Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

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Stoneshard review – PC

March 14, 2020

 

10 word description (from official site): Challenging turn-based RPG where your tactical skills will be tested.

Every action is turn-based, including all out-of-combat movement and interactions

10 word review: Rogue-like medieval fantasy romp versus agonising start-again deaths.

Body parts can bleed, or sustain injuries requiring medical assistance. Leaving them untended will wreck your ‘pain’ statistic and possibly have long-term repercussions, for example dying and re-loading.

You will like this if you enjoy: Rogue-like games where permadeath is an option. Identikit fantasy medieval-looking environments, weapons, and skill-sets. Re-loading after losing a considerable amount of progress, over and over again. Survival games where you have to manage hunger, thirst, bleeding, broken limbs, pain, intoxication, sanity, all while doing your best to level up high enough to even consider attempting the first quest.

Selecting a skill with a ranged effect draws a functional, if rather clunky looking, box to show the enemies you can hit with it

The good news: Stoneshard is currently in beta (or ‘early access’ to use Steam terminology) so a lot of the issues might possibly be dealt with when (if) it comes out of early access. Right now, it often feels unbalanced and unfair, although the heightened challenge is also a big positive for players looking for this type of die-restart-die-restart game. Getting to the actual ‘good’ part of the good news section, the game does look quite nice, the interface is generic but almost instantly intuitive, weapon choice and skill customisation let you play pretty much any type of generic medieval fantasy class you want to play. Combat doesn’t feel unfair all the time, just when you, for example, get ganked by a virtually unkillable bear after a good run of kills and pelt-collecting.

Here, I am tactically waiting at a safe distance while the totally overpowered bear kills those two ruffians

The bad news: Due to its ‘early access’ status, the game isn’t complete. The option to create your own character isn’t available yet, although the menu option is there so it’s definitely a feature they’re likely to be adding at some point. The game can only be saved at the pub in the starter town, and at various locations out in the wilderness after you discover the locations by heading towards ‘points of interest’ on the map. I didn’t find this as bad as I thought it was going to be, and once you unlock a few of the camps (extra save locations), the fear of wandering far from town is significantly reduced.

Enchanting items is random. Buy an enchant scroll, use it on an item, receive a random enchantment that should, just about, match the item you’re putting it on. Fingers crossed, and I got a fairly decent upgrade on this axe

Permanent turn-based movement adds a veneer of tedium to out-of-combat wandering. You can’t just hold down the left mouse button and have your character follow the cursor around, you have to keep clicking to make the character move. Also, every other character only moves when you move, so it does look a bit weird in town at times.

Animal pelts sell for a decent amount, but they take up a lot of inventory space. The wolf pet takes up six slots, but the moose pelt takes up even more

The inventory fills up very fast, some items take up a massive 3×3 grid of slots, and nothing stacks. Some food and medicine sort of stacks, for example you can get cooked meat with more than one use, so it’s a bit like having it stack but not really. One final bit of bad news, there aren’t multiple character/save slots, so if you want to try a different character you’re going to have to lose your current one. Hopefully that will be sorted out during the early access period.

Arcadelife verdict: Taking into consideration the early access status of the game, and a few moderately frustrating features, I do like Stoneshard and I keep going back to it because I’ve figured out a couple of ways to make money, how to avoid or escape from most certain-death encounters, and I like games with constant incentives to level up and dump points into cool-sounding skills. One thing about the skills – you learn basic skill unlocks and skill trees by buying (possibly finding, although I haven’t yet) skill books and reading them. This isn’t a minor skill-boost type of book, like in Skyrim for example, this is where you can have a sword-and-shield dude buy a magic book, read it, and get a specific school of magic added to their skill-tree choices. That’s pretty cool.

Don’t have natural bow skills on your character? Buy a book and learn!

Overall, playing the ass-hat’s advocate card, I could say there’s absolutely nothing in Stoneshard that we haven’t seen before in one or more fantasy-themed role-playing games. Does Stoneshard present these tropes in a stunningly new and exciting way? Nope, it doesn’t. Does it feel old and tired? No, not really. In fact, it feels like it could end up being a compulsive little time-sink if they polish it a bit, maybe let some items stack in the inventory (or give us more inventory pages to unlock), and turn off turn-based out-of-combat movement and actions.

Lots and lots of skill trees. This is the axe skill tree, see the list of others on the left…that’s some character customisation right there. Note the grey ones – read books to unlock those, or don’t. It’s up to you.

