EGX Rezzed 2016 – Watchers and Wonders

I can’t believe how time has flown recently. As summer defiantly rushes on (the notion of No Man’s Sky frothily accompanying it no less), the past week has seen my first official event coverage as a journalist, planning regarding University, a whole lot of writing and one isolated occasion on which I was forced to flee for my life as a band of raucous NERF-ers hunted me down Hunger Games-style.

Figuratively, of course, for birthday occasions and death don’t usually mix unless you happen to be an orcish War Chief. But I wasn’t taking any chances. Outside the realms of FPS, my reflexes aren’t all that and I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit I resorted to the mud-streaked army crawl on multiple occasions. I was, if nothing else, incredibly well camouflaged by the end.

Back to said event, however. 2016’s been called The Year of VR, and whilst it’s true that this year’s EGX Rezzed housed multiple titles propelling players into the multiverse of the headset, I’m not so sure virtual reality will take off immediately. Rezzed served as partial confirmation of that – highlighting the restrictions the VR headset still proposes with some still quite enthralling and interesting upcoming concepts in their own right.

The event comprised a slew of other promising fare too, though, and ranged from quaking-nostalgic throwbacks to haunting explorations, to pre-released games I wasn’t expecting to enjoy quite so much as I did.

So, in such spirit, I’ll be condensing (if that is the right word given my tangential tendencies) my thoughts into a list not unlike my Most Anticipated Games of 2016, the very first of which will follow shortly.

 

Retrokick – Earthbound

It’s been a while since the last Retrokick. I know, almost two months since my last headlong collision with the saccharine walls of my childhood. Shocking. Discontented pensioners should be collecting at the end of my road, locked in hushed discussion about my sudden living in the moment, allowing only the occasional “Oh I know” and, “Absolutely appalling” to waft its way through my perpetually ajar window. But to tell you the truth, the switch-up’s quite…bracing, it turns out.

I was hit, however, by a particularly strong waft of blast-from-the-pastitude after rewatching Rob Reiner’s 1987 film Stand By Me. Dark, folkish, wayward with a discernible maturity, the King adaptation has always held amongst my top coming-of-age films. And despite Ape Inc’s Earthbound attracting most of its praise from its satirical nature, it’s very much a game that instilled that same juvenile precocity when I locked buttons with the 1994 RPG after it launched on Nintendo’s Virtual Console.

Earthbound might for me be an endearing, refreshingly witty JRPG, but it’s also incredibly relevant today. Gaming and self consciousness has attracted more in-depth discussion currently than has ever been, and the reflexivities of Metal Gear Solid, The Stanley Parable, Undertale and most recently Daniel Mullins’ Pony Island, have had their hands in developing gaming not just as a form of entertainment, but one of creative expression.

And considering that all this has happened in very recent years  (Pony Island only having released two months ago), it’s rather innovative ( not to mention brave) of Ape Inc. to have produced a concept so fresh and challenging as Earthbound.

 

As the second in the now-cult-favourite Mother series, Earthbound‘s very inception could very easily have been canned. The Mother series was dreamt up by one of Japan’s top slogan writers, Shigesato Itoi, whose advertising line for Seibu Department Store remains one of most prominent in the Japanese advertising industry. As well as landing a voice acting role in My Neighbour Totoro, Itoi had co-written songs with the Oscar-wining Ryuichi Sakamoto and a collection of short stories with Haruki Murakami, who just so happened to be one of the country’s best loved contemporary writers.

Photo

Actually, I don’t remember this self-proclaimed ‘photographic genius’ giving Ness the pictures. Did he just stalk a young gang of children, obsessively capturing their adventures?

Understandably, Nintendo eventually approached him in 1987 to write the slogan for one of its games. Itoi, however, agreed on the condition that they allow him to pitch his idea for his own video game: Mother. Despite his creative portfolio, however, Itoi was turned away by the company’s best known developer, Shigeru Miyamoto, as a high-profile games enthusiast, rather than an artistic prospective designer. It was only later that Itoi recovered his chances. Itoi was called back by Miyamoto, having been instructed by Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi to inform the seminal sloganer (whom Yamauchi heavily respected) that his idea had been successful.

Mother’s success continued, too, selling nearly 500,000 copies in Japan. After a sequel was planned, Itoi set to work with Kirby’s HAL Laboratory, and suffered technical difficulties to say the very least. Earthbound was worked for four years, and after multiple developmental set-backs, the remarkable Satoru Iwata was brought in to lend his development expertise.
And of course, here Mother 2 is. It was finished, and released in Japan in 1994, a year later in the US as Earthbound. Of all things, the ambitious SNES title was advertised through the olfactory medium of the scratch-n-sniff.

