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First Look at BeatBlasters III

You could easily be forgiven for having not caught BeatBlasters 1 and 2. This is mainly because they don’t exist. BeatBlasters III is the first title out of Canadian developer Chainsawesome Games and their choice to lead with a title numbered “three” is a little unconventional, but it definitely seems to set the tone for the game.

pirateBeatBlasters III touts itself as a hybrid of a platforming game and a rhythm game. Whilst it’s certainly true there are elements of these genres in there, the product as a whole is decidedly stranger than the sum of it’s parts. You take on the role of either Joey or Gina, a young boy and girl, both fans of music, who arrive in the town of Acapella only to run into the town’s ruler, The Butcher, who promptly throws them both out on account of the town’s music prohibition laws. From here, it’s up to you to help them return to the city and overthrow the tyrant through a series of colourful and musical challenges.

The kids are armed with three abilities: the eponymous Beat Blaster – a bolt of energy they can fire forwards as a weapon, a magical shield bubble around them and a pair of nifty rocket boots that will offer a limited flight ability. The weapon can be upgraded as you progress through the game, allowing you to perhaps return to earlier levels you had trouble with for a better score.

The game itself plays out as a series of challenging minigames, requiring creative use of these three abilities in varying combinations. The simplest of these, the first level, sees you attempting to save a collection of peanuts from a band of thieves on behalf of a family of bugs. This is about as much context as you get in many levels. There’s no particular rhyme or reason to whatever your current challenge might be, you just have to go along with it.

Other challenges have you escorting a rocket-powered Viking longship full of Eskimo warriors across the snow to invade an ice castle ruled by a pirate, or attempting to traverse an obstacle course with a pile of penguins in order to return the spirit of the scientist Dr Penguinstein, trapped in said penguins, to his physical form. It’s all nonsense of the highest order, but the challenges themselves are well crafted, fun, and satisfying to complete.

cutalotThe rhythm element of the game is used to recharge the three abilities, which otherwise all have a limited amount of power before you can no longer use them. An indicator at the top of the screen bounces along to the beat of the music, and by holding down a charge button and tapping the buttons for the abilities you wish to charge along with the beat you can top up the power.

This recharging will begin slowly at first, increasing faster if you can sustain a combo, hitting the beats correctly for long enough. Multiple abilities can be recharged at a time as part of the same combo, so a good sense of rhythm will see you always having the correct tools for the job, otherwise you could find yourself floundering to recharge in the middle of the action. It is worth noting at this stage, that this is all a little tricky to execute on a keyboard; if you don’t have some manner of gamepad plugged into your computer, you could find yourself struggling more so than otherwise.

For a game that features music as its principal theme, the rhythm elements are fairly weak, serving mainly to add balance and pacing to the challenges themselves. However, I feel like the challenges are good enough to stand on their own. There’s a lot of variety in them and they’re definitely creative, if frequently a little odd. They’ll provide a good challenge too, with 32 levels in total to play through, and by level 10 they will already be testing your skills at multitasking tackling the challenge at hand and maintaining enough power to be able to use your abilities. If you’re finding things too easy, there’s also a unlockable harder difficulty to better test you and you can step down to an easier difficulty if you find yourself stuck on a tough challenge.

Overall, BeatBlasters III is by no means without its flaws, but it’s a fun and innovative little title that you would do well to check out.

BeatBlasters III is out now for PC, Mac and Linux. For more information, please visit

Originally posted on The Yorkshire Standard

Orcs Must Die! And Explode. And Dissolve. And Burn… 2

Orcs Must Die! by Robot Entertainment was one of the most successful indie games of 2011, receiving the accolade Game of the Year and being one of the most fun games I’ve personally played in a long time. The anecdote you can oft catch me telling is that I picked it up about three days before PAX East this year and ended up resenting having to leave for Boston just because it meant I had to put Orcs Must Die! down.

Scarcely 8 months later we now have Orcs Must Die! 2. Historically, even the benevolent titans Valve have caught flak for such a fast turnaround on a sequel, so is it up to scratch?

To bring everyone up to speed, Orcs Must Die! is an Action Tower Defence game. You are given resources to buy traps and said traps are instrumental in stopping waves of baddies – in this case the titular orcs – from making it down a gauntlet. That flavour of game gets stale after a while and you end up just resting on the fast-forward button until everything stops, so these days the kids want action. Now you get to run around on foot with a selection of interesting weapons mixing it up in the midst of your carefully lain traps.

Orcs Must Die! tasks you, a War Mage, with the role of defending your world from the barbarism of the orcs. They will break through rifts from the savage orc homelands and charge through a mine or castle or whatever locale the narrative presents you with, intent on breaking forth into your world and wreaking destruction upon it. Armed with arrays of spikes, blades and maces ready to spring forth from the walls, ceilings and floors, as well as jets of acid, ice and flame, a variety of guardian allies and a whole periodic table of elemental fury to throw forth, you’ll get to tackle thousands of the brutes. Performing well earns you skulls which function as currency to buy new weapons and traps and upgrade your existing ones.

