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  1. Have you ever stopped at a traffic light and wondered if someone somewhere was responsible for controlling the flow of traffic by changing the color of the lights? Well, the bad news is they're generally automated in real life, but don't let that stop you from dreaming about it because, in Baltoro Games' upcoming puzzle/arcade/simulator, Urban Flow, that's exactly what you get to do. In over 100 levels, you'll be in charge of traffic lights to help control the flow of traffic and avoid accidents between low-poly cars as they go about their business. To help make things a bit more difficult, you'll also need to help assist special vehicles such as ambulances, trains, and even... tanks?? Outside of the lengthy campaign you can tackle the score-based Endless Mode or even take it easy by playing Chill mode, letting you play at your own speed. Want to play with friends? You can, with drop-in, drop-out local co-op, letting up to four players experience the madness/fun. Oh, and it also features support for touch controls and pro controllers in addition to joy-cons. Urban Flow is set to rush onto Nintendo Switch digitally on June 26 for $14.99.
  2. Team17 is no stranger to games based on cooking thanks to publishing Ghost Town Game's mega smash Overcooked! series in recent years, and this week they're introducing a new game from Hermes Interactive that puts a bit of a different spin on the genre called Automachef. Instead of directly controlling the chefs like in the Overcooked! games, Automachef is all about automating the process via machinery. Essentially, it's one part puzzle game and one part resource management, in which you create the ideal layout for your culinary creations. There are three modes to play through: Campaign, Contracts, and Sandbox. Campaign focuses on having the player create efficient kitchens while keeping in mind spatial, energy, and resource management challenges. Contracts mode puts you in the role of a business owner in which you'll manage funds and expand your business. Lastly, Sandbox mode is exactly what it sounds like, letting you roam free and experiment with creating any type of kitchen you'd like. Oh, and if you play the game on PC, you'll have the option to use Steam Workshop to create your own recipes, ingredients, and levels. Automachef is available to buy digitally right now on Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam for £10.99/14,99€/$14.99. Check out the launch trailer for the game below! Source: Press Release
  3. Jason Clement

    Review: Bomb Monkey

    Developer: Renegade Kid Publisher: Renegade Kid Release Date: Out Now Platform: 3DS eShop ESRB: E for Everyone Everyone loves monkeys, right? But give one a bomb and you may get some rather explosive results (pardon the pun). You'd also get Renegade Kid's latest game, a new eShop puzzler appropriately called Bomb Monkey. Luckily, the titular character is not destructive for mischevious reasons; rather, he's a participant in an in-game sport called Blok Bombing. The goal of the game is rather simple - toss bombs at blocks that rise up from the bottom of the jungle floor (or bottom of the screen in our case) in an attempt to destroy them, all the while making sure that they don't rise high enough to knock you off of your perch. But is this your typical falling blocks puzzle game, or is there more to it than meets the eye? In what might be a first for an eShop game, Bomb Monkey requires the game to be played by holding the 3DS in a "book style" format (90 degrees to the left from how it's usually held). Ultimately, it's a smart design decision that allows the gameplay to flow much better as you'll soon hear about. As for the game's controls, you're given three different input methods to choose from: the d-pad, circle pad, or touch controls with the stylus. There are only three main actions in-game: moving left, moving right, and dropping bombs (left, right, and down, respectively). It's nice that all three control inputs can be used to control the game, but I found the touch controls to be the most effective, though the D-pad works fine as well. Six different gameplay modes await you when the game starts up, and they are: Endless, 2P Versus, 2P Co-op, Rescue, 3 Minutes, and Numbers. Endless is what you could consider the main mode in the game, and it consists of Bomb Monkey's core gameplay and mechanics - to match colored blocks together and detonate them with bombs in order to clear them away. There is no end goal (except in some other modes) - only bragging rights for getting the highest score. Where Bomb Monkey really begins to shine, however, is its added layers of complexity when compared to the usual falling block puzzle formula. As the game progresses in its difficulty, you'll need to deal with more and more locked blocks that take two blasts to clear. And where the fun really kicks in is when you can set up special blocks that increases the bomb blast's radius to clear a whole row either vertically or horizontally (depending on the type you get). At this point, you'll begin to start setting up elaborate ways of clearing the blocks in order to maximize the points you get from the detonation when all is said and done. In fact, the right chain reaction could potentially clear the whole screen - if you're savvy enough. There are also special letters that are scattered through the blocks as they rise up from the floor, and by bombing them and progressively spelling out "B-O-M-B," you'll trigger a short power-up mode in which the Bomb Monkey will toss nothing but bombs for a few seconds. It adds a fun little twist to the game and is especially useful in the higher levels where the blocks move punishingly fast. The 2 player modes are wonderful additions that allow you to play with a friend using the same 3DS; the execution of which was mind-blowing to me when I tried it for the first time. Each player uses one screen of the 3DS and opposite ends of the handheld to control their respective character, with Player 1 using the circle pad/D-pad and Player 2 using the A, B, and X buttons. It's definitely a great inclusion, and makes me wonder why more 3DS games haven't implemented this sort of simple functionality in other games as well. Another mode is "Rescue," and it's easily one of my favorite modes. The objective is simple - break out your monkey friend out of a cage that is laying among all of the other blocks. However, it'll takes 50 direct explosions to destroy the cage, so in addition to working to free your friend, you'll also need to keep an eye on the overall circumstance of where the rest of the blocks are. Pay too little attention to the rising blocks and you'll pay the consequences by being knocked off your perch (and having to restart). It's a nice little game that definitely infuses a bit more strategy into the gameplay, and you'll need to divide your attention equally if you hope to conquer it. The 3 minute mode is exactly like the Endless mode but contained with a 3 minute time limit. It's perfect for controlled sessions where you don't have much time but also want to see how much of a score you can squeeze out in that time period. And finally, Numbers is another of my favorites - the objective being to clear numbers marked 1, 2, and 3 among the blocks, but in order. If you accidentally clear one out of order, it's game over. It makes for some truly interesting gameplay, especially in the later levels when the number you need to get to is buried in such a way that you'll have to avoid bombing the other two while getting to it, or they might all be right next to each other. The design of the game is simple, yet it works. There's something entirely whimsical about the Bomb Monkey character himself, and thus he ends up being likeable. In Endless Mode, the left screen displays a bigger version of the Bomb Monkey, and I can't help but smile when I see him bouncing back and forth and smiling; there's definitely some great sprite work here that pixel enthusiasts will especially appreciate. Last but not least, there's only one main music track in the game (aside from the menu music) but it's quite catchy and faintly reminiscent of Renegade Kid's last eShop game, Mutant Mudds. Everything considered, Bomb Monkey represents a simple game at its best. It doesn't beat you over the head with lots of unnecessary exposition or clutter; everything is to the point and simple enough for anybody to understand. That said, those looking for a challenge will still certainly find it here in the way of setting high scores (which Renegade Kid keeps track of on their site if you send in photographic evidence). Anyone looking for a great little puzzle game would do well to download Bomb Monkey; its different modes will keep you busy and addicted while you attempt to keep beating your (or your friend's) high scores. Simply put, Bomb Monkey is a blast. Pros: + Addictive puzzle gameplay + Catchy music + Multiple game modes to play through Cons: - If you dont like puzzles or aiming for high scores, this may not be for you Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Bomb Monkey is a quintessential game to own on 3DS for puzzle fans and will no doubt become the new go-to title for when you want to play a quick game.
  4. First of all, if you haven't played Monument Valley, you should definitely do so. It's one of the best mobile games out there and one of the most stylistically beautiful games, period. Also, SURPRISE. The hit game got a surprise sequel that was announced at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference and released at the same time. How developer UStwo managed to keep this under wraps until now is beyond me, but kudos to them for sustaining the surprise. Monument Valley II features more of the same mind-bending puzzles but also focuses more on storytelling through the use of character animations and the environment. Also, the main characters (yes, there are two this time) are a mother and daughter, and the narrative will focus on their relationship through the game. Will it directly tie into the first game's narrative? It doesn't appear to at the outset but you'll have to play the game to find out. Check out the trailer for the game below. Monument Valley II can bought on iPhone and iPad today for $4.99. An Android release is coming soon, though no release window has been detailed yet. Source: The Verge, Polygon Will you be checking out Monument Valley II?
  5. Jordan Haygood