As it is, Stoneshard is well worth picking up while it’s in early access, but don’t expect an easy time!

Arcadelife rating

Presentation – 7/10
Visuals – 7.5/10
Controls – 9/10
Content – 6/10
Fun – 6/10
Final rating – 7.5/10

GO ROGUE!

 

This review was written on a dasKeyboard Model S Professional.
I also write novels – JW Tapper website
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Marbloid review – iOS Universal

December 8, 2018

10 word description (from official site): Marbloid is a 3D marble runner for iPhone and iPad.

10 word review: Incredibly good-looking, incredibly annoying. Prepare for extreme frustration.

You will like this if you enjoy: Failing due to deliberately perverse game design choices, losing everything you collected when you crash and fail due to those wacky design choices, being told “FAIL” by an annoying voice every time you fail and lose everything you collected due to those oh-so amusing game design choices.

The good news: Graphics are very nice. Performance is good – I didn’t get any slowdown or lag on my iPhone 8+. Concept is sound – guide a rolling ball through some areas collecting stuff and levelling up skills. No IAPs.

The bad news: Oh boy, where to start… The first few minutes with Marbloid are pretty good. But then you realise you lose everything you collected when you FAIL, so it’s different in this respect from other endless runner type games, you know, where you collect coins or whatever and they add to your stockpile every time you play. In Marbloid, the currency is emojis, which to be honest should have been a massive clue as to how annoying this game was going to be. Unlike the way you would expect this emoji-collecting to work, if you FAIL before reaching an exit point you lose all the emojis you have collected in that run, and you also lose any quest-related progress. This means you have to play the game a couple of different ways: One, grind on short, wimpy-but-safe(ish) runs to the first or second exit while collecting as many emojis as you can. This method can also be used to complete quests where you have to collect a total number of whatever in as many runs as it takes. The other way you have to play is enforced by quests to complete whatever in a single run – these are horrible because FAILING in this game is hard to avoid due to appallingly sadistic level design, specific level features which catch you out by being hidden around corners or just unavoidable, and the stupid tilt-only control, and the fact that you have to jump using a screen-tap but the bottom of the screen (where there’s a quest status bar) doesn’t register the screen taps and aaaarggghhhh! Trust me, it’s bloody annoying.

One thing which would remove the massive frustration of failing on a long, profitable run, would be if the stupid game let you keep what you had collected. You can even complete a quest – you get the screen prompt and everything – but if you don’t exit cleanly through an EXIT, and you FAIL, you lose that quest completion. It’s just stupid. I had to turn the volume off completely because the voice shouting “FAIL” every time you fail (which feels like every ten seconds) is ANNOYING. AS. HELL.

Arcadelife verdict: This is not so much a wasted opportunity as an excellent opportunity repeatedly slaughtered at the unholy altar of player-FAIL as part of some kind of evil, Groundhog Day experiment in phone-smashing frustration. This game’s annoyance could be mostly fixed by removing the unnecessarily cruel progress loss and the “FAIL” voiceover which purely serves to express just how much the designers don’t want you to enjoy playing their game.

Arcadelife rating

Presentation – 8/10
Visuals – 8.5/10
Controls – 6/10
Content – 6/10
Fun – -1/10
Final rating – 3/10

SMASH YOUR PHONE, THEN YOURSELF. IT’S WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO DO

 

 

This review was written on a dasKeyboard Model S Professional.
I also write novels – JW Tapper website
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Battle Princess Madelyn review – PC (Steam)

December 6, 2018

Game blurb, aka how the game is described on Steam and the Causal Bits BPM web page:
“You’re the princess! Battle Princess Madelyn to be precise, in this pixel perfect retro side-scroller, as you set off to defeat evil with your ghostly canine companion, Fritzy. Do you have what it takes to save your family, avenge your furry friend and become the ultimate battle princess?” “10 levels, each of which include up to 5 stages – including 1 or 2 branching hidden stages.”

What is it?
Battle Princess Madelyn is 2018’s indirect, unofficial descendant of Capcom’s thirty-year-old hard-as-nails scrolling platformer, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and its even older ancestor, Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Unlike those games, or any of their five later incarnations, the protagonist of BPM is Madelyn The (kind of) Princess instead of Arthur the knight. There are two modes: story and arcade. In story mode, a short cutscene sets up the premise that Madelyn needs/wants to go fight a bunch of bad guys and you’re almost immediately dropped into the action after some standard ‘talk to people in village to hear about the bad guys and the profit to be made and items to be gained from their wholesale slaughter’ conversations. The arcade mode just has the “Oh no, they killed my dog!” scene, which replaces the “Oh no, they stole the Princess!” scene from most of the classic side-scrolling undead-fighting platformers mentioned above.