Those cards of what can only be described as compressed death, that all too often laced the underside of your fingernails with eau de rotten egg, or something equally repulsive. It evoked curiosity, but together with slogans like “Earthbound. It’s like living inside your gym shoes” and “Earthbound. The first Role-Playing Game with BO”, adverts didn’t offer much in the way of enticement, even if the satire within the game’s description was markedly apparent. The game’s cheery art style wasn’t held highly in the States either, and along with its vague marketing campaign, Earthbound struck both as unfashionable and unpromising at the time. Quite ironic considering the huge success of the similarly styled Pokémon Red and Blue only two years later, with no graphical criticisms in sight.

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Earthbound‘s narrative strikes initially as a nod to the coming-of age film. Ness, the incurably inquisitive protagonist of this double-sided adventure is woken one night by a meteor landing, and obviously feels compelled to check it out. The id of the child. Upon discovering that the fallen chunk of rock now native to his back garden is rather the vessel of powerful spacebeing named Buzz Buzz (because of course he is), Ness learns that his idyllic 1960’s hometown is under invasion by intergalactic warlord, Giygas, who intends to enslave the Earth. What ensues is a shared quest between a psychic girl, a firearm-handy genius, a perpetually-frowning distant prince, and an incredibly determined young man, as they traverse various cities and civilisations to thwart Giygas and save the Earth. An average plot, but communicated with remarkable boldness and even bolder flair. A shame, considering its self-effacing marketing struck as little more than a cheap joke.

The quaintly tiled visuals might’ve been unimpressive for the SNES, but where the anterior Secret of Mana and Illusion of Gaia opted more for *proportionate character design, Earthbound’s visual predilections assume instead a decidedly Charlie Brown direction. As I guided my motley crew of children across Halloween-party ghost towns and strange cults lead by paintbrush-headed townsfolk, the knee-bobbing piano licks of Peanuts hummed reminiscently at the back of my mind.

Lassie

Much of the humour in Earthbound stems from its observation of a world where kids appear to run the show. Not in a despotic, We Need to Talk About Kevin way, for adults certainly aren’t lacking, or much controlled. They just don’t care as much as we might expect them to. Against Earthbound‘s waggish crayon art style furthermore, it’s not just noticeable – it’s startlingly funny.

Your own mother tells you to ‘Go for it!’ as you embark on your adventure with no certainty of return, because she knows you’ll just defy her anyway – as is the instinctual impudence of any gamer. She also knows you’re playing a game, as does seemingly everyone in Eagleton, many of whom occasionally let the illusion of this Trumanesque world to slip every now and then, with its smarting jabs towards at the player and gaming traditions. Honesty is Earthbound‘s driving characteristic, and given reflexivity in gaming has only started to trend recently, you can imagine this drove quite the rift between the peculiar SNES title and…well, just about every JRPG going at the time.

And it wasn’t just a distinctive quality that made Earthbound notable. Whilst there was nothing quite like Earthbound at the time, its wryly literal humour and deceptively Utopic art style has since fed through into a plethora of other games, both within and beyond the realms of Nintendo. Majora’s Mask, Animal Crossing, Retro City Rampage are just a few titles that revelled afterwards in intentional kookiness, and there’s a little more than a mere taste of Earthbound in all of them. Heck, it even inspired South Park: The Stick of Truth. The game as a foundation for quirkier titles cannot be overlooked, and whilst the form is somewhat taken for granted nowadays, back in 1994, it was a huge risk for APE to take. I’m ultimately glad they took it. I bet Miyamoto is too.

Dungeon Dev

Beneath its smarting, referential tone and beguiling writing though, Earthbound is a relatively standard turn-based RPG. You can attack, defend and use consumables to regenerate health, as well as equip a variety of weapons in between enemy attacks. Levelling up and increasing character health and strength is noticeably easier than in other RPG’s, with experience points being awarded voluminously, even for reasonably straight-forward encounters.

I’ve never been one for turn-based combat, but battles with some of the weaker, yet more persistent enemies often felt unnecessarily drawn out. I found myself resorting to the ‘AUTO’ function after one too many Runaway Dog encounters, and since most opponents possess idiosyncacies and tendencies, this leaves combat feeling predictable, monotonous and occasionally mundane. The original’s lack of save points could also become frustrating; throw in as many quirkily-penned lines as you like, when you’re constantly oscillating between your next big location and finding a damned hotel to save your progress, gameplay can feel restricted by just how time-consuming this transpires to be.
Fortunately (or perhaps not, considering the power of first impressions), most of these instances occur early on, and gradually sputter out as the story develops.

Ruffini

Something I really did appreciate, as a veritable un-frequenter of turn-based bashing, however, was Earthbound’s neglect of random encounters. I’ve always felt interrupted at the prospect of random encounters in an RPG, so much so that Pokémon regrettably continues to be one of the most unnecessarily frustrating games I’ve ever played. But allowing enemies to be visible whilst exploring the battle ground aided Earthbound’s pacing unanimously, even including the option to outrun larger enemies should Ness’s health dip too low.

Another favourite quirk of mine is its constant mockery of the empowered player. Rub a possessed toadstool the wrong way and it might just muss up your control scheme, leaving Ness floundering freely into rocks, trees and all manner of townsfolk as you try earnestly to control him. And don’t worry, it’ll leave you just long enough to suss things out before inevitably re-muddling it all over again.