    Review: Albert & Otto: The Adventure Begins

    Developer: K Bros Games Publisher: K Bros Games Platform: PC and Mac (Steam) Release Date: October 28, 2015 ESRB: RP for Rating Pending Official Website In the realm of video games, the independent scene has opened the door to a countless number of developers who otherwise would probably not have gotten the chance to release their dream games. Sometimes the result is a masterfully-crafted, one-of-a-kind work of art, while other times you get quite the contrary. And then you get games that are somewhere in-between. Albert & Otto: The Adventure Begins -- episode one of a four-episode game -- is somewhere in that gray area. Speaking of gray areas, the game itself has plenty of those. That's one thing you'll notice right away, and you'll love it. In fact, Albert & Otto: The Adventure Begins has quite a few things to love about it. But as it's floating somewhere between a masterpiece and a pile of garbage, in a Limbo of sorts (the similarities with the game Limbo is purely a coincidence and had no bearing on what I wrote here), the game also has quite a few things to hate about it. So then, is it worth playing? Albert & Otto's plot is both darker than I expected and better than I expected. The game opens up with the sister of the protagonist -- the Albert of the game's moniker -- sitting outside their house with her beloved stuffed bunny Otto before a mysterious shadow comes by and whisks her away. And so Albert, armed with a gun for some reason, sets out to save her. Early on, you find Otto, alone, and take him along for the ride to help you on your journey. But throughout that journey, through letters picked up along the way with pictures drawn by none other than your sister, you start to learn that what's going on goes much deeper than a simple damsel-in-distress story. Much like Limbo, the story of this game is told very quietly. There's no text or voice that tells you what's going on, and yet it's not all that difficult to figure it out. You can piece together what really happened to your sister fairly easily (as much as episode one reveals, at least), and if you're perceptive enough, you can also tell that the game is set in pre-World War II Germany. Although, I kinda just told you, so I guess you don't have to be all that perceptive... Anyway, the dark nature of the plot and setting make the story of Albert & Otto quite compelling. And even though there are aspects of this game that will infuriate you to no end, you might find yourself too interested in the story to call it quits until the credits roll. I mentioned before that you'll love the grayness in the world of Albert & Otto. And while you may have a different taste in art styles, it's most certainly what I liked most about the game. Inspired by the early stop-motion works of Tim Burton, nearly the entire game is in black-and-white with a few exceptions, such as Otto himself being red -- reminiscent to the little girl wearing the red dress in the movie Schindler's List (which interestingly also takes place in Germany, only during World War II). The minimalist aesthetic adds a lot to the game's somewhat depressing tone, which all makes for a pleasantly atmospheric experience. The music in Albert & Otto: The Adventure Begins also does a nice job in complimenting the plot and setting, lending itself well to the atmospheric nature of the game. It's nothing that really stands out as anything more than the game's background score, but it's a score that fits the experience nicely. Especially when you hear who I assume is your sister humming every so often, which I find to be beautifully eery. But not all is well with Albert & Otto: The Adventure Begins. While the story is intriguing and the aesthetics beautiful, where the game falls short lies within its gameplay. Look, I'm up for a challenge and all that, but there's a difference between a well-crafted challenge and a cheap, unfair challenge that relies less on thought and skill and more on trial-and-error. I liked some of the puzzles, since the game does have some well-crafted, skill-based ones, but I found myself dying far too many times while attempting a lot of them. Mostly because quite a few puzzles give you very little time to think about the solution. Like with the two bosses in this particular episode. It's infuriating that you have to keep dying just to solve a puzzle. And in the case of the second boss, once you FINALLY beat him, a task made unnecessarily difficult thanks to the game forcing you to move almost impossibly fast, the game throws a bird at you that you can't see because it's off-screen until it attacks you and you can't hear because the end of the boss song is too loud. And it wouldn't be that big a deal if the checkpoint system was thought out more logically. There are simpler moments when checkpoints are very close together, but then when you need a checkpoint the most, you don't get one and have to restart way, way back if and when you die. It also doesn't help that there are some problems with the game's physics. Your ability to levitate objects gets extremely frustrating when the object you grab starts moving around wildly and it takes too much time to calm it down. It's not that bad during puzzles you can solve at your own pace, but it becomes a grave annoyance during the ones with very short time limits. There's also one aspect that I just found oddly sloppy from a development standpoint, where when you die and go back to the last checkpoint, you start moving again before the previous event is even over. I appreciate fast loading times, but at least give the world time to catch up with the player. With all of this game's downsides in terms of gameplay, though, I will give it kudos for one thing; there's an area where you have to use a burning sheep as a torch to see in the dark. Now THAT is awesome. I can't say I've done that in any other game before. Albert & Otto: The Adventure Begins isn't a bad game, but it does have problems that unfortunately weigh it down, keeping it from being as great as it potentially could have been. The story is great, though, the game has a gorgeous art style, and the score compliments the game's atmospheric tone nicely, so it certainly has its upsides. It's just unfortunate that I didn't like this game as much as I was hoping to. Hopefully the problems are dealt with and episode two turns out better. As for episode one, I'd say if you have $5 to spare, it's a decent enough investment. If you like Limbo, then this game is worth trying. Pros: + Very deep and symbolic story, however quietly it is told + Gorgeous Tim Burton inspired art style + Beautiful score that compliments the atmospheric tone + USING A BURNING SHEEP AS A TORCH Cons: - Cheap, unfair challenges that rely too much on trial-and-error - Problems with the game's physics - Some sloppily-developed parts Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent With an intriguing story and a beautiful aesthetic, Albert & Otto: The Adventure Begins has its upsides. Unfortunately, its downsides keep it from being as great as it potentially could have been. A downloadable code was supplied by the publisher for this review