There’s no depth to the story, just a host of interestingly shaped rooms and gratuitous violence. One might comfortably argue that you don’t need anything else. And I will. I made the comparison last week talking about Shoot Many Robots: The one thing Orcs Must Die! does better than any other game is that it’s so visceral. When a crowd of oblivious orcs stampedes onto your spike trap while axe blades swing from the wall in unison the sense of satisfaction delivered is unparalleled. It’s a difficult thing to convey using mere words. There’s endless fun to be had setting up combinations of traps and watching the savages blunder into the literal meat grinder. And then the ones that do slip the net you can shoot in the face with a crossbow. It’s good enough to stand alone without anything else to the game.

What the sequel brings to the table over its predecessor is sadly not extensive. The game provides only 15 new levels, 4 new weapons and 6 new traps and could comfortably have been marketed as an expansion were it not for the inclusion of a Co-op Mode. Teaming up with a friend, you can each take control of one of the two different War Mages, one the Apprentice of the first game and one the new Sorceress, the Sorceress having access to more primarily magic based attacks and traps than the more physical Apprentice.

Robot are clearly banking on longevity being derived from wanting to play through the story as both characters on both normal and hard mode, and then probably the new endless mode, too, which as the name suggests pits you against ever tougher waves of foes until you inevitably succumb vying for a place on the high score board and extra bonus skulls to spend upgrading your character. While it’s no bad thing, and there’s plenty of lifespan and fun to be had with the game, the original stood well by itself in a single play-through and I fear this sequel may be found lacking.

If of course you haven’t touched the original then disregard the above. It’ll all be fresh, exciting and above all else unequivocally fun. At the end of the day it’s still quite reasonably priced at £12, which is a hard price point to argue with at any time and I’m certain thrifty gamers will be able to pick it up for less with a little patience. It’s excellent entertainment for the entry fee asked and well worth investing in, even if it isn’t revolutionary.

Orcs Must Die 2! is available for PC on Steam, Gamersgate and Impulse.

Shoot Many Robots

Shoot many Robots is all about the American dream. Living in an RV, drinking beer and shooting killer robots with a rifle.




Okay, I’ll admit I could be a bit hazy on the definition of ‘the American dream’ there. But it plays up a lot of the American stereotypes and I still haven’t figured out if it’s supposed to be ironic or not. You play a bald, grizzled American redneck type character. Your pickup truck is immediately destroyed by robots, shortly followed by your house. Seeking vengeance, you set out armed with a submachine gun, rocket launcher and quantities of health-restoring beer and narrowly save your RV from the same fate as your house and truck. Fortunately it’s the ultimate hybrid of house and truck so you’re pretty much sorted. Beyond that, the plot hopes to merely propel itself on a wave of machine wreckage. No twists, drama or character development, not even the merest token effort, just destroying thousands upon thousands of robots because they wrecked your truck.

So those robots had better be really fun to destroy, right? Alas, not so much. There’s a variety of weapons and upgrades available via a shop housed inexplicably in your RV’s bathroom. There’s a bit of variety in the weaponry too, but a considerable part of the arsenal is just upgrades on the previous model, and honestly, I just keep coming back to the same gear. Fully automatic weapons just chew through most enemies pretty quickly and pretty much the first hat you unlock raises your weapon crit rate to 60%. It’s so overpowered as to make everything else redundant. I suppose you could easily artificially raise the difficulty by simply not using said items, but since when did any gamer volunteer to nerf themselves?


Interspersed throughout the standard levels are a handful of survival mode levels. These are a bit more challenging and will throw wave after wave of enemies at you until you succumb to the hordes or kill them all. This will put even an overpowered loadout to the test and it’s quite a lot of fun, too.

The game is a 2D platformer/shooter. Kind of like the old Metal Slug games. Jumping around on platforms shooting at anything that moves. It’s a bit more fluid than Metal Slug though so it plays less like memorizing a sequence of moves and more like an actual game. The graphical style borrows heavily from Borderlands with an industrial, almost cel-shaded look. Unfortunately, the game gets stale pretty quickly. You can mix it up with different loadouts, but once you’ve smashed a few thousand mechanoids it starts to feel like a bit of a grind. It doesn’t even have the same visceral satisfaction that Orcs Must Die! had, and that was a similar principle; at least orcs had the decency to walk into giant whirling blade traps with a sadistically delightful squelch.

Ubisoft keep catching me with my guard down. They keep publishing games that if I didn’t know better I would have called indie. Rather original looking concepts with a low price points, and it’s hard to take issue with that. The idea that it has a publisher at all is poor grounds to make a complaint, no doubt. The problem I have with publishers is that the game never stands on its own merits. I’d heard of Shoot Many Robots before launch, and I’d assumed the hype was due to it looking pretty decent. In retrospect it’s obvious that it was due to Ubi digging into its deep pockets to make sure people heard of it. I mean, that’s their job, right? The faux “indie” stuff Ubisoft keeps publishing never quite lives up to expectations though. They build hype and follow through with a less than stellar offering. From Dust never quite lived up to the promise, either. Sans-publisher these games probably wouldn’t fail outright; they’re well polished and quite entertaining, but they’d struggle to stay afloat amongst much better indie titles.

Shoot Many Robots by Demiurge Studios is available on Steam, XBLA and PSN

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is your standard 2D adventure platformer with a lot of bite and a harsh organic style. You’ll traverse, submerge, and blast your way through an infected alien Sun that’s spreading its shadowy organic filth all over the rest of the solar system!