Earthbound never really lacks originality or character, it’s more the issue of design and technical issues clouding its kooky charms. Amongst the most beguiling is its soundtrack; a peppy, rosy-cheeked, shoulder-twitching, nostalgia-rousing chipset collection that often does as much to reference underlying themes as the words of its odd little folk.

Mini Barf

As I mentioned earlier, it does try its best to be honest with you. Beneath the boppy muzack symphony lies a darker, suspended set of notes; ones that escape every now and then to merely hint that there could be something deeper going on. Today, I’m oddly reminded of the static interruptions and bassy monotones of David Fincher’s Fight Club, although that particular dose of satire didn’t come till ’99.

But alas, playing Earthbound for any of these things alone is a little like watching JJ Abrams’ Super Eight just for the aliens. It’s the wider awarness that makes it. Not just within genre and archetype references, but of the communities that thrive within those genres and know those archetypes well. Earthbound still retains, for the most part (although the Toby Foxotrons, Foxlings, or whatever else they may or may not like to be referred to have since turned to enjoy the delights of Undertale’s influential Daddy), something of a cult status. As of this moment, it’s still incredibly niche, but given its recent release on Nintendo’s Virtual Console (and I have a sneaking suspicion the aforementioned skeleton-dating sim partially influenced that) and the increasing vocality around commentative video games, Earthbound could enjoy some- I think quite deserved – post-millenial praise.

Group

*considering the visual constraints of the SNES era and the technological advancement consoles and PC has seen since, it can be problematic to claim either game was particularly or remarkably proportionate, but we’ll keep the comparison here between SNES games to avoid any unwarranted or potentially violent eventualities.

LEGO Dimensions Review – A Brick in the Childhood

(This review first appeared on New Game Network as a review of LEGO Dimensions.)

Genre: Toys-to-Life, Action/Adventure

Developer: Traveller’s Tales

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Systems: PS4, XOne, WiiU, X360, PS3

LEGO is a craze that is as ubiquitous as it is rampant. A near-animate entity that peers from the deepest cavities of arguably every living room sofa in existence, these versatile capsules have overseen a greater yield of joy than Prozac. LEGO Nation is still upon us, and Traveller’s Tale’s latest toys-to-life build feels closer than ever to the culture these Danish-born bricks have become.

lego dimensions cakes

Despite the ‘toys-to-life’ genre having reached widespread recognition, LEGO Dimensions blends the physical and on-screen worlds in a way that is creative and unique. It’s a game that realises the inherent nostalgia of the abundant LEGO brick, shrugs, and decides to throw in a maelstrom of other childhood allegiances while it’s at it.

The adventure happens upon the nefarious Lord Vortech, whose plan to unite the scattered foundations of the various LEGO realms will merge every existing universe into one, under his blockish thumb.

The lovably daft humor that surged through TT’s previous creations makes its renaissance in LEGO Dimensions, cheekily interrupting some of the figurehead moments of beloved media franchises, proffering comical alternate timelines that feel wryly at home with fan culture.

lego dimensions gandalf batman

Did Gandalf actually meet Batman down there with the Balrog? Dimensions canon says yes.

 

With crossover capers aplenty, LEGO Dimensions jerks you between universes – with little time to feel giddy in between – and when you’re taking on a florid Joker mech amidst the burning ruins of Springfield’s Power Plant, or chasing a rogue Cyberman helmet through Whovian hallways etched with Bad Wolf graffiti and cracks in time, there’s a nostalgic thrill to be had that runs deeper than the toys-to-life aesthetic.

lego dimensions cyber

It’s like being slapped in the face with Marty McFly’s hoverboard whilst Gene Wilder sings the Pokémon theme tune. Oh, and it’s raining popping candy.
LEGO Dimensions is the largest game under TT’s belt, but despite having more on their plate, the smart details that lace the various realms of LEGO Dimensions are fine proof that TT haven’t bitten off more than they can chew. From the constant influx of on-point witticisms, to the decidedly stop-motion-y animations reserved for LEGO Movie characters, there’s a distinctly thoughtful undertone to the game’s visual showmanship, and  it’s truly heartening to see.

But Dimensions’ most notable visual aspect is actually found off-screen. The starter pack offers Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle minifigures whose quality match those of original LEGO playsets, along with a constructible portal that attaches niftily to the toypad. I spent close to two hours meticulously slotting all manner of knick-knacks together, and when the meat of the game finally began, I felt oddly rewarded.

lego dimensions batmen fighting

Despite its ingenuity, however, LEGO Dimensions isn’t without its banalities. As amusing (and undeniably adorable) as the crossover friction is, character dialogue isn’t all that varied in-game. Catchphrases can feel shoehorned in, alternating between a paltry selection of notable remarks. As much as I love Gandalf, one can only hear “You shall not pass” so many times, before the novelty inevitably begins to pale.