  6. Developer: Nippon Ichi Software Publisher: NIS America Platforms: PS Vita, PS TV Release Date:February 24, 2014 ESRB: T for Teen Lumen and Umbra. Polarities such as these help illuminate the primary themes for Vita's newest puzzle-focused exclusive: htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary. It is a creative concept brought to light by a designer behind the popular strategy-RPG series Disgaea and it attempts to make its deceptively dark presence known on the often overlooked Sony handheld hardware. Whether this chronicle actually deserves to be written upon anyone“s Vita system, however, is another story. The adventure has very little in the way of direct exposition. The young girl Mion wakes up in what seems like some sort of dark underground facility and shortly thereafter encounters two fireflies. These two fireflies: a green one referred to as Lumen; and also the purple firefly, Umbra, who presides in Mion's shadow; both attempt to help guide the strangely obedient Mion through these unknown depths. Both fireflies are the crux of its puzzle-focused gameplay with its light platformer elements in-between. Lumen very directly guides Mion where to go and is controlled via touchscreen in the foreground, while Umbra is controlled by the Vita's back touchpad, and moves about from shadow to shadow in the background. You control both separately depending on the circumstance to navigate the terrain in a mostly linear fashion. For example, you may use Lumen to direct Mion to climb ladders or push boxes/switches, while Umbra can trigger normally inaccessible objects from afar when moving between various shadows. Beyond light and dark comparisons, disparities is a recurring theme in almost every facet of the title, even down its aesthetic. The visuals will probably seem cute and innocent despite the bleak setting. Well, until you see Mion mangled by shadow monsters, sliced by saws, accidentally hit by boulders, incinerated by flames, or fall to her death. While the visuals do tend to cut out just before it gets into gory territory, the implied imagery in The Firefly Diary is definitely much more unsettling than it leads on to be from a first glance. Yet, it is for that reason that the presentation manages to be so distinct, because it balances two such different tones with one captivating 2D style. Even if, unfortunately for Mion, it feels like everything in the world is out to kill her, and it frankly shall—many times. If it wasn't obvious already, HtoL#NiQ is a very, very difficult game. No, really, I don“t think you fully understand. I had a PSN trophy congratulating me on dying one hundred times less than halfway through the main campaign. I dare not think about my total death count by the time I finished it. Of course, higher difficulty is not inherently bad, and the Vita is no stranger to challenging titles like Dokuro, or plenty of other ports like with 1001 Spikes. Problem is, HtoL#NiQ is not as good as either of those as a game and it is difficult for all of the wrong reasons, and this is made more obvious in regards to its cheap level-design and disjointed control scheme. Puzzles and platforming situations have brief bits of novelty with their occasional variety in theme but are quite frustrating in execution. It's not even that the puzzles themselves are tricky, they are either completely obvious or feel kind of random. But, what makes the gameplay go from middling to awful at times is the awkward, unwieldy controls and the incredibly strict trial-and-error design that just doesn't work with it. Difficult games tend to work when the controls are spot-on and there is skillful level-design around it, but this title has neither. On the most basic level, there is simply a jarring slowness/lack of responsiveness to moving Lumen around and having Mion (very slowly) follow behind to the gameplay that becomes increasingly more apparent over time, and will be the source of most player deaths. That, and inconsistent boss fights and the generally unfair feeling level design. Some of the most egregious examples of level design are probably two repeating segments that are almost guaranteed leave most players stuck. The first offensive portion is when you control only Lumen after being separated from Mion. However, Lumen cannot touch anything without dying during these segments, including walls. The already questionable responsiveness and the level's obnoxious automatic screen-scrolling is bad enough, but your own hand can easily obscure navigation in these segments as well if playing via touchscreen. The second is that for nearly an entire chapter later of the game, in which there are four of (five if we include "True End" content), the title completely reverses the controls (for no real rhyme or reason behind it) for what is an already difficult part. If it weren't for the somewhat frequent checkpoints these parts would be near unmanageable. Even if you were smart enough to choose one of the different control schemes (one centered around using the analog), and certain portions were less glaring, I don't think htoL#NiQ is compelling enough on its own as a game. As stated before, most puzzles don't feel smart or satisfying, they are just strict trial and error based that love to toss at least one unfair gimmick before reaching the next checkpoint. And, for whatever narrative intrigue that is hidden through out-of-the-way unlocks, or rather "memories", it is not really worth the hassle of repeating certain levels just to see the true ending when playing through them once is already too much. Honestly, there isn't a whole lot that is worthwhile in htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary aside from those starving to try something that looks different. Whatever interest it piques through its captivating presentation and dark setting it botches it nearly every step of the way with its incredibly poor control scheme and frustrating, unsatisfying level design. I can respect that Nippon Ichi wanted to try something beyond their over-the-top RPG comfort zone, and it feels like they were on the right track, but perhaps with more controlled guidance lighting htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary's way, it would've been much better for it. Pros: + Captivating setting that mixes both cute and disturbing + Light and dark fireflies lend themselves to interesting puzzle mechanics Cons: - Extremely clumsy, unwieldy controls for touchscreen in particular - Infuriating level design/bosses that generally feel cheap - Way too many hurdles required to unlock the "True End" - Mion moves and reacts really slow… Overall Score: 4.5 (out of 10) Below Average Whatever intrigue that is built up from htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary's captivating setting and visual style are completely lost due to its frustrating controls, cheap level design/bosses, and generally unsatisfying gameplay. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  7. barrel

