Forma.8 Review (Switch) – “Explore Your Patience”

Forma.8 is an exploratory puzzler of sorts by indie developer MixedBag. Originally available on Steam and other home consoles, it has finally made its way to the Nintendo Switch. The added availability of portability with the Switch accompanies this game well, but is it enough of an incentive to pick it up?

You’re introduced to the game with a rather short but simple cutscene. You play as a mechanistic droid, one of many, who’s only mission it seems is to explore and gather information on an otherwise uninhabited planet. You soon find out that there is quite a bit of life on this planet, as well as a few secrets. Besides the opening cutscene, there isn’t much the game does to hold your hand. You quickly learn how to “attack” via a short range radial burst of energy and you’re sent on your way to explore.

Forma.8 attempts to seem simple at the beginning, letting you find your own way and discover things for yourself. While in theory this works well, in actuality it may turn away a few players at the beginning. Personally, diving into the unknown is something I do quite a bit in games – I prefer the “true” experience actually. However, Forma.8 might benefit from a little more hand-holding at the beginning. I wandered around for a while with no clear direction or objective, I was just exploring. Taking in the simplistically beautiful environments and letting my mind wander with the underlying musical score. I really enjoyed this. After all, that was my purpose. It wasn’t until I realized what my goal was that I came to the conclusion that I would have to backtrack through everything I had just explored in order to reassess my surroundings, and approach the areas with my new found knowledge. This was far too tedious for even my liking.

The majority of your time in Forma.8 will be driving your small circular metal body around, trying not to crash into walls or get attacked by the fauna and flora. If you get hurt, it’s really not a big deal as there is health, as well as enemies who drop health, everywhere. The game is split into rooms of varying sizes. Some you can spend quite a bit of time in, others are just there for connections. However, all of them seem to have one thing in common: loading times to get in. On the Switch at least, loading into each room would take a few seconds, up to 15 at one point. Followed by frame stuttering upon entering areas, this really drew away from the experience; especially considering none of the rooms, as minimal and pretty as they are, should take any time to load on a modern day system.

Occasionally, you will stumble across a puzzle which can vary in difficulty. Often you’ll find racing puzzles, requiring you to tag glowing spheres before a timer is up, thus opening doors. You’ll also come across slightly more complex puzzles, as well as “boss fights”, which are essentially just stressful puzzles and highlight some of the game’s finer moments. If it weren’t for the small number of actions you’re limited to, in combination with the floaty movement of your little drone, many of these would be fairly easy.

When you solve these puzzles or defeat certain enemies, you are often presented with one of two types of collectibles. One is a nut (hardware… come on) and the other is a key. The nuts are for… well best you find out for yourself. The keys open the multitude of doors strewn throughout the various rooms in the vast world. The first half of my playthrough was severely limited on finding either of these. Sporadically, I would find nuts but only when the game wanted me to would I find a key. This severely limited my exploration and at multiple times became increasingly frustrating. At one instance, it was rage quit inducing upon realizing I had to traverse the entire world back through just to progress again. Some of this could have been avoided if the value of the collectibles were presented a little earlier in the game, but it also would have ruined some of the mystery of it.

Overall, the game plays rather slowly and can be monotonous. The minimalistic, colorful backgrounds and music have a Sound Shapes vibe to them that I thoroughly enjoyed, but it wasn’t enough to keep my playing for long periods of time. In reality, I enjoyed this game much more in the Switch’s handheld mode during travel. The slow pacing was perfect for travelling, when I may need to pause at any moment and pick it back up again. While docked, I constantly found myself thinking I could be playing something else that held my attention a little better. The puzzles are fun and some may take a moment to contemplate, but nothing really held me up and they are spaced somewhat infrequently when they really should have taken precedent, as there isn’t much else to do in the world. The game is only $10, but unless you commute frequently, I would wait for it to drop in price a bit before picking it up. It’s not a game you can pick up and beat in one setting, but that doesn’t mean it’s long either.

Overall Score: 5.5 out of 10 = Wait for a price drop…

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Forma.8! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Review (PS4) – “Enter Madness”

Developed by Ninja Theory (Devil May Cry 2013, Heavenly Sword), Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice tells the tale of a young Pict (think Celtic) warrior who travels into Norse Hell to beg for her deceased lover’s soul back. His head, strung around her waist and wrapped in burlap, is a constant reminder of her loss and motivation. From the beginning this literal symbol sets the tone of the journey as we witness this round bag begin to take form of a skull and “breathe”. You see, Senua is not a normal warrior, due to the trauma she has undergone, she is forced to live with symptoms of severe psychosis. Ninja Theory uses this story as an attempt to de-stigmatize the culture surrounding psychosis and shed some light on what people who suffer from this ailment have to live with. So, does Hellblade deliver the innovative and delicate package in an enjoyable game, while simultaneously educating its player base? Or will it make you go mad just attempting to comprehend the complexity of it?

Story: 4/5

Luckily for us, Ninja Theory has indeed accomplished their quest to not only provide us with an incredible game, but properly portray mental health issues in a medium that has not really been utilized before. Hellblade puts you inside of Senua’s mind from the beginning. You start by cautiously rowing down a dark, eerie river and though you can see no one besides Senua, you hear voices – many voices. Some are encouraging, some are scared, and some mock you. This goes on for a good few minutes until you finally reach your destination. By the time you disembark your hand-crafted boat, the voices are already permeating into your own personal thoughts and you become quickly emerged into Senua’s way of thinking. She is scared but determined, and as one of the voices tells you to turn back, you push the boat away, out of reach, and you know that you are now fully committed to the task.

Senua’s journey starts her at the gates of Hellheim, Norse mythology’s depiction of Hell. They are locked and therefore you must travel to the two gatekeeper’s lands in order to defeat them and unlock the gate. Before you can advance too far, you are rushed by a number of demons who would thwart your efforts to enter the land of the dead. During this, you are presented with a very interesting mechanic. Considering Senua’s mental state and the strain of the tasks that fall before her, Ninja Theory has given the player a way of monitoring her mental degradation in a visual way by creating what is simply called “the Rot”. A grotesque depiction of her ailment is emblazed on her right arm. Brown and oozing, as flesh melts away it slowly eats at her, growing up her forearm to her neck and eventually her head. The game specifically and blatantly states what will happen if you let the Rot devour Senua by dying too many times: Senua will be consumed by it, perish, and your entire progress will be lost (or will it?). This instantly creates a feeling of anxiety in the player to match that of Senua’s. The constant reminder that too many mistakes will cost you everything is all too real and intense, and instills an incredible ongoing experience.

Upon venturing to the first gatekeeper’s land, your host of voices are joined by another, Druth, who helps guide you and keeps you moving forward. He acts as Senua’s reasoning and persistence by helping her make sense of the world. Senua’s entire journey is symbolic in many ways and the gatekeepers are a fantastic way to display this. One represents Senua’s physical suffering. As you traverse the scorched, scarred and barren wastelands of this region you are reminded of not only her own anguish, but of those around her; those she lived with and watched die. The atmosphere of this adventure evokes a feeling of helplessness, guilt and pain.

The other keeper represents Senua’s mental suffering. Illusions and hallucinations fill this area to give you a paranoid feeling that at any time, from any place, something is going to come after you. By the end of this section, you feel you can no longer trust anything you see, perfectly embodying what Senua herself would be seeing.

Upon opening the gate and venturing into Hellheim, you are presented with a feeling of accomplishment and assurance that you may actually be able to do this. You are then knocked down a few pegs and a new voice emerges to cast doubt upon your every action. “The Shadow” as he is called, has a terrifying air about him and will take any chance to demoralize you and berate you. Senua must learn to press forward with all of these conflicting voices in her head as she struggles not only to physically continue, but to build up the courage to do so as well. The journey becomes more difficult as she progresses and with every gripping cutscene you experience, you become more and more attached to her until her story becomes yours.