The LEGO games have always been easy to pick up – that’s partially the joy of them – and Dimensions is no different, sporting a simple controls and no real fail-state. The fluid control scheme doesn’t always sit well with vehicles in the game, as you’re occasionally required to turn sharply into narrow spaces, but amidst the bombardment of character references and clever design elsewhere, the frustration is thankfully fleeting.

But despite remaining true to franchise formulas, with the addition of toys-to-life properties, TT adds a whole new layer to the hallmark elements they’ve come to be known for. In addition to spawing characters by plonking the corresponding figure down on the toypad, players must shift them between sections to avoid capture by certain enemies.

lego dimensions dino

Fancy taking Gandalf for an enthused joyride? Sure thing. Want Homer Simpson to pilot the Batmobile? Be my guest.

Triggering Batman’s stealth manouevres or Wyldstyle’s master-building can all be done via the toypad, reflecting a give-and-take between physical and on-screen worlds that is rarely as balanced in other toys-to-life titles.

But where the pad really shines is in the game’s puzzle-solving elements. Conundrums feel more inventive in LEGO Dimensions than in previous brickish incarnations, requiring players to consider their physical environments as much as the game world. As a result, puzzles can be a lot more intricate.

By moving figures around on the pad, you’ll be able to warp to unclimbable areas, locate hidden items or summon electric fields, with more options becoming available as the main story progresses. Whilst puzzles aren’t mind-bending by any means, they certainly require a lot more from you than previous LEGO titles, and only validate the toypad more. They make it an accomplice to the play, rather than a mere, ornate conduit.

lego dimensions

‘Toys-to-Life’ is a classification that is quickly becoming synonymous with expense. Skylanders harboured a collection of levels that were ‘out of bounds’ if you didn’t have a specific figure type, and the genre took a lot of flack for extortion.

This is where LEGO Dimensions offers an alternative. For an in-game sum, you can ‘hire a hero’ to aid your endeavours, without having to rush to the nearest toy outlet to barrage an unsuspecting youth with contentions about how you absolutely must acquire Scooby Doo. And with TT’s assurance that the toypad will be compatible with all future content, Lego Dimensions’ steeper entry price may prove favourable over Skylanders’ more transitory portal.

One of the most debateable aspects of  LEGO Dimensions’ multiversal premise is that it makes ample room for additional content, and there’s already a vast array of expansion figures on offer that allow access to galaxies beyond the main storyline. A certain Marty McFly, for example, will unlock the Back to the Future dimension, as well as a smattering of open-world quests, challenges and collectibles.

lego dimensions marty.jpg

Whilst levels are flecked with actions that can only be unlocked by characters excluded from the starter pack, the game’s ‘Hire a Hero’ mechanic proves lighter on the wallet.

At £15-29.99 a piece, however, Dimensions can feel like a steep investment atop the entry price. LEGO has never been cheap, and Dimensions unpleasantly reminds players of this. The amount of content forelaying the game’s Level, Team and Fun Packs is still acceptable, and still sparkling with ingenious design, you just have to be willing to pay for it.

But they’re not at all essential to enjoy the game if you’re the thrifty type. The starter pack still exudes that quaint, LEGO charm.

lego dimensions scooby

Dimensions doesn’t just look like a LEGO game, however, it sounds like one. Reprising some of the most iconic pieces from Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who and Back to the Future – to name a few – LEGO Dimensions’ soundtrack is a true hark-back to the beloved adventures we’ve seen before, only this time adorned with endearingly blockish humour.

It boasts an impressive voice cast too. Gary Oldman is deliciously evil as Vortech, and hearing the likes of Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox translated into jocular brick form instantly brings one closer to the story, and somehow makes the sharp-witted writing even tastier.

lego dimensions capaldi

Peter Capaldi also lends his voice for Dimensions’ Doctor Who realms. A great Scot.

Traveller’s Tales may drawn upon the source material of some of their most successful titles, and the product isn’t completely lacking in repetition, but ultimately produces a concept with a charming ingenuity, and a contagion of childlike creativity. LEGO Dimensions takes full advantage of its toys-to-life status, integrating the toypad into puzzle and combat mechanics with stylish, imaginative flair.

It’s a game that allows you to build (or not build) as you see fit, making it a stellar experience to share with siblings, offspring, or your predigiously chatty young niece, whilst still managing to showcase the liveliness, acuity and downright silliness that makes TT’s championed series so darned great. If you’re a fan of copious crossovers and are prepared for a steeper price of entry, LEGO Dimensions is a joyous, 12 hour romp.

As for me, I’m still wheeling my modded Batmobile across the weathered plains of my desk. It’s remarkably therapeutic.