Through the twisted catacombs, lakes, voids, pipes and caves you’ll find may different changes in scenery. All are strikingly coloured and each presenting new obstacles and bosses to thwart. I love the atmosphere between environments. The style mostly boils down to layered silhouetted 2-D gears teeth and lots of spikes. Coupled with impressive visuals, that’s seriously all it needs to be to look fantastic. The spaceship itself is 3-D, which allows for some nice tilting movement while you’re going around corners or dodging incoming projectiles. It makes ITSP look a lot less static than it could have been and doesn’t stick out quite as much as it does in a lot of 2-D / 3-D crossovers.

For its type there’s a surprising amount of gizmos for your space ship to play with. A scanner, lasers, guided missiles, circular saws, shields, grabbing arms, etc. Each is found throughout the adventure and all are necessary to find hidden extra features. The scanner is the key to figuring out what in seven bells you have to do. Given that there’s no text or dialogue in this game either. But mostly you’ll only have to scan new obstacles once to get the hint. After that it’s just a case of using the gizmo or weapon available, or having to come back to that section later once you’ve found said gizmo or weapon. You’ll quickly recognise the task at hand the second time you fly past it. There’s a lot of re-playability in this game. Finding artefacts, concept art, getting all the weapon and shield upgrades, having to track back to access areas previously closed off to you.

I’ve never encountered anything less threatening.

Enemies correspond with their settings, the Organic Zones have plenty of plant-like spore creatures, that sometimes explode.. The Ocean Zone carries plenty of large and dangerous sea life, as expected.. And the Ice Zone which is full of “@$%ing Snowflakes! All are brilliantly designed to mess up your spaceship.. Manoeuvring to avoid or buy time to engage a specifically effective weapon is the only way to evade crashing into a multitude of creatures and environmental hazards.

All Bosses are fixed solidly into their environment, and it’s definitely not a case of blasting every spiky crevice with lasers. Experiments are required to find out how to beat each boss, all the while you looking like a delicious appetizer from some giant toothy gaping maw. Everything needed to finish each battle is within your grasp, knowing what you have to do is half the trick, and sometimes it involves being closer than is comfortable to large and hungry shadow beasts.

The multiplayer feels like more of an after thought to be honest. It’s more of the same takes, only they generate a score and you benefit more from having the extra players to watch your back. However, if multiplayer is your thing, you’re gonna want some physical people to play Local with. Since I’ve seldom encountered another player in the online mode, it’s just not quite captivating enough to hold your attention.

Organic amazingness!

But unfairly, my major gripe with ITSP is its connection to Windows Live. I’m all for signing up to another service if I feel I’m going to get a lot of mileage out of it, however, I’m not personally a Live user. There’s utterly no benefit for me using this service except to link up ITSP’s multiplayer . But I’m more prone to playing these locally with friends than setting up and online match. Which suits me find because there’s seldom anyone else hooked up to the online multiplayer. Not only did I feel reluctant to have to sign up to Live after already purchasing it with Steam, it managed to link up with an Xbox Live account that I’ve never heard of and is certainly not mine. I can only apologise to this user and hope he / she appreciates whatever points I’ve given them while trying to formulate an opinion of the game. To give it credit, I’ve not actually received any junk mail from Windows Live, like I would have anticipated, and it hasn’t actually hindered my experience of the game. It only left me slightly bewildered. I may not be so reluctant to try this again when next encountered.

There may not be a lot original about ITSP, save for its painstakingly animated environments, but that doesn’t diminish its enjoyability. It takes a lot of common features that are fun in their own aspect and gathers them in one place to provide an entertaining, long-lived and challenging gaming experience.


~ Scribble

Indie Royale June Bug Bundle

Indie Royale are the guys bravely trying to play catchup to the overwhelming success of the Humble Bundles. The first real imitators on the scene, they’re easily dismissed as a rip-off attempting to cash in on Wolfire’s lucrative model. But that’s enough negativity; what they might lack in originality they make up for in quality. Where Wolfire usually have the bigger-name indie titles, Indie Royale cater more to titles you likely won’t have heard of, but that doesn’t make them any less worth your while.

The current bundle available is the June Bug Bundle, consisting of  PixelJunk Eden, Escape Goat, Noitu Love 2: Devolution, and Auditorium. Thrown in as extras for those prepared to pay a little more than the minimum are the Escape Goat soundtrack and an updated alpha version of Iconoclasts.

The first title, PixelJunk Eden, by Q-Games is only available for Steam (well, you can buy it on PSN but you won’t get that in this bundle) which might be a turn-off for some, but I’d wager the majority of PC gamers have embraced the platform by now. An entertaining and arty title, you play as a small critter called a Grimp, a portmanteau of grip and jump, because those are primarily what it does. Jumping around highly stylised gardens, and gripping to the plants therein, you defeat enemies to earn pollen, which will grow more plants for you to climb in search of items known as Spectra which are described as a “fusion of light and sound”. Collecting these will grow plants in the hub world of Eden unlocking new gardens to explore. If there’s a goal beyond fully exploring all the worlds and growing all the plants, I haven’t found it, but it doesn’t need it. The gameplay is both relaxing and addicting with a techno soundtrack that complements it well. The gardens are a visual treat, vibrantly coloured but usually monochromatic with every level focused on a different colour. The plants too are beautifully styled making exploration very rewarding. It’s not as fleshed out as a bigger title might be, but for a quick casual game I can’t recommend it enough.

