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Posts Tagged ‘Platformer

Review: Spelunky (XBLA)

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When people talk about Spelunky they far too often refer to it as some sort of ‘death-grind’, where all you do is spawn and die and that’s somehow that’s the single, solitary hook that keeps you playing like some sort of brutal exercise in platforming S&M.

For me, it wasn’t the notion of getting flat-lined just to try again that kept me coming back, it was something a little more subtle than that; namely the concepts of greed versus survival and risk versus reward.

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Written by bitsnark

July 17, 2012 at 10:24 am

Something You May Have Missed: ‘Papo & Yo’ For PSN – One Man’s Early Life Retold As A Gloriously Surreal Looking 3D Puzzle-Platformer

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A whimsical and seemingly unassuming logo; the actual game is anything but.

If you haven’t heard of ‘Papo & Yo’, I wouldn’t have blamed you given its relatively low profile.  A shame that said profile isn’t more prominent really, since Papo & Yo appears to be one of the most emotionally engaging and compelling looking releases of the year – downloadable or otherwise.

Papo & Yo is a surrealist 3D platformer that appears to take inspiration from the likes of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, ICO and Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending film, Inception.  Interestingly, the game is actually loosely based on the early life of creator Vander Caballero – a former EA employee who had worked on the likes of Army of Two and FIFA before deciding to leave in order to pour his heart and soul into the very personal project that Papo & Yo has become.

Papo & Yo aims to retell Caballero’s childhood and his relationship to his alcoholic and abusive father as an abstract tale – swapping out Caballero himself with a small boy named Quico and his father with a huge colourful beast.

By and large, the vaguely Rhinoceros-looking beast is very friendly to Quico – helping him to scale tall obstacles and break through barriers with the sort of ease that the diminutive child is unable to muster.  Yet, his one weakness is frogs which turn him into a raging, fire-spitting Efreet-type creature and make him every bit a potential threat to Quico as he was an ally before.  The parallels that you can draw vis-a-vis his experiences with dealing with an alcoholic father are obvious, but the changes in temperament of this creature remain emotionally poignant and have a substantial impact on the gameplay.  At its core, Papo & Yo functions very familiarly to fellow first-party exclusive ICO; in so far that the game is a platform puzzler with a dynamic NPC partner slant but its the various mood states of the monster that dictate how those puzzles are approached – if the creature is in a state of calm, puzzles become relaxing and chilled out affairs, if the creature is enraged however, everything goes out the window and self-preservation shoots up the priority list ahead of completing the puzzle itself.

This is an awesome dynamic and one that is carried through not just on emotional and gameplay terms, but asethetic ones as well.  When the beast is calm, the music settles on a delicate tempo, lightly hitting relaxed notes and with whimsical strings providing a calming backing to the events unfolding on-screen, if the beast consumes any frogs however, the tempo ramps up and the music becomes much more immediate with an indelible sense of danger effortlessly conveyed to the player.   On the note of the music also, Caballero promises a great deal of aural uniqueness even saying “You’ll hear instruments in this game that you’ve never heard before.  Like the jaw of a dead cow.”

Jaw of a dead cow.  How many games can say that they have that in their musical score?

Visually, the game is a complete treat for the retinas.  Taking place in a surrealist interpretation of his upbringings in the colourful favelas of South America, colour and vibrancy are the order of the day here, as is unpredictability and chaos; with the scene sometimes turning in and on top of itself when a puzzle has been completed or when the beast indulges itself on some amphibian-powered intoxication.

There are more muted and delicate visual flourishes too.   Chalk drawings appear on many of the walls in the favelas; depicting puzzles that must be completed and upon doing so, the components of those puzzles spring to life – with new staircases materialising out of the thin air, and small little gears sprouting legs and hurrying quickly to their required positions as fast as their tiny new found limbs will take them.  Another example, is when Quico is sprinting along a pitch black corridor with a dipped light at the end of the tunnel; as he runs farther and farther down the tunnel, a section of the darkened wall opens up to reveal a menacing shadow of the monster following him.

If you haven’t picked up on it by now, let me tell you that I am completely entranced by this game. Very rarely have I seen such an awe-inspiring  fusion of emotion and visual imagination outside of games such as ICO and Shadow of the Colossus.  Even then, with this game drawing from a set of very personal experiences unlike the latter and the former, the emotional impact that this game delivers to the player with its visual allegories and character relationships comes across as a unique proposition all of its own.

