Friday, January 9, 2015

Preview: Hover: Revolt of Gamers


While running and jumping around the vast city of Hover, you come across a locked box. After a few seconds of hacking it opens to reveal a gameball. Video games are highly illegal on this world thanks to the imposing security force. You are part of a resistance movement to bring games back to the masses and with your parkour skills the multiple levels of the city are simply your playground. You grab it and run, leaping over walls, bewildered citizens jumping out of your way, through tunnels, across rooftops, through a crowded plaza. Suddenly a security camera spots you and from seemingly nowhere a hovering SecuBox is right on top of you, threatening to take away the console or imprison you. You run and the adrenaline starts pumping. 


Hover: Revolt of Gamers is developed by three French amateur game designers with the studio name Fusty Game. This is the second game they've developed, with the first having unfortunately been canceled on Kickstarter. The style is similar to the ones found in the movies The Fifth Element and Star Wars: a variety of alien species living together in a multi-tiered society with the threat of a police force controlling everything. Alien languages on billboards, anti-video game propaganda, and the jumbled crowd of alien species walking about lend greatly to the atmosphere. The gameplay is a mix between Jet Grind Radio and Mirror's Edge: a fast-paced first- and third-person camera view allows you to feel in control as the action takes place. Delivering gameballs and completing missions will help you raise your stats to better your speed, jumping, and grinding, just to name a few.
This is a parkour game; it unleashes the fast-paced art of free running into an open neon-colored metropolis that's rife with sharp angles, large drops, bright lights, and a security force that wants you out of the equation. The futuristic world is a maze of pathways and, barring the obvious invisible walls, if you can see it then you can get there.
Following a MASSIVELY successful Kickstarter that ended with over triple the amount of the original goal, they were able to not only double the initial size of the city but they brought on board Jet Grind Radio/Jet Set Radio Future composer Hideki Nakamura. If you were a fan of his work for those games then you'll feel right at home here. Also for those of you lucky enough to have an Oculus Rift handy, the game is compatible with the headset but may give you motion sickness if you're unprepared for the insane movement. Biggest of all is a planned Wii U release, however no information on this has been posted. Those who were lucky (and rich enough) to contribute majorly to the Kickstarter will get rewards along the lines of a special DJ pet, an exclusive character skin, a physical copy, and, to someone who contributed $1,500 to the campaign, will have their likeness turned into a giant statue somewhere in the game.



In your free time between missions, you can explore the city to look for the best lines to get the best speed and ways to get around. It will most certainly put your pathfinding skills to the test. Currently the alpha version only allows players to traverse a small section of the city, both online and off. You can gather gameballs, GameGirls, avoid police, and take part in a few races against NPCs, or race other plays online if you prefer. The full version will have missions that include police evasion, stealth infiltration, and a few more variations that the creators have yet to reveal. A deeper character customization will be available in the full version as well as spraypaint tagging, more playable character skins, a deeper history of the world, and an expanded soundtrack.


A modern mid-level system will have no problem playing Hover on medium graphical settings. It will take a lot of horsepower to make it run at max with 60 fps. Fusty Game took no prisoners with the depth of the game's graphics. Even my laptop that's only a few years old manages to crank out a meager 15 fps on the lowest settings. There's a lot going on that's not on-screen that the game is having to keep track of: mindless NPC pedestrians, traffic, and the security system are all present and don't fade at a distance. Expect the fps results to pan out better as they make the game more compatible with different setups.

The game is compatible with an Xbox 360 control pad and is easy to use with it's minimal button usage. While it feels more organic than the keyboard and mouse layout it loses the ability to make sharp turns and that is something that's required for traversing this city cleanly. A rewind feature is extremely useful and helps you correct mistakes if you miss a jump or find yourself stuck in some way. Currently in the alpha there is no limit to how far back you can go. The ability to scan things can bring up a text menu with some interesting tidbits on the city and its inhabitants. This can also show you the locations of important NPCs, gameballs, race starting points, holographic signs, security cameras and E-cops. It can leave the screen cluttered and is disorienting at first. Time will tell if this is corrected.

 The Fusty Game team: Charles Vesic, Marine Baron, and Pierre Raffali

If you missed out on the Kickstarter, Hover will be coming to Steam via Greenlight and will be available on PC, Mac, and Linux OS's in a multitude of languages. No pricing or release date has been posted yet but its not too late to get in on the hype.  If the alpha proves anything, its that even dedicated fans can make the game of their dreams. There is something awesome about just hanging out in another world, running and exploring. Hover has something that a lot of the AAA titles these days are lacking: fun.