Escape Goat makes its début in this bundle. Launching primarily on Desura, one gets the impression its inclusion is there to sell the platform (unsurprising as the guys who run Indie Royale also run Desura) but for those unsold on the platform a DRM-free version for windows is included. A pixel art puzzle platformer, Escape Goat sees a purple goat locked away in a dungeon for the crime of witchcraft. Quickly teaming up with a mouse who is also eager to escape, the dynamic duo set out reclaim their freedom. You find a sheep who informs you that eight of his brethren are also trapped down there and only once all nine are reunited can you all make your escape together. It’s standard jumping, timing and pressing switch puzzles for the most part, with a few extra mechanics thrown in courtesy of your magical mouse friend. The controls default to a Japanese format (zxcv and arrows instead of wasd), which is something that will forever irk me, but that’s a personal gripe and they can be rebound so it’s not worth losing sleep over. All in all, it’s not the most original of concepts (outside the quirky character choices) but still a fun title that will keep you occupied for a while.

Noitu Love 2: Devolution by Joakim Sandberg recently made its début on Steam but Desura and DRM free windows versions are also available in the bundle. It’s a fast-paced, pixel art styled, old-school beat-em-up/platformer. To me, it feels a lot like the old Rocket Knight/Sparkster titles, and that’s no bad thing. You play Xoda Rap, a ponytailed ninja girl in a green hoodie and star of the Peacekeepers League. Your city comes under attack by a robot army and you set off to defeat its leader, Darnicus Damnation. Utilising a variety of ninja abilities you must fight through swathes of enemies, interrupted periodically to fight a boss. The bosses range from robotic dragons to giant armed steam trains to rival ninjas and are all a lot of fun to fight, each requiring different techniques to effectively dispatch. Learning the techniques necessary is half the fun and you’ll routinely get your ass handed to you until you figure out the ropes of each fight. Alas, the game is disappointingly short for a single play through, but harder game modes and scoreboards for each level make for extra replay value for those who want to be challenged or who are more competitive. As part of an extremely affordable bundle though, it’s very hard to find fault with.

Last but not least, Auditorium by Cipher Prime Studios, available for both windows and mac in Steam and DRM free versions as well as a Desura version. A phenomenally simplistic game, you start with a stream of coloured particles, and by placing a few orbs which exert a force on particles passing nearby attempt to direct the particles to the destination of corresponding colour. Each time a particle hits its goal it will play a note. If the goal is hit frequently enough a small looping tune will form. If all the goals are hit enough the full piece of music will be revealed. It’s tremendously pretty, but often frustratingly hard. On more than a few occasions I’ve finished levels by waving the force fields around fast enough, but it does leave one with the feeling of “that was totally not how I was supposed to do that”. A nice casual game, it’s great as part of this bundle, but lacking any real depth I feel it might struggle to stand alone.

As an extra bonus the updated alpha version of Joakim Sandberg’s Iconoclasts has been included. As an alpha, it’s probably pretty unfair to critique it, so I’ll let you enjoy it as the surprise bonus content that it is.

For the asking price (£3.21 minimum at time of writing) this is an astonishingly good value bundle. Noitu Love 2 alone typically retails for £3.99 and would be more than worth it. To add to it a very solid puzzle game and a couple of artistic casual games makes it a must-have. Do yourself a favour and buy the Indie Royale June Bug Bundle.

Spiral Knights: Free to P(l)ay.

Following on from Meroka’s encouraging article regarding the stigma surrounding Free-to-Play gaming, here’s why you should be giving Spiral Knights a try!

With a massive rise in Free-to-Play games it’s difficult for individuals to stand out, be long-lived and become profitable for the developers. So what makes a good Free-to-Play game? Accessibility, the chance to earn all content in the game without spending a real life penny. Community, a structure that allows players to interact, socialize and work together. Value, because if you are spending money to enhance you game play experience, it’d best be worth it. And new content, lots and lots of new content. Keeping players interested and involved in-game makes it more likely for the developers to generate more money from their customers. and because doing the same thing over and over again just gets boring.

Spiral Knights has been running as a Free-to-Play MMO for over a year now, and as far as it goes I’ve managed to rack up roughly £50 of spending in it over that time. And I can honestly say I feel like I got my money’s worth. Why spend that much on a Free-to-Play game? Allow me to elaborate over the course of the article, make a cuppa’ if you like.

Boosh and or Ka-kow!

If you’ve not tried your hand at Spiral Knights before, the styling is rather cutesy in an androgynous kinda way. Your custom Knight and a community of others have crash landed on a mysterious construction known as the Clockworks. Stranded, but not the first adventures here, you’re tasked with finding out what happened to Alpha Squad and reach the Core to find the strange power source that could potentially get you and all the other Knights back home.
The aim of the game is to descend down through the Clockworks by way of elevators through twenty-nine levels of increasingly hardened monsters. You fight with various swords, guns and bombs. It’s generally quite a treat.

Your main source of currency are Crowns, you earn Crowns by killing monsters, smashing boxes and by selling minerals and materials. You can then use them to buy recipes and gear from Vendors or try the Auction House and see what other players are selling that might be interesting or useful to you.
Heat is the Spiral Knights equivalent of experience. But instead of levelling up your character, Heat is distributed evenly between all of your current equipment. The more equipment you need to level up, the longer it will take to complete all their levels.
Prestige is a reasonably new feature that ranks you and every other player in the game. The more missions you complete, the higher rank you are. This only really serves to stroke a players ego, but it’s all in good fun.