Look at the trailer below and then put this on your radar and keep it there.  I can’t wait to get my hands on this.

Papo & Yo is due to release exclusively on the PSN for the PS3 on August 15th, 2012.  It is expected to retail for £11.99.

Written by bitsnark

July 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Something You May Have Missed – The Dark Souls Of 2D Platforming; Spelunky Releases On XBLA Tomorrow For 1200MSP

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This is just the merest glimpse at the punishingly sadistic, yet wholly entertaining 2D platform bliss that is Spelunky. If you have even a passing interest in platforming, you OWE it to yourself to grab this.

Right, this is going to be an unashamed plug for a game that I feel not nearly enough people know about – a tragedy given just how titanically brilliant it is.  Originally released on the PC back in 2009, Derek Yu’s roguelike 2D platformer Spelunky will finally complete it’s elongated trek to Xbox Live Arcade tomorrow complete with updated HD visuals, brand new levels, obstacles, items, enemies and the welcome addition of competitive and co-operative multiplayer modes.

As we’ve already said, Spelunky is a 2D platformer and equally, the game itself us truly deserving of it’s Dark Souls analogous comparisons – the game is totally, rock-fucking-hard and each time you die, you are forced to start the whole thing again.  Such a brutal practice of punishing players would seem like a huge misstep, were it not for the fact that the game is bursting with more challenge, satisfaction and charm than any 2D platformer of recent memory.  The gameplay in Spelunky is simple enough; you must proceed from the top of the level to the bottom of it, avoiding obstacles and enemies unique to that level (every level has a different theme) whilst hoovering up as much loot as humanly possible.  Yet, this game is as a staunch test of your gaming credentials as anything else on the market – death is permanent and when you respawn, the level randomises itself; forcing you to play dynamically and adapt on your feet.

In all honesty as if you couldn’t guess, I am completely and unreservedly stoked for this and I remain in a state of flabbergast that what will surely be the downloadable title of the year isn’t a part of Microsoft’s ‘Summer of Arcade’ promotion (and thusly benefitting from all the extra marketing), yet inane Kinect-dross such as Wreckateer is.  I mean really, just look at the trailer below – the game practically sells itself:

Critical praise for the title has been staggering and as you can see by the reviews I have linked below, there is a common sentiment; the game is tortureously difficult but it’s in that difficultly, emboldened by peerless level design and playability, that players continually force themselves back into the fray – to see if they can get just that little bit further to make it onto the next level.  Despite it’s price of 1200 MSP, this appears to be a game that is worth every single bit of that Microsoft currency.  Go on, treat yourself to what will surely not only be the downloadable title of the year, but surely, one of the best platformers in recent memory.

Eurogamer – 10/10

IGN – 9/10

The Verge – 10/10

Team Xbox – 9/10

Destructoid – 9.5/10

Spelunky is due to release tomorrow on Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 MSP.  The original, relatively feature-lite version of the game can be downloaded on the PC for free – grab it here.

Written by bitsnark

July 3, 2012 at 10:08 am

Pocket Corner: Pix ‘n’ Love Rush Review (iOS) – Essential Retro Platforming Action With Gameplay And Style To Spare

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Colourful! Vibrant! 8-Bit! Cat…like!

Sometimes, just sometimes you want to be taken back to a simpler time.  To a time where games didn’t have an abundance of cut-scenes, or jock, po-faced military twats harping on about their alphas and their deltas.  A time even, where stories didn’t exist because quite frankly the pretence that they typically provided weren’t needed to give us a compelling reason to play.

No, games back then bought their way into our affections and cemented our gaming addictions by virtue of their gameplay and nothing else.  It’s to this simplest and often forgotten of mantras that Bulkypix’s retro styled platformer Pix ‘n’ Love Rush, fully subscribes itself to and does so dripping in 8-bit worship and homage.

Its premise as you might infer is pleasingly simple; you play a twee, cat-like creature lovingly constructed out of bleeding 8-bit pixels who can tackle one of four very different platforming game modes, each with a unique visual theme and gameplay slant.