What does it look like?
BPM is full-on retro pixel art and proud of it. I could probably witter on for several paragraphs about the satisfyingly lo-res homage to 80’s arcade games, but you can see for yourself from the screen images in this review. If you hadn’t seen this game but you heard it described as a modern take on Ghouls ‘n Ghosts with retro pixel art graphics, this is how you would probably imagine it looking. Bosses are big (see pic of first boss below), nicely drawn and animated, and take a lot of pummelling.

Is it worth turning the sound up?
Sort of. The music is great, and there’s an option to select an ‘orchestral’ or ‘arcade’ soundtrack. Sadly, the sound effects are very quiet (at least as far as I could tell on my system) and there’s no option to adjust the music/effects volumes independently.

How are the controls?
Keyboard works okay, you pretty much just have directional controls, jump and attack, however you can’t change the allocated keys. I played mostly using an XBox 360 gamepad plugged into the PC and it was fine, although the inventory button is only assigned to a PC key (Tab) which seems a bit weird because there are plenty of spare buttons on a gamepad for this. Response to input is consistent and immediate – I never felt like I was dying or falling to my doom due to controller issues.

Final opinion
I’m old, I played Ghouls ‘n Ghosts when it was in the arcades, and I played Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts on a SNES way back when that was new and exciting, and laggy as heck of course. A modern spin on the side-scrolling action platformer, as well as being a game I would really want to try out, is always going to be facing some serious competition from my (arguably rose-tinted) memories of those original games. Battle Princess Madelyn gets it mostly right. While I play the game, I keep running through a list in my head of what I’d like different, or better. I prefer the arcade mode over the story mode, but that’s just something irredeemably screwed up in my gamer DNA due to living through the Golden Age – I love high scores. And, of course, there’s no high-score table in this game, so I have to mark it down for that. Other things that irritated me included the quick-travel which doesn’t seem to include the hub village as a travel option – I honestly can’t figure out how to get back there to cash in quests, find the dude who offers upgrades, etc.

 

Other details, like the inability to change key mappings, or separately adjust music and volume controls make this feel just a tiny bit unpolished.

The core gameplay is spot on, the game looks really nice and controls work well. I’ll keep going back to play it long after this review has been published, but it would be great to have some of these issues sorted out – they honestly would not be difficult to fix.

Scores – because we love scores.
Dem retro graphics – 9
Music – 8.5
Sound FX – 4 (make ’em louder or give us a volume control)
Controls – 9
Gameplay (difficulty) – 8
Gameplay (fun) – 7.5
Menu options / customisation – 4

Overall score – 8 (I rounded it up with some rose-tinted memories)

This review was written on a dasKeyboard Model S Professional.
I also write novels – JW Tapper website
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Danmaku Unlimited 3 review (iOS / Universal)

August 10, 2017

10 word description: Bullet hell sequel. New modes. Unlockable firing methods. Beginner-friendly.

10 word review: Beautiful, intense, and tough as you want it to be.

You will like this if you enjoy: Bullet hell shooters. Seeing a screen full of gorgeous geometric shapes moving very, very fast.

The good news: A truly beautiful experience, both visually and the way it sounds. The controls are as intuitive and unobtrusive as possible, with no on-screen buttons, and minimal swipe controls that are virtually impossible to get wrong. Even the menus are crisp, clear and as gorgeous as the rest of the game.

The bad news: The game is hardly original, but then how could anyone genuinely expect a totally original gaming experience from the third game in a series within a genre that is as niche as bullet hell shooters? 

Arcadelife verdict: While it doesn’t really attempt anything groundbreaking, there’s a deeply compelling purity to the style, intensity and gameplay of DU3. The minor tweaks and improvements to what has gone before in this series are well-considered and definitely improve the overall experience. For bullet-hell fans, particularly fans of the genre on mobile devices, DU3 is an easy recommendation, with the very minor caveat that it isn’t going to blow your mind with its originality… only with its stunning beauty.

