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Button Mash

It’s 3am & I’m still playing Machinarium.

Set in a lovingly hand painted mechanical city, Amanita Design’s point-and-click-style adventure boasts a stunning array of scenes for you to indulge and drool over. Each frame allowing you to interact with seemingly unconnected objects which, when combined in the correct sequence of events, allows you to progress forward.

Your robot hero, Josef (named after Josef ÄŒapek) must travel through the outs and innards of a rusted city. Armed only with the ability to consume and regurgitate useful gubbins at will and extend or contract his body to reach objects and switches at different heights. The goal to is to combine all manner of resources to open ways to the next frame as well as to solve classic arcade style puzzles. Along your urban adventure you’ll meet a plethora of amazingly designed characters, each robot unique and all play a small part. Some you’ll aid by running errands and others you’ll thwart with cunning puzzle mastery.

Starting out in the game, you’ll have a simple introduction in how to interact with the world around you. If you can reach it, and it’s of importance, then pick it up or fiddle with it. No matter how seemingly useless that stick is or why you have to make that large extractor fan angry.. Just do it.. I didn’t find a single item or interaction pointless after discovering its use. And it’s all very entertaining watching everything fall into place, this game is filled with individual animations for everything Josef has to work with.

The games intriguing approach to story telling relies only on thought bubbles, there’s no pretending that these robots have any kind of limited facial expressions or ability to talk conventionally. But nevertheless, this unique take on story telling allows for a charming and simple way of conveying the plot. And the visuals more than make up for holding your interest. After all, what could be more simple or fulfilling than a robot struggling to save his kidnapped lady-bot and defuse a bomb strapped to the highest spire in the city. A timeless cliché that doesn’t diminish the games charisma or distract from the feeling of accomplishment on completing each puzzle.

The game’s inbuilt walkthrough feature is something I’ve not come across before. A locked book icon in the top right hand corner of the screen links you to a frustratingly slow and merciless mini-game in which you have to manoeuvre a key to shoot spiders and avoid crashing into bricks. Hitting either will force you to start again or give up. But once completed, the book yields the the steps you have to take to move forward. With the game’s curious style of puzzles this book can be a saviour if endured. There were a few times at 3am when my feeble mind couldn’t handle the complexity of navigating different sized lines or squares through mazes. And so turning to the book helped ease the progression and flow of the game somewhat. As menial as this feature is, it forces you to really think weather you need the extra help or not. Which is a step up from games like ‘The Secret of Monkey Island’s Help Button. But to be fair if you can complete that game without that button chances are you’re not very well equipped to deal with how banal the world really is.. As a bonus, when you unlock the book you get a lovely hand drawn step by step guide to what you need to do in the particular frame you’re in. Be warned though, if what you need to do isn’t in the frame your standing in, you’ll have to move on and start the mini game again in a different location.

My only real gripe with the game is how slow Josef walks from place to place. But that stems from years of playing fast paced hack and slash games, where if it’s not dead in two minutes you’ll be eaten alive.. But give this game some patience and you won’t be disappointed..

Developed over three years on a shoe-string budget of $1000, this game has been built with the care and attention of some astonishing people. To sum up, Machinarium is gorgeous. It’s delicious for your eyes, and a puzzling treat for your brain. Go play it!



Well I meant to die there…..Chapter 1: Setting the Scene

Okay, I admit it. I’m, what the French have termed, a noob.

Its been almost five years since I’ve completed a game on the PS2 (anyone remember that console?). I’m not sure exactly when I fell out in love with gaming and we amicably seperated with the PS3 taking my dignity and half my money. Maybe it was the pressures of university and being drunk through most of it. Maybe it was the harrowing depression that comes with dealing with the jobcentre. Maybe Uri Gellar did some form of mind control over me and I spent my time chasing squrriels in the park. Nethertheless, my gaming career appeared to be dead and buried.

Until the first week of February 2012, the last Button Mash event. While kindly making up the numbers in a stellar re-enactment of timeless classic “The Power of Love”, by Huey Lewis and the News, I managed to score O% on the guitar. No, thats not a mistype. A big fat zero, or for the eurovision fans amongst us, nil point. The taunting was merciless. And quite like Pop-Eye before me ” I had all I could stands, And I cant stands no more”. So naturally I grabbed a can of spinach and squeezed with all my might. After 2 hours and a bruised ego, I dropped the can and made the decision to dust off my PS3 and get back into gaming.

So, this is essentially the sit. Every week, a mystical being (known as Roberto), will pick out a game for me to try out each week and I’ll feedback to you on my progress. It wont always be pretty, hell the weeks I get shooters will be bloody depressing, but if you’re a first time gamer looking for new games to try, or a seasoned veteran who wants to laugh at the shortcomings of others, this will be an essential read.

So my starting point this the blog was a release from around 3 years ago, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Those in the know about gaming will recall the series is on its third game, and I have been informed I will review the next two in the series at some stage. The premise of this game is pretty simple. Drake is a treasure hunter, looking for a golden idol in El Dorrado. Along the way he faces hardship, mercenaries, cliffs and generally anything one might expect in games in this genre.

For me, the game was a good starting point in my development. The controls were pretty simple for a newbie to pick up and start playing immediately, thanks in part to the very easy level offered at the start. Okay sure, the dialogue is lifted from Indiana Jones and there are a few glitches in the gameplay (at one point, my accomplist decided to float over the edge of a cliff, when I tried I plummeted to my death), but the story is solid and doesnt require to much thought or investment to get into. As a matter of fact, I actually completed this game within the week, and trust me you wont be seeing that sentence crop up too many times.

