Growing up I spent many hours playing fighting games with my brother and our friends who lived just up the road from us. We only owned a few titles, Street Fighter 2 Turbo being among them, but we’d always try our hand at others when we got the chance to rent them. Killer Instinct was one of our rental favourites, the announcer’s overacting coupled with the weird and wonderful cast kept us entertained for hours on end. I can vaguely remember Killer Instinct Gold but I think it was overshadowed heavily by Goldeneye 007 which consumed the vast amount of time I spent on that console. So of course I was intrigued when I saw it was getting a revamp although, if I’m honest, I never thought to try it until it released on Steam.
Much to my surprise the Killer Instinct you see today is actually a 4 year old game, having been released on Xbox One back in 2013. A free to play version of it was released through the Windows store last year and it was only this year when the Steam version got released. This particular version comes loaded with all the DLC that has been released over the game’s life and also adds support for Windows 7, something the Windows Store version didn’t have. At its core though Killer Instinct is still the same game it was 4 years ago, just with a bunch more characters and few game modes that tempt you to open up your wallet to appease the microtransaction gods.
As you’d expect from a game that was released so long ago the graphics are pretty far behind the mark, even by fighting game standards. Killer Instinct uses Double Helix Games’ in-house HEX engine and is the developer’s third release based on it. The game does manage to look quite good during high action scenes, the high amount of motion blur and other effects culminating in a visual spectacle that feels like what I was seeing back when I was playing the original all those years ago. It’s not all roses though as there seems to be some commands that will freeze the action for a good couple seconds. Whether my PC is to blame for this or not is a question I’ll leave up to the reader but, for comparison’s sake, I had no such issues with Tekken 7.
Reading up on the game’s history it appears that getting into Killer Instinct now means having missed out on a large section of what the game was. When I burled it up for the first time I looked for the standard “fight your way through everyone” campaign mode but none was to be found. Instead I was directed to the Shadow Lords mode which was added in sometime late last year. Looking into it further it seems like the regular campaign missions were part of previous seasons and, as far as I can see, aren’t available to play anymore. It’s a bit of shame since this is supposedly a reboot of the lore of the world, something which I didn’t pay much attention to when I played the original all those years ago.
Killer Instinct manages to feel very familiar, bringing back its trademark fighting style that no game has really attempted to replicate. The game’s simulation engine runs at 90 fps whilst capping the frame rate to 60 fps, ensuring that input lag is kept to a staggeringly low 81ms. This translates into a brutally fast pace, favouring long chain hit streaks and well timed c-c-c-combo (sorry) breakers. The entire original Killer Instinct cast makes a return along with another 18 characters, most of which haven’t featured in any other game previous. Whilst all of them have their own signature moves, power ups and special abilities the game’s construction means that, unfortunately, a lot of them start to feel very similar after a while.
You see if you want to win fights, either in the single player modes or (I assume, more on this in a tick) in multi, you’re going to want to be pulling off long combos. Whilst each character’s opener’s and combos has their advantages/disadvantages (Spinal’s, for instance, being incredibly fast but not particularly damaging) there’s just not as much variety in how the combat plays out. For the most part it goes opener -> combo -> finisher, with a breaker or two in there and maybe a shadow move to finish things off. I’m willing to admit that this view may be born out of the fact that I didn’t spend as long as I used to playing games like this and the mechanical depth might show itself more in the multi.
That, however, is where we run into another issue.
With the game now being 4 years old the player base isn’t as big as it used to be. Indeed the Steam version averages a measly 100ish players at the best of times and, even with cross-play enabled, I could not for the life of me get an online match. Part of the attraction of fighting games is seeing how you match up against others and, like I mentioned in my Tekken 7 review, without that there’s not much to keep you coming back. Sure, the Shadow Lords mode is interesting if you’re into that kind of Roguelike perpetual mission thing, but after grinding that for an hour or so it felt like I was just being pushed to buy some Ki Gold so I could actually get some progression. Had I played this game back when it initially released, either on Xbox One or on the PC, my experience may have been very different.