It’s well-known that a large aspect of every MMO is its community. The nice thing about Spiral Knights is it’s pretty difficult to be a dick, easy to be a beggar, but not so much a dick.. Largely the game isn’t PvP apart from it’s fantastically structured mini-games, so chances of some higher levelled character butchering you while you’re bidding for your favourite accessory is out of the question.
Spiral Knights encourages you to fight alongside other players on your adventures, the enemies might be harder, but mostly you gain more heat and coins by fighting in groups, which is all shared equally. There’s even benefits to reviving your downed team mates by stealing their heat to level up your own equipment.

Where Spiral Knights makes in money is in Energy. Players are given 100 free Mist Energy that fills itself up automatically over 24 hours. Players use can use Energy in several different ways as a secondary currency, mostly by using 10 to travel down each layer of the Clockworks. But it’s also used for unlocking extra sections within levels, reviving yourself if your team mates are unable and it’s also used for crafting, which will advance your equipment up into the next Tier.
On these alone it becomes clear that you’ll eventually need more than 100 Mist Energy to allow you to decend into the harder levels and craft better equipment. This is where Crystal Energy comes in. Wondrous, marvellous Crystal Energy. It can be bought in-game by a handy Trade system where by the players themselves decide how much the energy is worth in Crowns, or you can get your wallet out and buy the energy with your own hard-earned real life cash.

This is a great system because it means you get to decide how much you want to invest into the game play, as well as being massively accessible to anyone who doesn’t want to pay for their Five-Star equipment and get months worth of genuinely great game play.
Until the expansion, Operation Crimson Hammer, it was entirely possible to earn every scrap of content in the game by grafting hard and being smart and restrained with your free Mist Energy. Although it’d take you weeks to be able to afford the crafting recipes and Crystal Energy needed, you won’t have to pay a penny for it and you’ll be able to appreciate a game that actually has a lot of mileage in it. But then there’s always the option to spent a little money, it’s actually pretty reasonable, and give your characters equipment a much needed boost.

I’m just as poor as everyone else, don’t bother asking me for anything ;p

And what do you get for your money besides cool gear? Well, by supporting Three Rings and their developers it gives them the opportunity to regularly put updates into the game. Of course it’s in their best interest to keep the gamers happy so they spend more money. And they do it well. In the last year that I’ve been playing this game, it’s come a long way. There’s been all kinds of costumes, accessories, new quests, events, features, story content and improved functionality. Spiral Knights just gets better as it goes along. And it’s thanks to the customers that it continues to be a successful game.

Operation Crimson Hammer was launched on February 29th of this year as an optional DLC. Being a big fan I had to try it. It came with a five new levels in different difficulties as well as exclusive gear at a price of £3.99. I have to say I wasn’t impressed, the new gear looks nice, I liked the new boss fight. But I don’t believe it was worth launching it as a separate add on at cost to the players. Especially when Spiral Knights have launched similar content in the past for free that I felt was inclusive and useful to alot of players. Not only did this restrict players that were unable to purchase the DLC online, it stopped players who already had the DLC from putting the exclusive items in the Auction House for other Knights to buy. Bad form.
I realize that the cost is trivial to most, but I’d use the same wording to describe the new content in the DLC. Not enough new enemies, no innovative or challenging objectives, just more of the same. It’s just not worth it.

Despite this, to say I got a 395 hours worth of enjoyment out of Spiral Knights over the last year, as apposed to maybe the two or three days I’d get from a big console title. Yes, I’m content with thinking I got my money’s worth, while supporting Three Rings.

Free to Play on Steam here, and by no means buy the DLC here.



Botanicula, Terry Gilliam would be proud.

After reviewing Machinarium a few months back, I felt such an affinity with the style that I was compelled to check out what other works of wonder Amanita Design had previously come up with. And not only did I find a back log of creative gorgeousness, I also prepared myself for their newest release, Botanicula.
But not before trying out the free to play samples on their website. Here I first tried Samorost, a free point and explore game from 2003. From here it’s easy to see where the grass-roots of Machinarium and Botanicula were formed. Even in AD’s early stages as developers, they managed to graft together a scrumptiously unique world. Splicing stock images of organic wood textures, aged gears and valves, overlaid with hand drawn interactables and characters.
Although painfully short and in some areas lacking resolution, Samorost set a nice benchmark for its sequel Samorost 2. You can also play the first chapter of this game for free here, well worth a try.

And now AD pitches its newest characters into a beautifully unforgiving world of tiny point and click adventures. Mr. Lantern, Mr. Twig, Mr. Poppy Head, Mr. Feather and Mrs. Mushroom, a loveable bunch. Set on an adventure to safeguard the last seed of their home tree and to stop the corruption of an evil parasite that’s spreading through their world.


