Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Blue Estate (Xbox One) - Review

Blue Estate is out now on Xbox One and is priced at £11.99.

Blue Estate can be played using either the Kinect or the controller. I played it using just the Kinect, in a desperate attempt to justify its continued presence in the living room, past just being able to bark orders at my Xbox like I do to the unfortunate people that live with me. The Kinect listens to me slightly more than the humans I am in charge of do, but not much more, leading me to want to throw things at it A LOT. So cue me looking like (even more of) a mental case to my neighbours, as I stood wielding my fingers like a gun, looking very much like Mr Bean in the old 1997 movie 'Bean' (see below).

Now I have to be honest...I didn't really listen to the story when it was telling me what was going on. I was too busy closing my curtains and attempting to stop my children howling with laughter at the sight of their mummy looking like an idiot. Blue Estate centres around you, a guy called Tony Luciano, who seems to be a bit of a muppet with a near to the knuckle sense of humour. He has to save girls from mafia bosses. Or something like that anyway. I remember one girl was called 'Cherry Popz'. Yes, really.
It isn't going to win 'Graphics of the Year'

But, and I hope you don't get too mad with me here, it really doesn't matter that I didn't listen to the story. I did consider reloading it and listening intently to the narrative for the sake of this review. But I just didn't see the point. Does anyone really buy an on-rails shooter for the story?! I highly doubt it. You buy an on-rails shooter to have fun, and I had that by the bucket load.

This game will not be everyones cup of tea. I'll be honest it isn't usually mine. But its a bit of fun, and it came out at a time when the market was saturated with super serious AAA titles. It provides a great bit of nostalgia for me, as loading this up I was reminded of playing Time Crisis on my PSX with my dad many years ago. Albeit without the super cool plastic gun. But if you have kids, use one of theirs as a prop. Actually maybe buy yourself one from the pound shop if you don't, as this game works infinitely better with some form of prop.

The movement feels quite natural
As I mentioned I played this game using Kinect, and it worked remarkably well. I recently purchased Kinect Sports Rivals on the Xbox One and had to send it back in the end. The Kinect refused to pick up my really tall six year old son, who was the main reason we had bought the game, rendering it unplayable for him. I have reviewed a few Kinect titles on this blog now, and honestly that was the worst one I have encountered. I always get my son to jump on games I deem fit, so I can garner his opinions on a game too. With Kinect titles I always mention whether there are any difficulties in picking up the smaller members of the family. So I allowed my son to have a quick jump onto Blue Estate. It struggled slightly to pick him up fully, but it did really well and only really struggle with his fingers, meaning we had to go and get one of his Nerf guns to play it with. Then I borrowed it too, and it really was much more responsive with it.

Be warned. THIS is what you will look like. 

A few more modes unlock as you continue through the chapters, giving plenty of opportunity to replay levels. Graphically the game is no great shakes, but neither is it awful. The gunplay I feel works well, and there are movements you have to do to, to pick up items or whatever. All of this is done in a cohesive manner and the way in which you move feels quite natural. But more than anything this game is really fun! Being a downloadable game too means that you can boot it up whenever you feel like it, be it for a good hour long session on it, or a quick 10 minute go on a level. I refuse to believe you won't have fun on this game. The humour misses the mark pretty frequently and I feel like it was just trying to hard to be funny. It didn't need to do that. At £11.99 I don't think this game offers bad value for money, but if you don't feel like getting some use out of your dusty old Kinect, I'd wait for a sale. I think the fun of this game is in being stood up waving your fingers around like a mad-man.

6/10 TRY IT!
A code was provided for the purpose of this review. 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Ziggurat (Xbox One) - Review

Ziggurat is out now on Xbox One priced at £11.99.

Up to now, to my knowledge at least, there have been no other games truly like Ziggurat on the Xbox One. Steam and PSN have rogue-likes aplenty, but this seems to be the first one to come to the Xbox One. I think the closest game to this I have played is Diablo III, although it's not really a rogue-like you can't deny that the repetitive dungeon crawling is very much like that. But Diablo III featured robust customisation, a narrative, the ability to save progress. Ziggurat takes everything I enjoyed about Diablo III back to the very basics...and I love it for that! I feel like this kind of game is a perfect fit for the Xbox One, and it was a game type I was certainly craving for.