    Review: The Swapper

    Developer: Facepalm Games/Curve Studios Publisher: Facepalm Games Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U Release Date: November 6, 2014 ESRB: E for Everyone This review is based on the Wii U version of the game Every time I heard about The Swapper after it arrived on PC mid-2013 it was almost always met with unanimous praise. But, because of my general anti-PC gaming sentiment, I stubbornly managed to ignore those positive voices until more than a year after. By now the cult-classic The Swapper has made its way to various other platforms including the PS3, PS4, PS Vita, and now finally the Wii U, and has left me with no more excuses to not play it. Was it finally worth abandoning my ignorance under a rock or would my consciousness have been better placed elsewhere? For something that shares the E rating, The Swapper somehow manages to feel very unsettling. It“s not unsettling because the game is necessarily scary, but because it has a real strong sense of isolation and foreboding. This is communicated in a lot of ways from intriguing journal entries, ambiguous messages placed throughout, and the in-game visuals. The Swapper does a great job at crafting a real sense of atmosphere and smartly, but gradually, introduces you to its world and nuances. This carries over to the gameplay as well in regards to the puzzle/platformer focused design. There are two primary mechanics to keep track of, those being the Swap and Clone mechanics. The first of these introduced is the Clone mechanic in which you are able to create up to four duplications of yourself, and the second allows you to Swap between which of these clones you want to directly control. Though neither of these mechanics are completely unique to video games individually, it is how they are cleverly handled together that makes them feel consistently fresh during the experience. The crux of the gameplay is centered around exploring a space station and implementing those key mechanics to progress. The general flow of this involves collecting specific orbs, which are obtained in what are essentially puzzle rooms, and reactivating parts of the facility with those same orbs in order to help escape. Having said that, it does feel much less straightforward in the midst of actually playing because of the ambiguity of the setting and its many branching areas. What I like the most about the game design in The Swapper is how it doesn“t deliberately tell you what to do. From exploring the space station to learning more about what is going on narratively to naturally allowing you to figure out puzzle solutions for yourself, it generally respects the player's own ability to progress forward. Almost every puzzle adds an extra layer of depth to the established mechanics and smartly inverts how you arrive to solutions, sometimes literally. Puzzles get surprisingly complex, but they also become that much more satisfying when they are complete because the player knows full well what they did in order to figure it out. Still, the game does lose a bit of steam near the end for both puzzle design and, arguably, narratively as well. Some of the later puzzles feel rather devious because their solutions can be undone very quickly. This can be rather annoying considering how much prep work is required, including precision Clone placement and quick Swap timing, so you may inadvertently have to start over and not really feel like you entirely figured out what you did wrong. Another wrinkle is the abrupt endings. I'm sure they can spur philosophical discussions among more enthusiastic fans, but by themselves it feels like they aim more for the initial shock of a twist than addressing prior intrigue that is built up. These are both minor in the grander picture of its generally quite satisfying and smart puzzle design, but it is disappointing that it slightly undermines what is built up prior to it. As with Wii U port tradition, the gamepad serves as a multi-use secondary screen. It can be used to view the map, unlocked story logs, and can also be the primary screen. It“s nothing complicated, but it generally works well and I found it neat for the story logs in particular. When using the gamepad as the primary screen you can have the touchscreen replace commands that require the shoulder buttons, like the Swap/Clone mechanics. I occasionally used the touchscreen for Clone placement, just because analog placement can be rather fidgety at times, but its touchscreen usage is pretty negligible otherwise just because of the gamepad's inherent lack of quick multi-touch responsiveness. The Swapper is a refreshing take on puzzle-focused gameplay. It respects the player's own ability to progress by weaving some truly complex, yet satisfying puzzles while crafting a really strong sense of atmosphere to accompany them. It may have its head in the wrong place near the end due to some minor pacing missteps, but everything prior to it does a great job of playing with expectations as a rewarding, if not a bit ominous, puzzle/platformer title. Pros: + Strong sense of atmosphere that is both very interesting and unsettling + Very clever uses of its puzzle mechanics + Game design is pretty seamless and allows the player to naturally learn its nuances Cons: - Some puzzle solutions get pretty devious later on - Not very long and endings feel abrupt Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great In many instances The Swapper exudes intricate, rewarding puzzle design and an immersive sense of atmosphere that certainly warrants the curiosity of puzzle fans Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Wii U code provided by the publisher.
  8. Jordan Haygood