I tripped six kinds of balls playing this game. Be prepared for nothing to make any kind of sense, and to be able to make a lot of seemingly wrong and pointless interactions, with amusing sound effects.. Botanicula takes puzzle solving to a new level by making your goals simple, but how to achieve them very difficult to understand. You’ll be asked to find keys, turkeys, conker babies and a host of other bizarre objects, even where to use them becomes very obvious. But how to obtain said objects.. Utterly incomprehensible and very trial and error based.
Unlike Machinarium, you engage more with your surroundings, hovering and dragging some objects as opposed to just clicking and consuming them. And when most of your environment reacts to your cursor, it becomes challenging to know just where to start, so click, drag and hover over EVERYTHING!
Also unlike Machinarium, you’ll not be given any kind of in-game hints to decipher the cryptic tasks at hand. But cleverly, all interactions count for something in the grand scheme. Throughout the game you’ll be presented with cards for every creature you successfully interact with. And with one hundred and twenty-three cards, you can tell there’s an impressive amount of character design gone into this game. And the more you collect, the more prizes you’ll be presented on completion of the game.


Botanicula is just so endearing! The seer amount of immersion you can have with this game, coupled with a multitude of strange and wonderful characters really gives Botanicula a charm that quickly dissipates the frustration of not knowing where you should be going or how to find what you should be looking for. And instead flips it into curiosity.
The map feature, coupled with basic symbols that roughly sum up what goes on in each map section will quite easily guide you through the twisting maze of branches, roots and general foliage. Without this it would quickly become confusing navigating from place to place. Becoming accustomed to the set up is very easy, it even gets relaxing to play through once you’ve begun to understand the inner workings and methods of the game.

The critters you’ll meet all through your journey have their own little duties to perform, helpful, hindering or just for their own amusement. Constantly check what unique items you’ve procured on your travels, eggs, beach balls, idols, worms, they’re all useful in one way or another and as a bit of a hint, you’ll only be able to drag them off the tool bar once you’ve entered the right scene you need to use them in.

I just don't understand!

Something I’m very glad AD changed about the game play is the speed at which the characters move. Guiding Josef on his journey through Machinarium was at times frustratingly slow. But these critters move very quickly across the map, allowing you to explore much faster.. Easing the irritation caused by not know where you need to be and what exactly you should be doing.

It has the tell-tale flare of AD’s masterful blending of textures, but with a much brighter and cheery atmosphere than its predecessors. Even after a quick play through you’ll come to appreciate the effort AD’s small team of graphic designers have put into yet another master piece. These games really are an art form, akin to something cooked up in the mind of Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam and his legendary cut-out animations.

With this much raw talent for story telling without conventional verbal means, it’s difficult not to get drawn into the plot. Another game well done.

You can view trailers and buy Botanicula on Steam here, or direct from Amanita Design’s website here.

Look out for Samorost 3!



Let’s Talk About DOTA

Defense of the Ancients. DOTA for short. It’s a strange beast. I’ll begin by describing the basic premise because I’ve known plenty of hardcore gamers that didn’t know what it was.

It began life as a mod for the RTS game Warcraft 3. Instead of having a hero unit commanding an army into battle, and permitting the player to command all units from above, DOTA simplified the strategy and made the focus the hero. Your base will continually spawn an army of grunts, usually called creeps, the enemies’ bases will do the same and, taking control of your hero and only your hero, you must help push forward against the opposing army to reach and destroy the enemy base. Each hero is equipped with their own abilities and it often ends up like TF2 on steroids, with over a hundred different characters each with differing abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Balancing all that must be a nightmare. Defeating enemy heroes and creeps earns you exp and you can level up your hero to have a greater impact on the game. As it happens, this concept became a huge success and has become a genre in its own right. One of the problems facing it though is that nobody has any clue what to call it or what it really is, so that’s something I want to explore now.

One of the first games to follow in DOTA’s successful footsteps was Demigod. This was soon followed by the now wildly successful League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth. All these three have a very similar play style. In contrast to DOTA’s top-down RTS perspective, these three had a third-person RPG perspective, but the gameplay was very similar. They play more akin to something like World of Warcraft than an RTS. So can you call it an RTS when it’s essentially the same game? Probably not, and there are a few ideas out there on how we can define it. The simplest one is DOTA-like. As far as naming convention goes, it’s not without precedent, after all we have roguelikes, named for the game Rogue. But even then, the genre has come a long way since its origins and something like, say, Monday Night Combat, whilst the fundamental mechanics are there, doesn’t really bear all that much resemblance to the W3 mod.

League of Legends coined the descriptor MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. That strikes me as a rather broad description. It’s a title that fits equally well to League of Legends, Unreal Tournament, Smash Bros or even Mario Kart. They’re all multiplayer games involving battling other people online, often in an arena of some kind. What else can we call it? Valve, with their upcoming DOTA 2, have pushed the name ARTS or Action-RTS. As for what kind of action-to-strategy balance DOTA 2 brings, I couldn’t say, as it’s still in closed beta and naturally everything’s pretty hush-hush. With the kind of fortune I couldn’t have planned, I’ve landed an invite today so I’ll be able to find out shortly. As I’ve already mentioned, I feel RTS is a bit of a misnomer for the genre now, broadly speaking, but equally there’s exceptions. Having had the privilege of being introduced to Carbon Games‘ AirMech at PAX, I’ve seen that strategy doesn’t need to be completely absent. AirMech combines the usual infinitely spawning creeps with the ability to buy more advanced units and then, because your avatar can morph into a jet plane, pick up the units and ferry them about the battlefield strategically. Crazy 300 actions-per-minute Korean pro-gamers will be restricted by the plane’s movement speed, so strategy elements are held back to a pace that the normal human brain can handle, but without sacrificing them altogether and turning the game into a World of Warcraft battleground or a simple team deathmatch.