Keep Playing.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Review: Colin McRae Rally (Steam/Mobile, 2014)





You know your favorite band's greatest hits album? Sure, you've heard all the songs before and are probably tired of them but you know they needed to make a little more money before the next full release so a greatest hits collection is their next step, and maybe you still buy it anyway. Colin McRae Rally is that in a nutshell. I understand that its actually a port of the iOS game which is a remake of Colin McRae Rally 2.0, but you would think Codemasters would add a little extra to sweeten the deal for both new and returning fans of the original franchise. Instead it feels like less-than-half of what the latter games in the series became and a barbones recreation of the PS1 classic. Last year Codemasters teased that the next CMR game will be focused on rally racing, rather than hopping from one sport to the next as done in the DiRT Series. There's been no word on whether it will be the next DiRT entry or a return to the classic CMR staging but us fans can only hope that this isn't what they were talking about.



There are only 4 cars and 30 stages. The stages feel planned out rather than organic. The physics dulled down. The power sucked out. The driving stiff. The awesome feeling of awesomeness as you drift through a hairpin is completely absent. A lot of the magic has been lost in its conversion to mobile, and even more so with its port over to Steam. I'm sure the original was never this dull and there was more than likely an exciting feeling of powering through turns and speeding through forests but this time it suffers by removing a lot of the technical aspects that introduced a lot of people to not only sim racing games but the sport of rally racing as well. Players can no longer tune their cars before each race (which is fine because all four cars play exactly the same) and for that it grudgingly inserts itself into the casual racing category, but even then it fails because the driving is simply boring.
The physics problems are just the beginning. In one of the first races in Australia, a large jump is the main event that completely breaks the game (see below). As your car almost does a barrel roll in mid-air it immediately proves the point that the game engine itself is broken. Speaking of breaking, the cars actually break down as they drive through the stages, and not just falling apart from hitting things; by the end of the second stage there is a clanking sound that wasn't there before that lets you know something is seriously wrong. Repairing the cars is still there but players may find the "30 minute time limit" a bit too short for all the damage that was mysteriously caused while driving.
Australia, Greece, and Corsica are the only three locales to drive through and there just isn't anything within them to make things interesting. There are no sights to see, no majestic backgrounds, nothing within the roads to make it fun and yet it stretches out to 10 stages a piece. Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Lancia Stratos are the four cars but, like I said, since they all play the same it only comes down to which one you prefer. 
On mobile devices you can choose between tilt controls with auto-acceleration or full on-screen controls. On the PC/Mac version, you can choose to use either the keyboard, a gamepad, or wheel support. Mapping the controls are difficult as it seems to fight against what the player has chosen as presets. There is no pressure sensitivity for accelerating and braking so even the keyboard feels fine when being played with.

(via Steam community member CueZero)


The graphical update is just about the only thing done well enough. The graphics engine gets the job done until you notice the faults such as front-facing sprites for the trees, flat crowds, and the plastic-like textures on the cars. The stages fair no better with a static image for the background and distance pop-in. Understandably this is all limited due to being built for mobile but nothing was changed for the Steam release. If you own a computer from 2006 then you should still be able to play on lowest settings with few hiccups.
The co-driver directions by Nicky Grist are just pre-recorded and chopped together but are accurate enough to not leave you heading toward a tree at high speeds. One of the biggest concerns that you'll face immediately in the area of sound is the airhorn which blares EVERY TIME you pass a crowd and is so distracting that you may want to consider turning the SFX down, which in turn reduces the engine and gravel sounds so its a lose/lose situation unless you can do without either. Sliding on gravel or the pavement produces an accurate enough sound and crowds cheer as you pass but your attention should be focused mainly on the directions rather than immersion.
Engines don't sound powerful at all and gradually decline in strength the more you drive. At least they put in enough thought to make the engines separate from one another.
There is no in-game music, only the menu, which is a simple tune that is easily forgotten. 


It will take you about 5 hours to complete and there is very little after-game. Playing a few stages here and there is all it will amount to but there are other racing games on the app stores and Steam that are worthy of attention. This game should have stayed on the mobile platforms and even then the small amount of content should be asking for no more than $5. To even call itself a remake is a disappointment since it doesn't really feel like a Colin McRae Rally game, more like a fan project. The original CMR games were about the driver's skill and knowledge of the car and physics, that's all been thrown away in favor of tilt controls and making it more mobile friendly. The thrills of driving and overcoming opponents have been cut out in favor of ease-of-access just to make a quick buck.  Its an insult to the series and the fans, and that's what hurts the most.


