Thursday, 28 November 2013

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back - Snow Go + Hang Eight

So, err, seven months ago I started this....I've been, like, super busy (he lied). Let's forget about all that for now and head right into part two of my adventures to finally beat the first ever Playstation game I ever played: Crash Bandicoot 2.

We had just found the first crystal for Cortex. Now it was time for...

Level 2 - Snow Go

I must say, I was very surprised when I found out that "Snow Go" did not turn out to be a volcano level. Still, right off the bat the level throws in something new - the Nitro crate. Unlike the TNT crate - Nitro's blow up instantly. Don't touch them.

Ice physics make their introduction to the series. It's same as any other game - as soon as you touch ice you lose a little bit of control as Crash continues sliding in a certain direction. It's not too annoying in this level, thankfully.

Like the previous game, there will be side-scrolling sections within the actual levels. And much like the previous game, half the enemies are just innocent animals doing their own thing - like this penguin. It just walks back and forth - spins in place, then starts walking again.

They can be annoying little buggers in small spaces though and have caused more than a couple of deaths in the past.

Anyone who kills these fellas will not receive my "Seal of approval". They also just go back and forth. Easy enough to ignore. Just beyond that is a pillar that will close as you walk past it. Unless you dawdle, you shouldn't get caught in it.

These ones, on the other hand, are timed. Much like a great philosopher once said "All you need is a little patience". And who would dare argue with Axl Rose?

That's really about it for the level - it's otherwise a bog standard level. Unlike...

Level 3 - Hang Eight

Honestly, I thought the original Hang trilogy was good but I wasn't fan of Hang's 4-7. So how does Hang Eight compare?

Well it's a water level - similar to levels seen in  the original game. Here we can see a piranha having a jolly good time, but remember this advice: "Always avoid partying piranahas!". 

This is a Venus Fly Trap (apparently). We see it as a oversized monstrous plant - it sees us as a marsupial snack. Spin into it before it eats you.

What's this?

AAAAND WE'RE OFF! Crash Bandicoot making his first appearance in the Aboriginal Extreme Sports Tournament and he is off to a great start! He successfully avoids the first set of mines...

...and he's careful not to get caught in the whirlpools. Get too close to them and you'll be sucked in to a dark void never to be seen again. Crash is on course for a great position as long as he doesn't...crash.

We're onto the foot section of the course and now Crash must jump on the Hippo to get to the other side.

He picks up the crystal! Just two more Hippos to jump on and then...

YES! He's back on the jetski! And he's found the boost button! That is a face of a bandicoot who is loving life right now!

But sadly all good things have to come to an how well did Crash do in his first round?

He seems happy enough! 

But what did the judges think...?

Cortex: "Three crystals? Not bad. I see you are getting the hang of it. I need to conserve power. I will communicate with you again after you retrieve the fifth crystal."

Next time: We retrieve the fifth crystal. YEAH!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Quick Review: NarcoGuerra (GameTheNews)

I study Journalism at uni. So naturally the thought of blending journalism and gaming together is incredibly intriguing to me. That is exactly what GameTheNews does - using its games as a platform to teach players a little something about the real world. NarcoGuerra aims to educate us about the war on drugs that is ongoing right now in Mexico. So just how successful was GameTheNews in their mission?

I'll start by explaining the game. We play as the Chief of Police - apparently our jurisdiction is all of Mexico - as we try to force the various drug cartels out of existence.

The police controlled regions are in blue. Any other colour represent another cartel. The number in each region specifies how much units are currently situated there. There are two stages of play - the first is the Support Stage. The menu on the right shows what you can do in this stage - (from top to bottom) Recruit more units, transfer units to another region, Internal Affairs (which will lower corruption in the force) and Intel which you can use on any cartel region with a question mark.

The Attack Phase is where you unleash your attacks. You click on one of your regions which will inform you of where you can attack. Once you've chose your target, just click it and then a battle will commence.