Overall Score:

80/100

 

 

Retrokick – Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped

Last time on Retrokick we delved into the game I turned to whenever I felt small. Now, ladies and gentlemen, we plough past the caffeinated synapses of my retentive memory bank to access a game I turned to when I was small. One of my first games, and certainly the title that ignited my – at times I’ll admit – questionable romanticism for third person platformers.

crash warp room 3
Oh yes. Oh yes. Here we are, my friends. Crash Bandicoot. Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped.
Crash Bandicoot is a name that has attained incredible prestige in the platforming world. Arguably the definitive Playstation mascot, the plucky orange goof represents Naughty Dog’s first venture into 3D platforming, and the candy-striped heart of nostalgia for many children of the 32-bit era.

Warped was the third installment in what would soon become – for better or worse – the extensive Crash series. The second Crash had been widely popular, selling over 800,000 copies by April 1998 in Japan alone, and Naughty Dog were given under 11 months to materialise a third.

Given the immense pressure the company were under, it’s a wonder how Naughty Dog managed to deliver a game that didn’t foreshadow the likes of Assassins Creed Unity, let alone a game as satisfying, challenging, intricate and drop-dead wacko as Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped turned out to be.

crash bandicoot 3 medieval

The escapade is set immediately after the events of Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. After Clancy Brown’s incredible antagonist, Neo Cortex has his formidable ‘Cortex Vortex’ destroyed, it becomes thrillingly apparent that an evil far beyond the washed-up scientist’s feindish forces is on the horizon.

Unleashed is Uka Uka, a paranormal tyrant and incidental twin of the mask that granted temporary invincibility in Crash 2, Aku Aku. Although at the time, my infantile tongue merely conceived him as ‘Boogah Boogah’.

crash bandicoot aku aku

A name to which I remain fastidiously faithful.

Perhaps concordant with his gravelly register, Uka’s hella evil. Hella evil, and hell-bent on gathering powerful crystals to exploit and ultimately enslave the Earth. Unfortunately, as crystal-kind is scarce nowadays, Uka Uka wishes to travel through time to nab them from their original positions. With the enlisted help of Dr. Nefarious Tropy, a diabolical time-augmenter with Captain Hook charisma and a Time-Twisting Machine, the dastardly duo whorl through continuum vortexes, on the inexplicable hunt for those precious purple talismans.

crash bandicoot cortex begs

Naturally, as the eponymous Crash Bandicoot, it’s your job to stop them.

It’s a typical goodies-v-baddies setup; one that doesn’t differ heavily from the Crash 2 formula. But the fresh wickedness of Uka, Tropy and other such goons as Dingodile ensured that the world of the Bandicoot didn’t fall flat on campy humour, and character interactions were kept interesting. And it’s always fun to watch Cortex cowering in fear.

The visual choices Naughty Dog made with Crash 3 felt somewhat mute in comparison to Crash 2. The undefined flatness given to characters against the simplistic backdrop of a whirling vortex is especially apparent now, paling in comparison to the delightful angularities of Cortex’s bulbous noggin in the precursor.

crash bandicoot tiny vortex

Crash 3′s character animations look a little flat.

Crash 3′s amorphous character animations gnaw especially at the killer vocal performances given for Dingodile and Tiny Tiger, and the holographic presentation I’d found so characteristic in Cortex Strikes Back was sorely missed here.

Visual quality elsewhere is undeniable. Crash 3 sported colour schemes that felt marginally more dynamic, and oversaw the introduction of entirely new domains. A favourite remains the prehistoric levels, not just for their volcanic design, but its immense sense of character. The levels are riddled with familiar Cortexic minions that hide Apocalypse-Now-style in swamps and bogs in attempt to bag you up. Barriers of steaming magma test your reflexes as hulking cretaceous beasts chase you.

crash bandicoot cortex hologram

Crash 2’s holographic animations suited the style better.

 

Above all perhaps, was Crash’s  veer into Mario/Yoshi territory, with the addition of a mountable dinosaur friend to aid your prehistoric travails; something that came in particularly handy during time trial segments.

For the most part, Warped played like its predecessor. Crash could jump, use a spin attack, crouch and body-slam. Whilst the latter had always been the exploitable solution to hard-to-reach areas, Crash 3′s doltish bosses offered an alternative. After defeating each boss, powerups were received to super-charge one’s abilities, making level traversal a little more varied than Crash 2, and much more entertaining.

crash bandicoot baby t

Crash’s sister, Coco also took a more active role in Warped, appearing as the controllable character in many of the ‘bear-ride’ sections that’d been available in the previous game, only this time sporting a fiery orange Tiger Cub, called Pura. Whilst her appearance didn’t switch up level progression, it contributed nicely to the storyline, overseeing Warped as a collaborative effort between siblings against the formidable forces of Uka Uka. It certainly beat Coco’s pervasive teenish attitude previously.