Arcadelife rating

Presentation – 9.5/10
Visuals – 9.5/10
Controls – 9/10
Content – 8/10
Fun – 8/10
Final rating – 9/10

PURE

Rating categories explained here.
Version reviewed by Arcadelife is 1.0.4
iTunes link
Arcadelife played and reviewed this game on:
iPhone 6 (iOS 10.3.2)
iPad Pro (iOS 10.3.2)
This review was typed on a Das Keyboard Model S mechanical keyboard – check them out, they’re really rather groovy.
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Titan Quest review (iOS / Universal)

May 19, 2016

titan quest img_0778

It’s here, at last – Titan Quest for iOS. Ten years after it was released on PC, here is one of the many action RPGs that followed in Diablo’s huge, fiery footsteps, but this one managed to convince many players that it was actually a better game. I have been playing it on iPhone 6 and iPad Air, and it has done a fair bit more than just bring back a few fond memories of an old PC game.

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For the purposes of this review, and keeping it fairly short, I’ve decided not to go into detail about the game content, classes, loot, skill trees, in fact pretty much everything that has been exhaustively covered all over the internet since 2006. I’ll focus on how the game plays on mobile devices (large and small), and what sort of a job DotEmu have done with transferring a fairly complex mouse & keyboard control system to a touch-screen interface.

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Before you ask, all the images in this review were taken by me on while I was playing Titan Quest on either an iPhone 6 or iPad Air. Click on any of them to view the full size image.

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First of all, the touch screen interface for the main game is extremely good. It is abundantly clear that a huge amount of thought, consideration, and play-testing has gone into this. Looking at the end result, I would bet that DotEmu tried various types of control interface before arriving at the final version. It is just very, very good. Personally, I would have provided an option to use relative touch on the left side of the screen instead of the d-pad, but that’s just because I always want a relative touch option.

titan quest img_0816

Moving your character around is easy, responsive, and never really feels any more awkward than it did with the mouse on PC. If anything, this kind of direct movement control will feel more natural for many players. Assigning skills to the hotkey buttons is straightforward and allows you to put skills wherever you want, within the limitations of the button positions. I haven’t had any problem triggering attacks or spells, so I’m completely happy with how they have set this up.

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There are a few minor issues with the control interface, but nothing anywhere near game-breaking. In NPC conversations, I found I had to move away and click the ‘talk’ icon again in order to get the follow-up part of a conversation or trigger a quest completion after the initial ‘well done’ chat. Once you’re aware of it, it isn’t an issue but it isn’t ideal. In fights where loot is dropping all over the place (which is a lot of the time) I sometimes found that my character was going into ‘collect loot’ mode instead of ‘hit things with a big sword’ mode. Again, once you’re aware of it, you can take steps to avoid it, but it will still occasionally occur and it can be slightly irritating if you don’t realise it’s happening during a tough scrap.

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Inventory management on the iPad screen is fine. I encountered various issues on the smaller iPhone 6 screen, particularly when trying to select and move single-block items (e.g. rings, amulets, potions and power-up components). Text also appears very small on the iPhone screen, with the game having a rather more fiddly overall feel than on the iPad, where it absolutely shines as a remarkable touch-screen achievement.

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In addition to the wonderful job of creating a clear, attractive, and very responsive new control interface for the game, there is also a clever feature for spell/skill use which replaces the original point-and-key-click with a drag-to-target mechanism. Whenever you tap and hold a spell icon, the action slows down into a kind of bullet-time mode while you drag your fireball spell or whatever to its target. Once you release, the action speeds back up to normal again, with an appropriate sound cue, and the spell hurtles to its destination. Very slick, very useful, and – most of the time – it works absolutely perfectly.

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Briefly, for anyone who hasn’t played Titan Quest (or Grim Dawn on PC/Steam, which is TQ’s darker, faster, and more thematically modern offspring) you run around slaughtering hordes of enemies, level up, collect loot, and repeat for dozens of enjoyable, carnage-strewn hours. At level 2 you select your first mastery (one of eight different classes), each with its own set of skills that can be unlocked and assembled into your own unique skill/spell choice as you progress. At level 8 (it’s 10 in Grim Dawn but you get there a little quicker in that game) you have the option to choose a second mastery (class) from the remaining seven classes, but it is entirely up to you whether you do that or stick with your single original class. Most players will opt to fill out there skills with some different ones from a second class, but that’s the sheer beauty of this game – it is entirely up to you.

