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  1. Nicalis and Treasure have teamed up to bring Ikaruga, one of the most beloved vertical shooters of the last 20 years, to Nintendo Switch later this month. Starring a pilot named Shinra who battles against enemy forces in his ship (the titular "Ikaruga"), the main hook in the game has you switching between two energy polarities in order to absorb bullets. Not only does this help the Ikaruga avoid damage, but it also increases your special meter which, when maxed out, gives you the option to unleash a special homing laser attack that's 10x more damaging than your normal attack. The Switch version of Ikaruga will have both singleplayer and two-player (local) co-op modes, global leaderboards, and can be played in the standard horizontal mode or flipped vertically for arcade-style "TATE" action. Ikaruga will debut on the Nintendo Switch eShop on May 29 for $14.99. Source: Press Release Are you excited that Ikaruga is heading to Switch this month?
  2. Jonathan Higgins

    Review: Creepy Castle

    Developer: Dopterra Publisher: Nicalis Platform: PC Release Date: October 31, 2016 ESRB: Not rated (Everyone recommended) As I make my way through a game for review, my mind can“t help but draw comparisons. It“s folly, I admit; and I“ve spent most of my years in the industry trying to suppress these initial instincts. Every once and awhile, I run into something whose contemporaries are so few, that I find myself grasping at straws... using words like “quirky” and “obtuse” to describe mechanics and premises therein. When a game“s Kickstarter used buzzwords like “one-of-a-kind” to describe itself, I figured it“d make a conscious effort to be different. I never imagined the list of contemporaries I“d come up with to describe what something “feels like” overall would be... a list of just one. And what“s more, Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru — known as “The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls” in English — isn“t exactly familiar to the masses. But, that“s the way it goes sometimes. I suppose Creepy Castle really is “quirky” if the only real contemporary it has is something only found on a Japanese Game Boy. I typically layer my writing, addressing presentation-related fodder first and foremost. But I think it“s important to follow calling a game “quirky” with describing precisely how. So it goes: Have you ever played a side-scrolling game that doesn“t have a jump button? The fundamental level design treats gaps or spaces elevated by just a single square as obstacles that must be conquered through further exploration. You“ll see a thing that“s just out of your reach, and have to go around and try to approach it from another side or angle. Getting to the end of most scenarios involves a fairly linear progression. But there“s some degree of puzzle-solving in the environments you traverse, even before we get to battling proper. See those hearts and the different battle styles in the screenshots above? In my mind, Creepy Castle lifts the concept of “dueling” from The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls. If it were made twenty years ago, the player character would just approach his or her enemy, mash a button to swat at it and take away one of its hearts, then usually get a heart taken away on their side in retaliation. Use food to recover your health after a duel... then rinse and repeat until the game is won. The Game Boy game I“ve drawn comparison to focuses far more on its writing and level design than its combat. But Creepy Castle takes things a step further, in an effort to highlight battling just as much as its writing and levels. Indeed, you“ll have several instances where you“ll just mindlessly swat each other back and forth. But many passing turns feature reflex-based instances to spice up fighting a bit. There are numerous types of duels (and optional, readable tutorials describe each of them in detail, as you come across them). The player might gain the upper-hand in battle by pressing the action button at precisely the right time, when prompted. Some turns may have you press a specific sequence of buttons as shown. There are even duels against mechanized or robotic foes that make you solve brief, timed “pipe puzzles” during your turn, where you rotate bits of a path to make things connect. There“s a lot of variance to combat; that helps things feel a little less repetitive overall. As I use the word “quirky” for the last time: Creepy Castle“s fundamentals amount to somewhat linear, puzzle-focused side-scrolling exploration plus a myriad of reflex-dependent combat styles. Apply these two elements to a basic turn-based RPG structure where experience is found in dungeons instead of gained through fighting, and you have... a quirky thing that could keep the interest a good handful of you, but may turn away folks who prefer movement and exploration in general to feel less restricted. There are four main “scenarios” that focus on specific characters. You'll start off with just “Creepy Castle”, the main story that teaches you — a wandering moth warrior — everything you need to know about the various types of duels and exploring you“ll be up to. Finish that, and you“ll get a sort of Part II in “Ghostly Mystery”. Apart from the main story are two side-bits that intertwine with the plot. “The Depths” is a sort of Great Cave Offensive contrast to the first mode“s linear approach. It even warns that maps