Keep Playing

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

DC15

Remember remember the 9th of September
Dreamcast release and next-gen splendor
1999 and a new year comes soon
The PS2 means for Sega's doom
Awkward controller and internet activity
Fell short into the massive tragedy
But with homebrews still made
And games still played
The last great console is still not downtrodden
I can think of no reason the Dreamcast should ever be forgotten

I've unfortunately almost missed this year's DC anniversary but its been on m mind today more than the release of Destiny. I wasn't able to come up with something big, just this that I wrote while on break. If you've fallen into the hype of the year's biggest release (like I have), at least take a minute to hook up your DC and play one of your favorite titles.

Keep Playing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Review: Shadowgate (2014, PC/Mac)




As I said before in my preview of Shadowgate: point-and-click games, more commonly known as the Adventure genre, are becoming few and far between these days. Some of the more recent notable games of the last few years would be The Walking Dead series or The Raven, but if you want to travel back in time you may recognize the Monkey Island series or Maniac Mansion, which was also ported over to the NES during its lifetime. Given that every title in the genre does something different, measuring this adventure to the old school Shadowgate rather than comparing it to other adventure titles only seems fair since even the devs call it a re-imagining. The changes, similarities, what it does well now and what it lacks are up for inspection. Its mostly the same Shadowgate, but this time you get a lot more reasoning behind the journey.

As Jair Cathegar, you are instructed by the wizard Lakmir to take on a perilous task by traveling far and finding your way to the living castle of Shadowgate, then navigating its many perilous halls to stop the evil Warlock Lord, Talimar the Black, from unleashing the Behemoth to destroy the world. A little ways in to the game the bulk of the plot is explained to you through a couple of cutscenes. Lakmir, who is a surviving member of the Circle of Twelve, the only other being Talimar, has grown too weak to fight him face-to-face. Which is where Jair Cathegar comes in. He's descended from a long line of kings and prophecy states that he will be the one to defeat Talimar, but standing in his way is the castle and it's many, many, MANY traps and treasures. Almost everything you pick up can be used for something down the line but there is also a hefty amount of trash. Discerning which is which is up to the player. On the hard difficulty, you're limited to how much you can carry and since the puzzles adjust with each level something that can be used at one point may instead work somewhere else on another difficulty. Its these three levels that give the game am immense replayability factor.



Fools Rush In
The first thing you should know about playing Shadowgate is that its not for those who lack patience: you will die a lot and if you're not adept at using your noggin to solve some complex puzzles then I'm afraid Shadowgate isn't for you. Additionally an attention to detail and a keen eye for things that stand out is also definitely required. If you enjoy games with a steep level of challenge then you'll love it. If you're looking for a nostalgic trip you may or may not be disappointed: while a lot has changed, conjuring up memories of past solutions might help you in some ways but not in every case. In the first screen you find a talking skull named Yorick that offers vague hints and the occasional commentary, he's a decent traveling partner and provides a few passing chuckles, you're notfied by what he says when you hear bones clatter ominously. If you don't like his chatter you can simply choose to hit him to make him speak less. There is no direct combat, just a command that will let you HIT something, including yourself. You will encounter a few beasts that will attack and sometimes finding a way to avoid combat is your best bet.
From the dragon immolating you with fire breath to falling down a pit, almost everything can kill you, the game is still fraught with the familiar death traps that made the original so tricky to navigate. Shadowgate can be smooth as silk when you remember all of the possible combinations of things and think cleverly on when and how to use items. Sometimes being stuck in an area will require backtracking by several rooms. Keeping your torches lit is also a priority. Yorick will notify you when the light is getting too low, and letting it burn out is a bad idea. Once the fire is gone, you can't start another one, and it'll be awfully hard navigating the darkness by feeling your way around.

Shadowgate now has a spacious interface with the inventory and other options no longer taking up most of the screen. Part of the action unfolds through a text box at the bottom while an animation shows. Yes, a basic reading skill is required to play. The most dialogue you'll come across will be written on notes, the voiceovers are sparsely placed throughout the game.
The way of playing takes some getting used as it seems you need to be sure which command you're clicking at the top of the screen or which item you're selecting. Sometimes trying to click on an action requires a second click (or my 2-month old mouse is already breaking). The menus and inventory seem to get in the way of the game itself so if you prefer keyboard bindings over mouse movement you can set those up in the options, or in case you want the very old-school MacVenture feeling.