Laid out along your path in the story are objects called “lorestones”. They are treated like collectibles, but only a few are truly difficult to miss. They give insight to Senua’s Norse religion and world; how things are explained by her people and why certain beings are present, as well as any lessons we can learn from them. They may not all relate directly to the story, but many give background and are at the very least intriguing to hear about, it would also be wise to collect all of them, as this is the only miss-able trophy for a one playthrough platinum.

Throughout the story we get glimpses at Senua’s life before the incident. Most of the tales are not happy ones, but they all give way to pieces of information that help explain why Senua is in her current state. Her story is rarely laid out plainly in front of you; it takes a little bit of critical thinking to truly grasp what has just unfolded at times. There are flashbacks and dramatic changes in environment that cannot often be explained right away. Normally, this would be too confusing to follow in a game. However, Ninja Theory repeatedly introduces you to this concept of seeing through Senua’s eyes and you begin to understand that perhaps not everything she sees or experiences is 100% truth. This is not a story that should be played only once to fully grasp what has happened. Even at the end, I still had to take a minute to grasp what had transpired and what it meant for our beloved character.

While it doesn’t dive into the entire story, Ninja Theory has provided a bonus excerpt that should be watched once you complete the game. Due to the game’s dealings with psychosis, Ninja Theory thought it would be wise and helpful to include a 25 minute video explaining their creative process and the reasoning behind so many decisions. In this video, there are a few explanations to some of Senua’s experiences and background that help shed light on what has transpired if you have difficulty grasping it from the story.  This video was highly enjoyable and informative. My wife, a social worker who has studied psychosis and other mental illnesses, watched it with me and agreed that what they were showing and explaining was quite impressive. It was very comforting to know how and why they approached the game the way they did, and what they were trying to convey about psychosis. If you are to play this game, you should watch it (after completing it once of course).

Gameplay: 4/5

Hellblade splits gameplay into two successful sections: puzzles and combat. The former takes precedent, while the latter is treated as more of a break, until you reach the end of the story. The puzzles in Hellblade range from simple to moderate, and rarely frustrating. In an attempt to better showcase the effects psychosis might have on someone and their actions, most of the puzzles provide a demonstration of how Senua would try to make sense of her world. For instance, many locked doors have runes on them that appear to be random arrangements of lines. However, spend enough time looking at the world and you can find those exact lines somewhere hidden in say, the formation of a few downed trees. Once you locate the symbols, you can focus on them and the doors will open. Of course, the entire time you’re solving these puzzles you are constantly being led astray or doubted by the voices in your head. Other puzzles include seeing through illusions and altering your perspective of the world to drastic levels. While many of the puzzles won’t keep you hung up for long, they do a very nice job of helping you understand Senua’s mind, which in a game about psychosis is a very smart and tactful experience.

The combat in Hellblade is tremendously satisfying and rewarding. You can view the controls from the main menu, but outside of that there is hardly a tutorial on how to survive when up against demons. The game kind of throws you into the fray rather quickly, which aids in its quest to make you feel outnumbered, underprepared, scared and cautious – but capable. You can attack with quick, heavy or melee attacks (kicks/shoves to throw off balance); as well as dodge and block. Different hits and combos can be strategically used depending on the enemy, and this adds a nice layer of complexity and variation to the battles. Each hit you land on an enemy has a substantial weight to it, really solidifying your connection. Of course each hit the enemy lands on you puts you close to dying and subsequently allowing the Rot to grow. Senua is also able to build up a focus meter during combat which will allow her to slow time down and deal more damage faster to enemies. This mechanic saved me time and time again in the late game!

Combat is typically handled in a slow, standoff fashion as anywhere from 1 to… many… enemies dauntingly take their time advancing upon you. You can lock-on to a single enemy and take them on one-on-one, but you’ll need to be cautious about the other encroaching threats. Thankfully, the voices in your head will warn you if you are about to be attacked, or when you should dodge, block, or finish an enemy off. In a world all by yourself, it’s good to have some backup. Boss fights tend to be a little faster-paced, but that doesn’t mean they will only last a short while. A particular boss fight took me 20+ minutes to defeat even with constant attacks on my part (this may be patched out in a recent update). Each fight you are presented with is a tense battle, and though I never failed a fight sequence, there were many times when I had to take a minute because I thought there would be no way out of this – that surely, I was meant to die to progress the story instead of defeat everything the game had thrown at me. This terrible feeling of unavoidable failure is paramount in delivering Senua’s experience to the player. You are not a one woman army. You will struggle. You will doubt yourself. But you will persevere.

There were times when I was frustrated by the combat however. A few sequences pit you against seemingly endless enemies in small quarters, and to navigate around to avoid them is difficult when you have to stay locked-on to one at all times. You find yourself dodging repeatedly just to move faster and it kind of takes you out of the experience – not to mention get you killed easily.

The game is quite linear with very little actual exploration, though some is necessary to find all of the lorestones. Advancing through the story, the gameplay is a fantastic way to exhibit Senua’s evolving emotions and really helps pull the player in more.

Graphics: 5/5

From the beginning, Hellblade is a gorgeous game. Textures, lighting and physics all play well together to form a complete package that surrounds the player and plunges them into the world. With the game focused on Senua in third-person, it is reassuring to see her dreadlocks, matted and torn, in such great detail. Her face shows life throughout the game and easily shifts from emotion to emotion. Her clothes are worn and get progressively worse as you tread through the underworld. The environments are clean and detailed, to the point where simply walking around is a pleasure.

While the game is primarily set in dark tones (considering it IS Hell after all), the game does offer a few glimpses into a lighter, warmer atmosphere that is equally as detailed and enjoyable.  Due to the consistent darkness of the world, these breaks into a more joyous environment really pop and provide a feeling of being at ease, if only for a moment.

Enemies are just as detailed as Senua, and will show injuring and scarring as you damage them. The interesting thing is how the developers handled cutscenes and other characters. The times when Senua is alone and featured in an important scene, Ninja Theory uses their new technology to achieve incredible precision in facial feature tracking. At one point, my wife walked in during a scene and was taken back by how she thought Melina Juergens herself was being shown. These moments are breathtaking in their graphical fidelity and accuracy in facial expressions. Other cutscenes take a less impressive, but still effective, route of delivery. Senua is portrayed closely to how she is in gameplay, which is still very well done, however the main voices she hears in her head are shown as distorted renders of live-action actors. At first this contrast was a bit jarring, however upon thinking on it for a few minutes it makes complete sense. Everyone Senua talks to is not actually there. The stark difference in illustration of the characters is a clear portrayal of Senua’s suffering: that she knows, on some level, that these voices she is hearing and these people she is talking to do not exist. This visual aid for the player may seem a bit unpolished at first (also considering this was potentially done in part to save on costs), but it works with the theme of the game and yet again delivers an amazing experience to the player to keep them in Senua’s world.

There were only two instances in the game where physics seemed to overrule the laws of the game and constant pieces of enemies began to convulse rapidly, becoming very distracting and off-putting but not persistent. With a simple, yet satisfactory photo mode active during almost the entire game, you can capture some truly beautiful or haunting moments. The graphics also seemed to hold consistently with no noticeable drops in framerate.

Sound: 5/5

The perfect bow to wrap up the gift of Senua’s journey is how Hellblade handles the game’s audio. Upon starting up the game, you are notified that it is best enjoyed with a headset. I was using a 7.1 virtual surround sound headset, as well as listening to the game straight from the TV for comparison. There is a stark difference and I highly recommend playing this game with a headset, even if it isn’t virtual surround sound. This is because (as detailed in the bonus “Hellblade Experience” video) Ninja Theory captured their audio tracks in 4D, so the voices that Senua hears were literally coming from certain directions. Considering the voices are omnipresent, they need to feel like they surround you and it is pulled off near perfectly. This feeling of being unable to escape the influences of your own thoughts is essential to the experience.