The game doesn't take itself too seriously...Carrot Minions!
A little video when you load up Ziggurat shows you the premise of the game. You are a sorcerer that must battle their way through the dungeon of Ziggurat. You will always start on the bottom floor, there are no options to save your progress through the tower and this is part of its brilliance - this game is meant to be enjoyed NOW, picked up when you have a spare five minutes but ending up making you late as you progress further than you thought you would. To get to the next floor you will need to find the portal key for that floor which will summon the floors boss. Beat him and you get to battle through another floor. If you don't manage to make it past the boss (or even get to the boss like I did a few times) then you start right back at the very beginning again. As any good rogue-like should be Ziggurat is procedurally generated, meaning no two games are never the same. Dungeons will be laid out slightly differently. The minions held within may also differ as will the locations of any upgrades and extra weapons for you to pick up.

Bosses are usually a bigger, badder version of a minion
You begin each game with a magic wand and will collect more as you progress. You can carry up to four weapons, all of which spend mana, with some spending it all extremely fast. This means you will have to exercise some control, you can't just nuke everything with the best weapon you have, you will soon find yourself with no mana and a ton of pissed off minions ready to eat your face. The shooting is good though, really accurate, particularly with the magic wand so luckily I never felt too hard done to having to use it. Ziggurat is a game that handles itself really well. It feels perfectly paced and doesn't throw too much choice at you at once. Indeed any customisation is in the form of picking out one card (of two) when you progress, making it really quick and really simple to make your character that little bit stronger.

Ziggurat is a great game. It is simply fun. The minions you come up against aren't always the usual fantasy fare, and include carrots (yes really) and magic mushrooms, but there are skeletons, wraiths and other more traditional enemies to fight too. Ziggurat doesn't take itself seriously, and it is all the better for it. There are a few issues with a drop in frame-rate when certain enemies are killed, but honestly this is easily ignored in the face of such a fun game. I feel like it is one of the first indie games on the Xbox One to be competitively priced, and I can wholeheartedly recommend you pick this one up sooner rather than later.

9/10 BUY IT!
A code was provided for the purpose of this review. 

Friday, 13 March 2015

Riptide GP2 (Xbox One) - Review

Riptide GP2 is out now on Xbox One priced at £3.99.

Yes you read that correctly, an Xbox One game that is less than a fiver! This price point is quite possibly this games largest saving grace. Who can argue with paying less than the price of a McDonald's for a game? Well I can, for one. Even though I do actually believe that this may be the cheapest game available onto Xbox One (is it? Let me know if you find cheaper!) I cannot recommend that you buy it. I am sorry, but let me explain...

I love my readers. I want you to be happy. I want to help you spend your hard earned cash on entertainment that is WORTH IT. And I just can't say that Riptide GP2 is.

Even the tricks can't keep this game interesting.
I believe that the main problem with this game is that it is a port from a previous release onto mobile devices in 2013. Yikes. Now this may work for many games, and indeed it has, but for this it just does;t. It feels like you're playing a mobile game. It is an enormous grind to feel like you're getting anywhere, which I think may be remnants of the free-to-play model on mobile. You have to earn stars to unlock future levels, which many games have pulled off with aplomb but in this it just leaves you incredibly bored. The levels just don't have enough diversity to keep you going. The AI is incredibly fierce in their fight for pole position, leaving you sometimes having to repeat the already repetitive races so as to unlock some more inevitably boring tracks.

You can buy new jet-skis, but they're insanely expensive so you will end up just upgrading your existing ski to the hilt. The numbers count in this game. You need them all to be as high as possible to stand a chance of winning but the upgrade menu (along with the regular menus really) are incredibly non-intuitive making it a drag to do any of the tasks. You can complete tricks in certain parts of the tracks, but even these feel tired.

Overall this is a game that feels like it has already had its day. It feels like a tired old man, desperately trying to compete on the consoles of today. And the sad news is that even at the really low price point it just can't. There is local multiplayer so that accounts for one star below, but there is no online multiplayer, which just seems like a silly decision really. If you are really really missing an arcade style racer then yeah I suppose you should get it, but for anyone else I'd say skip it.

3/10 SKIP IT!
A code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Ori and The Blind Forest (Xbox One) - Review

Ori and The Blind Forest is out now priced at £15.99.

This game starts out with seriously the most captivating, breathtaking beautiful opening sequence ever. And there is NO dialogue. None whatsoever. I cannot honestly remember the last time I was so drawn into a game right off the bat like this. It is simply gorgeous.

The music is sublime, a real joy to listen to. So much so that I have just left the game on in the background whilst I make dinner. It's gorgeous and so so fitting to the game. Its emotive music at its very best and is without doubt better than having a narrative voice for this game.