Sometimes though, you do just want to chill out and blow stuff up. Uber Entertainment‘s Monday Night Combat and newly launched free-to-play Super Monday Night Combat are great for this. It’s a third-person shooter, really, when you’re playing it. A lot more tactical than your typical shooter fare these days and a lot less lethal in combat, making teamwork and strategy a lot more profitable, but if you’re not a god among gamers you can still dive in and make a dent. The creeps, towers and bases are all there and all work like you’d expect, but it feels so much more like you’re playing TF2 than Warcraft 3.

On the whole, it’s pretty trivial to take any two of these games, view them side-by-side, say they’re pretty much the same and bundle them all up under a single label. If absolutely pressed to, I’d still go with DOTA-like because that’s where it all started, and anyway there are hundreds of different roguelikes, all uniquely different, they still all get thrown in a big pile together. No, it still doesn’t adequately convey what the hell I’m talking about, but I’m content to explain it over and over again ’til we all know that it’s a genre. A rich, diverse genre that’s still in it’s infancy. I’m certain Eul never anticipated all this when he first sat down to make a fun variant of Warcraft 3, and I’m equally certain developers will continue to surprise us by trying exciting new things with it. It’s something I very much look forward to seeing where it goes.



World of Goo and Smuggle Truck (Android double review)

Yeah, I bought a new Android phone. And that naturally means checking out a wealth of new games. World of Goo is one. I’ve played it on PC before but never did finish it. And the Humble Bundle guys recently did another lot of Android games so I’ve grabbed Smuggle Truck (also available in an Apple-friendly fuzzy ‘Snuggle Truck’ format) too.

So let’s start with the older title, World of Goo by 2D Boy. I realise I’m over 3 years late to the party here, but it’s new to me and I get to pick what I write about so tough luck. World of Goo is an adorable physics-based puzzle game set in a slightly dystopian world. A planet seemingly run by the massive World of Goo Corporation and inhabited by hundreds of cute goo balls, the goal is to build your way towards, over, around, and through increasingly elaborate obstacles to reach a pipe serving as an exit point in each level. For what purpose? Because the goo balls are curious where all the pipes lead, seems to largely be the justification.

Where are they building to? It must be somewhere good.

The majority of the goo balls have the ability to attach themselves to neighbouring ones allowing you to build structures from them. Each connection has a limited amount of strength and flexibility though, so build too high or too far and you’ll find your construct swaying, or toppling and if you really overdo it, snapping apart. You’ll soon meet different coloured goo balls too which have different properties. Green ones are plantlike and can be detached and reused to build further. Pink ones will inflate like balloons and pull upwards. Clear ones will only ever attach to one neighbour and hang like drool. Red ones are flammable. They all combine to make some really interesting puzzles, many of which will leave you frustrated, but that only serves to make victory sweeter. If ever anything proves just too hard to do though, the option to skip any level is always available. There’s no purchasing skips through microtransactions or earning them through performing well (as many other mobile games seem to offer), if it’s too hard, no worries, just move on. That makes it extremely accessible to anyone.

Kids, never fly kites on cliffsides.

As if the excellent gameplay wasn’t enough, the game has a wonderfully simplistic cutesy style to it that I challenge anyone not to find endearing. Underneath the saccharine coating though, the game has a very dark sense of humour. One notable level being a beauty contest in which the unattractive goo balls must be ground up in order to fill a spike pit so that the attractive goo ball may cross it unharmed.

At £3, World of Goo is excellent value for the entertainment I have gotten from it. My only lament is that there isn’t more of it. You won’t often hear me advocating sequels but I would jump on more World of Goo in a heartbeat.

World of Goo is available on Android, iTunes, Steam, Wii, Desura, GFWL and cross-platform direct from 2D Boy.



And so we move onto our second feature: Smuggle Truck by Owlchemy Labs; a game about driving a truck full of immigrants across the US border to smuggle them into the country. You might know it by another name and there’s an interesting story in that. Owlchemy built the game in its Smuggle Truck incarnation and submitted it to the iTunes App Store. Apple, as you may be aware, has pretty strict regulations on what goes in the App Store, and a game about illegal immigration apparently crossed the line; it was turned down. A quick re-branding was in order. In just a week the immigrants became animals, the border became a zoo and all references to visas and green cards etc. were stripped out and replaced with fuzzy counterparts. Thus became Snuggle Truck. I have to give Owlchemy credit for having the balls to make that move at all. Ultimately though, Google is a little more lenient and allowed both Smuggle and Snuggle Truck on their store, so I’ve been playing the more ‘controversial’ satirical original.

It’s a fairly simple physics/driving game. It’s not original, that kind of stuff has been around since Excitebike on the NES. Drive over rough terrain and obstacles, tilt your phone to lean forward or backwards and try to get to the end in one piece. Of course here you’re not simply trying to get to the end. You’re in a pickup truck and you have nine cartoon illegal immigrants in the back. Go over a bump too fast or lean too far one way or hit an obstacle and some or possibly all of then can go flying. The goal being to get as many as you can across the border as fast as possible, with medals awarded for performance and bonus medals for completing it super fast without regard for your passengers’ well being or for taking your time and getting them all to the end no matter how long it takes.

The rare endangered mooseramp.