Hellblade not only uses these voices to create an atmosphere for the player, it also chooses when they are most frequent or in the most eerie of times, not present at all. This careful balance of voices, music, environment, and ambience audio tracks are so meticulously crafted you won’t even notice them changing. The audio alone captures the entire motif of Senua’s adventure. Not only was the background exceptional, Melina’s, and the other actors’, performances were among some of the best acting in video games in the past few years. They were able to draw you in and create the emotions they needed to portray with ease and consistency.

The game also had a very natural flow to it. Using the audio in parallel with the story, the game was able to control the player’s feelings to help smoothen out the more “intense” events of the game, as well as build you up with self-assurance when it needed too! Hellblade would not have been half the game if it slacked on the audio aspect, and thankfully for all of us it truly delivered a flawless experience.

Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is much more than a warrior’s journey of love. It is about overcoming, as well as accepting, aspects of one’s self that were previously holding you back. It marvelously ensnares the player into the emotions and state of Senua, and effectively ensures that you are right there with her the entire time. Through a clever system of puzzles, overwhelming combat, as well as audio and visual trickery, Ninja Theory created a game that simulates aspects of psychosis in an effort to better destigmatize the illness. Acting in Hellblade is impeccable, and while it can at times feel like a slower-paced game, it is thoroughly enjoyable and challenging. The story can be a bit confusing at times, so multiple playthroughs are recommended (only about 6-8 hrs per playthrough). This $30 game should not be passed on by anyone who wants an experience different from any other game.

Pros:

+ Only $30

+ Satisfying and challenging combat

+ Complex story

Cons:

– Somewhat repetitive puzzles

– Never ending feeling of doubt

– You may start to hear voices…

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was purchased by the reviewer and tested for the PlayStation 4 system.

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Phantom Trigger Review (Switch/PC) – “Worlds Collide”

Phantom Trigger is the latest indie to hit the Nintendo Switch courtesy of TinyBuild and Bread Games. This pixelart, top-down hack-and-slash, or “neon slasher” as the developer calls it, has you slashing, whipping and punching vile creatures through various environments. Is this hack-and-slash worth the experience?

Phantom Trigger has you start off playing as Stan, an ordinary human being who is married and trying to get through life. Things take a turn for the worse very quickly though, as Stan collapses on the kitchen floor in front of his wife. Suddenly, you will play as a different character known as the “Traveler” in a fictitious world that has zero semblance of reality. This distorted world has you meeting outlandish characters, each of which help hint at what is going on. As you progress, the game will instantly switch from gameplay in the distorted world, to seeing what is happening with Stan in the real world. There are times when you will choose the dialogue for both characters to carry a tone and weight to the story. Certain items you collect and how you utilize them will also affect the ending. While it doesn’t take long to realize what is really going on here, the premise is really intriguing. Phantom Trigger’s story is by far its main highlight. It’s a very engaging story that tackles a fairly important struggle in reality.

The game is a hack-and-slash at its core with some RPG elements in place. Playing as the Traveler, you will wield three weapons in hand: an ice sword, energy whip, and fire gauntlets. You can do three-hit combos, and each hit will garner XP for the weapon used. Each weapon is mapped to the face buttons and accessible at all times. As you level up your weapons, you will unlock various mix-and-match combos that will help when dealing with groups of foes. Certain combos may provide an elemental attack that can freeze enemies in place, burn them gradually, or even draw enemies in upon a small blast. Also, the Traveler has the ability to teleport dash, whether for dodging during combat or simply to move around faster. As you progress through the game, enemies will ramp up in numbers and variety. You will feel the combat intensifying the further you progress. If things get too hectic for you, you can always grab a buddy to play local co-op together. There are times when you can breeze past combat, but several segments where the environment will be sealed around you, forcing you to defeat everyone before advancing.

When you’re not fighting for your survival, you will be scouring the environment finding obscure items and solving puzzles. This does help break up the combat a bit. The items collected will seem odd or even out-of-place, but by the end, they are there for a reason. There are occasionally shrines you will come across as well that will boost your XP for specific weapons. Each weapon can reach up to level 7, which is the max. By the end of the game, you will have maxed out all three wielded weapons without any issue or unnecessary grind (unless of course you didn’t mix up your combat). Certain areas will require some minor puzzle-solving to open locked doors. This can consist of playing essentially “Simon Says” by hitting totems in a right order with the right colored ability, or moving a mine cart around a maze of tracks to collect a specific item. It does help break up the pacing of the game. Also, the end of each level has you facing a boss. These boss battles will require your wits and thinking outside the box to solve. The bosses are actually well-done for the most part, but one particular boss will really have you scratching your head that resulted in pure luck to figure out. Upon beating the game, there’s an Arena mode to unlock, which is basically an endurance mode.

Phantom Trigger does have some issues unfortunately that do hurt the overall package. First off, the game’s initial load time takes almost one minute just to get to the main menu. That is a very lengthy loading time, especially where it’s just a single image to look at that would make you think the game froze. Second, there are several times during dialogue sequences where some of the words are misspelled. Third, the framerate takes quite a hit during combat, specifically in the second half of the game where there are significantly more enemies on-screen. Third, there are some collision detection glitches that occurred. There were two times when I was able to run through a wall. There was a combat sequence where I was closed off from escaping, yet I was able to run right through the barrier. This segment I tested a few times and it was always the same spot and barrier I could run through. There’s a segment with a mine-cart that shows the cart continuing off the track and out of the level entirely. What’s strange is if you run in the opposite direction and then run back to where the mine-cart should’ve stopped, it will magically appear there. Thankfully this is a glitch that fixes itself, but happened almost every other time the mine-cart hit a corner it was supposed to stop at. Now the game features four different endings, which means you’ll need to replay the game a few times to see each ending (should you make the right choices). Unfortunately, there is no New Game + mode to make it easier to return to. Combat is neat and all, but it does get repetitive after a short while. Also, the game’s checkpoint system is a bit flawed. I’m all for challenging games, but checkpoints are very easy to bypass here, and dying can set you back upwards to ten minutes of progress. May not sound like a lot, but it adds up when you keep dying in the same spot. Lastly, the level designs can be maze-like, and there is no map system what-so-ever. While checkpoints usually direct you on where to go, it’s very easy to find yourself going in circles or getting lost.

Visually, Phantom Trigger is a nicely detailed pixel-art title. Animations are pretty smooth for all the characters, and the environments all have a specific style to them. The game runs at 60 fps…well, it tries to but ends up dropping closer to 30 fps most of the time. It doesn’t make the game unplayable by any means, but the drops were very noticeable and consistent. Audio wise, the soundtrack that is here accompanies the game decently, but nothing that stood out. Honestly, the music takes a backseat for most of the experience. Sound effects on the other hand do a great job of distinguishing the combat. Each attack from the weapons have a distinct, almost musical, tone to them. Even the audio that plays when you get closed off in an encounter just sounds very cool. I just wish the soundtrack stood out more during the game.

Overall, Phantom Trigger is a neat game that tells a gripping plot. The story alone was the driving factor to see where it was going next. In terms of gameplay, what is here is solid, but certainly repetitive. Couple that with some technical issues and odd game design decisions, and it just feels like a little more time was needed to polish it up. It’s a good game that’s worth your time for its story, but it was hard to return to upon completing it.

Overall Score: 6.5 out of 10 = Wait for a price drop…

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Phantom Trigger! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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Retro City Rampage DX Review (Switch) – “Old-School Perfection”

When it comes to gaming, the late 80s and early 90s era was one that many found to be the golden age of gaming. Simplistic, yet addictive and downright fun games where you didn’t focus so much on getting those “cinematic experiences”. Back in 2012, Brian Provinciano released a dream title of his, Retro City Rampage. Single-handledly developed by him over the course of five years, it released to consistent high praise. In early 2014, he released an updated version called Retro City Rampage DX, which tweaked a variety of elements to fine-tune the game even further. Vblank Entertainment has tried to bring this game to virtually every platform possible (it even got an MS-DOS version!). With the studio’s latest game, Shakedown Hawaii, preparing for release, they’ve decided to also bring their predecessor to the Nintendo Switch. How does the title fare on Nintendo’s new platform?