This is what a battle looks like. Three units from the attacker against up to two units from the defender. The attacks are decided by dice rolls - which leads me to my first issue with the game. Battles are luck-based. Whoever rolls the highest wins, unless it's a draw in which case the defence wins. I'm not a big fan of games in which luck is the major obstacle to success - though I can understand that this game is clearly influenced by board games such as Risk so perhaps board game fans could forgive them a little more for this.

Once your attack phase is over it's time for the Cartel to do their thing. They will recruit units and attack other regions just like anyone else. This represents the very real violence that happens in the Mexican Drug Wars - at least 60,000 people have died since December 2006 when the military joined in an attempt to break up the major cartels.

At the end of some turns there are these reports. Some are story based - such as updates on the elections that take place every five turns.

Some are random reports that can have benefits - such as a cash boost or a boost to attack power - or have a negative impact as shown in the image. We can even get optional missions for some extra cash.

As mentioned, every five turns there is an election. Herrera starts the game in charge and is in full support of the war on drugs. Moralas would rather reduce the street price of drugs by legalising them. You can pledge money to either candidate which will sway the votes.

So, the question remains...was GameTheNews successful in blending news with games? To be honest - yes! Yes they were. The game, although not to my particular tastes, is rather fun - though brutally hard in my experience (which again can be pinned on the fact I don't normally play games like this). The main success of the game however came after I stopped playing. The first thing I did was to look up more information about the war on drugs in Mexico - it will also be the first thing I do once I finish writing this review. GameTheNews apparently mirrored real life events within the story and random events in the game and I'm interested to see the parallels.

It's definitely a unique way of delivering the news. Would I recommend to everyone? Nope. If you are interested in world events, journalism or even just want a fun Risk-style game to play - then this would be a game you'd be interested in.

NarcoGuerra is available on both iOS and Android devices (for 69p) as well as a few digital distributors (cheapest I see is Gamersgate where it's 59p). If you are reading this before the 27th of November 2013 - NarcoGuerra is also available in the current Indie Royale bundle.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Quick Indie Game Review: Gravi (Hashbang Games)

Quick Indie Game reviews are when I play an indie game, usually one that's part of a bundle of some sort, for roughly an hour and decide if it's worth playing on or not.
With that said let's look at...
Gravi is a fun game. I could end the review there but that'd be rather lazy on my part so let me tell you more about it. You play a little blue orb who has the ability to move right AND the ability to move left. Oh it can also shoot balls of gravitational energy which Gravi will be pulled towards if he is close enough. It's a physics based puzzle platformer but it is incredible easy to pick up and play...

...but not quite as easy to succeed in. There is a reason there is a deaths counter - as you get further into the game it starts to get very hard. It definitely takes some inspiration from Super Meat Boy - difficult but mostly fair. It's trial and error gameplay, but it treats death as no more than a minor inconvenience - you respawn again in no time at all - so it at least has realism on it's side.

Expect to be burned, electrocuted and impaled on spikes many, many times on your journey. There is a collectable to attain in every level if you want to give yourself an extra challenge. 

The second chapter introduces these gravity pipes - they really do not want to be your friend as they are quite happy to send you straight into all sorts of traps.

At the end of the level you get this screen telling you how well you've done, or in this case, to allow the death counter to mock you with how badly you (or I...) did.
In 45 minutes I managed to get to level 20 - which is the halfway point in the game - there are 40 levels. It is an "Early Release" though, so more features will be added in the future.
Some features have already been added, such as achievements, which are always nice.
So...will I be playing on? Most definitely. This is a fun, challenging puzzle platformer - the levels are short enough that you can pick-up and play if you don't have a lot of spare time. It is clear a lot of effort went into its visuals and the soundtrack is very good too.

If you like the sound of this game then you can pick it up in the Indie Royale's 'Sigma Bundle' for as little as £3.63 (for this and at least six other games), or your region's equivalent price. If the bundle is finished then you can get it off Steam for £6.99 or $9.99.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Quick Review: Chirac

Chirac was a game developed in 48 hours for the 'Art Game Weekend' in France. You play as a six-legged goat - yes, that old cliché again - who has to eat, chew, repel and doom its way to victory. The whole game takes no more than two minutes to complete, it's free and completely browser based - in fact it's right here!