are so big, additional loading time may be required, and it definitely stretches your brain a whole lot more than the two scenarios before it! Lastly, there is “Due Exaltation,” where design philosophy borrows a page from Xeodrifter and has you piloting a spaceship to explore multiple planets. Each beaten scenario unlocks “Free Play” where you can go through them as any character you like, without story or constraints — Special Guest Characters are numerous. And consistent with other Nicalis games like 1,001 Spikes, the roster borrows from their own library of published games, and well outside of it, too. On top of all that, there“s a Bestiary, a place to see every piece of gathered “Lore” you“ve read throughout each journey, Achievements, and lots more. For its relatively simple aesthetic and execution, Creepy Castle is definitely packed full of content. Last but absolutely not least — if you lack the reflexes required for intense dueling... there is an “Accessibility Mode” that you can toggle on and off at your leisure from the title screen. It“s not an Easy Mode or something hand-holdy, so much as it“s designed to make everything reflex-oriented about the whole package less physically demanding, for players who might lack (or not prefer) a quick reaction time. Your experience will not suffer as a result of turning this mode on or off. As refreshing as these multiple modes and additional content collectively feel, Creepy Castle is not without is flaws. I may be a dunce... but I saw no means to sort the items you collect throughout the game, so scrolling to the one I needed got kind of vexing a time or two. And while a map function exists, it felt more limiting than it should have been in my opinion — especially in “The Depths.” A means to see where unopened chests, doors, and other relevant things on the map are would have made a decent romp even better, or less frustrating. The biggest gripe I have, though, involves “Ghostly Mystery.” You play it from start to finish as one character, and then you unlock a second part of it... which forces you to retread the exact same dungeons and re-fight the exact same enemies and bosses as a different character, before ultimately seeing through to a new ending. In a game that otherwise doesn“t feel too repetitive, that was definitely jarring. My time with Creepy Castle was consistent with the overall tone it elicits: fun, humorous and adventurous, with occasional dark bits. Its cast of characters is charming, its music and sounds are excellent accents to the experience. Its environments are perplexing in (mostly) the best ways, and... there are heaps of content and customization options to make the experience feel more personalized to you, too. If its premise appeals to you, know that this is a good game made great by the level of care and attention put into it. You may have some gripes like I did, and maybe some bits of dialogue or stylistic choices might bounce right off you. But if you give it a chance, I“m confident you“ll have fun overall. Pros + You don't see this type of combat in an RPG every day. Rather than mindlessly mashing buttons, your reflexes will often be tested + Multiple modes most multiple types of level design. You can explore creepy castles at your leisure, or go to other planets, or explore wide open spaces. + There's an "Accessibility Mode" that accommodates players of all skill levels, allowing anyone to enjoy the full experience. Cons - A whole section of the game amounts to repeating entire levels, even fighting the same enemies and bosses..for additional content tacked onto the end. Definite misstep. - The map and inventory are arguably hard to manage, without minor annoyances. Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Creepy Castle features combat that's more reflex-based than mundane, and level design that's more puzzle-focused than action-oriented. Collectively, it may offer something unique to traditional RPG fans. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  3. Jonathan Higgins

    Review: Castle in the Darkness

    Developer: Matt Kapp Publisher: Nicalis Platform(s): PC (Steam) Release Date: February 5th, 2015 Official Website I“m a glutton for punishment. I“ve cursed aloud and thrown controllers at maddening, yet skillfully designed action-platformers since the days of Shadow of the Ninja, DuckTales or Little Nemo: Dream Master. I“ve played through most, if not all the essential games that bring “Nintendo hard” to the modern age like LA-MULANA, Shovel Knight, 1001 Spikes, and Rex Rocket. So, when I saw the trailer for Nicalis' Castle in the Darkness, I knew exactly what to expect. I“m going to get gray hairs in my thirties because of developers who dig driving you insane with a few meticulously placed spikes. These are the kinds of games I can“t help but analyze as I play through them (because I spend so long dying over and over in any given level). There are two schools of game design when it comes to evoking nostalgia. The first includes games that seem to be inspired by the past, but wish to evolve tried and true formulas with modern ideas. The second are those games that do everything short of teleporting you back to the past, because of limitations developers/designers impose upon themselves to make a game feel like it belongs in the late eighties or early nineties. Castle in the Darkness is definitely an example of the latter. There“s not much to the game“s story beyond what you see in the trailer or the