Bosses themselves were, again, multi-tiered, and although manouevres didn’t deviate much (if at all) from those adopted in the previous game, the time and attention to detail artists such as Charles Zembillas put into creating Cortex’s hybrid goons definitely shines through. From Tiny’s Tiger’s galumphing leaps and bounds, to N. Gin’s intergalactic mech suit, each boss wears its own idiosyncrasies on its sleeve; leaving you to veritably (and amusingly) exploit it.

crash bandicoot dingodile zembillas

Naughty Dog had originally intended Dingodile to breathe fire, but ultimately changed him to a flame-thrower-wieldy menace after Zembillas suggested it would make him more interesting [Artwork by Charles Zembillas]

Despite this, looking back at Warped with eyes jaded by recent, more complex attack patterns, it’s easy to claim Crash 3‘s bosses feel a little too simple. Whilst the frequency at which Dingodile attack does have its volume turned up with each tier, it’s easy to get the hang of, perhaps leaving a modern newcomer to the series feeling a little unchallenged.

 

This being said, though – even for design and writing alone – the brutish bodyguards of the Crash series are a whimsical treasure, and are varied enough never to become dull. So even if you’re finding N. Tropy a breeze, he’ll at least entertain you while you kick his time-oriented ass.

The notion of gems and secret warp rooms was, by the time Warped released, a well-recieved one. Indeed, with the third installment, Naughty Dog had significantly upped the ante when it came to hidden goodies, making Crash 3 strikingly more complex than its 1997 predecessor.

crash bandicoot polar

crash bandicoot pura

Not wishing to divide the room or anything here, but Polar or Pura?

 

It was much more common to access hidden pathways and brave notorious ‘death-paths’ in order to obtain every gem, with each level posing the dangling carrot of relics for beating it within a specified time-frame. Indeed, some time trials were so stringent that they required powerups to beat. With superdashing, superjumping and the occasional fruit bazooka at one’s disposal, time trials have represented one of the highlights of Warped for me, and if ever I needed a remedy for the bosses’ lack of challenge, obtaining each platinum relic provided the bittersweet tonic.

Naughty Dog also created three new engines to support new modes in the game. The motorbike was an acquired taste; taking a little more concentration to avoid swerving hazardously into bottomless pits or into hatefully slowing desert patches. The jet ski segments were also amongst the least enjoyable levels, with clumsy controls that made navigating tight corners difficult.

Rest assured, if you’re not bothered about gems or relics, these stages provide a delightful break from platforming antics, but the liberal control scheme here often meant doubling laboriously back after missing several crates, or spamming the restart function in order to beat the time trial. Consequently, I often found myself grimacing at the sight of another pirate ship.
crash 3 jet ski.jpg

On a lighter (and quite literal) note, Crash 3: Warped maintains its status as one of my favourite video game soundtracks. Amidst a delightful assortment of catchy bass riffs, synthy crescendo and head-bopping percussion, composer Josh Mancell had always known how to rock a didgeridoo, and with the effervescent warblings of the xylophone to top it all off, the tunes of Crash 3 are tough to beat in a 90’s platformer.

In under a year, Naughty Dog had managed to deliver a Crash that lived up to its predecessor, bursting with emphatic character and wacky design, whilst maintaining the intricacies that were so popular amongst older audiences in Cortex Strikes Back. It’s a true feat to behold even now. Perhaps especially now; an era technical slip-ups, incompletion and game-imploding bugs.

crash bandicoot infant cortex and tropy

Through it all, Naughty Dog have remained consistently strong, proceeding to conquer such acclaimed series as Jak and Daxter, Uncharted and The Last of Us. Does Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped still hold up? Unquestionably, and arguably not just because this game was a huge part of my childhood. Overall, it delivered everything that a sequel should have been. Balancing familiarity with a deluge of new features, Warped was a romp that remains a pleasure to venture through in the beshadowed hours of Saturday morning.

And with the recent remasterings of Oddworld: New n’ Tasty, and both Ratchet and Clank and Uncharted 4 set to grip the Dualshock 4 later this year, would it be so naive to anticipate the return of the Bandicoot for his 20th birthday?

crash bandicoot e3.png

Oh very good, Mr. Layden. Very good indeed. Just give me Crash at 60fps with at least one Clancy-Brown-Mr.-Krabs joke. Hold the microtransactions.

 

 

 

 

 

The WakuWafu and Starlight Blogger Awards

Well, paint me orange and call me Crash, there’s a snippet of loveliness to start the day.

Indeed, upon prying open the onyx jaws of my pop-up endowed laptop, I found that I’d been nominated for The Wakuwafu and Starlight Blogger Awards.

And given by none other than SilencekilledtheDinosaurs – a tremendous storyteller that never fails to slap a big ol’ grin on my face; not least because of her use of chucklesome sketches to project the crooks and meanders of daily life, whether grounded and contemplative or darkly amusing.

So, without further ado, here are the rules of The Wakuwafu Award:

wakuwafuaward1. Thank the person who has nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  1. 2. Choose any 3 things you would like to say about yourself to your fellow bloggers.
  2. 3. Think up 3 questions you would like to ask the people you nominate.
  3. Give one piece of advice to your fellow bloggers.
  4. 4. Make sure to tell us over here (http://wakuwafu.com/2015/09/08/the-wakuwafu-award/) that you have been nominated (and/or completed the award) so that we can put your blog up on the wakuwafu page! Make sure to put down your blog in the comments section!