Cliffs, explosives, falling rocks, huge jumps and moose are all the kind of things standing between you and the border. If you want to replenish your supply of immigrants, rather bizzarely, occasionally a baby will be launched into the air, the game will briefly go into slo-mo and you can attempt to catch the baby in the back to increase your immigrant count by one. The baby seems entirely unfazed by this entire process, even if you fail to catch it.

The whole thing is a satire of the American immigration situation. It’s all executed with tongue very thoroughly in cheek and has elicited more than a few laughs from me. There’s even a ‘legal immigration’ mode wherein you can sit in a waiting room and wait 19 years in real time to be approved for immigration (What happens in the game if the full 19 years elapses? I’m incredibly curious). It’s incredibly addictive, especially going back to get all the medals. There’s a good amount of content available, with user generated maps available online making the amount of gameplay available nearly limitless. Each run usually takes around 30-40 seconds too, so it’s fantastic to pick up and play briefly, or during a quick skive from work in the bathroom. The only real gripe I have is the menu interface. My phone has a reasonably large screen and the font is microscopic and nigh impossible to click on making level selection far more challenging than it has any right to be.

Less controversial!

Snuggle Truck is free on iOS with microtransactions to unlock bonus cosmetic features or £3.99 on Steam with all features unlocked out of the box. Smuggle Truck and Snuggle Truck are both £2.51 on Android. All in all it’s very good value for money, you’ll get plenty out of it, even if just while sat on the porcelain throne.

Smuggle Truck is available on Android, the official site is here.

Snuggle Truck is available on iTunes, Steam or Android, the official site is here.



All Zombies Must Die! Aka Resident Rising 4

I hate zombies, but only in the sense that I love killing them. There’s nothing I enjoy more than putting the dead back where they belong. So you can imagine a title like ‘All Zombies Must Die!’ doesn’t take much to persuade me to buy it.
I am however, picky about what constitutes a good zombie game. I believe there must always be an element of cheese and humour, some gripping no-hope suspense, a massive array of creative weaponry and mutant zombies of all shapes and sizes.. The plot doesn’t necessarily have to be original, it’s just has to not suck..

All Zombies Must Die! attempts to encompass all the major features of popular zombie games, with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor thrown in. It focuses on aspects such as the levelling and crafting system from Dead Rising, the way zombies like to swarm at you from Left4Dead and mutations from Resident Evil. And it has an Alien! So, from the outset it’s already got my attention.

The title comes from a mission that’s unfortunately not very common in the game. All Zombies Must Die! is the mission you get when you have to move your base to a different section of the map. It just involves killing everything in sight, any way you like. It’s definitely a simple pleasure.
And now that you’ve cleared that section, you’re free to use it as your base. This is where you craft new items, spend levelling up point, choose your primary weapon, get more missions and swap characters.

They should have just called it that.

Enemy types are pretty basic, there’s standard Fodder Zombies, SWAT, Enraged, Joggers, Mad, Exploder, Electrified, etc. They’re all self explanatory. The biggest change is when they come into contact with radiation, then the mutations kick in and they become giants. And depending on status conditions, say if they were maliciously set on fire or electrocuted, they will also have different status effects.

Standing between you and every section of the map, are Gates. Each gate has a little robot that’ll ask things of you every time you want to cross into the next area. They’re like mini-missions on the way towards your more plot driven goal. These get very tedious but by mid game they do start to let you bypass them. Although this feature is frustrating, they’re there to encourage you to experiment with and make use of the environment or elemental conditions. Because without these, you’re not forced to try out the many variants of Zed killing you have at your disposal. In between missions it’s easy to stick with your weapon of choice, but killing is nothing without variety!
Missions aren’t the most demanding. Generally if you can stun your opponents en masse, like with the standard shotgun, you can dance around your foes fairly easily. I’m biased, shotguns are my staple weapon in every game they’re available. Fact is, whether you like it or not you’ll be confronted with enemies close up and you’ll need stopping power. Rapid fire doesn’t stop your foes. It’s weaker, you’re only damaging one Zed at a time and you have to be more accurate. In other games where accuracy is key to cause extra damage to the cranium, fair play. But without the option of a head shot rapid fire hasn’t yet proven to be a viable option in this game, unless your trying to achieve status effects without destroying the weaker Zed.

No respectable zombie game is complete without chainsaws.

Crafting is a great way to up the stats and add status effects to your favoured weapons. It’s not a very imaginatively executed system, but then again, you do get the impression that the game is largely a piss take of the genre. An SMG and Fire Sticks are crafted together into an ‘Inferno Rager SMG’. Other materials you can craft with your weapons include; Spark Plugs, Megaphones, Paynekillers and My First Science Kit.
Finding materials for crafting involves being in specific sections of the map and killing pre-set numbers of Zed, usually with specific status conditions. This is fairly annoying if you haven’t been paying attention to where you find the items, or what status effects they need. Even worse when you don’t bring along the right character or gear, forcing you to back track. But it is something you’ll quickly become accustomed too, I certainly didn’t make this mistake more than three or so times..

Despite this game trying to break the fourth wall with humour, it doesn’t have me in stitches the way Dead Rising 2’s Chuck Greene in a ‘Mankini’ does. I don’t get the same satisfaction of mowing down masses of Zed running at me like in Left4Dead. And no zombie game can ever come anywhere close to Resident Evil’s creative variety of mutants.
But it is certainly an entertaining go-between while you’re waiting for your next major zombie title.

Play it here!