Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Golden Sun (2001)

Genre: Role-playing | Players: 1-2 | Developer: Camelot
I'll give Doc's style a shot.

Golden Sun is a role-playing game for the GBA that is very reminiscent of old school SNES rpgs. In a sprite based cartoon art style, players control silent protagonist Isaac and his friends as they journey across the continent in pursuit of the villains who have not only stolen mystical and dangerous artifacts from the village, but have also kidnapped 2 of Isaac's friends as well. They must recover their friends and the artifacts before they can be used to unseal the ancient force of Alchemy.

Battle against monsters and humans alike with the usual swords, axes, etc. and this game's form of magic called Psynergy. Each character has an innate element based on the four classical elements (Fire, Earth, Water, Wind) that they can use to cast spells both in and outside of battle. These can also be modified using Djinn; elemental familiars you can capture to equip and modify spells and stats. Mixing elements will make new spells such as adding a water djinn to an earth innate will give him plant based spells that outside of battle can grow climbable vines to access hidden areas. Djinn also have unique abilities that can be used in battle like one turn invulnerability and enhanced attacks. Or they can be unequipped at the cost of stat boosts to be summoned in battle. The more Djinn used (max of 4) summons more powerful creatures. All this adds more layers of strategy to the standard RPG battles. Two GBA's can be linked to battle other players as well outside of the single player game.

The game does fall a bit on the easy side. While this eliminates level grinding it also makes all the strategy options they give you all but unnecessary. You can go through the whole game without once mixing Djinn or summoning if you're not a complete idiot. But it is still a fun game full of detailed animation, hidden areas and bosses, special weapons, light puzzle solving and a lighthearted adventure.

Buyer's Guide:
Can be found used and new for between $10 and $20.

4 One eyed magic rock monsters who seem powerful enough to do this shit themselves out of 5

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stacking (2011)

Genre: Puzzle / RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Double Fine Productions

The second Double Fine download-only title is what indie titles should be: stylised and fun. This time it’s based on the Russian stacking matryoshka dolls.

You play as young Charlie Blackmore, a chimney sweep and the smallest of the doll sizes. When his family get into financial hot water, Charlie gets heroic and decides to rescue them from the evil Baron, an upper class tyrant who controls the working class. Charlie must progress through a series of challenges, but you'll quickly find that he'll need to recruit other dolls if he's to succeed. To do that you creep up stealthily behind the doll you want and enter them from the rear. Yes, I did just say that. If they see you coming they won’t let you inside. Typical.

You can only go up one size at a time, so if you want to enter one of the larger women you’ll have to first find a smaller model to… this is getting awkward.

Each doll is 100% unique and gives the player different abilities enabling them to complete specific tasks, or grant access to previously hidden areas. Once a task is achieved you can move on. However, there are always three different ways to achieve each task, so the method you employ is up to you. You can even do all three if you feel like it, and the game rewards you if you do take the time to discover all the answers. It forces you to engage in some lateral thinking and to explore the characters’ abilities to see which you can use to aid you.

The optional ‘Hi-jinks’ are fun, such as farting in ten doll’s faces, or something equally as irreverent. The Double Fine humour is never far from the surface.

As with Costume Quest (2010), Stacking got DLC. Alongside bringing back Charlie, The Lost Hobo King introduced new dolls with new abilities. The gameplay is unchanged, but he's now in a town called Camelfoot. There's a demo of the main game on the stores so you can try before you buy.

Buyer's Guide:
Can only be bought directly from PSN, X-Box live or Steam.

3½ cheers for child labour out of 5

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Costume Quest (2010)

Genre: Action / RPG | Players: 1 | Developer: Double Fine Productions

Double Fine make great games, but they rarely sell in large numbers because people are assholes and prefer yearly updates of FIFA and C.O.D instead. That’s a shame. As a result, the team stopped making disc-based games and concentrated on download-only titles. Costume Quest was the first of the batch.

It's filled with colourful charm and subtle humour, and while the actual gameplay is basic and repetitive it’s still a joy to play most of the time.

It takes place on Hallowe’en night. You choose to play as either Reynold or Wren, twins, one of whom has to rescue the other from evil, candy-loving monsters that we all know lurk in old people’s houses on Hallowe’en night.

You hunt for clues to your sibling's location by asking local kids, trick-or-treating and solving simple puzzles. There are some basic RPG elements that won’t cause a headache for even the most fearful of RPG gamers.

In an act of pure kid-fantasy-awesome your cardboard robot costume becomes real, transforming you into an ass-kicking Japanese Mech the size of a house. You use each costume's ability to kill bad guys in turn-based combat. The fighting gets repetitive after a while, so to spice things up there are hidden costumes to find that grant your chosen hero new abilities. You can only wear a new one once you've found each of the individual parts needed to make it. That lets you vary your costume from time to time to make use of unique abilities.

Additional DLC called Grubbins on Ice was released a few months later. It continued the story and but with Xmas theme, introducing new costumes and abilities. The basic gameplay is exactly the same, however. There's a demo of the main game on the stores so that you can try before you buy.

Buyer's Guide:
Can only be bought directly from PSN, X-Box live or Steam.