The Starlight Blogger rules are:starlight-blogger-award

  1. Thank the giver and link to their blog in your post.
  2.  Answer the 3 questions given to you.
  3. Please pass the award on to 6 or more other bloggers of your choice and let them know that they have been nominated.
  4.  Include the logo of the award in a post or on your blog. Please never alter the logo and never change the rules.

 

I won’t lie, I do feel like I’m being interviewed a bit, and it’s got me excitable as an adolescent Springer Spaniel.

Questions asked by SilencekilledtheDinosaurs:

If you could wake up tomorrow anywhere in the world, where would that be?

New Zealand. Never have I been so astounded by a country’s natural beauty. Apart from the Antarctica, but I don’t suppose I’d be waking up as such if I was ethereally teleported there during the night.

Although, coming from The Home of the Repressed, Land of Evasive Eye Contact (alias, England), the friendliness I’ve heard to permeate the place might come as a bit of a shock. Delighful, but a shock.

As for what I’d do there, I’d be plodding around like a vivacious hobbit, gawking at all the cinematically familiar pastures of Piopio and Matamata, inexplicably drawing attention to my innate touristyness.

You are granted one wish, but it is a cursed wish and there is a 50% chance that it will go awfully wrong in some way. Do you make the wish, and if so, what do you wish for?

I’m off to University at the end of the year, so I suppose I’d wish for it to be a grand period of self-development and alliance to supplement my perpetual oglings of the game screen.

That way, if it did go awfully wrong in some forebodingly ambiguous way, I’d be comforted with the notion that, to some extent, that’s what University is all about, and others are probably going through it too.

What’s your favourite joke? If you don’t have a favourite joke just tell a good one. Or a terrible one. Sometimes terrible jokes are better than good jokes.

I recently discovered the sort of terribly corny joke that demands immediate expression to a friend to avoid my eyes promptly imploding due to their unrestricted rolling. Here goes nothing:

“Knock Knock”

“Who’s there?”

“Your delay”

“Your delay who?”

“Oh, I didn’t know you could yodel”

I both apologise and thank you.

And The Nominees Are…

Below are some of the blogs I enjoy reading. This choice does not reflect a ‘favourite’ system, but writings that impressed and inspired me this year, that I feel deserve attention.

Space Fuelled Gaming – Reviews and editorials concerning games and the industry; an enthusiastic discussor.

ParticleBit – Informative features on the world of gaming, as well as confident reviews.

A World of Weird – Wittily penned thoughts on films, games and novels that aren’t always well-known. Much horror often ensues, and it’s thoroughly entertaining.

Serialhobbyiste – A new, analytical blog that raises interesting interpretations surrounding game and film elements.

EIGHT BIT – A collection of reviews, news and college thoughts, with an inviting, casual tone. Have a look at these three reasons you should watch Cowboy Bebop .

Updownright – A games blog that continues to demonstrate a dedication shared between three contributors, revolving around informative features, analysis and achievement-hunting tirades.

I Will Now Interrogate You Thrice Over

  1. Which fictional reality would you be happiest living out the rest of your days in?
  2. Which person do you respect most? Can be fictional or real, known personally or not. You also don’t have to necessarily like them.
  3. What made you want to start blogging, and what’ve your experiences been like so far?

And Now…

According to WakuWafu, I am now to give you all some advice. Given my harbouring a Playstation infatuation that, twenty years ago might’ve been deemed ‘unhealthy’ but can now be understood as ‘passionate’, I thought it only right to approach this as I might approach Bloodborne.

Run in and hack, slash and roll with all you have, because the enemy’s rarely scarier than what your mind’s anticipating. And each always has a weakness, however damn unforgiving.

bloodborne spider

I mean, there must be a few exceptions, but right now I can’t think of any…

A new review will be up within the coming week. Typing away like a clockwork stenographer as we speak.

My Most Anticipated Game of 2016

System: PS4
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: 26/27th April 2016 (NA/EU)

uncharted 4n
No Man’s Sky has certainly had me jittery with childlike in more than a few instances, but there’s always going to be a special kind of enthusiasm reserved in me for Uncharted. Naughty Dog is a developer that has proven consistently strong since formation, and with what we’ve seen of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End so far, their efforts aren’t about to run dry.

E3’s demo this year oversaw the beloved Nathan Drake literally being pulled through the dirt, engaged in bombastic car chases and intrepid endeavours that reminded me in an instant just how much I miss Drake’s sparky misadventures.

Though alongside the obligatory adrenaline came the inevitable effects time has had on the dauntless protagonist; something made more striking by the 1080p display. Face a little more lined than we remember, Drake’s now retired from his life on the edge and has settled down with his wife, Elena.gif nate

Exactly how long that retirement lasts, however, is another question. One that I’m very much looking forward to seeing answered.