Killer Instinct captures the essence of what made the original great with it’s lighting fast game pace, ridiculous combos and over-acted narration. Coming in at this point, where the game has been out for nearly 4 years, however feels like coming to a party long after its started to wind down. Reading up on the game’s history shows that much of what I’m seeing now would have been fantastic when it was first released. However today, with a dwindling player base and much of the content no longer available, it feels like a shell of what it could be. Had I still my bunch of fighting game friends I could see the fun extending for a few more hours but even then, without a bustling online community, there is little more to keep you coming back. It’s a shame but, hopefully, the developers have made enough from this instalment to make another. If they do I’ll be sure to be there on launch day as I’d hate to repeat this experience again.
Killer Instinct is available on Xbox One and PC right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC (with a controller!) with a total of 2 hours play time and 2% of the achievements unlocked.
With the holiday season rapidly approaching there’s no shortage of AAA titles to sink your teeth into. It’s at this time of year that people’s allegiances to franchises, developers or publishers becomes clear as they will likely be the deciding factor in what you play, less so the game’s review scores or objective quality. For smaller developers it’s a tough time of year with few even daring to attempt a release within the few months before the holiday rush begins. Comcept and Armarture Studio, both established but small time developers, seem to have no such qualms and recently released ReCore out to the public. Much of the fanfare surrounding this game comes from the designers who brought us Metroid Prime series being involved in the ReCore’s creation and, I believe, the hope for a similar experience.
ReCore is set some 200 years in the future where a disease called the Dust Devil Plague has ravaged humanity. Earth is fast becoming unfit to sustain human life and so an ark project was commenced to resettle humanity elsewhere. Before the first colonists were to arrive however an army of Corebots, autonomous machines that are capable of doing the necessary work to make the new planet habitable, were sent ahead of them. The planet, dubbed New Eden, would then be terraformed over the course of 200 years before the first batch of colonists would arrive. You play as Joule, a kind of care taker sent ahead of the first colonists to ensure that everything is running as expected and New Eden is ready to accept the fleets of colonists that are about to arrive. However you’re awoken from your cryosleep far too early and discover that the world is nothing like you expected it to be.
The dystopian setting of ReCore would lend itself to a drab, muted colour palette but instead you’ll find yourself in a vivid, Borderland-esque world of colour. The style is obviously influenced by the underlying engine (Unity) having that same kind of feel that many games developed on the platform share. It’s certainly one of the better done Unity games out there but the graphics are certainly a few notches below what I’ve come to expect from current generation games. Indeed the engine choice is worth mentioning due to the fact that it’s only available on 2 platforms (Xbox One and PC) with Unity usually being the top choice if you’re targeting 3 or more. Regardless it’s still a decently pretty game, even when you’re in the depths of cave or enjoying the numerous vistas it presents to you.
Where ReCore comes a little unstuck though is in the lack of focus in the mechanics that it throws in front of you. ReCore bills itself as a third person platformer and most of the puzzles and challenges are built around that idea. It also incorporates RPG elements in the form of a levelling system for both you and your companion, loot that drops freely from mobs, chests and bosses and gear upgrades created through a rudimentary crafting system. Combat is a rudimentary 3rd person shooter, lacking any kind of cover mechanics but retaining the now traditional infinitely regenerating health system. The best way to describe it would be as a 3rd person, single player version of Borderlands with platforming thrown in the mix. For some that’s likely to be a draw card however the game quickly runs out of steam as you plough through it with many of the initially interesting mechanics becoming tedious and repetitive after a while.
Combat is a great example of this. Your enemies will be one of 4 different colours and you’ll have to change your weapon’s colour in order to do the most amount of damage to them. Then once you’ve done enough damage to them you can extract their cores through a quick time event, netting you some materials you can use to boost up your companion. However if you do choose to do that you won’t get any of the other type of crafting material, so you have to know what you need before you go venturing out. The problem with the combat system is that none of the fights really play out any differently, most of them consisting of you running away while you get pot shots in and your companion does a good deal of the heavy lifting. Combine that with the core extract mechanic which does not change at all over the course of the game and you’ve got a recipe for very repetitive combat that is not engaging at all. This wouldn’t be so bad if you could clear areas out but all enemies will respawn anew if you leave the area. Suffice to say combat isn’t ReCore’s strong suit.