3½ bags full out of 5

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lady Sia (2001)

Genre: Platformer | Players: 1 | Developer: RFX Interactive

A game from the early days of the Game Boy Advance.
Gameplay:
Players control Sia as she battles some anthropomorphic enemies with her sword and some magic while navigating environments to collect gems and health while rescuing prisoners. A pretty basic platformer with some action elements. Regular enemies are nice to fight, but boss fights can be frustrating as there is almost no feedback to tell when attacks are effective. Just old school blinking characters. Also they sometimes devolve into trial and error as there is no instruction on how some enemies are to be defeated. You are also graded on how well you do and top marks unlock bonus levels.
Controls:
B for attack, A for jump. Hold B for special attack. That's pretty much all you need to know to finish the game. Basic, but functional. Sia gains new abilities as you progress that vary in their usefulness.
Sound:
Decent soundtrack filled with standard game music. There are almost no sound effects for enemy attacks which I thought was weird since Sia at least has sword swipes and energy blast effects. The whole game relied almost entirely on the music.
Graphics:
A hand drawn animation style that is charming and colorful. It is sometimes hard to tell what is part of the game and what is just background which can be a huge problem in a platformer.
Story:
All the continents of the world are invaded by beasts called the T'soas. Sia is ambushed and kidnapped during an alliance meeting with the other kingdoms to discuss how to deal with the enemy. She breaks free and must now drive the enemy from not only her kingdom, but also the others.
Buyer's Guide:
New copies go for around $20, but I have seen used copies go for as low as $2 both in bargain bins and online.

2½ Retro gameplay for better or worse out of 5

Sunday, January 8, 2012

inFAMOUS : Festival of Blood (2011)

Genre: Action / Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Sucker Punch

Gameplay:
A standalone expansion that doesn't require either of the previous games to work. Basic gameplay is unchanged: you parkour through a city while collecting stuff and kicking bad guys off buildings, all while in a third person perspective.

There are new powers, most of which are dull except for the turning into a colony/flock/swarm(?) of bats and flying until your meter runs out. Once empty it can be refilled by stalking women, jumping them in an alley and draining them of blood… or pick one of the guys in a crowd, but that’s less fun, right?

The game engine is solid; I didn't hit a single glitch. It’s not a huge area, it’s one part of New Marais (from infamous 2), but it’s big enough for a PSN game and is well-populated with costumed yokels, all of which can be bitten.

UGC can be played both during and after the main story is finished. As you’d expect, some of what’s available is interesting and some is awful.

Controls:
Bald hero can jump, glide and climb; a combination of the shoulder button and one other makes him aim and shoot. New moves include the aforementioned bite and fly techniques. There’s nothing too taxing. There was no tutorial, so it assumes you’re already familiar with the controls from the main games.

Sound: 
There’s a wonderful use of rousing music that drops in and out when you turn on certain powers. (I left that bit out before, I don’t want to spill all the secrets.) The citizens of generic town don’t have much to say for themselves, though.

Graphics:
It’s a PSN game, so don’t expect to see all the hairs on bald hero’s head in high def, but it really does look good despite that. It takes place at night, so it’s dark and neon much of the time.

Story:
It’s the same Cole character as before. I forget his surname; it really doesn't matter, he’s a personality void. The fool has got himself bitten by a female vampire called Bloody Mary. He needs to find the bitch in a timely manner and stick his wood in her before the sun comes up. Hurrah.

Buyer's Guide:
It can only be bought from PSN as a digital D/L. It’s currently on sale for half price, but will go back to full price at the end of Januaury 2012. It’s worth the lower price, but not the higher unless you've money to burn.

2½ bald guys get all the women out of 5

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Breakdown (2004)

Genre: First Person Shooter, Action | Players: 1 | Developer: Namco

An attempt to be innovative that failed in it's execution.
Gameplay:
Players control Derrick in an unbroken first person perspective as he battles soldiers and warriors with guns and with various punch and kick combos. The developer was aiming for total immersion so in addition to the uninterrupted perspective (Valve did that better) there is almost no heads up display and interacting with anything in the environment is handled more realistically in that you actually have to pick up items instead of just walking over them. This essentially does nothing but get in the way as Derrick lovingly examines every item until you tell him to use it which is a problem if you need ammo or health in the middle of a fight which you inevitably will because of the terrible controls. Also irksome is you can save ammo, but not healing items. You use it or lose it.
Controls:
The shooting is terrible particularly if you are more than 5 feet from your target. The auto lock is worthless and you're better off not using it at all. It's a little more useful for the hand to hand fighting since without it you may go sailing past the enemy if you are too close which you will invariably have to be since you are fighting hand to hand. The triggers are the main attack buttons which is a stupid idea for fist fighting as they are not responsive enough. Combos are made using the left stick with attack buttons, but the stick also controls movement and the game has difficulty acknowledging which action you want to take. So you are left to basic combos that don't need the joystick which limits your options. One more nitpick, platforming sections are never good in first person perspective.
Sound:
Not a whole lot of music. It only punctuates a few action scenes and in between you are left with nothing but Derrick's footsteps and breathing. If this is supposed to be part of the immersion someone needed to remind the developers that games are supposed to be fun. The voice acting is OK at least.
Graphics:
Endless gray hallways all around. Office spaces with the most draconian decorating regulations aren't as bland as these environments. Human characters seem to have eaten all the graphical resources since they look pretty good.
Story:
Derrick awakes in a lab with amnesia by a woman who seems to know him and she helps him escape when soldiers invade the lab and try to kill him. The story is actually somewhat interesting. It would have been better served with decent gameplay or just as a nice science fiction movie.
Buyer's Guide:
Can be found online or in bargain bins for around $5.

1½ A for effort, D for execution out of 5