    Troddlers SNES Box Art

    From the album: Kaptain's Gallery

    © Atod

  9. barrel

    Review: Magical Beat

    Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Arc System Works USA Platform: PS Vita Release Date: June 17, 2014 ESRB: E for Everyone It is quite easy to view Arc System Works purely as the developer behind well-respected anime fighting games like Guilty Gear, Blazblue, and Persona 4 Arena and little else. That said, unknown to most of the world beyond Japanese arcades, a quirky puzzle/rhythm title by the name of Magical Beat managed to make its debut a couple years ago and was made by none other than Arc System Works themselves. With a recent port to Vita does this quirky puzzle/rhythm hybrid hold up well or does its pieces discordantly hit the floor? Much like the very brief tutorial directly says, Magical Beat is a very simple puzzle game. It“s a match-three or more of the same color kind of puzzle design, but the primary twist is that you need to drop the pieces in sync with the BPM (beats per minute) of a song. While the in-game tutorial says the goal is to destroy more beatons (colored puzzle pieces), the actual main gameplay focus is more akin to Puzzle Fighter where you really just want to make the other player“s life hell and have them mess up first. You not only want to create consecutive beaton chains to manage columns and score more points, but also to place jammers (grey blocks) on the opponent's grid to help them fail. The only way to clear jammers, which deliberately separate their beaton contemporaries, is by creating chains right next to them so they disappear. So, ideally, the better you get at chaining with the rhythm, the easier it is to ruin the opponent's day with jammers so you yourself don't have to deal with them as much. It is a very fast and fun back-and-forth puzzle dynamic that lends itself quite well to the portable system because of the general quickness of each skirmish. Unfortunately, Magical Beat is likely to be difficult for most players who do not carry over skill from somewhat similar titles like Puyo Puyo and Puzzle Fighter, like myself. It's one thing to adjust to the BPM rhythm and smartly place pieces quickly, but it's another when the A.I. goes through some outright insane difficulty spikes in later stages on normal mode, pretty much regardless of your skill level. Seriously, stages 9 and 10 on the normal difficulty in particular will have most people hitting "Continue" far more times than they are willing to admit. Thankfully, you only have to beat normal once to unlock all of the extra songs and characters, but, of course, beating it once is quite the ordeal. Despite its frustration and the very significant A.I. difficulty spikes present, it's worth putting up with it because of the engaging fast/fun gameplay, cute aesthetic, and catchy vocaloid soundtrack that complements it. Now before you have a knee-jerk reaction like you may normally have with a certain popular green-haired vocaloid, the soundtrack is far more consistent in Magical Beat. It is certainly strange to hear a light-hearted vocaloid track be interjected with dubstep seconds later (and it somehow isn't the worst thing in the world), but the very whimsical and varied jingles make it very bizarrely fun to listen to while playing. If you decide the vocaloids still aren't your jam, there is a fair amount of songs to draw from other Arc System Works titles: including Blazblue, Guilty Gear, XBlaze: Code Embryo, and even the obscure puzzle release 0-D Beat Drop, which have cool musical contributions as well. The most disappointing aspect of Magical Beat is its sparse selection of options and modes. There are only three difficulty modes (Beginner, Normal, and Hell Battle) and "My Own Battle" in which you personalize the A.I. difficulty and the song of your choice. Far more disappointing is that there is no online multiplayer, and only local ad-hoc, for a game that outright begs for human competition, especially after getting your spirit crushed by the demonic A.I. at times. Despite seemingly going out of its way to be overlooked with its stealthy release, Magical Beat proves itself as a fun hidden puzzle gem that is very worth checking out for puzzle fans on Vita. Its very few/limited modes and fiendish A.I. difficulty spikes do detract from it being an entirely safe recommendation, but overall, for those who would like to try an entertaining and clever musical spin on the puzzle genre would do well to check it out. Pros: + Fast-paced puzzle gameplay with a very fun rhythm dynamic + Strangely catchy vocaloid music + Unlockable Blazblue, Xblaze: Code Embryo, and Guilty Gear music and characters Cons: - No online multiplayer, local ad-hoc only - Ruthless A.I. creates a huge difficulty spike on the normal and higher difficulties - Very few modes and options to choose from Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Magical Beat presents a fun musical spin on the puzzle genre despite an unfortunate lack of overall content Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
  10. barrel

    Review image 3

    From the album: Magical Beat

  11. barrel

    Review image 2

    From the album: Magical Beat

  12. barrel

    Review image 1

    From the album: Magical Beat

  13. There have been plenty of genre fusions over the years, but puzzle and rhythm games seem to be a new one to me. Thus is the premise behind Arc System Work's Magical Beat which arrives for the PS Vita as a digital download today. The game presents you with a "match-3" style gameplay, but with a twist—dropping blocks with perfect timing to the music's beat will send them to your opponent's side of the screen. In addition, there are many different combo possibilities as well as other unique challenges. Last but not least, it features an original Vocaloid soundtrack by Nico Nico celebrity Kikuo and planned DLC for the title features cameos and tunes from Arc System Work's other titles, like XBlaze: Code Embryo, Blazblue, and Guilty Gear. Magical Beat will be available for download on PS Vita for $9.99 when the PlayStation Store updates later today. Source: Press Release Are you interested in Magical Beat's puzzle/rhythm gameplay?
  14. gaiages