Painting Life 
The land of Tyragon is a dark and dreary one where magic is abundant and there remain spells crafted from people whose names have been long-forgotten, and Castle Shadowgate is almost the epicenter of it. The room and inventory art was done by Chris Cold, who has been able to create not only a variety of dungeons but ones that flow well together from one room to the next, they're greatly designed and all fit within the theme of what you would find given the atmosphere of the world. The cutscenes were animated by Wang Ling, also a digital painter, and are somewhat reminiscent of what you would see during the cutscenes of Guild Wars 2. You won't have to worry about too much brown or gray with splashes of colors in certain areas (as seen above) that almost command attention, each space is different and the map in the bottom left of the screen is a handy tool to help you remember where things are.

The voice acting, though few, is top notch with voices neatly matching the characters but the main thing you'll hear will be the soundtrack which is impeccably orchestrated: immersive, haunting, mysterious, calm at times and adrenalized at others, fitting the moods of the rooms perfectly. But don't you wish there was a bit more nostalgia to be had? Have no fear. In the options menu you'll find an NES music mode that inserts the original tunes from the 1989 NES release as well as the transitions and text-scrolling animation. Basically you can turn it into a big nostalgia trip with updated visuals. Its a nice addition that has no bearing on the gameplay itself but is a very welcome one.

Invokan, Agaap, Entraiz...
As of writing this I haven't been able to complete the game. I had a lot of trouble with it until Dave Marsh, one of the creators, helped me out. That being said I can't tell you how long it will take to complete but with the puzzles and items changing with each difficulty level you'll sink in at least a dozen hours. While Shadowgate holds itself together like a AAA game you can't help but feel overwhelmed as your torch light slowly dies and you've exhausted all options to figure out what to do next, you will feel stupid that the answer may be something you simply overlooked. A lot of thought and effort have gone into remaking everything and making it all work together and it shows... almost a little too well. When you hit a stride it feels good but when the game comes to a halt then you need to think your way through. You might find yourself trying items and actions repeatedly on random objects in the hopes that something will happen, but it never does.

Upon entering the pitch black dungeon, a shaft of light pierces the darkness, illuminating a book upon a pedestal. Opening the pages you find only two words written in the entire book: "PRICE DROP!" Then a trap door opens below your feet and you plummet to your death.
If you've been curious about it, its best to wait for a Steam Sale. Nostalgia or not, Shadowgate is a pure challenge to play and many people will be turned off by that, which is a shame since this time around it has a lot more to work with. Amazing visuals, captivating music, and a bit more depth to the story give a more complete sense of the world than what we had on the NES. Games are meant to be fun but Shadowgate proves to be a lesson in patience and observation. The immersion in the world matters little if you're not allowed to guess. I'm not saying "don't buy this game," I'm saying you should wait for some brave adventurers to go first. But if you're craving a challenge, you may have found one worthy to test your mettle.

Keep Playing

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Preview: Shadowgate (2014, PC)


Shadowgate, originally made by ICOM Simulations, started life in 1987 on the Apple Macintosh and found its way to the NES in 1989 where it gained a cult following. It was innovative for the time with its first-person view point-and-click gameplay on a home console but never garnered a widely celebrated status, though it did have sequels on the TurboGrafx 16 and N64 as well as a newer port to the Game Boy/Game Boy Color. The story was you against the Warlock Lord as you sought to disrupt his plan to summon a demon that will destroy the world. As you made your way through Castle Shadowgate, filled with dungeons, traps, an occasional dragon, puzzles, and hidden areas, you wouldn’t find much of a sense of lore within the dark walls. The backstory was a generic medieval tale of ancient magic versus evil, but at the time that’s all you needed as a reason to make a game and go on an adventure. Jump to 2012 where original game creators Dave Marsh and Karl Roelofs have made their own studio, Zojoi, LLC, and have “re-imagined” Shadowgate for a new generation. Following a successful Kickstarter of over $137,000, they were able to reach at least one of their stretch goals which will let players adventure through a re-made Castle Shadowgate as well as a third tower that builds on the world’s previously barren lore.