This is all the story you get. It's all you need.

There are four levels: Eat - where you have to run around and eat the various human/horse hybrids that you see. Chew - where you...chew. Repel has you swatting away flying beasties with your tail. Doom - where you have to mash a certain section of your keyboard (though it's not designed with QWERTY in mind, just a heads up).

This is the Chew level. Much like in real life you use one side of the keyboard to control one side of your teeth.

So why am I bothering to talk about Chirac - a game that is so short that I could have played it three times in the time it's taken me to write this so far. Well I'll tell you why - because it's awesome. The graphics are absolutely wonderful - very colourful and cartoony. The music is a fast-paced, thumping tune that matches what it going on-screen perfectly.

Well...I'm not sure ANYTHING could match what is going on-screen right now...

If you're going to play any free browser-based French art game made in 48 hours that only takes about a minute to play today, make sure it's Chirac. It's an...experience, to say the least.

Monday, 28 October 2013

My Top Five "Horror" Gaming Moments

Halloween. For many people it's their favourite day of the year - a chance to dress up as scarily as possible (or at least show a scary lack of imagination) or watch movies that make them jump out of their skin. For me, personally, as much as I like Halloween I'm not a huge fan of "horror" movies or such. Despite this, as a gamer I have found myself being scared, creeped out or simply unsettled by what I am playing. So, in celebration of Halloween I am going to recount my top five gaming "horror" moments.

Now, first of all this is a personal list and thus you may disagree that some of these even count as "scary". Second of all, as I mentioned I'm not a huge fan of horror so most of these are from non-horror games - as such, they are probably scarier for me within the context of the game. Now, without further adieu, let the horror commence!

There will be spoilers...

5) Spider-Man - Monster-Ock

Picture this, you've just defeated Doc Ock and Carnage back-to-back. Spider-Man poses heroically as he begins his "it's all over" monologue when suddenly... 

The result of Carnage's symbiote attaching itself to Doc Ock, turning him into Monster Ock. However, instead of fighting you have to run away from him as Ock's lab starts exploding. What follows is a very tense run (and swing) for your life, as Monster Ock chases you screaming such lovely things as "DIEEEEEEE". A part of the scariness of this boss is being constantly chased and knowing that if Ock catches up - you're dead. Although this section did go on slightly too long, it was for the most part a thrilling way to end one of Spider-Man's greatest video game adventures.

4) Heavy Rain - The Lizard

Heavy Rain revolved around the story of Ethan Mars and how far he would go to save his son. Many of his tasks involve a little sacrifice or risk of death. The Lizard, however, is the one everyone who plays it will remember. You're asked by the origami killer to cut off the top section of one of your fingers, on camera, in order to get the next clue to your son's location. You're given a wide variety of tools to help you do it... 

It's one of the hardest to watch scenes in gaming history. It's made worse by the fact that you have to do it yourself (or at least, move the analogue stick to perform the action). It's not "horror" in the traditional sense but there are very few scenes in video games that are more unsettling.

3) Resident Evil 2 - Start of the Game

I'll be honest, I've not played a lot of RE2. Despite this, I still remember the very start of the game and how tense that was. After the opening cinematic, you're left to fend for yourself. The game isn't saved, you have no healing items and very little ammo. You have to run from most of the zombies, but they are relentless.

Through narrow alleyways, buildings and even an abandoned bus you will have to decide whether to fight or flee the hoarde of zombies. Try to fight them all you'll run out of ammo. Run away from them all and you might miss some useful items. Nowhere is safe until you reach the police station and with it, the first save point of the game. Horror games love to remind you how powerless you are at the beginning of the game, but RE 2 did it better than any other.
2) Metal Gear Solid 2 - Arsenal Gear

This one is definitely a personal moment. I was eleven years old when I first played Metal Gear Solid 2 and I was loving it. It was my first entryway into the Metal Gear series and it was quickly becoming one of my all time favourites. Then I got to Arsenal Gear. Running around as a naked Raiden was funny at first but then I started getting codec (MGS' version of the radio) calls like this: 

Being a rather idiotic eleven year old who did not quite understand the whole "fourth-wall" thing, I did. Embarrassingly, I then had nightmares about this - though the specifics of them I do not remember. Young me simply was not ready for crazy Colonel Campbell and when I did find the courage to play on it didn't get any easier until, as always, Solid Snake showed up to save the day. Even today, I am a little unsettled at this whole section as an aftermath of the effect this had on eleven-year-old me. But ten years on I am a braver man now and I'm not gonna let some silly video game scare me int... 