The first – Classic Rush tasks the player with fulfilling the original videogaming OCD; to get the highest score possible.  This is handily achieved by collecting golden icons and shooting nasty, flappy pixel-bats and can be played in five minutes or infinite time variations.  Most interestingly, Classic Rush throws a number of different game types at you which randomly change the gameplay experience at any given time.  To start with you could find yourself on a static set of platforms for example, collecting the golden ‘plus’ icons dotted around to increase your score and then the entire scene could shift; changing colours and forcing you to jump ever upward to avoid a nasty, vertical scrolling death all the while you shoot evil pixel bats and collect those lovely icons.

Classic Rush will break your brain.

It’s simple but maddeningly addictive stuff and really is wholly indicative of the accessible gameplay bliss seen elsewhere in the game.

Next up is Cursed Rush; a traditional side-scrolling jump-or-die gametype, the game aims to challenge with five different difficulty levels ranging amusingly from ‘Hard’ (very easy, really) all the way up and through to ‘Hardcore’ (medium) and ‘Hardcorest’ (very hard).  The harder the difficulty, the smaller the platforms become for you to jump on.  Naturally, the objective to fulfil here is old-skool; get the highest completion percentage you can (a percentage ticker constantly increments itself as the level scrolls) by not falling to your death.

Just look at it. I mean, really it’s like Jeff Minter took some LSD and decided to make a platformer. Oh, wait.

The third mode, Rainbow Rush, has your pixel-cat/thing on a forced dash across one of four levelled corridors.  Here, your control is reduced to just a singular input; tapping the screen makes the player ascend to the level above them, or if they are already at the very top, it puts the player on the bottom level corridor.  Additionally, if a corridor has a gap for you to fall through; you will descend down on the corridor immediately below you or on the top corridor at the top of the screen if you fall off the bottom of the screen.  Failure comes in the form of being crushed against the left side of the screen by blocks in the corridors which are usually placed in nefariously twattish places, forcing you to switch levels at a moment’s notice only to be caught behind another load of blocks you didn’t anticipate.

Playing Rainbow Rush? Unless you have Jedi reflexes, expect to see this screen. A lot.

Finally, the fourth mode titled On-Off Rush, forces the player to dash in either direction along the X-Axis collecting little suns and crescent moons against the clock.  Depending on the time of day which is switched each time you reach the end of the map, collecting a sun or a moon may increase your score and sustain your multiplier, which in turn extends the time left on the clock, or kill your multiplier completely and prevent you from accruing any extra time.

It would all be for naught if the controls weren’t up to snuff; luckily, the controls are crisp and responsive enough to the point that you can’t really use them as an excuse to hide how shit you are at the game.  Quite frankly, it’s the robustness and responsiveness of the controls that makes Pix ‘n’ Rush such an effortless pleasure to play and it’s in the four, very different game modes, that the control system shines and the player is meaningfully challenged time and time again.

Deliciously retro.

Visually and aurally, the game is as stalwart a homage to the 8-bit days of yore as any game has been since that time with pitch-perfect 8-bit tunes and sound effects eliciting a much earlier era of gaming.  As well as having butter smooth animations, the pixels are large; bleeding colours and definition like never before as the fancy high-tech displays of today embellish the charmingly retro visual style of yesteryear with retinal orgasmic aplomb.  One such example of this retro chic in full swing is in Cursed Rush, where pangs of nostalgia are elicited by the fact that all the action is framed by an old school ‘fishbowl’ monochrome CRT screen, with a game of pong being played in the background.

Pix ‘n’ Love Rush is as much a love letter to the timeless, nostalgic aesthetics of the 8-bit era as it is to the gameplay designs that made them so endearingly addictive.  Boasting visuals that are as charmingly captivating as the gameplay that underpins them, developer Bulkypix hasn’t just managed to create an overzleaously cool homage to platformers of the 8-bit era, they’ve also crafted the best touch screen platformer available full, fucking, stop.

If you’ve gotten this far in the review and your iThing/Droid-Thing doesn’t have THIS screen on it; you’re DOING IT WRONG.

Costing the same as a bag of crisps, two if you are an Android owner (unless of course you like Grab Bags), you really shouldn’t turn your nose up at the sheer amount of gameplay and enjoyment that is on offer here; unless of course you‘re some sort of scum sucking pervert.

‘Highly recommended’ doesn’t really cover it.

Written by bitsnark

June 18, 2012 at 4:18 pm

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