ReCore does commit what I deem to be the unforgivable sin of showing you things you can’t get to yet, forcing you to re-explore places you’ve already been to once you unlock that particular upgrade. Indeed the worst aspect about this is that you can’t bring all those upgrades with you, ReCore limiting you to 2 bots you can bring with you at any one time. This, again, necessitates you going back and forth to your home base to make sure you’ve got the tools you need to complete a particular section. At the very least the actual platforming is done relatively well, allowing you to explore vast swaths of the world if you know how to exploit the mechanics well enough. For some this might be enough to save the game since so much is built around it but for me it just wasn’t enough, the numerous jumping puzzles just feeling tedious more than anything.
The upgrade system is a little hit and miss as whilst you and your companion level up the main character’s level doesn’t really seem to affect much of anything. The game informs you that Joule’s gun has levelled up but there’s no abilities or upgrades unlocked because of it. Crafted upgrades for your companions will require them to be a certain level however which does provide a modicum of progression but I feel like it should’ve been extended to Joule as well. As it stands the only way to really feel like you’re getting anywhere is to seek out the blueprints for you companions upgrades and that will mean grinding dungeons repeatedly to unlock all the chests since most of them can’t be acquired in a single hop through.
ReCore can only be had through the Windows Store currently and thus it’s a Windows Universal App, bringing with it all the challenges that the platform currently has. Purchasing the game was a bit of a nightmare requiring me to dig through regional settings and other internals Windows settings so that the store would actually let me buy the damn game. I also had a few occasions where the game started up without sound and would only restore it if I alt-tabbed and the switch-to back to it. That’s not to mention the numerous issues it had with being alt-tabbed in the first place, something which I think all gamers feel is a based requirement for any modern game. Thankfully the game itself ran error-free once I got in but the initial experience didn’t endear itself to me.
The story is ReCore’s redeeming feature however the core game just never gives it enough opportunity to shine. Even though I only managed a meagre 5.5 hours in the game I still felt like I’d been playing for far too long, the little snippets of story here and there just not enough to sustain me through the drudgery of the core game. The characters are believable and voice acted well, your companions each have their own distinct personalities and the larger world that’s built up is intriguing, begging you to find out more. It’s a shame really as I’ve played many games to conclusion just because of their story but unfortunately for ReCore it simply wasn’t enough.
ReCore captivated me initially on concept alone, the fact that Metroid Prime people were working on it wasn’t even factored into my decision to buy it. Initially it was a great experience, the various mechanics and progression systems giving me a lot to sink my teeth into. However that rapidly descended into a repetitive experience, the core things that made it great done over and over again until they sucked all the fun out of them. Overall I’d say ReCore was a competent but confused game, one that could have been a lot better if it focused on a few core aspects rather than the smattering it ended up with. I wanted to like Recore, I wanted to play more than I did, but I just couldn’t be bothered to spend anymore time with it when there were so many more promising games on the horizon.
ReCore is available on PC and Xbox One right now for $39.99 on both platforms. Game was played on the PC with 5.5 hours of total play time and 64% of the achievements unlocked.
The links between games and other forms of media have always been…cumbersome. Movie tie-ins are that first that come to mind and are often derided as being low-quality cash grabs. Similarly games that included full motion video (like the Crusader series) were met with criticism, often for their relatively low budget and quality of acting. However those perceptions haven’t stopped those kinds of games from being developed and indeed many games, like Defiance, sought to expand on the idea further. In similar vein Quantum Break, from Remedy Entertainment, attempts to integrate an episodic TV show with a player-controlled narrative. Whilst the mix-media approach has definitely come a long way there are numerous unfortunate decisions which marred the overall experience that Quantum Break was aiming to provide.