1) Alan Wake

This one is a bit odd because it's not a particular moment that was the scariest. You see, the main gimmick of Alan Wake was that the darkness is unsafe. Enemies are essentially shadows until you shine your torch on them and make then vulnerable to death. The only times you are safe is when you're in light. So, the reason this is number one is due to the psychological effect this game had on me every time I stopped playing. I tend to play games at the dead of night, just before going to bed. I played Alan Wake every night for a week. I would then go to bed. In the dark. After spending a couple of hours training my brain to fear the dark, it would take me a while to switch back to reality.

Alan Wake is a really good game, but isn't that scary. The game itself calls itself a "Psychological Action Thriller" which is a fair description. However it does a brilliant job in conditioning your brain into fearing the dark and that is why it's my number one "horror" gaming moments - because the rest of the list may have been scary within the context of the game, Alan Wake was the only one (bar MGS 2, which can be explained by me being a child when I played it) that truly affected me out of the game. Kudos, Remedy.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

In Defense of: Wonder Trading (Pokémon X/Y)

The new Pokémon games are bloody fantastic, in my opinion the best since Gold/Silver. However, one of my personal favourite features is also one of the stupidest, silliest and easily-exploitable things in the game. I am, of course talking about the wonderful world of Wonder Trading.

For those who have yet to play it, Wonder Trade is when you put up a Pokémon up for trade and the game will find a random trainer to trade with you. You don't know what you're going to get until you get it. You can probably already see why this would potentially be terrible - there is nothing to stop people from putting in their level 2 scrubs in the hopes of getting something awesome. Most of the time they will get...a level 2 scrub right back (though I've found that I actually get a fairly small amount of low level Bunnelby's and the like).

Wonder Trade can, however, be exploited very easily - there's no limit on how much you can Wonder Trade and this means that if you get something you already have? You can immediately trade it away again in the hopes of something new. If you are patient enough, you will get something decent - or at the very least, something new you've not got yet. It's perfect for collectionists such as myself - but if you're looking for good, strong Pokémon, then perhaps it's not for you (saying that, I've got a few that were around level 50, so it can happen). Chances are you will end up with a fair amount of just hatched out of the egg, level 1 Pokémon, but even these can be beautiful sometimes - I've had a level 1 Bulbasaur and two Charmanders - the second of which I traded for a Froakie - but this isn't really a problem with the Exp Share, you can easily level up your critters without needing to stick them into battle.

The point is, Wonder Trade is a wonderful tool if you want to fill out your Pokédex. If you dislike the randomness of it all, there's always the GTS or even your own friend. It even gives you an insane amount of Poké Miles, which you can use to buy items from a man in the Poké Centre in South Lumiose City - which basically means it's a way to get almost unlimited Ultra Balls and certain other items. It breaks the game if used to it's fullest potential - and that's why I love it! Because it's completely ridiculous in every way possible, yet it's completely optional. It does, however, take away the satisfaction of catching your own Pokémon, especially if you get something from an area beyond where you are. Thus I'm going to stop myself from using it until the end-game and I'm ready to complete my Pokédex. So yeah, Wonder Trading is a completely broken thing, but with enough patience it can be YOUR completely broken thing.  

It's also weirdly funny to send random people Slowpoke's with supremely Scottish names. I wonder how Hamish is doing in Japan?