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To summarise, Titan Quest is a classic PC action RPG that has been ported to iOS devices with an excellent touch-screen interface, with all the original game features and content included, and no in-app-purchases at all. It’s slightly disappointing that the Immortal Throne expansion isn’t included because it addressed several gameplay issues with Titan Quest and enhanced the overall experience. Despite that minor gripe, this is still a great game and it is certainly a brilliant touch screen port.

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The shopkeeper wants you to buy this game. I think you should.

Arcadelife rating

Presentation – 9.5/10
Visuals – 9/10
Controls – 9/10
Content – 9/10
Fun – 8.5/10
Final rating – 9/10

Rating categories explained here.
Version reviewed by Arcadelife is 1.0.0
iTunes link

Arcadelife played and reviewed this game on:
iPhone 6
iPad Air

This review was typed on a Das Keyboard Model S mechanical keyboard – check them out, they’re really rather groovy.

I also write novels. Find out more: jwtapper.co.uk

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Aliens vs. Pinball review (iOS / Universal)

April 27, 2016

aliens vs pinball 1

The first two Alien movies are easily in my top 10 favourites of all time, probably top 5 if I ever bothered to give the list any serious thought. AVP and the other sequels, well, not so much. The three tables in Aliens vs. Pinball are very good. The Aliens table is my favourite, and it also seems to be the most forgiving after a few games on each.

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It’s worth playing these tables while wearing headphones because a lot of effort has been put into the audio. The ambient sound effects are extremely atmospheric, and there are plenty of samples from the movies (and the game on the Alien Isolation table). A few of the Aliens samples did make me smile, because they were not the same ones that have been worn out through years of overuse, although the predictability of Hudson’s ‘Game Over’ line almost made it feel like a lazy inclusion. Note – almost, because it is a true classic, right up there with ‘I’ll be back’ in my opinion, and I would have been shocked if it had been left out.

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The AVP table is arguably more fun than the film. I can’t rate the Isolation table against the original game because I haven’t played Alien Isolation. I know I should have, but I’ve had to really cut down on gaming (and posting on Arcadelife, which you probably noticed) as I am using the majority of my free time for writing novels.

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Overall, Aliens vs. Pinball is a great addition to the already substantial mountain of Alien games, movies and other media. I didn’t hesitate in paying for the full unlock (less than five quid) and I am having a good time with all three tables.

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Arcadelife rating

Presentation – 9.5/10
Visuals – 9/10
Controls – 10/10
Content – 9/10
Fun – 9/10
Final rating – 9/10

Rating categories explained here.
Version reviewed by Arcadelife is 1.0
iTunes link

Arcadelife played and reviewed this game on:
iPhone 6
4th gen iPad

This review was typed on a Das Keyboard Model S mechanical keyboard – check them out, they’re really rather groovy.

I also write novels. Find out more: jwtapper.co.uk

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PewDiePie: Legend of the Brofist review (iOS / Universal)

September 28, 2015

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10 word description: Retro style 2D action platformer. Bosses, unlockables, humour, No IAPs.

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10 word review: The most essential ‘for gamers – by gamers‘ iOS release this year.

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You will like this if you enjoy: Platform games. Hard platform games. Platform games with some side-scrolling shooter levels. Parodious style gaming humour. Retro 16-bit graphics. Flatulent dogs.

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The good news: Controls, visuals, effects, level design, fun… it’s all here, all good, and it all works well together. Add in three difficulty levels, loads of unlockable stuff (characters, power-ups), no IAPS, and cloud-syncing, and you have one of the best platform/action games on iOS. 

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The bad news: The only problem I have with this game is understanding why some gamers are refusing to play a really good game because they don’t like the extremely popular YouTube gamer PewDiePie. Whatever next, refusing to play Call of Duty because you don’t like war? Hang on…

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Arcadelife verdict: This is a great game.

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Arcadelife rating

Presentation – 9/10
Visuals – 9/10
Controls – 9/5/10
Content – 8.5/10
Fun – 8.5/10
Final rating – 9/10

GREAT

Rating categories explained here.
Version reviewed by Arcadelife is 1.0.0
iTunes link

Outerminds website link

Arcadelife played and reviewed this game on:
iPhone 6 (iOS 9.0.1)
4th gen iPad (iOS 8.4)
This review was typed on a Das Keyboard Model S mechanical keyboard – check them out, they’re really rather groovy.