first five minutes. In terms of protagonists, there“s a surviving soldier, a princess, and a frog. There“s little development to be had between them because the game“s script is purposefully confined to match any original Nintendo game you've ever played. With that in mind, the game“s writing still has its humor and charm; developer Matt Kapp definitely knows his audience. There“s more than one Legend of Zelda reference sprinkled into your adventure, and there“s even a few nods to other Nicalis-published games if you do a bit of exploring. Staying with talk of the game“s presentation: the visuals manage to successfully emulate the intended era, as well as push the envelope a bit. In fact, the word PEE is written out in stars on the night sky of an area; you can spot that subliminal humor if you“re looking hard enough. The soundtrack is definitely quality work as well, but while each tune is catchy, Castle in the Darkness lacks the musical variance you“d typically find in recent games like it. Still, I think the game“s presentation as a whole is purposefully limiting, to make you feel like you“re in 1987. I can“t fault it for being consistent with its identity. I could write a novel on the things this gameplay does to a person—both good and bad. To prevent myself from doing so, I“ll first address this—there are plenty of things to do outside of the “main” experience. The title menu has a whole section of secrets...from an “Easy Mode” that mocks you if you die enough, to a “Prologue” of sorts and other early game builds from early development. Of course, there are achievements too. There“s even a New Game+. For just under six dollars in price, there“s certainly a lot to play. Mechanically, though, you“ll start to see why the game is priced like it is. I recall looking at my game time somewhere close to the end. The game itself had my total playtime at around two hours at that point, but Steam told me I“d been playing the game for over nine hours. That“s the kind of experience this is—few hours actually registered, but many hours will pass as you attempt to conquer its plenty of torturous trials (there“s an actual part of the game called the Torture Chamber that almost frustrated me to the point of putting the game down). Your character is extremely fragile at the start of the game, but by the time you make your approach towards the final boss, you'll have collected sufficient health, armor and weapons to hold your own. The most frustrating aspect of the game isn“t the difficulty of the level design itself, but the lack of proper save points in the later portions of the game. In the beginning, the means to save and equip your items are fairly placed, giving anyone brave enough to play the game a fair chance to pace themselves without becoming frustrated. But by the time you reach a point where the game“s entire world is open to you (and trust me, it“s a big, bad world...and it includes plenty of levels, many optional and built for those who backtrack after getting key items that allow you to do so), save and warp points are placed in downright cruel spots. The cheap tricks that some of these level designs and bosses play will leave a great many who want to become more skilled by playing these kinds of games far too aggravated with Castle in the Darkness to see it through to the end, in my opinion. Without speaking volumes: At the end of most of these purposefully punishing games, I often find myself grateful for them. Despite their flaws, I kind of feel like I“ve been hardened as a veteran platformer-guy for having taken up their challenge. The thing that makes me hesitant to recommend this game to everyone is the fact that you really don“t feel hardened by the end of it. Your ability to overcome obstacles in Castle in the Darkness isn“t necessarily determined by an increase in skill—it“s more due to an increase in stats. Whether you“re getting more health by beating bosses or going way out of your way to backtrack and grab a more powerful weapon, I think it“s less about acquired skill and more about acquired stuff. At the end of the day, Matt Kapp knew what kind of game he wanted to design, and he was definitely successful at it. In the land of games that are indeed "Nintendo hard," Castle in the Darkness won“t be forgotten. The reason I can“t call this game essential, or perfection, is because most who challenge it will remember it for the frustration it made them feel versus the many things that make it a good game. Pros: + Appealing presentation overall, with just as much humorous nods as it has confidence in its identity. + Reasonably priced. There's plenty of content to enjoy outside of the main game. Cons: - Has major pacing issues overall, with some later areas feeling more unfair than challenging. - Overcoming obstacles may sometimes boil down to acquired equipment versus platforming skill. Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Some games shine a little light on the past. Castle in the Darkness hearkens back to an era so challenging, it will chip away at your soul as you attempt to conquer it. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by Nicalis
  4. Jason Clement

    Review: 1001 Spikes

    Developer: Nicalis, Inc./8Bit Fanatics Publisher: Nicalis Platform(s): Wii U, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PS Vita, 3DS, PC (Windows, OSX, Linux) Release Date: June 3, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen 1001 Spikes might go down in the record books as one of the most brutally difficult games in history. Every step you take and every leap you make will need to be heavily scrutinized as you try to carefully make your way to the key and then the exit in this retro-inspired, 8-bit platformer. And you will die—many, many times. But that's also part of the game's charm; 1001 Spikes revels in its masochistic tendencies, a fact that becomes glaringly clearer the further you progress. One might think that this would tend to work against the game, but it actually harkens back to the golden era when 8-bit games were at their most challenging, and succeeds because of it. The story begins with our protagonist, Aban Hawkins, on a journey to discover the treasure of a lifetime after receiving a letter from his archaeologist father, who is presumed to be dead at that point. After a few short levels in the first world (which serves as a sort of tutorial), the narrative digs deeper into Aban's history, revealing his troubled past with his father who harbors no love lost between them, a fact that is made abundantly clear when it's discovered that he left everything in his will to Aban's sister. Thus his desire to find the treasure is to one-up his father and show him that he's not a worthless nobody. Waiting within the different temples you'll explore are an array of various booby traps, crumbling platforms, lava, bottomless pits, scorpions, and much more. Oh, and spikes; lots of them. Bloody spikes, I should add—an aspect that no doubt contributes to why the game is rated T despite its feel-good retro look. That aside, this is a game that pulls out all of the stops to intentionally make sure you get caught in a cheap death and die. Think you're safe after missing a few hidden darts and a scorpion? Not when the panel you're standing on triggers a set of spikes that come up from underneath and kills you. Or a dart hits you unexpectedly. Such is the nature of the beast. Aban has only three actions in the entire game: a short jump, a high jump, and throwing knives (of which he has an unlimited supply, apparently); the latter of which is used to kill some of the scorpions or help repel certain traps (such as darts and the like). It might sound extremely unfair and maybe even unappealing due to its masochistic nature, but the game's cruel design is actually what adds so much to the game's charm. Ultimately when you boil it down to its rawest form, it's trial and error at its finest, but make no mistake—that doesn't mean skill isn't involved. To succeed, you'll need to learn and discern how to recognize booby traps as well as their patterns in each level. The further you get, the quicker on your feet you'll need to be. In addition to the story mode, there are a few arcade modes you can play through with up to three potential other players. The Golden Vase has you fighting to grab a golden artifact that produces more coins the longer you're in possession of it, but you'll need to avoid all of the traps and obstacles of the stage at the same time. Tower of Nannar has you chasing down cultists up a tower in order to save a kidnapped girl, all the while grabbing gold and treasure along the way. The Lost Levels is a remixed version of the main quest with longer but fewer levels and the addition of gold coins to collect. You can also unlock additional characters to play as (with a few surprise appearances), and there's even a shop where you can buy things with the gold you've collected from the extra modes, which is a nice touch. Visually, 1001 Spikes' 8-bit aesthetic clearly works in its favor. What better era of gaming to emulate if you're going to create a tough-as-nails platformer, right? And fit right in with those games it does; Nicalis and 8Bit Fanatics chose wisely when deciding what sort of visual look to go with. The pixelized artwork in cutscenes are also extremely well done and recall some of the best pixel work done in games like Ninja Gaiden and the like. And equally as impressive is the game's soundtrack, which emulates 8-bit synthesized music as well. I can't say I loved every song, but there were a few extremely catchy tunes, and just about every track fits to a "T" with the level it plays on. Ultimately, 1001 Spikes is an acquired taste; it largely depends on your level of masochism and how much you can handle when it comes to purposefully difficult game design. That said, it's a journey I'm glad I got to experience; thankfully, there is some legitimately great level design amongst the game's forty odd levels or so, and the experience doesn't just hinge on the novelty of it being extremely hard. When you finally get to the end of a level unscathed, it's a great feeling; once again evocative of the hard-earned victories that many 8-bit games used to make you work and struggle for. You may want to throw your controller a few times in the process, but it's all worth it in the end. Just watch that next step; it's a doozy. Pros + Tough-as-nails but rewarding gameplay + 8-bit aesthetic works well with the game's premise and is attractive + Music is catchy and fits well with each level + Extensive content and replay value Cons - May be too tough/infuriating for some Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great 1001 Spikes is yet another great retro-inspired title that recalls and successfully emulates the incredible challenge of games from 25 years ago. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Wii U eShop code provided by the publisher.
  5. Indie game publisher Nicalis has announced that its tough-as-nails, 8-bit, action-platformer 1001 Spikes is set for release next week on June 3. The game stars Aban Hawkins as he searches for his estranged, world-famous archaeologist father who mysteriously disappears but leaves behind a map that points to ruins where legendary treasure awaits. Known for its brutal difficulty, 1001 Spikes also features single and multi-player co-op as well as vs. multiplayer. There are also nearly two dozen unlockable, playable characters that have different abilities (such as Curly from Cave Story), over 100 stages to clear, and multiple endings to obtain. 1001 Spikes will be available for purchase on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita (via the PlayStation Store), and Steam (Windows and OSX) for $14.99. Nicalis also confirmed that the game will feature Cross-Play, allowing PS4 and Vita owners to receive both versions for one price. Additionally, there will be a $5 loyalty discount on Steam for anyone who has also bought Cave Story or Night Sky. Source: Press Release Are you excited for 1001 Spikes next week?
  6. Marcus Estrada

    Nicalis Nabs The 90's Arcade Racer

    Kickstarter is the home of so many project that it's often hard to keep track. Just recently the GameStick was unveiled, as well as the episodic future of Dreamfall. This month also saw the launch of a project simply titled The 90's Arcade Racer which looked to be a tribute to the 3D racing games of the past. The goal was set at a fairly low (for Kickstarter) amount of £10,000 which translates to about $15,600. Still, with five days left on the project it didn't manage to amass huge amounts over its goal like some, instead currently having £12,220 pledged. Of course, what matters most on Kickstarter is that a project is funded at all, not the excess that accrues. Developer Nicalis, best known for Cave Story, has joined the project. Before this announcement, The 90's Arcade Racer was simply being developed by one person. Nicalis will aid this project by programming in Unity as well as helping to produce it. Why was Nicalis interested in joining this effort? Simply put, Tyrone Rodriguez of Nicalis, Inc. loved Virtua Racing, Daytona, and all the rest back in the day. Thanks to this partnership the project will hopefully come out in a more expedient timeframe, although Nicalis doesn't have the best history for that. With their help it is also said that the game will be brought to Wii U via the eShop too.
  7. The Binding of Isaac hit Steam a little over a year ago and was a pretty successful game. It may have not enthralled gamers in quite the same way as Edmund McMillen's previous Super Meat Boy, but it had its audience excited. Although the idea for console versions loomed, only Valve were ready to host a "blasphemous" game. McMillen wrote a postmortem for the game on Gamasura that ends with an interesting twist in the world of The Binding of Isaac. He has revealed that developer Nicalis will be remaking and porting the game to consoles. There are many things that are being changed about this version of the game, titled The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. For one, this version will have to include the second expansion which McMillen planned on doing, but was unable to within Flash. The graphics themselves will be redone in 16-bit style but still retain the aesthetics of the existing game. It is also set to feature local co-op play. McMillen chose Nicalis because they offered to take care of it all. After his inability to get the game on Nintendo 3DS, McMillen is done with personally handling these aspects. As such, Nicalis are also going to work out all the business between console companies and getting the game to their digital distribution services. Currently no consoles were confirmed for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, but McMillen is hopeful that Sony, Microsoft, and even Nintendo will play ball this time around. Update: As of today, it has been confirmed that Rebirth will be coming to PS3 and Vita via PSN. Nicalis is also talking to Microsoft and Nintendo although nothing is confirmed for those platforms yet.