Friday, 4 October 2013

GTA Online - My Diary

1st of October 2013

I woke up at nine in the morning. It wasn't noon yet, so I went back to bed. The next time I woke it was 1 in the afternoon. It was past noon now, so I got up. I turned on my Playstation 3 so it could update, but I had to get some shopping. It was around two o'clock when I got back to my flat - I turned on the PS3 and it told me that it had updated Grand Theft Auto V. Finally, over a week after finishing the story mode, I could sink my teeth into Online. I'll be honest, I wasn't really expecting to be able to get on, not right away, but what harm is there in trying?

Well, I've tried multiple times now, but still no dice. That's okay, I just bought Kingdom Hearts HD so really, not being able to get onto GTA Online really did me a favour. Time to revisit one of my favourite games from my early teen years!

I'm sure once I'm out of Wonderland Kingdom Hearts gets good, right? Anyway, I have university tomorrow, so I better go to sleep.

2nd of October 2013

I got somewhere! After creating my fourth character, I finally got into Online sort of! At least I got to see the intro cutscene! That's progress! And hey, there's Lamar, I love that guy! Granted, it kicked me out as soon as I tried to play the first race, but surely this is a sign that I'm close!
Okay, this isn't working. Perhaps I just need to go away and come back later and maybe I will finally get on!
 Huh, it still didn't save my character. But why? I got into the intro cutscene! Now I have to create ANOTHER character. And by create, I mean spam the "Random" button until I get a character who looks less like he's just snorted his body weight in cocaine. 
Well, another day, another failure to connect. But hey, I wanted to play more Kingdom Hearts anyway, I'm sure tomorrow will be the day I finally get in!
I'm sure once I'm out of Tarzan's Jungle, Kingdom Hearts gets good, right?

3rd of October 2013

This is the day! I feel it in my bones! I will finally get into GTA Online! I can't wait to do all the stuff I can do in singleplayer, but online! Today will be a good day!

The internet is off in this building. I don't know what to do. How did people cope before the internet age? Help me. I suppose I could go outside? But it's so...outsidey out there! I might get assaulted! I might catch the sniffles! I might get carjacked! I mean, I don't drive - I don't even have a car - but it could still happen! I think I'll just stay inside and stare at the wall until the internet is back up. It'll only take a half hour, surely?

 It's back up! Time to try again! Clearly my time is now! Yes? Yes!

No. I'm still being denied my GTA Online. I've seen the intro cutscene three times now. Lamar's still cool, I guess. I guess I should just be patient, this is the first time Rockstar have done an Online launch of this magnitude. I'll try one more time, and if it doesn't work, then oh well, I won't be angry.

I'm not sure what happened there, but I apologise. I'm sure once Rockstar release their patch tomorrow it will all be okay. I guess I could go back to Kingdom Hearts and try again tomorrow.

I'm sure once I'm finished with Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts gets good, right?
4th of October 2013
The patch is downloaded! This should fix it! I forgive Rockstar, it's clearly not their fault - there was just too many people trying to get on. But now that's settled a bit and the patch is live, surely it's time for me, no?

Really? Another bloody character? Why won't it save the ones I've made. This stupid cutscene AGAIN. SHUT THE FUCK UP LAMAR, YOU FUCKING SUCK AND I HATE YOU AND I HOPE YOU DIE.

Failed to join activity. Please return to GTA Online. There has been an error joining a session, please return to Grand Theft Auto V. Could not play Grand Theft Auto V, please return to reality. There has been an error joining reality, please return to your own fractured subconscious. Waiting for other players......................................
Failed to join your own fractured subconscious, please return to GTA Online.

I'll try one more time.......Nope.
I'll try one more time.......Nope.
I'll try one more time.......Nope.
I'll try one more time.......Nope.

It's just a game, they tell me. Just a game. That's all it is. A game. A GAME! But it won't let me play. And no play means no game. And if there's no game, then what is it? What is real and what is fantasy? Maybe this is a dream and when I go to sleep is when I live my real life. Woah, I've just figured out life! Since this is a dream, there is no consequences, because I'd just wake up and it will all have happened in my head. Yeah, I can do anything! So, what will I do now that I live a life without consequences? Hmm...

I'll try one more time.......Nope.