Retro City Rampage DX is a top-down, GTA style game with 8-bit visuals. You’ll take control of Player, who’s looking for some dirty work to make some cash. From here, he’ll partake in a wild adventure that’ll span over a few decades of gaming and pop-culture that influence the city of Theftopolis. Right from the beginning, you’ll be pulling a bank heist that replicates the intro of The Dark Knight, then run into a time machine to evade the cops, teleport back in time, meet up with Doc (Back to the Future reference) and “borrow” his DeLorean. From there, you’ll be working with Doc to get the DeLorean working again and if Player’s journey wasn’t wacky enough already, the events that await him are only more above and beyond. There’s even a mission where you’ll plant bombs underneath the dam, which happens to be the same area as the bomb defusing mission from the original TMNT NES game, electric seaweeds and all. It’s these moments where the game shines at its top.

As I mentioned before, Retro City Rampage is a GTA style game where you have the whole city of Theftopolis to explore at your disposal. When it comes to combat, there are a whole variety of weapons you can utilize. Interestingly, there are two forms of shooting mechanics: standard lock-on and twin-stick shooter. Fans of twin-sticks will really dig this feature and those who feel that locking-on to enemies is easier for them can go that route too. This gives players options so they don’t feel restricted to only one style. You’ll have your standard firearms but also get weapons that pertain to classic franchises such as Ghostbusters, Bionic Commando and Zelda, just to name a few. These mechanics apply not only to firearms, but melee weapons as well. There’s also a cover mechanic in place that works pretty well. Simply pressing the X button near an object will let Player snap to cover and you’ll be able to move around, peek out of cover and take aim at enemies with ease. If you’re evading enemies, you also have an “air stomp” ability so that you can get the drop on foes. Later in the game, you’ll upgrade this ability to the point where enemies go flying away from your stomps (thanks to a “Radioactive Plumber”). Handling vehicles is very accessible and easy to grasp. All the vehicles have their own speed and handling differences but no matter which type it is, they’re incredibly simple to use. Vehicles range from your average cars, to the TMNT van (which has a Ninja Turtle driving it), to bikes and skateboards, and even shopping carts.

Brian Provinciano clearly has a love for the classic gaming era and it shows. The city is superbly crafted, littered with gaming and pop-culture references around every city block. Whether you come across “Bimmy and Jimmy’s” (Double Dragon), Pizza Gaiden (Ninja Gaiden), and billboards that pertain to certain 80s/90s culture, Retro City Rampage DX is littered with a ton to see. You can go to a variety of places to change Player’s hairstyle and overall image, and there are a ton of different styles to choose from (over 200 styles). Should you come across specific guest appearances in the game, you’ll get the ability to play as them. There’s also Nolan’s Arcade, which contains three mini-games based on other particular franchises out there. You’ve got Bit.Trip Runner, Virtual Meat Boy and Epic Meal Time. Bit.Trip Runner is exactly what you’d expect if you’ve played it before. If you’ve never experienced it before, it’s a title where you’ll run along a 2D plane and have to jump and kick your way to the end of the stage while collecting the coins. It starts off simple, but quickly ramps up in difficulty. Virtual Meat Boy plays like a Rad Racer, where you’ll run along a trap-infested street and have to perfectly dodge everything coming at you. As the title insinuates, you’ll view the game with a Virtual Boy filter and should you have red and blue 3D glasses, you can use those to view the game in 3D. Lastly is Epic Meal Time. Here you’re presented with a Mortal Kombat “Test your Might” mechanic in which you must rapidly button press to fill up your meter and press the action button after passing the success line to dig in to that food and survive. These mini-games are a ton of fun to play and found myself coming back to Nolan’s Arcade quite often during my downtime.

Upon completing 62 story missions, you can still free roam the city and raise complete carnage. there are also 40+ additional Arcade mode missions to tackle on the side. All the Arcade missions provide a solid challenge and will keep you occupied for some time if you try to achieve a gold medal in each one. There’s also leaderboard support for all of these missions, as well as for the story mode. For those that like to watch replays of their footage, you can save footage of anything you’ve done in-game as well. After completing the story, you’ll unlock “Retro City Rampage Turbo” mode, which greatly accelerates the game’s speed.

When I last review RCR back in 2012, I had mentioned that my main gripe was the unbalanced difficulty curve. With the DX version, the difficulty has been rebalanced to be much less frustrating. That’s not to say the challenge has been removed, but certain missions were absurdly difficult in the original release. The tweaks made here are very noticeable and make progressing through the story much more enjoyable. Also the HUD and camera have been tweaked. In the original, there was a status bar on the top of the screen. Now the layout is much cleaner, removing the bar entirely for more in-game screen space. However, the original status bar can be turned back on in the Options menu. Additionally, the camera has been adjusted to be zoomed-in a bit, bringing you closer to the action. This truly made the gameplay feel even better than it already was. Like the HUD though, you can adjust the camera zoom from between 1x to 3x.

The visuals in RCR DX are absolutely spot-on. The 8-bit style works perfectly here, full of vibrant and detailed sprites, while running at 60 fps. Everything about it screams retro, between its color palette, sprite designs and animations. To make things even more retro and in-depth, there are a ton of visual filters and frames to mix-and-match to your liking. Want an old-school TV frame with scanlines and NES color imaging? You can do that. Want to play the game with a Game Boy frame and color filtering? You can do that too. You can even make the game have SEGA Genesis, Virtual Boy, Black and White, and MS-DOS color filtering! Just toying around with these settings and seeing the different visual styles appearing on-screen is an absolute blast. In terms of audio, you’ve got over 2 and a half hours of 8-bit composed music from Jake “Virt” Kaufman (Bloodrayne: Betrayal, Double Dragon Neon, Shantae), Freddy DNA (NBA Jam) and Norrin Radd. The soundtrack really fits the game perfectly and I could see myself driving around town listening to this. It’s a retro-style soundtrack that’s very memorable.

Retro City Rampage DX takes everything that made the original awesome, and further refines it to perfection. RCR DX oozes of beloved gaming and pop-culture references that is impossible not to smile or chuckle at. The amount of content and features are staggering, but what makes it stand out even more is that it was all done by a single person, not a 600 person studio. Retro City Rampage DX is an absolute must-own title and Switch owners should not dismiss this title by any means.

Overall Score: 10 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Retro City Rampage DX! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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Infinite Minigolf Review (PS4/X1/Switch) – “Minigolf Times Infinity”

Zen Studios has certainly acquired quite the reputation with their excellent Zen Pinball titles, which are available on almost every platform to date. Since then though, the team has only worked on a few titles outside of their big pinball hit, such as Punisher: No Mercy and Planet Minigolf (both of which were PS3 exclusive titles). After some time, they’ve decided to take a break from their pinball roots and return to a familiar field, minigolf. Infinite Minigolf has now released for PC, PS4, X1, and Switch, and is a sequel to Planet Minigolf. Is this minigolf game worth the putt or is it a complete bogey?

Minigolf has always been about varied, fun locales brimming with imaginative set pieces and scenery. With Infinite Minigolf, the wacky locales are here, but as are some unique twists. This isn’t your typical minigolf game, but rather a more fast-paced, over-the-top game of putt-putt. You will enter tournaments across three different locales: Giant Home, Nightmare Mansion, and Santa’s Workshop. Giant Home is kind of like Andy’s Room from Toy Story, with plenty of toys and games that fill up the environment. Nightmare Mansion is your Halloween-themed environment full of bats, spiders, swinging spike pendulums and tombstones. Lastly, Santa’s Workshop is your snow-filled, Christmas-themed environment filled with elves, candy canes, presents and plenty of ice. Each locale feels very unique and provides their own identity (and challenges) to each course.

Infinite Minigolf is not about getting the ball sunk into the hole with the least amount of hits. Well, it is, but the game revolves around who can get the highest amount of points within nine holes. Throughout each of the courses, there are blue orbs littered around to collect, as well as a purple diamond. Getting these will bump up your score quite a bit, especially the purple diamond. Additionally, the real curve ball mechanic are the power-ups that are attainable at each hole. These power-ups range from rocketing a ball forward, getting full control of where the ball rolls (within the momentum the ball has from the hit), stopping a ball in place, blasting items away from your ball, magnetizing the ball into the hole, etc. These really change the dynamic of the game and really help push the fast-paced flow of gameplay. Controls also help with the game’s flow, and are quite simple for anyone to grasp. You can turn the character with the left analog stick, and then control the power of the hit by pulling back on the right analog stick. You can control the power meter by slowly maneuvering the right analog stick from its centered position and all-the-way back, and vice versa. Any other buttons to use are highlighted on the game’s HUD. It’s simple and intuitive, making it accessible for anyone to play.

The game’s core mode is the Tournament mode. You go up against three AI opponents and compete to have the highest score by the end of the nine holes. There are four tournaments in each of the three locales, with three difficulties to work your way up through. However, the game’s highlight is by far its Course Editor mode. The Course Editor mode gives you an unprecedented amount of freedom creating the course that hits all the right notes. You can choose which of the locales you want to build a course on, then cycle through an abundant amount of pieces to put everything together. Straightaways, curves, spiral loops, upside-down loops, speed boosts, interactive pieces, power-ups, orbs, diamonds…the options are tremendous. You can choose the height of the course and even place objects on and off the course to further add life to the course. Now, it should be noted that there is no tutorial in place to learn the Course Editor. However, there’s nothing here that can’t be figured out by spending 10-20 minutes playing around with the tools provided. You can test out your course, and then go back to editing seamlessly, tweaking each element to your liking. Once done, you will have to test the course and finish it to validate that it’s ready for uploading. When all is said and done, you will then name your course and once uploaded, it will be available for all Infinite Minigolf players. So if you make a course on the Switch version, PS4, X1 and PC players will be able to play your course as well. This universal connection for user-created content is outstanding and removes any restrictions of trying courses that all Infinite Minigolf players create.

Infinite Minigolf gives you a range of characters to play as, each with their own personality. Each character reacts differently to how they sink the ball in the hole with unique winning poses and one-liners. However, you can also create your own character. As you win tournaments and also level up throughout the game, you will earn cards pertaining to each set of clothing and gear. You will use these cards to unlock the clothing and gear you’d like equipped for your custom character. Hairstyles, shirts, pants, belts, shoes, clubs and golf balls are all customizable. This method of unlocking content is a bit of a grind though since you get randomized cards for tournament wins. There are even challenges you can complete that will earn your gold coins, which can be used to buy a pack of cards. It’s almost like having currency, to buy currency, to then buy items. Thankfully, there are no micro-transactions for this, otherwise there would be some serious currency-ception.

When not playing solo, Infinite Minigolf features both local and online multiplayer with support for up to eight players. You can take turns passing the controller around or have multiple controllers connected (as much as the console supports). What is really neat is that there are a variety of modifiers to tweak for a match. You can choose to play with Classic minigolf rules, unlimited ball jumping, the number of strokes allowed for per course, etc. You can even make things really wild by changing the ball type as an egg, pyramid, puck, cube, and more! This really makes things interesting, and downright hysterical. When playing online, the game has lobby support. Simply open your friends list, send an invite and they’ll jump right into your lobby. Like local play, you can fully customize your matches (should you play a Private Match) or jump into a public match with others. What’s interesting is that unlike local’s turn-based play style, everyone here putts at the same time. Once sinking the ball in, you can watch the remaining players finish the course. If it’s a custom course, you can even rate the course while waiting. The simultaneous play makes things frenetic, but you can make it more so by turning on the ball collision modifier. The overall online experience was quite smooth, especially on Switch.

There are a few issues to be found in Infinite Minigolf. First off is the grind mentioned above when unlocking gear. Second, when controlling the power meter with the right analog stick, there seems to occasionally be a delay in the meter correlating with the control stick sensitivity. You can adjust the sensitivity in the game’s options, but it seemed to still have a split-second delay somewhat. It’s not game-breaking by any means, but could be just a tad smoother. Third (and this is entirely dependent on user-created courses), there are times when people will place speed boosts next to a ramp. However, if the ball doesn’t go up the ramp fully and rolls back down into the speed boost, it’ll never be enough power to get it up the ramp. This leads to the ball being stuck in limbo and leaving you at the mercy of the game, praying that the ball will move enough to eventually stop and let you putt again. There’s an option to skip the hole, and that seems to be the best solution, but you’re penalized with getting zero points for the course. Now this is more of an issue if it’s an online match, whereas a local match you could easily restart the hole. Fourth, on the Switch, there is no voice chat support at the moment. Here’s hoping Zen Studios provides voice chat support through the Nintendo Online app (despite its choppy start).

Visually, Infinite Minigolf is a very vibrant looking game, with clean texture work. Characters have smooth animations, as do the objects on course and the ball itself. As mentioned earlier, the environments themselves are very well done and are great to look at. The game runs at a locked 30 fps and never dips below that, which is nice. In terms of audio, there is a variety of sound effects. Whether you are using a power-up, simply hitting the ball, collision with the various objects…it’s all fitting for sure. The music also does a great job of capturing the environments you will be putting in, as does the main menu track. The odd thing though is that when creating courses, the music will play once, and then never repeat…just sound effects play at that point. This also seems to occur when playing online and waiting for the player(s) to finish, the song will not loop until you’re back in-game for the next course. It seems to be a glitch that could use some patching. Outside of that though, the audio is very catchy.

Infinite Minigolf is a great minigolf game that should not be overlooked. It’s highly accessible mechanics really make the game an easy to pick up-and-play game of putt-putt. There’s more than enough in-game content here to keep players busy for sure, but the in-depth Course Editor is the main highlight without question. Couple that with the ability to play and share courses that are accessible on all platforms and you really have “infinite minigolf”. Despite some gripes, Infinite Minigolf cannot be recommended enough (especially Switch owners since it’s perfect for on-the-go gaming). It was very difficult to put the game down. Even when taking a break, I wanted to keep returning to play a few more rounds and create more courses.

Overall Score: 8.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Infinite Minigolf! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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Overcooked: Special Edition Review (Switch) – “An Undercooked Disappointment”

Cooking games have garnered quite the fanbase over the years. Looking back to games like Cooking Mama or Ordered Up, to the now plethora of cooking games available on mobile devices, there’s no shortage in this genre. However, there is something that those games don’t have, multiplayer. The team over at Ghost Town Games have created a cooking game that pushes the concept of co-op play (and competitive), and has been a hit on PC, PS4 and X1. Now the game has reached the Nintendo Switch, but is it the version to get, or is this one dish that would make Chef Ramsey shut it down?

Overcooked’s gameplay has a simple concept: cook the food items customers are requesting. As you scramble through the various kitchens, you will have to fry, boil, grill, chop and plate your items. The game’s story is interesting, as you start off by cooking during the apocalypse and this serves (pun intended) as the tutorial. Afterwards, you are sent back in time (to the year 1993) to improve your cooking skills. It is here where you go mission-to-mission trying to get your bearing as a cook. You always have a partner in the kitchen, whether you play local co-op between 2-4 players, or solo with a partner-switching mechanic. The game’s controls are easy to grasp, with only a few buttons to remember: pickup/drop item, action (chop, clean, etc), dash, and partner-switching (only when playing solo). The Joy-Cons can be separated and used as a single controller, helping push the co-op nature of the game. The HD Rumble also works superbly here, enhancing the cooking experience with clever integration.

Overcooked: Special Edition not only contains the core game, but also two DLC campaigns to tackle (best experienced after beating the main campaign). If co-op isn’t your thing, you can also versus your friends in the kitchen and see who the best cook is. If playing online is your thing though, that’s not an option here. Understandably though, this is a game that works significantly better as a local multiplayer game than it would if there was online multiplayer.

Overcooked is a game that is meant to be easily accessible to players, but nabbing three-star ratings on each mission will require the communication skills of a head chef. In other words, you must communicate with your teammates to truly excel. Each environment is designed to take advantage of the co-op design. One character cannot do everything in the kitchen, otherwise not enough dishes will get sent out to hungry customers. Communication is key, as is precision. The kitchen tables are grid-based, so placing items down will snap to the direction you’re facing. When cooking items, you will have to pay close attention to their completion meter, as once that is done, you only have a 5-10 seconds to get it off the grill/pan before it goes on fire. At first this seems like ample time, but later levels make you feel the time pressure. Should things set ablaze, you will have to use the fire extinguisher to quickly put out the fire before it spreads throughout the kitchen. It’s chaotic for sure, but that’s part of the “fun”. I use the term lightly because that’s the thing, the game can be “fun”…if it weren’t for its performance.

Unfortunately, the game runs very poorly. While the other console ports and PC version run at a steady framerate, the Switch version performs at a disappointing 20+ frames per second. In a game about precision, this is inexcusable and makes playing the game more of an exercise in frustration. The constant framerate issues really hurt the overall experience. Whether playing docked or undocked, the framerate issues are more than present. The visual appearance and art style itself is simple, but certainly colorful and easy on the eyes. Nothing jaw-dropping, but an endearing looking game nonetheless. The various locales all have a unique setting and are well-designed, whether it be a restaurant, pirate ship, icy lake, or food trucks on a highway. In terms of audio, the sound effects all capture the sounds of being in a cooking kitchen. The chopping on the board, the grilling, boiling, and other key sounds really do a great job. The soundtrack is appropriate and hits the right notes for cooking, but is does get repetitive quick.

Overcooked Special Edition is a game that should’ve been a great fit for the Switch. It’s a shame because the core gameplay mechanics are solid and it seems like there’s a fun time to be had here. Unfortunately though, the poor framerate, and inconsistent controls due to frame drops, make this game a chore to play. This is one dish that is fairly undercooked…

Overall Score: 6.0 out of 10 = Wait for a price drop…

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Overcooked: Special Edition! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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RPG Maker Fes Review (3DS) – “Unlimited RPGs in the palm of your hand”

RPG Maker is a game creation tool that has been around for quite some time on the PC. Its ease-of-use and plethora of options have made it a popular application for RPG enthusiasts, and newcomers, to get their creativity flowing out there for others to experience. The latest release, RPG Maker Fes, is now opening the game creation series to the 3DS crowd. This release marks the very first time it is available to the handheld/console market. So, how did Kadokawa Games do handling the conversion to the 3DS?

Gameplay: 4/5

Game creation tools can be hit-or-miss when striking accessibility with the user. Some game creation tools may be a bit complex or convoluted, while others (like Super Mario Maker for example) are incredibly simple and intuitive to use. Thankfully, the team at Kadokawa Games have crafted the latter with a truly great interface that took very little time to grasp. When creating a game, there are a variety of elements you can choose to create: maps, events, items, etc.

When creating a map, you will choose the size of that specific map, as well as what type of design it is intended for. These vary from an overworld, town, dungeon, or house/castle interior. Each one provides specific assets that pertain to those styles. You can choose if you want to create each area from scratch, or tweak any of the sample layouts provided. Placing objects on the grid-style map is a breeze, whether using the D-Pad/Analog Nub and pressing the A button, or drawing on-screen with the stylus. You can open up a menu and see all the ground textures and objects you can choose to place on the map. You will also choose the song that plays for each map (and can change it at specific spots as well, but more on that later).

Now, placing objects on the map is nice and all, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot if you can’t tweak its interactions. This is where Event Settings come into play. Here is where some basic knowledge of logic is useful, but don’t worry, as there is no actual coding involved. In terms of basic knowledge, it’s a matter of understanding how to place events to trigger, when they should trigger, and the order of events that should kick off when the event starts. It’s honestly not difficult to grasp at all once you give it some time. However, the game does have plenty of preset events to utilize if you just want to get your creation going in a playable form as quick as possible. With events, you will be able to do numerous actions. These range from transitioning from a house to its interior, reading signs, opening treasure chests (as well as what you place in there), save points, and even dialogue scenes between characters. There’s plenty of options to utilize here without question. Again though, I cannot stress enough just how accessible this all is thanks to its simple interface.

The last component absolutely essential to your creation is the Database. Here you will be able to get all your assets together: characters, party, monsters, groups, encounter chips, skills, weapons, items, your game’s title and info. The level of customization in this area is very impressive. When creating a character, you can type in their name, add a nickname, their profession, a portrait of the character to display, and a description of them. Then you will be able to tweak all their attributes, what equipment they start off with, and their grow speed (i.e. how quickly they level up). Creating monsters is handled similarly, except you will be able to edit every stat they have: HP, MP, Attack, Defense, EXP, Gold, etc. Then you can place enemies on the map as either invisible encounter chips (like Final Fantasy) or create characters that are visible to encounter yourself. Unfortunately though, there is no pixel art editor, so you will not be able to draw/create your own characters from scratch. You will have to use preset characters and toggle their color variation.

Combat is the one area where customization is not as flexible to create. Combat is handled in first-person mode, so never seeing the characters battle is a bit of a bummer. There are plenty of combat animations to choose from that are assigned to each weapon. You can even choose how many times a move can attack in one sequence, whether it can hit one or more enemies, whether you can sell the weapon or not, and what the value of it goes for. This also pertains to other items like armor and accessories that can be equipped. You can also create Special Skills for characters to use, such as magic or deathblows. You can even choose from preset backgrounds to have when combat initiates. The customization aspects are still more than effective for combat sake, but just wish the combat wasn’t restricted to first-person perspective.

Creating a title and game info is a great touch to provide your creation. Here you can choose what audio to play at the main menu, the background image, and a border frame. You can even enter in credits to show everyone involved in your project. Additionally, you can enter in game info so that you can highlight what genre your game is (granted it’s always an RPG, but can vary based on the themes you set), as well as whether you’d like it as a public release, or one that’s locked/unlocked for editing by those who download it.

Testing your game is an essential component to ensuring everything works the way you intend it to. Doing so takes no time to kick off, and it always saves your changes before you start testing. During testing, you can actually hold a button to remove any collision detection so that you can quickly move around your maps. Literally every component works as if it’s the full build of your game, meaning you can even save the game at points and load it from there during testing.

One more element that needs to be mentioned is the free RPG Maker Player application that anyone can download from the eShop. This lets anyone download and play any uploaded projects that creators post through RPG Maker Fes for free. This is one of the best ideas to roll out here, as it lets people share their creations for friends or anyone on the server to download and enjoy, regardless if they don’t own the actual game itself.

Graphics: 4/5

RPG Maker Fes certainly pushes for that 16-bit art style that truly nails that retro feel. The pixel art is very well done, with great environment textures and simple, yet effective animations. The game’s combat is entirely in first-person perspective and feels like a missed opportunity to showcase some very cool looking combat animations for the characters. The game does run without any issues or hiccups at a locked 30 fps. Considering the grid-based movement, this is more than acceptable for this gameplay style. Overall, it’s a great looking game that captures the retro style.

Sound: 4/5

In terms of audio, RPG Maker Fes has plenty of arrangements to pick and choose from. Whether it be tracks tailored to exploring the vast lands, interior homes, dungeons, castles, or even ambience, there’s something here that will fit the needs of your creation. Audio effects are also very effective, whether in combat or placing certain audio cues to play during scenes or triggers. The selection is again, very well done. Much like the visuals and assets, this is all solely based on the “Fantasy” setting that’s the only choice initially. There is more content on the way that will expand on the overall options and combinations possible. Overall, RPG Maker Fes has a great audio package with tunes that you will find yourself having stuck in your head when not playing/creating the game.

Replay Value: 5/5

RPG Maker Fes is loaded with nearly endless possibilities. The amount of time you will stick with this to really get your creations going is staggering. If you’re the creative type, there’s no question you will lose countless hours perfecting your creation. When you’re not creating a game, you can easily access the network and download others’ creations uploaded on the servers. The fact that you have an endless stream (as long as the community sticks around) of RPG titles to play will no doubt keep you engaged. NIS America and Kadokawa Games will also be supporting even more assets and overall content to utilize, leading to even more diverse creations over time. Couple this with the fact that anyone who doesn’t even own this can download RPG Maker Player on the eShop for free and play anyone’s uploaded games, and you’ve got a very robust package.

Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10

RPG Maker Fes is a truly accessible game creation tool that fits the 3DS perfectly. If there’s ever been a perfect fit to have a game creation tool, the portable format is certainly the way to go. The amount of content available at launch here is already very impressive, and we can’t wait to see the content updates in the near future. Having the ability to create your own RPG with a very accessible interface is sublime, and despite some minor quirks, is a must-own for all creative enthusiasts. Even if you’ve never delved into creating your own content, the ease-of-access makes it very addictive to stick with from the get-go. Do not let this title pass you by. Now if we could also see a possible Switch version of this…

Pros:

+ Very accessible tools

+ Extensive content, with more to come

+ Downloadable RPG Maker Player so that anyone can play your games for free

+ Great retro vibe in terms of visuals

+ Incredibly engaging to stick with

Cons:

– First-person combat only

– No pixel art creation system

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for RPG Maker Fes! Copy reviewed on Nintendo 3DS.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

Vaccine Review (Switch) – “Survival Horror like it’s 1997”


In the 90s, gamers were treated with a very welcome new genre in gaming, survival horror. While Alone in the Dark is theoretically the original 3D survival horror game, it was Capcom’s Resident Evil that truly garnered praise and popularity. Over the last two decades, the genre has changed immensely, trying to find immersive new ways to terrify players. However, fans of 90s horror games miss their fixed-camera angles and tank-style controls. Rainy Frog Games has created a survival horror nostalgic throwback to yesteryear, Vaccine. Is this 90s style survival horror game worth the trip back in time?

Vaccine takes place in a constantly changing, procedurally generated mansion. You will choose one of two operatives: Miguel G.P. or Rita O’Connor, both of which look like HUNK from Resident Evil. Upon starting, you are given a very brief plot that your friend is infected and you will need to find the vaccine to administer to them. You have 30 minutes to do this. As you scour the mansion, zombies and other deadly creatures are ready to rip you apart. You have no weapons on-hand, and must find any weapons in the environment to defend yourself with. There’s always a knife to pick up in the starting room, but firearms will be essential to your survival.

As mentioned earlier, tank controls are in full effect. You move forward holding up, backwards holding back, and turning left and right. You must aim your weapon holding one of the shoulder buttons, then pressing the action button to attack. You can aim up and down as well. It’s literally the same control scheme as the very first RE game. However, the movement controls do feel a bit floaty compared to RE’s tighter control.

The game brings some unique ideas to the table that changes the formula up a bit. For starters, the game is procedurally generated (as mentioned earlier). This leads to every single playthrough being an entirely different layout. Whether it’s the rooms connected in the mansion, the enemy placement, or items, no run will ever be the same. Next is the fact that you’re always on a time limit. In your first playthrough, you have 30 minutes. If you succeed, you will repeat the process (in a new layout) with only 20 minutes. Complete it a second time in a row, and you will then have only 10 minutes. Should you beat it three times in a row, the timer will diminish by 30 seconds each successful playthrough. If you die at any run, or run out of time, it’s game over and back to the very beginning. There are no checkpoints or save points.

Also unique is the XP system. For a game of this nature, it’s different to see that your character can upgrade their attributes in one of five areas: Determination, Stamina, Health, Aiming and Luck. Determination helps make picking up items, opening doors and reloading faster. Stamina lets you sprint for an extended period of time. Aiming increases the damage inflicted on enemies. Health increases your defense. And lastly, Luck increases your chances at better items appearing in each room. Each trait can upgrade to level 10 as the max. Every time you attack an enemy or open a door, you get XP. It doesn’t take very long to max out your stats…as long as you can stay alive.

Now the game is initially viewed as an endless survival game, where you keep repeating the scenario over and over. However, if players actually read the files left throughout the mansion, the story unfolds a bit. It’s through here where you realize there’s a deeper objective hidden in the game, rather than just always finding the vaccine and repeating the process. So yes, there is an ending to attain. However, the more you repeat the process, the higher your rank will get, which certainly helps the replay value. Even after beating the game and acquiring the “true” ending, I found myself coming back to better my records and see how far I could go up in rank.

Vaccine is certainly an homage to 90s survival horror, but the game does have some issues. First off, the character controls are a bit floaty and never really felt tight. It takes some getting used to, especially when the original RE’s had tighter character control. The next thing is that it can be a bit difficult to see items in rooms. They can occasionally shine a bit. Unfortunately, there are times the items are far away from the camera, making them minuscule on-screen. The camera also can lead to having a hard time distinguishing how far an enemy is from you (more specifically when having to knife them). You can aim up and down, but there’s no difference in damage dealt. Also, while I understand why there’s no map system in place, a map would’ve been great to have. There is also a puzzle in the game that starts off simple, but as you progress further, becomes a complete guessing game. The menu system can also be a bit confusing due to the actual highlighting of items being barely visible. Lastly, there are some grammatical errors in the game’s dialogue.

Vaccine is such a throwback, that it visually replicates the 32-bit era. While many will find the game “ugly”, it does a great job of showcasing the polygon nature of the visuals. Character models are blocky and jagged…and that’s how it was in that era. Even the font is jaggy. Animations on the other hand could be better and are quite jerky, even by 32-bit standards. It does runs at 60 fps most of the time. However, when playing in handheld mode, there were instances when multiple enemies in a room caused the frame rate to drop, as well as rooms with a fireplace. Playing on TV mode, the framerate dips were less evident. Audio wise, Vaccine has a great, haunting score that really lends to the experience. Audio effects for guns are powerful and knife stabs sound effective. There’s no voice acting, but there’s someone who announces the game’s title once you choose a character. Certainly a nice nod to Resident Evil or Alone in the Dark.

Vaccine is without question, a love letter to 90s survival horror, and that can’t be stressed enough. It’s not the lengthiest game, nor is it a very deep game. Yet despite the gripes I mentioned, what is here for the mere $10 asking price is quite enjoyable once you get past the learning curve. I found myself really enjoying the game the more I kept sticking with it. It’s certainly a niche game for a niche market…and that’s more than fine. It just needed a bit more polish before heading out the door.

Overall Score: 6.5 out of 10 = “Entertaining, but needs refinement/polish”

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Vaccine! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas Review (Switch) – “A Link to the Wind Waker”

There’s no denying the impact that The Legend of Zelda has made in the video game industry. The sense of exploration, discovery, adventure, action…it all culminated in providing a rich gaming experience. Since that series’ conception, many others have tried to replicate that style of gameplay with their own twists. FDG Entertainment and developer Cornfox & Bros have done this with their new IP, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas. Is this Zelda imitator a journey worth setting sail for?

Oceanhorn is an isometric, action-adventure title that replicates the older Zelda style games. You control a boy, whose father goes missing on an adventure out at sea. It’s not soon after where you set forth on your journey to find him, and go after the monster of the seas, Oceanhorn. When starting the game, you will not have a weapon off the bat. You explore the home island, speaking with the townspeople and reading tutorial signs to help get you acclimated. You start by fending off enemies by throwing objects off the ground at them, until you finally acquire your trusty sword very shortly in.

If you’ve played a Zelda title, you will feel right at home with combat. You can simply slash at enemies with the Y button, and can block with your shield holding ZR. Weapons will not break, but you do have to watch your stamina bar. Blocking attacks will deplete this, which will certainly leave you vulnerable when fully depleted. Also, you can do a charged spin attack by holding down the attack button (which also uses some stamina). As you progress, you will get additional items/weapons such as a bow, bombs, magic, etc. These can be used to fend off enemies, as well as solve puzzles scattered through all the lands. Puzzles play a pivotal element in exploring these islands. There are just the right amount of hints in the environment to assist in these. There will also be boss battles that await. These battles each take advantage of specific items you earn in the area, while also providing a fair challenge.