While it didn’t create much lore in itself it still held a very mysterious atmosphere that was compelling and the new game will follow along the same lines with both old and new pathways; the same formula of puzzle-solving and dungeon-traversing as the original will remain with a few puzzles remade and many new ones added as well as some content that was cut from the original game. It will have 24 in-game achievements that also tie in to your Steam achievements, an original NES music mode, voice acting (so its not just music and sound effects all the time), three difficulty levels that change the game’s puzzles, and will most prominently feature amazing moving artwork by Chris Cold and Damian Audino.
If you’re a fan of old-school point-and-click games then this new Shadowgate is definitely something you’ll want to pay attention to; games of the point-and-click variety have been fading in the last few decades and most of them have moved to mobile devices at the cost of graphics and length. But even if you’re not a fan, you may enjoy the challenge that this game will offer and you might find it will be a nice change of pace from the repetitive titles of the current generations. Immersing yourself in the world of Tyragon, a place of magic and danger; conquering the puzzles of Castle Shadowgate and discovering the truth behind the Warlock Lord; and becoming the hero of a time-forgotten prophecy. That sounds a lot better than another military shooter.


You can pre-order Shadowgate from Zojoi’s website and there are three different tiers that offer an abundance of extras (and right now, each pre-order has a 25% discount, prices described are without the discount). The Wayfarer Tier, priced at a simple $19.99, gives you just a Steam key for either a Windows or Mac digital download. The Adventurer Tier, which is $24.99 includes the game and over two dozen wallpapers based on concept art, the Grim Reaper, and a collection of desktop wallpaper calendars. At $29.99, the Hero Tier includes the former as well as a 25-song orchestral soundtrack based on the NES score, a 60-page digital art book, digital map of the land of Kal Zathynn, a beta test release with an in-game tester credit, and a one-week early release of the full game.

Shadowgate will launch in late August. I have pre-ordered the Hero Tier and have already downloaded the wallpapers and soundtrack, the beta or full game isn’t available just yet but when I get my hands on it, expect a review.

 If you remember this screen, congratulations: you’re old. :-P

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Screen Masher: Dots

A New Blog Type Has Arrived!
In Screen Masher, I'm going to do quick reviews of mobile games that you can get either for free or for pay, most of the time from whichever app store you choose. These will be short reads with some details in certain areas. I'll try to crank these out faster than I do my normal reviews.


A lot can be said for simplicity in gaming, especially for mobile devices. Make things too simple and people may reject it. Add a lot of details and nuances and it becomes a hit. If Tetris is the latter and Flappy Bird is the former then Dots sits somewhere comfortably in the middle.
Dots is a minimalistic game where you connect dots of the same color. Simple. Easy. Tricky.
Timed, Moves, Endless, and Challenges are the four game modes you can spend your time in. Timed gives you one minute to gather as many dots as you can. Moves gives you a small amount of moves to gather as many. Endless, which costs $1.99, is exactly that: an infinite amount of time and power-ups to play with. This mode doesn't bank you any dots. Challenges sends a challenge request to one of your friends on either Facebook or Twitter. A friendly competition mode to see who can bank the most dots.
You can't connect diagonally and if you react too quickly you may miss your chance at a better move and there is no undo function. Connecting dots to make a square will cause all the dots of the same color to disappear. Your final score results in how many dots you bank. By banking and using those dots, you can purchase power-ups such as Time Stops, which stops the clock five seconds; Shrinkers, double-tapping a single dot will make it disappear; and Expanders, double tapping a single dot will make all dots of the same color disappear. Time Stops and Expanders can only be used once per game, so you'll have to consider whether or not its worth using one to get a few extra dots.



The game has 35 trophies and these can be shared on the two previously mentioned social networks. These can be earned by playing 40 rounds, scoring a certain amount, or using so many power-ups. Most of them are easy to earn so there's no pressure when you set your sights on unlocking one. It will take some practice to reach a score of just 300 but once you do then you pretty much have the game fully understood.


If the bright white of the game is too much to handle, included are three other themes. A dark theme reverses colors, and Winter Day and Winter Night (leftovers from their last holiday update) feature snow falling on all screens as well a winter scene during play. Its peaceful and almost relaxing. You can also change the dot's color intensities, this is for people who may have a hard time telling them apart. These colors also change based on theme.


I've had Dots on my last three Android phones. Its perfect for killing a minute or two when I have some free time or when I want to bank more dots. At some times its my go-to game when I don't want to wait for something to load. Playdots, Inc. has a follow-up game simply called Two Dots, it follows the same basic gameplay but with a few twists. But that's for another time.

Keep Playing