You are Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore) brother of renowned physicist William Joyce (Dominic Monaghan) and long time friend of Paul Serene (Aidan Gillen) a prominent businessman. You haven’t spoken to either of them in years however as you’ve been travelling the world, getting yourself into all sorts of trouble. Then out of the blue Paul contacts you and arranges for a first class flight back home. He needs your help but he won’t tell you what for. The events that unfold from that pivotal moment when you arrive back home will change the course of time as we know it, with you at the centre.
There’s no denying that Quantum Break is an extremely pretty game, making use of every inch of computing power you can throw at it. Unfortunately the film grain effect can’t be switched off meaning that no matter how high you crank the graphics there will always be a little fuzz everywhere. Additionally, due to the fact that it’s a Universal App (only available on the Windows store, which I’ll get into more later) there’s a few graphics options that will either not work or cause major issues. G-SYNC appears to cause it to use software rendering only as my graphics card reported a mere 7% usage when it was on. Disabling it however allowed Quantum Break to flex its muscles a little more although I did have to tone down a few settings in order to get it to run properly. This is even after the massive patch that was released so there’s still some work left for Remedy to do to make Quantum Break run a lot smoother.
From a core mechanic perspective Quantum Break is a 3rd person, cover-based shooter that integrates a whole host of abilities centred around time. You’ll be able to freeze enemies in place, blow them up and zip your way around the battlefield. You can carry a maximum of 3 guns, one of each type (pistol, regular and heavy). There’s also a few time based puzzles that will need solving although they only use a few of the half dozen abilities you’ll be imbued with. You’ll also have a decent amount of sway over how the story progresses which, interestingly, have a direct impact on events in the show. Most of these come in the form of major decisions made at critical points however there are collectibles around the world which will change the show in small and sometimes incredibly amusing ways. So at its roots Quantum Break might be exactly revolutionary but it does manage to do many things well that others have done badly in the past.
Seasoned shooter players will likely find little challenge in Quantum Break’s combat as the treasure trove of abilities, especially when they’re upgraded, make you almost invincible. After about halfway through the game the only way the game challenges you is by throwing more of the same kinds of enemies at you which doesn’t really ramp up the challenge significantly. The only real challenge is ensuring you have enough ammo for the gun you like as the amount you can carry for most guns is ludicrously low. If you’re so inclined you can mix things up a bit by using the various environmental traps however it’s usually easier to just take out enemies directly. Suffice to say that Quantum Break doesn’t really trend much new ground with its core mechanics but I get the feeling that was largely intentional.
If you’ve been reading much of the news around Quantum Break you’ve likely heard about how broken the release is and, unfortunately, my experience was no different. Buying the game in the Windows Store was a true pain as the download would seemingly stop and start randomly. As it turns out it was pre-allocating the disk space, something it couldn’t do at the same time it was downloading it (Steam has managed to solve this problem, however). The aforementioned G-SYNC issue was the cause of much frustration as was the various issues induced by the games varied performance, even with the frame rate cap on. Whilst other games have shown that being a Universal App doesn’t have to be a bad thing it certainly hasn’t helped Quantum Break. Whilst there has been a commitment to iron out most of these issues in future updates in July that does little to help the problems happening now. That and the fact that everyone will still want everything on Steam anyway.
The mixed media approach of Quantum Break is done quite well with big name actors gracing both the in-game and television series world. Whilst the story is little more than your usual sci-fi doomsday scenario guff having a little influence over what happens in the show is a nice touch. The little collectibles, like the audio book you can play over the radio (which then happens in the series), are a real nice touch too. I have to take points off for the ending screaming “HEY SEQUEL” so loudly that it hurt my ears however, as that’s the one unforgivable sin that any story teller can make. Overall I think Quantum Break shows that game/movie/tv series hybrids can work, they just need the same level of investment and polish on both sides to make the whole experience work well together.
Quantum Break evokes a time long gone past, when full motion videos in games were a novelty and production budgets were low. Instead here we have a game that’s staffed by big name actors and large production budgets. The game is nothing new, mixing together power ups and cover based shooting to give us an experience that we’ve likely all seen before. The TV show, and its integration with the events in the game, are done well enough that I feel that Quantum Break largely achieved the goals it set for itself. However the overall experience is marred by technical issues, some of which stem from the fact that it’s on Microsoft’s new Universal App platform. Overall it’s a good but not great experience, one that’s worth a look in if you’ve got a craving for the mixed-media experiences of years gone by.
Quantum Break is available on XboxOne and PC right now for $79 and $59.99 respectively (Only on Windows Store for PC). Game was played on the PC with approximately 9.5 hours of total play time and 93% game completion.
Many games have sought to catch some of Telltale’s success by emulating their trademark brand of story-first games. For the most part this comes in the form of copying the core mechanics, usually with regards to the dialogue choices and the quick time based action sequences. Few however have attempted to emulate the cel-shaded comic book style as most of them have their own art direction that they want to pursue. D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die appears to be an almost blow for blow recreation of the Telltale style, down to the art direction, however the similarities really are only skin deep. Whilst I admit I decided to play this to lambaste it for its almost shameless imitation the actual experience was something I didn’t expect, a rare occurrence for this humble writer.
You are David Young, former detective with the Boston Police Department and recent widower to his beloved wife; Little Peggy. The tragic incident that took his wife away left him with an amazing gift, the ability to travel back in time to see the past as it happened. He can’t do this at will though, only through the use of objects that hold some significance to the past, but those mementos are what he needs to achieve his real goal: to find “D”. Before she died Little Peggy told David to look for D and so David left the BPD to pursue this elusive character in the hopes he can unravel the mysteries behind her murder.
As I alluded to earlier D4 emulates the Telltale style of games by using cel-shading to make everything look like a cartoon. Like most games that make use of this stylization it works well for the most part however every so often the 3D world just doesn’t interact well with with it, leading to some rather weird moments. Probably the biggest stand out of this is the incessant bubble gum blowing that the main character does which just looks silly, especially when his lips don’t move the whole time he does it. It also doesn’t look too great up close, something which becomes painfully apparent when the game zooms up on a character’s face for whatever reason. Overall though the visual quality feels above average, even if I include the venerable Telltale games in the mix.
Like nearly all games of a similar style D4 is an adventure/puzzler, putting you in various cordoned off rooms with dozens of objects to interact with to solve the current objective in order to progress to the next section. It may not seem like a lot at first however once you get to the end, which displays your completion level, it becomes clear that there really is quite a lot hiding in every room of D4. These additional objects are usually things that will flesh out the backstory of the various characters in D4 whilst some will unlock non-gameplay impacting collectibles like new clothes for the characters. There’s also a quick time event based combat system which gets engaged during high tension moments, something which most gamers lament but actually felt relatively well implemented. Finally there’s skerricks of a RPG style progression system in the game in the form of stamina (used when you interact with objects), life (lost when you fail a quicktime event) and vision (used to identify things you should interact with) all of which can be improved with the right clothing or finding a certain collectible. This all adds up to a game which, if you so wish it, has quite a lot of replayability about it or can simply be played from start to finish for the story without a care for the rest of it.
The puzzles are pretty straight forward since there’s no inventory to speak of, meaning that they can all be solved by simply clicking on enough things and stumbling through the right dialogue options. If you’re paying attention you can skip quite a lot of the fluff however doing so can rob you of important pieces of backstory that help to flesh out your character’s motivations and those of others around him. For the most part though if you take the typical “click on all the things” approach that most of these kinds of games encourage then you’re likely to stumble across all the pertinent plot points without too much worry. Even if you miss them you can go back and replay the episode again which won’t take long if you know exactly which buttons to press.
Mechanically D4 plays well for the most part however the quick time detection seems a little off at some points as the achieved “sync rate” can be a little random. I’ve had times when I completely fumbled it and got 100% whilst other times I’ve done it perfectly (or so I thought) and gotten 50%. This mostly happened on the diagonal ones so I figure there’s something a little wrong in the detection algorithm for that particular quick time event. There’s also almost no way to tell how to “stay in character” with the dialogue options in order to get 100% sync as most of them seem in line with what David would say, just some are more or less dickish than others. There might be some kind of hint or mechanic that I didn’t fully understand that makes this a lot clearer but unfortunately for me I just didn’t figure it out.
D4’s story starts out incredibly weak as it has a really confusing blend of elements (supernatural powers, a detective with amnesia, a person who acts like a cat for some inexplicable reason) that don’t seem to gel well together. However over the course of the first 2 episodes that come with the initial game most of them start to make sense and the story really starts to pick up as you uncover more clues to the events that happened prior to the game. Like most episodic games it feels unfair to judge the game based on just a fraction of the whole story but D4 at least has one of the stronger foundations on which to build upon so it will be interesting to see where the developers take it from here.
It would be so easy to write off D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die as a simple Telltale clone however the game comes into its own over the course of the first two episodes. Sure it may not be the graphical marvel that many other games might be, nor is its quick time event system completely satisfactory, but it does provide a rather enjoyable experience. Whilst the director doesn’t know how many episodes the story might have suffice to say there’s easily enough build up for at least a full season and hopefully those episodes are forthcoming sooner rather than later. If you’re a fan of the Telltale style of games then you won’t be disappointed with D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die.
D4 : Dark Dreams Don’t Die is available on PC and XboxOne right now for $14.99 and $19.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total playtime of 3 hours with 42% of the achievements unlocked.
The simplicity of 2D platformer games must be really liberating for developers, especially small time independent ones. I say this because it seems that I’ve played a lot of games this year that fit into that genre and the amount of innovative game ideas that I’ve seen has really surprised me. These were the titles I grew up on and they were, for the most part, usually a small variation on the original Duke Nukem idea. One thing I didn’t expect was the introduction of stealth based game play something which has traditionally been contained to 3D games. Mark of the Ninja blends stealth along with puzzle solving and platforming to form a pretty unique game experience, one that doesn’t really have anything that I can directly compare it to.
Unlike most ninja games which take place in feudal Japan Mark of the Ninja is set during present day. You, an unnamed ninja, were receiving your first tattoo which would grant you special powers when you passed out. A short while later a fellow ninja, named Ora, wakes you up as the ninja stronghold is under attack by a security agency headed by a man named Karajan. After rescuing your fellow ninjas as well as your master, Azai, you’re then sent on a mission of vengeance against Karajan for the atrocities that he committed against your clan.
Mark of the Ninja has a style to it that’s reminiscent of all those flash animations of yesteryear but there’s a level of refinement about it that many of those lacked. The cut scenes for example feel like they came straight out of a professional animation house and wouldn’t be out of place in any cartoon you’d see on a Saturday morning. There’s also incredible amounts of detail everywhere from the interactive area which is littered with all sorts of things to the backgrounds which are done exceptionally well. This blends exceptionally well with the music and foley which provides a very detailed soundscape to compliment the impressive art work.
Mark of the Ninja is primarily a stealth game and its implementation in the 2D, platformer world is quite an interesting one. For starters unlike most 2D games Mark of the Ninja includes a line of sight mechanic which forms a big part of any stealth game. This means that you’ll spend the vast majority of your time walking between shadows, dodging guards where you can, so you can either sneak up behind guards and dispatch them quickly or just move on leaving them none-the-wiser. If it so pleases you though you can go toe to toe with every guard you meet however and there are some sections which will be far easier (and quicker) should you choose to do that.
Initially you start off with only a few tools at your disposal, namely your sword and bamboo darts that can be used to take out lights and other fixtures. As the game progresses you unlock additional abilities and equipment that allow for a much wider range of actions, enabling you do things like terrify your enemies by laying spike traps or dangling corpses from the room for all to see. All these options will mean that your play through is almost guaranteed to not be the same as anyone else’s as there just so many ways to go about doing the same thing.
Indeed that seems to be the whole point of Mark of the Ninja. Whilst it is primarily a 2D stealth platformer it also has many elements of a puzzler/exploration game as there are many rewards to be found by simply taking the least obvious path. I can’t tell you how many times I found artefacts/scrolls by going in the wrong direction or moving blocks in random ways. If you’re persistent enough too the most laborious of challenges can usually be circumvented by finding a path that leads around it or simply puts you behind the guards that were blocking your path. Mark of the Ninja then is a game that rewards the player for being curious but thankfully forgoes punishing you severely if you don’t.
The upgrade system bears mentioning as how many upgrades you can afford depends directly on: how many challenges you complete, your overall score and how many of the hidden scrolls you uncover. For each of these there are a potential 3 tokens up for grabs giving you a total of nine for each level. These can then be spent on various upgrades that either give you new abilities/equipment or upgrades to the ones you currently have. Depending on what you get this can completely change the way you play the game, especially if you combine these upgrades with one of the costumes which will grant you several benefits (usually at the cost of one particular trait).
This is usually the point where I mention any bugs or glitches that detracted from my game play experience but I’m pleased to report that there doesn’t seem to be any. Sure there were times when my character acted in a way I didn’t expect but its hard for me to blame the game for that as I get the feeling it was more me fat fingering the keys rather than the game engine wigging out on me. I did have some rather awkward checkpoint moments where it’d place me into locations that I hadn’t yet explored when reloading (which was actually great sometimes) putting me in rather precarious situations but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.
The story of Mark of the Ninja is also quite well done, especially considering it forgoes the usual ninja setting and instead brings the whole ninja idea into modern day. Whilst I didn’t really feel the levels of emotions like I did for things like To The Moon it certainly didn’t suffer from issues like poor voice acting, irrational characters or glaring plot holes like plagued other titles I’ve played recently. I will admit that I’m yet to finish it (I believe I’m on the second last mission) so I’m not sure about the ultimate conclusion but from what I’ve heard from my other friends they weren’t disappointed with it, so it has that going for it at least.
Mark of the Ninja effortlessly combines all the best aspects of 2D platformers with stealth game play to form a game that makes you feel like the ultimate ninja whilst still providing an incredibly satisfying challenge. The graphics are superbly done, the sound track excellent and above all the core game play is immensely satisfying. I could go on but really for a game that’s asking price is so low compared to its quality I’d rather just recommend you go out and play it since it’s really worth a play through.
Mark of the Ninja is available on PC and Xbox360 right now for $14.99 and an equivalent amount of Xbox points. Game was played on the PC with around 6 hours of total game time and 43% of the achievements unlocked.
The number of games that find success on one platform and then spread to others has trended upwards significantly over the past couple years. If I was to hazard a guess as to why this is I’d have to say that the tooling available is probably the primary reason as many of the games that make the transition are Xbox Live Arcade titles. For that we can thank the Microsoft XNA framework which does a lot of the heavy lifting for the developers meaning that the only thing holding back a cross platform release is reworking the UI/controls for a different platform. That’s still a challenge which is why you don’t see every single XBLA game instantly on the PC but even a modicum of success will usually mean a PC release not long after. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is one such title having found wild success late last year and then debuting on the PC this year.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (I’m going to abbreviate this to ITSP from now on) takes place in a far off galaxy in a solar system inhabited with a highly advanced race of aliens. Everything seems peachy until a tangled black mass rockets through their home system, eventually crashing into their sun. Instead of being instantly vaporized however it appears to take over the sun itself, forming a kind of Dyson Sphere around it. Then it launches several other replicants of itself at all the planets in the system that perform much the same function as the original asteroid did. You then take it upon yourself to rid your solar system of this menace, jumping in your hilariously stereotypical UFO and heading out with nothing much more than a scanner and a vendetta.
Right off the bat ITSP sets itself apart from all the other 2D puzzlers I’ve played recently by having some incredible cinematic direction. Whilst games like Unmechanical did the majority of their story telling through the game itself ITSP does quite a bit in some incredibly well directed cutscenes. Indeed the initial plot summary I gave you above all takes place within one such scene and everything about it, from the choice of artwork to the awesomely epic soundtrack, just made it feel like it was ripped directly from a high budget animated movie. That artistic style continues on throughout the game and it’s probably one of the most enjoyable things about ITSP.
ITSP brands itself as a “multi-directional shooter” however I feel like it’s far more appropriately classified as a 2D puzzler with shooter aspects. While you will spend a good amount of time firing at all the various enemies that will try to get you in all sorts of random ways the majority of your time will be spent solving some kind of puzzle. They’re not mutually exclusive things either as quite often you’ll be force to try and solve some kind of puzzle whilst under fire from all directions making what would be a simple encounter much more challenging. The two core game mechanics blend well together making for both exciting and challenging game play.
Initially you start off with just a few simple tools with which to complete your tasks. The first tool you’re given is a scanner which allows you to investigate objects in ITSP and then get a visual cue as to what you need to do in order to interact with it. This is extremely helpful as if you get stuck on at a particular stage you’re usually only a couple scans from working out what the intended solution is. Of course there are still some puzzles that are non-obvious even with those little clues but suffice to say that it serves well as a built in hint system that doesn’t feel like the answers are being handed to you on a plate.
As you progress on the tools you have at your disposal increase with every passing section leading to more and more complicated puzzles. In all I believe there were a grand total of 8 different tools at your disposal each of them with a unique ability that unlocks another section of the ITSP map. You’ll often find yourself flying past obstacles that you can scan but don’t yet have the tool to access it giving you a kind of foreboding as to what is to come later on.
The puzzles are, for the most part, quite well done as there’s a good balance between challenge and progression. Indeed if you’re struggling with a particular puzzle or boss fight then its usually because you’re not understanding the mechanics properly or you’re going about it in a really odd way. There are some challenges that are far less fun than others (I’m looking at you, rocket in a maze where you can’t hit the walls) but I didn’t often find myself stuck on a particular section for long which made the game feel a lot better paced than some other games in similar genres.
ITSP does have a few glitches that I believe are worth mentioning however. So to the developer’s credit they included a map that helps you navigate your way around ITSP, which is good. However should you go into said map whilst you’re holding something in the claw tool or holding a key down you will drop said object or that key you were holding down will stop working. It’s not game breaking but it is rather annoying when you’re in the later stages of the game where you’re required to drag an item along with you all the time and there’s not a lot of light so you have to keep checking your map to make sure you’re going in the right direction. Yes I know that you can use the power wheel thing to get a direction queue but that has the unfortunate side effect of changing whatever tool you had equipped at the time which can be deadly if you do it at the wrong time.
The physics are also a little wonky for some of the challenges, the most notable being the one above. Again it’s not game breaking but trying to get those damn crystals into the holes (or indeed anything that requires a little precision) is fraught with difficulties. ITSP does have a rudimentary snap-to system which works for something but not others and the crystals in the ice stage appear to be one of the things it doesn’t work for. It might make sense when you’re using a controller however I don’t know anyone who’s played this on the Xbox so I’m not completely sure of that.
The boss fights are equal parts fun and challenging with each of the bosses being unique in their own weird way. The one above was probably the most challenging boss fight of the lot as one mistake or slip up could easily see your ship ruined long before you had enough time to react. They were a very good way to break up the relative monotony of flying around, solving puzzles and looking for hidden stashes and it’s something that a lot of similar games forego because they simply can’t be worked in well. ITSP however does a very good job with them and they were definitely my favourite combat challenge.
ITSP’s story is a simple affair when taken on face value and really I’m not sure if there’s much more depth intended by the developers. Sure there are many themes that you could say are explored (invasion, uprising, etc.) however since there’s no real backstory or explanation behind the vast majority of things that happen within ITSP I can’t say that I was playing it for the plot. Thankfully it doesn’t matter that much as the game play and cinematic quality of ITSP carries it without the need for an in depth storyline.
ITSP was one of those unexpected gems that I came across by chance when I was in a hurried state looking for the next week’s game review. It’s cinematic cut scenes are a joy to watch, it’s game play is fun and varied and there are only a few issues that detract from it overall. Its short length also make for a good Sunday afternoon distraction that doesn’t drag on unnecessarily. If you’re a fan of 2D puzzlers or shooters or just enjoy a well crafted game then I can’t recommend ITSP enough as it really is just damn good fun.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is available right now on PC and Xbox360 for $14.99 and 800 Microsoft points respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 3.6 hours of total game time.