The only real issue I had with the game was its decision to change the plot and genre of the game at the end. In one of those genius plot twists Hollywood tend to love, the game suddenly changed into a fight against zombies. Granted, its no aliens in Indina Jones but still quite the shock for a guy expecting something akin to Tomb Raider. Unless there were zombies in an obscure Tomb Raider I dont know of, and if that’s the case I humbly apologise. As the game essentially became a shooter, my television was subjected to the phrase “oh (insert relevant swear word here) many times. Now it didnt ruin the game for me, but if you’re gonna give this a try brace yourselves.

Ultimately then, Uncharted is a decent place to start for a non-gamer. Its not too taxing for a first timer, has a pretty good story, quick and easy to master the controls and will give you a few hours of enjoyment. Thankfully my journey to rewin gaming’s love has gotten off to a decent start. Granted we’re not at full blown reconcillation stage yet, but I’m excited to pick up the control pad again, and that’s not a bad thing.



Free2Play Spotlight: Realm of the Mad God

With the recent rise of the indie gaming scene, free-to-play games have matured somewhat beyond the (often Korean) pay-to-win grindfests and can now be viewed as a genuinely acceptable business model for a respectable game. In this column, I’m going to attempt to experience as many of them as possible to try to separate the wheat from the chaff and hopefully uncover some diamonds in the rough.

First up in the spotlight: Realm of the Mad God

RotMG has been around in a publicly available format for a little over a year at this point with the “official” launch on June 20th 2011 and an open beta prior to that. It very recently debuted on Steam, bringing it to a new audience of millions, myself included. Developed by Wild Shadow Studios and Spry Fox, whose previous notable works include Panda Poet and Triple Town, it brands itself as “the first ever cooperative MMO bullet hell shooter” which I personally think is a pretty good selling point to begin with.

Jumping into the game, the first thing that will strike you is the graphical style. All the player characters are 8x8px sprites with the enemies rarely much bigger. Each pixel is huge, however creating a fairly normal sized sprite with a very low resolution. Overall, it makes for a very unique visual style.

Maybe this will illustrate it a little better

You’ll quickly find yourself in the central hub of the game, the Nexus. From here you can reach a number of different game instances each of them containing a vast world to explore and capable of hosting 85 players at any time. Whether you chose to work with your 84 new friends to overcome hardships or just go it alone is up to you. Jump into whichever one looks most appealing, they’re all much the same and you’ll pop into the world, sometimes with other players, sometimes alone. It is, as described, a bullet hell shooter, so all classes have a basic ranged attack, even ones you’d expect to be melee, like the rogue. You’ll start out with your basic wizard though, who wields a fast firing magic missile spell and a much more powerful bolt with a large area-of effect. Quests are as basic as a map marker telling you where the next big baddie you should kill is. You’ll burn through stuff pretty fast, more so with other players as all xp is given equally to all combatants. You’ll start out basic killing elf magi and giant scorpions and crabs and the like and work your way up to Gods. Whilst in the world you’ll periodically hear the titular Mad God yelling about his lesser gods and guardians and things. At some point around level 15 your quest tracker will point you to one of these. These are significantly tougher to reach, much less kill. From this I can infer the ultimate goal must be to band together, reach the cap of level 20 and take down the Mad God himself, not that I’ve personally reached that stage. Still working on the getting to 20 without getting squished. Oh yes, minor detail, the game features permadeath. If you get in over your head and die, it’s back to square one. No spirit healers, no casting resurrect, no cloning, just thanks for playing, here’s your score and go reroll a new character. Playing a class to a certain level will unlock further and more advanced classes so at least you’re likely to have something interesting to try out when you get dumped back to your blank character select page. Silver linings, and all that.

So all in all, that’s the game. It’s fast paced, unforgiving, quite a lot of fun and definitely very original. There’s one elephant in the room, still though. How do they make their money? Of course there’s the standard alternative in-game currency that you’re never going to get without dropping some real money. 500 coins will set you back $5USD, with bonuses for buying larger quantities. What will that get you, then? A second character slot can be picked up for 600 coins and as you are generously given 100 to start with, that’s easily done for $5. Cosmetic improvements to your character from colour changes to patterns cost up to 200 coins. I can’t say for any certainty how permanent these cosmetic changes are in light of permadeath i.e: if I buy the stripy costume and die will my next character get to keep the stripy costume?

This is important to know

Admittedly there do appear to be a handful of functional items available for real money, however they seem to largely be convenience rather than pay2win gear; bundles of health potions for instance. They’re not going to hand over the Sword of a Thousand Truths to the person with the biggest credit card limit, so balance has been taken into consideration. As with ever increasingly more f2p games, the value of the paid items is pretty much what you make of them yourself. Am I content to buy skins in Super Monday Night Combat or hats in Spiral Knights? Yes. Am I prepared to buy a pattern to put on my pixellated wizard’s head? No, quite frankly. But if you enjoy the game and end up playing long enough you might place more value on it. Each to their own, as it were.

So is it worth playing? Are you nuts? It’s free and it’s a 39MB download. If it sounds anything other than awful to you, you might as well have a look. Fans of MMO’s and Shooters alike should definitely give it a go even if just to see a fun twist on both the genres. The class progression and roguelike permadeath elements definitely give it plenty of replayability too, if you find yourself enjoying it, which I think is pretty likely.

‘Til next time, GLHF