down to their appearance. It’s also worth noting that only the first cop you select earns experience points from a successful mission. Your “partner” gets squat.
Maxing out your cop’s attributes and unlocking four additional firearms will take 100 EXP. This is doled out at the end of missions in 2-4 point increments based on your performances. Points are gained by taking down criminals — you’ll earn more for arrests than kills — and lost for taking damage, having an officer incapacitated or damaging the environment. You’ll pretty much need a maxed out duo with assault rifles to stand a chance later on, so it’s smart to rerun the first level (easily completed in under 30 seconds) repeatedly to pile up the EXP.
For all its missteps and missed opportunities, there’s a certain addictiveness to LA Cops. Once you get a feel for its pace there’s a level of satisfaction found in clearing rooms, and even though some deaths felt cheap and unfair it was rare that I’d invested the kind of time in a given scenario to dissuade another attempt.
A broken partner system and insipid story put LA Cops behind the eight-ball from the start. To its credit, the game rallies to create a decent experience, albeit not the one Modern Dream set out to create. It could hold some appeal at a reduced price.
Coming off last week’s awesome Final Fantasy giveaway, this week we’re teaming up with Microsoft Game Studios to give you a shot at winning their recent exclusive, ScreamRide for the Xbox One. So strap in and try not to lose your lunch, it’s winning time!
HOW TO ENTER
To enter, simply let us know what your favorite roller coaster is in the comments section below. 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.
THE FINE PRINT
Winners will be selected on Wednesday, April 1st (no fooling). All entries must be submitted by 4 PM EDT/1 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.
By: Jeff Cater
A few years ago, a little game called Hotline Miami dialed us into a wicked world of brutal violence and forced cooperation. The action was fast, bloody and very addictive. This year has seen the release of Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, which is packed with much more of what was mentioned above, but is more of everything really the answer for a sequel? Developer Dennaton hopes you will answer the call.
The default controller mapping can take a little while to get used to, with L1 picking up items/weapons and Square being the attack button, but the whole scheme can be tailored to your liking. I personally found myself discarding weapons accidentally until I switched my attack to R2 and my item grab/throw button to Square. X triggers your characters given ability, like a bullet dodging roll, but it’s hard to unglue your fingers from the throwing and firing buttons.
Movement is really snappy and quick, even grazing the Left Stick will nudge your character along at a decent clip, and aiming with the Right Stick is just as responsive and comfortable (as long as you’ve gotten used to your control scheme). Interestingly, the developers decided that the best use of the Touch Pad button was to use it as an alternative aiming method, which does NOT work well for how fast-paced the game is, it’s simply too inaccurate and sensitive.
If you played its predecessor, you’ve pretty much seen what Hotline Miami 2 looks like. A bit of flair has been added to the backdrops, and there is definitely more going on on-screen at any given time, but it still looks pretty much identical to the former game.
Hotline Miami 2 features a classic, ‘80s 8-bit motif throughout. Due to this, characters are generally only made up of a handful of pixels with an equal serving of animation frames. To seemingly distract from that, truckloads of blood are strewn about from gaping head wounds and bullet holes. Trouble is, all this blood is regularly spouting from bodies that are clipping through walls, effectively shooting blood all over an untouched room.
The soundtrack, while a bit slower in pace than that of the original Hotline Miami, is still chocked full of smooth, thumping ‘80s synth. Other than the wonderful soundtrack, the sounds that fill the various rooms and halls are rarely more than gunshots or gurgling calls for help.
Hotline Miami was a sadistic game about answering a phone call and being driven to commit absolutely gruesome acts of violence, all in the name of simply being a psychopath. In Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number you’re given a few different structured characters, which is a departure from the original game that made it seem like it was *you* being manipulated.
Through the course of the game you’ll deal with sleazy porno directors, sleazy security guards, sleazy judges and even sleazy racists (key word being “sleazy”). The storyline itself is schizophrenic and jumps around jarringly between characters. One minute you’re in jail as a fat man, and the next you are a reporter-type dude who cannot fire guns — the reasons behind all of this are buried beneath excruciatingly difficult gameplay.
In the first game, one shot (or maybe two from a pistol) was enough to down you, and one punch could send you back to the beginning of the level. Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number carries on this high-risk style of gameplay and poorly tries to amp it up by severely increasing the number of enemies carrying guns.
Hotline Miami was more about making a beat-run through a level and relying on twitch and instinct to make it to the end. Wrong Number breaks the intense pace set by the original by forcing players to court enemies into doorways and hallways in order to dispatch them. Any other method will surely result in being killed by an eagle-eyed opponent from far off-screen.
Who knew more guns could mess things up so badly? I want to feel like a dangerous psycho, not a guy who likes to pile up bodies in a hallway over the course of 20 minutes. Then again, that does sound like a pretty dangerous psycho.
Maybe this is a case of “It’s not you, it’s me,” but I honestly don’t believe that the intense stray from the original formula was this intentional. Sure, there will be plenty of people who will enjoy Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, but it’s only those gamers willing to put up with the frustratingly unfair advantages of enemies who were already at a great advantage.