    Review: Gunpoint

    Developer: Suspicious Developments Publisher: Suspicious Developments Platform: PC (Steam) Release Date: June 3, 2013 ESRB: N/A (Mature recommended) Sometimes when you're playing a game, you see all of these options to solve your problem and situation, but the game limits you from being able to act on these ideas. Of course, it's impossible for a game to have been programmed for every single situation, but sometimes even some of the most logical choices seemed barred off. Whether it's an invincible wall or a ledge that's just out of reach, finding that you can't do it can be very frustrating. Suspicious Developments advertises to eliminate that frustration with Gunpoint, a stealth game that plethora of options to get to the information and get out. Does Gunpoint manage to be a title that lets you do anything you please, or do these options fall short? Gunpoint follows the unfortunate spy Richard Conway, who quite literally falls into a murder plot, and gets the blame pinned on him to boot. The rest of the three hour story revolves around clearing his name, while being pulled deeper into a plot much larger than the death of one woman. This is a pretty typical 'spy suspense' plot, but what's interesting in this game is that you can decide how to progress in the story. You want to tell one of the characters about the plot against them? Maybe you want to land an innocent man in jail? The dialogue gives you the chance to do this and more, leading to an interesting narrative and an incentive to replay the game, as it is relatively short. The plot, although good, is not the meat of this game; Gunpoint is a title that aims to stand on its gameplay and mechanics. For starters, Conway has a pair of remarkable pants that allow him to jump and fall from great heights without sustaining damage. This allows for some fun strategies in a stealth game that would otherwise have more typical solutions. In addition to this, you can buy upgrades to diversify your arsenal, including the ability to jack into electrical sources and even kick down doors. Being able to jack into doors, lights, and other things is an integral part of Gunpoint. Each map has areas where you can jack into certain types of electrical objects, and these objects can only interact with each other. The different types are marked by different colors and shapes. Learning how to get to the locations to jack these various objects, and then figuring out how to use them to stun enemies and sneak by is one of the most rewarding parts of Gunpoint. As such, each of the maps become a bit of a puzzle; it requires careful thought and planning to figure out the best way to get past the guards and hack the information. Whether or not you kill said guards is really up to you, though most of the clients prefer that you only knock out the guards instead of killing them. However, this puzzle-like system does lead to a bit of a problem - most of the reasonable solutions are limited. While there are a few ways to tackle each area, you will rarely get far without accessing the various jacking stations, and if you bother to actually shoot your gun you'll have what must be a superhuman sniper standing right by the exit in a matter of seconds. What you can buy upgrade-wise is only a semblance of choice as well. Some missions will require you to buy certain items at certain times, and if you manage to make a mistake on what you bought, you can get full refunds on other items. Replaying missions does not earn you extra cash either, so as a result the missions throughout the game give you enough money to buy every upgrade, with a little wiggle room to buy recharges for gadgets that require electricity. You can certainly change the order in which you buy these items, but in the end you have to and will buy all of these upgrades. Then again, this lack of real choice throughout the game isn't as bad as it sounds; it's a bit disappointing considering that's what Gunpoint alludes to, but it's still plenty fun. If the concepts interest you, or you are bored one afternoon with no games to play, give Gunpoint a try. It's short, sweet, and for the most part satisfies. Pros: + Branching options allows for multiple playthroughs + Mechanics are fun and satisfying, and also give the game a puzzle like air Cons: - Game is more restricting than it lets on Overall Score: 8.0 (out of 10) Great Gunpoint may not be a masterpiece, but it's a fun run through a tale of deception, drama, and really awesome pants.
  15. Marcus Estrada

    Review: Tiny Brains

    Developer: Spearhead Games Publisher: 505 Games Platform: PC (Steam), PS3, PS4 Release Date: December 3, 2013 ESRB: E10+ A PS4 downloadable code was provided by the publisher for this review What has been sorely lacking from the gaming world as of late? It seems that there are fewer and fewer co-op games available. Although there are zillions of online shooters cropping up, being able to play with a friend or two in your own living room has become a much rarer occasion. Spearhead Games must have been aware of this disparity when they created Tiny Brains. This multiplayer-focused puzzle platformer is getting some attention, especially for launching on PS4, but is it worth your time? It seems that if you are playing alone, you'd best skip Tiny Brains entirely. My first playthrough was a completely solo experience. Although it was beatable, it was also very tough with timing at points that would have otherwise been okay. On multiple occasions you realize that the developers really wanted this to be beaten with a few players and not just one person. Still, with enough determination a lone player can make it through. The problem is they probably won“t want to. Tiny Brains focuses on four different animal lab subjects. They've been tampered with by an evil scientist, and of course, wish to escape his control! Each is tiny but highly intelligent thanks to the experiments. Although each creature has a distinctive design, little was done to infuse them with any discernible personality. A different skill is assigned to each of the four and it“s your task to figure out when to use what skills to solve puzzles. Even though there are four abilities, most puzzles don“t end up being complex. Some circumstances will be head-scratching the first time, but simpler once the mechanic has been introduced. But even once you understand how to solve a puzzle, you still might take five or more tries to make it work. This is the case in either solo or co-op play. When one person is playing, the issue comes with timing. There are multiple timed segments in the game which are so tight that any misstep leads right to failure. With other players, the issue then becomes making sure everyone keeps up their task without screwing up. Playing with friends is a nice social experience but is definitely not conducive to careful game playing. When puzzles have to continually be repeated it leads to intense amounts of frustration. Thankfully, checkpoints are frequent and puzzle rooms are usually quite small. They tend to require one main solution rather than a complex set of maneuvers. So, in a way, Tiny Brains is actually very simple, mechanically-speaking. It“s just when you factor in the many failed attempts at certain puzzles that most positive emotions begin to wash off. Tiny Brains is certainly trying, but that doesn“t make it able to provide a very fun experience. A friend stated her opinion as “this game is suck” while listening to my gripes, and that awkwardly-worded jab is not something I usually hear. Frustration was the name of the game more often than not, but at least there were no huge glitches to run into. If anything, it just seems that the developers were playing it too safe with puzzle design. Things are mostly easy to figure out. Having to fight against a puzzle game to beat it is not the way you want a puzzle playing experience to go, and yet, this is exactly what ended up happening. So when it comes right down to it, there is a small audience for Tiny Brains. You have to be someone willing to deal with a game that has little in regards to an interesting story or cast. There is also a need to be accepting of silly mistakes because they“ll happen incredibly often. Finally, you need to be okay with often troublesome play over the course of its three hour campaign. If, for some reason, you“re still desperate for a co-op puzzle game then go forth. Tiny Brains fulfills a niche - in a way that is anything but ideal. Pros: + One of only a few co-op puzzle platformers + Each lab animal has their own unique mechanic + Great music Cons: - Most puzzles challenge patience and fortitude over logic - Characters have practically no personality despite their intriguing appearances - With single player being a more difficult experience, perhaps the game should have been made co-op only Overall Score: 3.0 (out of 10) Poor Playing Tiny Brains reveals there were solid concepts in mind during development. However, the end product feels more like a rough draft than a finished work.
  16. Marcus Estrada