Upon saying that though, I realise I am mistaken. There is a narrative voice. But it is one that makes no sense without reading the subtitles, that are wonderfully blended into the picture on screen. The story is told by a man with a very deep and lovely voice, who to my untrained ears speaks in complete gobbledegook. But, like everything else in this masterpiece of a game it is divine to listen too. This is a game woven together with such attention to detail it is hard to not fall completely in love with it.

One of the most captivating opening sequences ever
I think you'd have to have a heart of stone to not fall for Ori and Naru. I confess to feeling utterly heartbroken by the end of the opening sequence. Whilst so many games seem to be shunning the idea of creating a lasting relationship between player and character, this game gives you that by the bucketload. It has ALL THE FEELS.

I'm not going to ruin the story for you so lets move onto the gameplay. The beginning of the story sees you playing for a little while as Naru, the big fluffy thing cuddling Ori in the picture below. He moves just how he looks he would. He makes the controls feel a little slow and pretty heavy. This is something you may not notice until you take control of Ori, the little white rodent thingy. My kids took to calling him a rabbit fairy, so I'll go with that. Once you take control of Ori the controls become fast, responsive, bouncy and a little skittish. Just like the animal that you are controlling. Just another little thing that leads to me believing this to be one of the more polished games I've played this year.

The sweetest characters ever
The game is a platformer, albeit a beautifully packaged one, but we all know there's nothing really new to bring to a platformer. Expect to be executing a lot of jumps where you have to get the timing just right, the run up distance just right, or do as I do, which is closing your eyes and praying to the gaming Gods that you'll land Ori on the other side rather than in the pit of spikes awaiting you below. Ori and The Blind Forest immediately reminded of Limbo, and at first I wondered whether this was purely down to the shadowy creatures you can sometimes see at the forefront of the picture. But it isn't just that. This game is a lot about trial-and-error playing, just as Limbo was. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just something to bear in mind if you're not the type of gamer that can deal with multiple deaths. Some parts of this game are really incredibly difficult so you will die.
Gorgeous level design

The game does have a skill tree, which enhances all of Ori's skills once you have earned enough experience. Whilst this does attempt to bring something more to what is essentially a simple platformer I do feel like the game didn't necessarily need it, although it does feel good to see your progression in a succinct way. The Soul Link enables you to save your game at any point as long as you have enough energy to fill one of the little blue balls at the bottom of the screen. This is a great idea, but sometimes I was left having to redo what felt like large parts of the game because I hadn't had enough energy to complete a new Soul Link. Still though this isn't a negative, it just makes you more accountable for your (or Ori's) fate.

I am really struggling to think of anyone who wouldn't like this game. True you may not love it, but I think it'd be really difficult to profess that you dislike Ori and The Blind Forest. It is an amazing game, absolutely gorgeous  and a great Metroidvania style platformer. At £15.99 I would have said it might be bit pricey, but with the slew of games coming out at around the same price point and not offering as much I'd say it is definitely one of the fairer priced games of recent memory.

10/10 BUY IT!
A code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Monday, 9 March 2015

ScreamRide (Xbox One) - Review

ScreamRide is out now on the Xbox One and is priced at £29.99. Yeah, ouch! The price point is one of the main reasons for the slightly lower score given to this game. I feel really strongly about recommending games I feel are worth the money, and this just feels that it's been priced slightly too high, for what is essentially an arcade game. I think it is a dangerous sign of things to come on this gen that there are VERY few games that are less than £10 to download. When we consider that when Minecraft was released on the Xbox 360 at 1600MSP everyone thought that seems a little steep. Just because it hadn't been done before. If I spent 1200MSP on an arcade game I wanted it to be the best thing since sliced bread! So I always try to consider the price the game may have been on last gen before I say that the game offers value for money.

Anyway, let's get on with the review of the game. ScreamRide is fun. Billed as a 'spiritual sequel' to the amazing old PC game Rollercoaster Tycoon, I feel that in my mind at least it was almost set up for a fall. I LOVED Rollercoaster Tycoon. But I loved all the 'boring' things about it, the day to day running of the park, setting admission prices and hiring staff etc. ScreamRide is nothing like that at all. It takes all of that away and actually the only similarities between the two games are that they both contain coasters and you can build your own in a sandbox mode.