When exploring the game’s fairly vast world, you will set sail between all the islands. Initially, there are not many locations to access. However, as you speak to NPCs and progress through the story, more islands will appear on the map for you to set sail to. Setting sail to these islands is a matter of simply clicking on the island of your choice when you are on your boat. The game will switch into a third-person view, with you being able to see all of what is ahead of you. You will use your Pumpkin Gun to fire away at any enemies and bombs that appear on your sail path, as well as crates that contain coins to earn. Sailing is handled automatically so you only need to focus on your surroundings. Given the fact that you won’t control the boat yourself, this automatic sailing is handled very well. Even when on course to an island, you can simply change course to a different island mid-sail, and the boat will quickly reroute to your new location.

As you fend off enemies, you will earn gems for XP. Earning enough XP will allow you to level up and acquire a new trait. These can range from holding more arrows and bombs, using less mana for magic, faster sailing, etc. More interestingly are the Challenges implemented for each island. When arriving on an island, you will be introduced to the name of the island when docking, as well as three challenges pertaining to that island. The challenges may occasionally be story-related, while others require certain stipulations to be completed. These may require you to swim a certain distance, use certain objects to kill “x” amount of enemies, etc. Completing these will net you a huge chunk of XP. Thankfully, leveling up never felt like a grind by any means, nor did it negatively affect progressing through the game at all.

Oceanhorn does have a few gripes that are worth mentioning. First, and foremost, the game was originally a mobile title, and it shows a bit here. While the conversion to console is incredibly well done, the game’s menu system feels catered more to a touch-screen than a physical controller. Thankfully, you can quickly select items using the D-Pad in real-time. There’s a map on the corner of the screen showing a segment of the surrounding area, but unfortunately you cannot view a map of the entire island or cave. Also, there are times where certain quests require you to carry an item, but require backtracking at a slower pace due to actually holding the item. While theoretically that’s more realistic than pocketing a bucket of fire (for example), it does make for a slightly tedious process. The dash button is also the same as the interact button, and there were times I wanted to dash but instead ended up picking up an item, talking to someone or opening a door. Given that console controllers have the extra buttons, it would’ve been better suited to map the dash button separate from the interact button. Lastly, there is no HD Rumble support here. All-in-all though, these gripes are far from game breaking and are just minor nuisances.

Visually, Oceanhorn is an immensely nice looking game. The world is incredibly vibrant and vivid, with great art style and nice texture work. Animations are solid for the most part, but it does show its limitations derived from the mobile hardware it was built for originally. I cannot stress enough though how smooth the game runs. Native 1080p and a rock-solid 60 fps really make this game pop on-screen. The lush greens and beautiful waters you will be venturing through really are eye-candy. Even when playing in 720p undocked, it looks terrific and still maintains the locked 60 fps. While the character models up close (during cutscenes) may not be the most detailed aspect, they’re still more than fine during gameplay. Audio wise, Oceanhorn has an adventurous, orchestrated score done by composers Kenji Ito (Secret of Mana series) and Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy series). The tunes here definitely do a great job capturing the game’s setting and tone, with the final boss song being the best of the bunch. Whether exploring the town of Tikarel, or the aquatic Gillfolk’s Drop, each composition fits the game superbly. Sound effects are also well done and hit all the right notes, whether attacking with a sword, exploding bombs, defeating enemies, or collecting items. There’s even voice acting during cutscenes that is pretty solid.

Oceanhorn may be a heavily-inspired Zelda clone, but that’s not a bad thing when executed correctly. The overall package found here is very well polished, with great visuals, interesting lore, superb audio, and addictive gameplay. For only $14.99, there’s plenty of content here to keep you engaged. Oceanhorn effectively works with the classic Zelda style gameplay, taking nods from “A Link to the Past” and “Wind Waker”. They say “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, and it clearly shows here. Fans of adventure games should not hesitate to pick this title up for their Switch collection.

Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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Danger Zone Review (PS4): “It’s Crashin’ Time”

Cars, explosions and mayhem are a recipe for disaster in the best way possible when it comes to entertainment. Danger Zone, a spiritual successor to Burnout’s Crash Mode, has just released for the PS4 courtesy of Three Fields Entertainment (comprised of creators from the Burnout series). This downloadable title is a return to what they know how to do best: Create a game about causing the most amount of destruction possible with your car. Is this downloadable spiritual successor a worthy return?

Danger Zone is designed to heavily resemble Burnout’s Crash Mode. For those who never experienced this phenomenal mode in the racing series, Crash Mode was about driving into a heavily congested traffic environment to cause the biggest accident possible. Danger Zone literally creates the same premise for the new generation. However, opposed to driving in living environments and cityscapes, you are driving in a virtually simulated environment.

When starting an event, you will see an overview of the simulated roads and traffic to give you an idea of how to plan your big crash. Taking control of the car, fans of Burnout will be right at home, with the tight controls and physics. Once ramming into another car, you can still control your totaled vehicle with the left analog stick and sway it in the desired direction. However, you can only do this for as long as there is momentum in the wrecked vehicle. This is essential to trying to nudge a car into another lane, or even trying to collect items like bonus cash and Smashbreakers. Smashbreakers are exactly like Burnout’s Crashbreakers. This will allow you to explode your vehicle and any other cars within the radius, while giving you control again to push your vehicle elsewhere. Trying to grab Smashbreaker icons along the course is key to stringing together some crazy combos. Also, you need to try and be careful not to fall off the track. Falling off will derezz your car and your run will be over immediately. You will have to earn a certain amount of money in an event to score either a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum medal for the run. You can simply progress to the next event by at least obtaining a bronze. Gradually, the game’s events will become more intricate. This will require further creative ways to cause mayhem in order to advance. Each run though takes no more than a minute or two to see fully unfold, which makes this great for pickup-and-play aspects. 

Now as fun as this all is, Danger Zone comes with some issues. First off, the biggest issue is the lack of personality. While the game is supposed to have a “test facility” setting, it just feels devoid of personality. The fact that this is the only environment you will see in the game is lackluster. Also, you only get to use the one test car the whole game. There are no local or online multiplayer modes what-so-ever either. It does have leaderboard support, but a game like this would certainly gather friends together to try and compete to who can cause the craziest crash. Lastly, not that this affects the overall score, but the lack of a platinum trophy is a bit of a bummer.

Danger Zone runs on Unreal Engine 4, and everything looks very well detailed. Cars have details to them when crashing, whether some scrapes on the side or the cars themselves actually charred up from fire. There’s nice shading and lighting, as well as sharp texture work. The animations and physics are very appropriate and have a good weight to the carnage happening on-screen. Interestingly, the game runs at 30 fps, while the game’s main menu runs at 60 fps. While it’s intense seeing all the crashing occur, the Burnout games were able to maintain 60 fps during gameplay, with more happening in the environment. This has a lifeless environment with not much happening to prevent 60 fps. Does it affect the overall gameplay? Not necessarily…but it’s noticeable. The audio effects are crisp, with the engine echoing in the opening tunnels, cars crunching into each other, tires screeching, car alarms going off, and explosions going on. The audio is great without question…but there’s not an ounce of music to be found in the game. I can understand no music playing during the crash event itself, but zero music for the main menu or results screen feels lacking.

Danger Zone is a fun title that brings back Burnout’s glorious Crash Mode, but isn’t without its shortcomings. The gameplay is crazy fun and it’s great for pickup-and-play sessions. Unfortunately, the issues mentioned do detract from the overall package, with the worst being the game’s lifeless simulated environment. Despite its shortcomings though, Danger Zone is a title that still is worth a shot and very reasonable for $12, especially if you’re a big fan of Burnout’s Crash Mode.

Overall Score: 7.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Danger Zone! Copy reviewed on PlayStation 4.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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