    Review: Ibb & Obb

    Developer: Sparpweed Publisher: Sparpweed Platform: PS3 Release Date: August 6, 2013 ESRB: E for Everyone A download code was provided by the publisher for this review. Note: Similar to the nature of the co-op gameplay in Ibb & Obb, we decided to tackle this review with two people. As such, the body of the review is mostly written by Marcus Estrada, while the blue text added indicates Jason Clement's thoughts on the game as well. It seems there is a new found resurgence in co-op gameplay as of late. First we saw the indie debut of Wyv & Keep and now we“ve got another game by the name of Ibb & Obb. Of course, aside from similar naming and two player co-op functionality, the two games are completely different. So let“s get into what exactly Ibb & Obb is and what makes it a uniquely fun experience! Ibb & Obb is a physics-based puzzle platformer with some real charm. In the game, you play as one of two Pac-Man ghost-like characters (the resemblance is definitely there, though I would also say they are very gumdrop-like as well), and though the game is especially designed for co-op, you can control both if you are alone. The two little characters must traverse through attractively-designed locations and make it through a series of puzzles. These puzzles represent the main unique draw behind the game, in that they play mainly on polarity and gravity while also drawing on the power of teamwork between the two characters. Each of the levels are divided by a playing field line where traveling above it results in a normal, rightside-up plane, and traveling below it results in an opposite, upside down plane. Both characters are able to traverse between the two planes by means of white portals. In the path of Ibb and Obb are often portals which can only be accessed by one or the other. The green or pink beings have associated doorways (that correspond to their color) which only they may enter or exit. Oftentimes you may need to hoist another player up to an area (that is otherwise out of reach), jump off platforms to increase momentum as you speed through a pathway, or even just carefully tread through enemy-infested territory to the other end. Puzzles are clumped up into different areas and offer save points at the end of each level. As players progress further, new concepts are added to the puzzle mechanics. Of course, puzzles increase in complexity as well. Each character is controlled with an analog stick on the PS3 controller. When playing with a friend in either local or online co-op, this is pretty easy to handle. However, if you“re hitting up the adventure solo, then be prepared for some seriously infuriating moments. Honestly, some puzzles require such precision timing for two players that they are even more demanding on a single player. After all, by yourself you have to negotiate and carry out your plans with pinpoint accuracy on two characters instead of just one. I decided to try a few levels on single-player to see just how different the game plays when you're responsible for controlling both characters. While it's definitely playable in solo mode, the learning curve here is steep. Even though I only played through the first two levels this way, I can't imagine playing through some of the later, extremely difficult levels that require precise movements in most cases, as Marcus mentioned. Because of this, the game is best played with another player, whether it's a friend or a random person online. Playing solo is better left as a challenge to complete after you finish the game at least once. Regardless of play mode, all fifteen levels and their puzzles remain the same. One of the hardest things to handle with a single player is taking care of enemies. Monstrous beings such as spiky birds or saws pepper the landscape at times, tempting you to fail a jump or run too slow. You“ll immediately notice that these beings are colored black and white in a 50/50 split. This is due to Ibb & Obb“s playfield including the top world as well as the underside of levels. Yes, sometimes you“ll be playing the game in a standard, upright platformer style while other times you“ll be platforming upside down on the lower half of the screen. Initially, playing on the reverse polarity (or lower half) was incredibly difficult - at least for me! My mind had to work extra hard to work out how exactly to jump and move when my character was hanging out upside down, but it isn“t as hard as you might think. One great design choice was to make sure that, even when upside down, pressing left still moves the character to the left side of the screen and the like. You simply have to get accustomed to experiencing platforming from a different perspective. There“s a good mix of puzzles you“ll fly through as well as ones that will tax the minds of one or both players. One helpful (but not quite helpful enough) feature in co-op is the ability to draw with a continuous line on screen. Need to direct a player to go and jump off a certain platform? Simply draw a line pointing there on the screen to get their attention. Of course, this feature requires both players to be of the same mindset for what various markings might mean. Drawing a series of loops across the level might make perfect sense to you but utterly confound your partner. No voice chat is available so either get good at scribbling on screen or seek out a secondary mode of conversation if it“s not local co-op. This was an interesting aspect of the game, as there were times when we would use the drawing line to direct the other, and for the most part, we did understand what each meant for the other to do, but there were definitely times where one of us just didn't get it. There were also points at which a puzzle was so tough and required so much thinking that one of us had to coordinate with the other by outside means on what to do (unfortunately, this means we did have to resort to instant messaging each other at certain points, much to the chagrin of what the game was likely hoping to achieve with voiceless communication). One other unfortunate aspect of online co-op is the fact that a certain amount of lag is present. This is the downfall of many modern online games and can never be entirely stomped out. Between two fairly good internet connections, I found that my game still showed some lag with syncing my partner“s actions. In some games this may not be a huge deal but it is problematic here when you“re trying to synchronize jumps or a variety of other time-based actions. The lag wasn“t continuous through play but did seem more prevalent in certain areas. I seemed to experience a little bit less lag than Marcus did, but it was still definitely something that happened at certain points. It was never so bad that it prevented us from getting past certain parts, but it did make things more difficult. Fortunately, it wasn't too common. Probably the strangest design misstep in the game occurs during parts where players must jump to great heights to reach the next area. At some points, you can jump high enough where when you change polarity into the opposite plane, you fly out of the visible gameplay screen. This is a huge issue as you do not get enough time to see where your character is as they plummet back down. Usually these massive jumps are followed by a need to land on a specific spot and you“re not going to be able to do that easily when having to guestimate their landing position. Of course, gameplay is not the only aspect of Ibb & Obb; the visual design is quite fantastic as well. It may not look like much in screenshots, but playing through the game on PS3 is quite the experience. The minimalistic design is attractive as are the various worlds to come across throughout. Although enemy designs never get very interesting, level design sure does and feels progressively more epic the further you go. The developers definitely have an excellent grasp on understanding of color and paint levels to appeal to players. Visually, it simply doesn“t look like any other platformer out there. I concur with Marcus on this point as well; the visuals are stunning and a joy to look at it. Ibb & Obb is a great example of the "less is more" adage, opting for a simple look, yet infusing the design with a plethora of gorgeous colors and gradients. One level in particular that really stood out has the entire level turn dark, with Ibb and Obb glowing and providing an aura of light around each of their bodies in order to light the way. The resulting level is like few things I've experienced before. Audio is another high point of the game. Composer Kettel provides a soundtrack which meshes perfectly with the minimalism present in visual design. Often quiet and reserved, players will likely be drawn further into the game without even realizing it thanks to the music. If you take the time to listen to it without focusing all your attention on puzzles then you“ll be able to recognize just how good it is as well. If the soundtrack is made available for purchase it comes highly recommended from me (thankfully, Sparpweed has confirmed to me that the OST is indeed on the way!). Like last year's Journey, the music is a pretty defining aspect of the game; it really does marry well with the gameplay itself. If you're into electronic groups like Boards of Canada, you'll be quite at home with the tunes found here. Ibb & Obb is a primarily good experience marred primarily by technical issues outside of their control. Even though some puzzles are incredibly cruel, they all are defeatable. If anything, the game might just be too difficult for players determined to go it solo. All things considered, Sparpweed probably didn“t even need to create a single player mode considering the game seems defined by its co-op. With that said, if you have a friend willing to go through Ibb & Obb with you then definitely check it out. In this incredibly full genre of puzzle platformers, Sparpweed accomplished the difficult task of making a fun, stylish platformer which stands out. Time is a precious commodity in this day and age, and with many of us being so busy, I don't give my time freely to just any game. This means I'll only play the indie games that really stand out as different. As such, I'm happy to say that Ibb & Obb is absolutely one of those games, and not only that, but it's also one of the most unique and memorable experiences I've had so far this year. It isn't perfect in every regard (and really, what game is?), but if you love platformers, physics-based puzzlers, unique games, or all of the above, you definitely owe it to yourself to check out Ibb & Obb. Pros: + Interesting mix of easy, medium, and difficult puzzles designed for two players + Awesomely simple visuals + Great soundtrack accompanying gameplay Cons: - Not going to be the kind of game you want to play alone - Lag can mess up important puzzle timing - Screen sometimes fails to show both players Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Ibb & Obb is a fun, if sometimes confounding, puzzle platformer that will easily keep you and a friend entertained as you progress through a multitude of puzzles.
  17. Developer: a jolly corpse Publisher: a jolly corpse Platform: PC (Desura, Web) Release Date: June 14, 2013 ESRB: N/A (E suggested) A review code was provided by the publisher for this review. Sometimes, I want to play games where your main goal is to destroy everything in your path. Other times, it is to inhabit the shoes of some new, intriguing character and help them save the world. Then there are the times when all I want is to challenge my brain to creative, difficult, or even incomprehensible puzzles. Although puzzle games are often tough they make me feel incredibly smart afterwards. So when it came time to review Wyv and Keep: The Temple of the Lost Idol I was pretty pumped. Thankfully, the game doesn“t disappoint (much). It“s a cute tale of two characters, named Wyv and Keep, who have decided it“s a great idea to search through various tombs, forests, and otherwise very Indiana Jones-esque locations in order to secure more and more treasure for themselves. Of course, if you were promised heaps of treasure just by solving puzzles wouldn“t you do the same? Wyv and Keep is a 2D puzzle platformer with attractive pixel graphics and an equally lovely soundtrack that gets you in the mood for adventuring. Although this sounds like a lot of indie games out there these days, it manages to chart its own course via gameplay mechanics. You see, this game is one that can be played by either one or two players simultaneously. However, even if you play alone, you still must control the two characters because they are both integral to solving each puzzle. Playing with a friend locally is likely the best way to play, although if you“re the type who prefers to have everything perfect then you“re probably going to prefer going it alone. All the same, each puzzle is made to require both of the team members to push blocks, jump to specific areas, light fuses, and a host of other things. It“s basically impossible to have only one of the characters carrying out all actions simply because it wasn“t designed for this. With another person by your side, it“s likely you“ll quickly come up with solutions. Although there is online multiplayer included, I was unable to try it out. This is due to two reasons. For one, there are not a ton of people playing this game. Secondly, many players have documented the fact that multiplayer just plain doesn“t work for them! A fix is on the way, but so far if you want to play with friends then local co-op is the way to go. So far, a jolly corpse have proven themselves they want to fix Wyv and Keep by already providing a handful of patches that went up very quickly after issues arose. Whether you choose to play alone or with a friend you“ll likely find that Wyv and Keep is one tough game. Sure, it might have adorable pixel graphics and animations, but it will leave you scratching your head on a multitude of occasions. Even though things feel as though they should be simple, smart level design helps puzzles need exact accuracy for completion. At times, I found myself searching for the proper solution only to have it finally flash in my mind after repeated failures. Moments like these are great fun and will likely happen a lot over the 60 main game levels. At the end of each level you are ranked on multiple criteria, one of which is speed of completion. In particular, speedrunners may find this a fun new challenge. With just the levels provided Wyv and Keep is still likely to keep you busy for hours. But that“s not all there is thanks to a level creator included with the game. You can do a whole lot with the tools, even going so far as to adding in your own custom sprites. Or, if you“re not the creative type, you can always simply browse and download the maps that others have created online. Although the community is not massive, there are regularly new levels being created thanks in part to the developer hosting level-making contests. Even if the gameplay features weren“t top rate, the visuals and soundtrack most definitely are. This is a game that has been in the works for years and it shows. The sprite characters are bright and lively, backdrops are interesting and detailed, and everything comes together to make it look fantastic. The music is also supremely well done. Luke Thomas, the composer, has put together one great selection of music that is a joy to listen to and to have getting stuck in your head. Wyv and Keep is such a fantastic product that it“s amazing it is not on Steam. In years past it is likely the game would have gotten onto the digital distributor no problem. If you purchase the game right now you will even get a Steam key later if it does get through Greenlight, meaning you might want to upvote the title. In the meantime, definitely get Wyv and Keep: The Temple of the Lost Idol if you dig puzzle platformers and are in the mood for co-op! Pros: + Tons of interesting puzzles + Extremely well done visuals + Soundtrack fits the world perfectly Cons: - Online multiplayer still causing issues for many - Various smaller bugs have plagued the game although most are now patched Overall Score: 9.0 (out of 10) Fantastic Wyv and Keep is just the kind of product that encompasses all that is great about puzzle platformers. If you have a co-op partner it becomes an even more entertaining experience.