ScreamRide instead celebrates certain doom and destruction. There are three main game modes during the campaign - Scream Rider, Demolition and Engineer. Scream Rider sees you take control of a coaster on what is essentially a race track made out of roller coaster. You can use turbo, brake on the corners and lean into the bends to gain more turbo. There are blue parts of the track which sees you have to press a button at a key moment to earn more turbo too. This part of the game is really fun, but does get tired quite easily. The camera angle used is great, and it does feel like you can feel the speed that you're doing. My children watched me play this game and both squealed when we were going round a loop-the-loop or down a hill. You earn stars by completing challenges which range from getting a certain amount of points to derailing your coaster cart a certain amount of times whilst still scoring highly.

Demolition mode is like Angry Birds. You are given a set amount of carts to fire out of a revolving arm at buildings, screens, rings and trampolines. I am usually pretty awful at these types of games, and this game was no different. I struggled like mad to earn any of the commendations so I could progress. My timing is off with throwing the rem, seriously the amount of times I threw the carriage behind me rather than in front is ridiculous. Then if I did manage to shoot it the right way I still managed to miss the screens or whatever. I actually ended up getting my son to do some for me. He is that flukey kind of player that always manages to get a near perfect score when it seems like he is just throwing things haphazardly. He did really well on this game.

Engineer mode is basically a construction mode. You are given an almost complete track and told to finish it. You have to make the track reach certain lengths for the commendations and do so without losing any riders. This mode is really hard to control, or at least I found it to be so. The camera never really seems to go where you want it to go, making it difficult to place your track pieces. And my biggest problem with it is that it all feels pointless. It lacks the all out fun of being destructive for the sake of it, and it lacks the speed and finesse that the Scream Rider mode has. It just feels like it has been placed in for the sake of saying that it is like 'Rollercoaster Tycoon'. It isn't. Sandbox mode is exactly what you expect and might keep you interested for a little bit. But you will have to complete the game to unlock all the cool stuff for inside the sandbox. Without going through at least some of the story you will find it extremely difficult to enjoy sandbox mode.

Overall I feel like this game has priced itself out of the market slightly. It is polished, the graphics are nice and colourful, the music is good and it is fun but it is just too expensive! Priced around £15 and I may have been able to recommend it but for double that it feels like too much for me to say go and spend your hard earned cash on it. Wait for a sale, if it sounds like something you'd enjoy, but if you get bored easily then I'd say skip it.

4/10 TRY IT!
A code was provided for the purpose of this review. 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Tales from the Borderlands Episode One (Xbox One) - Review

Hopefully you all know me enough by now to know I am a massive fan of Telltale Games and all that they do. Well almost all that they do. Because it turns out that I am not a fan of their foray into the world of Pandora.

My favourite Telltale Game by far is The Wolf Among Us. Even now that they have married two of my great loves and made the Game of Thrones episodic, I just can't displace Wolf Among Us from that top spot it so rightly deserves. It is fantastic. Don't get me wrong I have loved the Walking Dead series and I am really enjoying the Game of Thrones one too, but Wolf is the one that I would recommend to anyone new to beauty of a Telltale episodic game.

There is no doubt that the artstyle of Telltale Games lends itself brilliantly to Borderlands. It seemed like a match made in heaven and one that I was eagerly anticipating. But it falls short in many ways. The thing that I, along with many others I expect, love the most about Borderlands is the anarchy. Borderlands is absolutely mental. There are no rules, you run around killing anything and everything and hoping to score some wicked loot. And that is where it's beauty lies - in the simplicity of it. The story is neither here nor there (for me anyway) and I play the game purely for the fun of it. The unparalleled joy of getting a new gun and unloading it into a midget psycho.
You play as this bad ass. And this hapless sap. 

The Telltale episodic misses out on this I feel. The story in it feels kinda lazy too, with you being able to adapt it via your character just telling the tale to the person who has captured you. There are some thrilling moments, but it all feels removed as you struggle to feel anything for the characters you are playing as. I can honestly say I didn't really care what happened to any of them, a real shame as I think it is empathy for a characters situation that drives the Telltale games.

There was a really cool little bit when I had completed the game and skipped the credits. In the same vain that they use in the game when you make a decision that can change the course of the narrative it came across the top that 'Telltale Games will remember that' which did make me giggle.

Overall this game just doesn't work for me. It feels pretty lazy and lacks the emotive writing of Telltale's other offerings. It may get better as more episodes release, but for now I'd say it's safe to skip it until it's in the sale. Grab it in the half price Telltale Collection if they run the offer again and you definitely won't feel robbed. The other games in the collection more than make up for this one.

5/10 TRY IT!
A code was provided for the purpose of this review.