Co-director, Neil Druckmann explains in an interview with Gamerant that their intent for Uncharted 4 was to “give the player more options, more ways to approach, whether it’s exploration, traversal or combat”. Druckmann’s previous work on post-apocalyptic triumph The Last of Us seems to have represented a crucial point of development for Druckmann, and as such The Last of Us’ complex AI has since been translated into Uncharted 4. Drawing a closer comparison, we might also speculate that a heavier emphasis on stealth may feature (as was the case with The Last of Us), and maybe even a slight raise in challenge level accompanying the greater variety of traversal options.

It’s a reassuring thought, especially considering Drake’s Deception’s disappointing reliance on quicktime events.

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Although, I found the dialogue options a little forced. They looked out of place in a linear game such as Uncharted.

This being said, A Thief’s End also marks the loss of writer, Amy Hennig. As the cocky one-liners and well crafted character relationships have always been a strong point of the series, it will be fascinating to observe how writers Druckmann, Bissell and Scherr will approach Hennig’s construct. Druckmann’s credit for The Last of Us is a confident starting point, and, overall, I’m looking forward to seeing his styles adapt to the more jovial rollicks of Uncharted’s buoyant cast.

 

With the multiplayed beta available now to owners of The Nathan Drake Collection on PS4, it really feels like Naughty Dog are as excite to unveil Drake’s latest adventure as we are to receive it. Implementing taunts, killable sidekicks, customisable items and a range of different explosives and weapons to endow your online experience, there’s already much the company wants us to see, which is only turning my attention more towards how the characters I’ve come to adore will develop in the series’ final entry.

uncharted 4 n
Naughty Dog described A Thief’s End as Nate’s “greatest adventure yet” that will “test his physical limits, his resolve, and ultimately, what he’s willing to sacrifice to save the ones he loves”. That’s a bold statement considering the delightful chaos of Fortune, Thieves and Deception, but it’s one Naughty Dog hasn’t disappointed on before.

What are your most anticipated games of 2016? Do you think they’ll live up to your expectations? Jot down a comment below. Thanks – and here’s to 2016.

Links for your curious heart:

http://gamerant.com/uncharted-4-naughty-dog-interview/ Uncharted 4

http://www.dualshockers.com/2015/10/31/uncharted-4-a-thiefs-end-gets-lots-more-info-on-multiplayer-story-technology-and-more/

http://www.naughtydog.com/site/post/uncharted_4_a_thiefs_end_2014_e3_trailer/

Most Exciting Concept: No Man’s Sky

System: PS4, Windows
Developer: Hello Games
Release Date: June 2016

no mans sky g.jpg
Quite aside from the most anticipated independent game of 2016, No Man’s Sky might just be the most anticipated game of 2016 full stop. Since the game’s announcement in 2014, No Man’s Sky has experienced an insatiable rabidity from already die-hard fans; a vivacity that – the more the workings of the title are revealed – becomes more and more relateable.

The game isn’t exactly Hello Games’ first venture, but it’s certainly it’s riskiest. The player assumes the role of an astronaut, who sets out to gather information from dimensions in uncharted galaxy. Equipped with a jet pack, spacesuit and multi-tool, the player can traverse luxurious, oversaturated worlds to salvage upgradeable items, fight off mechanical sentinels and uncover artefacts that allude to the secrets of the universe.

In interviews, No Man’s Sky has been described as a game about mathematical problems, in addition to exploration. Co-founder of Hello, Sean Murray explains that No Man’s Sky‘s environments are “procedurally generated”, as opposed to “random”. As such, a player can visit a planet and leave again, only to find that the planet’s environment will be generated around them in exactly the same way upon their return.
nms tower
And there’s 18 quintillion of them. According to Hello Games, each one is unique.

“But it’s not stored on the disk” Murray proceeds. It’s all generated right as you explore, which remains one of the most interesting aspects of No Man’s Sky. It isn’t chaotic, it’s reliable, which could make No Man’s Sky one of the best, even most realistic space simulators of the present day, as well as a cracking adventure game.

The player’s alleged only limit is the capacity of their spacecraft; something that can be upgraded to reach the innermost sactums of deep space. The game also represents the potential for an entirely new utilisation of the online community. You can submit your experiences in the game to the ‘Atlas’ – a database accessible to other players. Whilst not a new concept in itself, 18 quintillion planets means that there’s a very good chance that the things you see across No Man’s Sky will have never been seen by anyone else before; the Atlas could become more useful as a survival hub in No Man’s Sky than in any other title.
No Mans Sky Green

But of course, the game has been subject to – sometimes – unreasonable hype. The expanse of No Man’s Sky is undeniable; unignorable, but lacking a directing narrative and objectives, is the game’s size a novelty that could soon give way to mundanity? After a time of salvaging, scanning and upgrading, a new environment isn’t likely to puncture the growing mundanity, and it’ll be interesting to see if – and how – the game develops with the player.

Links for your curious heart: