Mars Underground – Steam Review

Time to get stuck in a loop with Mars Underground, a groundhog day style adventure game from Moloch Media on the PC.

It’s Mars’ first day at a new school in a new town, except it’s always his first day since he keeps reliving the same day over and over. In Mars Underground you progress by exploring, gaining knowledge and exploiting that information daily to unravel the reasons why you are stuck in this time loop. Each cycle begins the same way with your alarm going off and Mars struggling to get out of bed, where you go from there is entirely up to you and dependant on what you have discovered to that point. Skip school and go to the movies to see “One Banana, Two Banana” or try and get into the local cool nightclub. At the end of each day you must take your medication, fall asleep and start again.

There is a very Earthbound look to Mars Underground which suits the style of exploration and discovery perfectly, other effects are layered with this to reinforce that unsettling feeling that is ever present. Sound design matches these visuals with chiptune styled effects and music, eerie soundscapes add to the ever claustrophobic nature present in the narrative. It’s not all doom and gloom though, ominous threats such as men in black, the military, Aliens and shady hooded figures are equally balanced with some good humour.

Every choice you make will lead you down another path but this can sometimes lead to the same burn out some will suffer with classic point and click adventure games. Solutions can be so obvious that you might completely glaze over them and others are so obtuse you might not approach them in the exact way needed to succeed. Missed a specific time period that event takes place? Take your pills and try again. Mars Underground definitely captures the sense of repetition one would feel reliving the same day over and over but it can begin to feel a bit much at times.

If complex and intriguing time travel stories are your thing though, Mars Underground is a wonderfully unique adventure that has so many hidden layers for players to find.

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Mat Panek
Retromancer – Collector, repairer & fan of retro games & tech. Atari to Amiga, Nintendo to Sega! LD, Zip, Beta and a proud dad! One half of the TiredParents on Twitch.

Follow Mat on Twitter and Twitch

 

 

Disclosure: Mars Underground [Steam] was kindly provided by Moloch Media for this review.

 

 

Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists – Nintendo Switch Review

Delve into a world of alchemy and mystery in Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World, the latest title in the long running Ateliers series by Koei Tecmo

The game starts as Nelke, a young and eager noble woman, and her ever faithful maid Misty arrive in the small town of Westwald. The two have made their way there after hearing rumours that an ancient sage relic of immense power, the Granzweit Tree, is possibly in the region. Nelke’s father agreeing to support her on this quest only if she becomes governor of the town and proves herself to be a worthy leader. You must help Nelke turn this sleepy village into the bustling city of commerce her father desires, all while making new friends, meeting challenges and exploring the surrounding countryside.

Being personally unfamiliar with the world of Ateliers and it’s 20 year history of titles, Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists’ story felt a little daunting at first but all the characters introduced are also unknown to Nelke and their introductions reflect this. The game gives subtle backstories where needed through bits of dialog and character interaction. Characters are out of place and in some cases out of time, fans will no doubt love the return of series famous alchemists and newcomers will enjoy being introduced to the varied cast.

There are 3 main areas of gameplay in Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists, being broken down into turns and each turn involves weekdays and holidays with various actions for each. Weekdays include town management such as construction of various buildings or facilities, commissioning alchemy and working on town requests. Holidays on the other hand give you a chance to visit and develop relationships with towns folk, as well as a chance to explore the region, finding materials or battle monsters.

There is a lot going on in Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists, micromanagement is key to success as you need to assign tasks to alchemists and store owners constantly, depending on production demands and town needs. Tasks such as gathering specific materials or defeating certain monsters will often challenge you and keep the game from feeling stagnant. The battle system is refined yet simple with an option for semi and full auto attack modes, this means low powered enemies will be dealt with rather quickly, keeping the game’s pace moving steadily forward. That being said, there is a lot to take in very quickly between the various mechanics and sub-systems and this might put off some players.

One real stand out attribute in Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is the anime graphic styling. The game has a beautiful aesthetic overall making it feel bright and cheerful. Most of the character interactions are told by visual novel interface with Japanese voice overs for the cast. Fans of anime and the Ateliers series will really appreciate these visual stylings and especially the gorgeous full animation sequences.

Overall, Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists is a beautiful and in depth title with a lot on offer between the multiple systems at play. Some may find it a bit too complex but others will happily spend dozens of hours making Westwald their perfect home away from home.

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Mat Panek
Retromancer – Collector, repairer & fan of retro games & tech. Atari to Amiga, Nintendo to Sega! LD, Zip, Beta and a proud dad! One half of the TiredParents on Twitch.

Follow Mat on Twitter and Twitch

 

 

Disclosure: Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists [Nintendo Switch] was kindly provided by Turn Left Distribution for this review.

 

 

The Red Strings Club – Nintendo Switch Review

Mix equal parts intrigue, corporate sabotage and philosophy, shake well and serve over ice to get the delicious cocktail that is The Red Strings Club, a cyber-noir adventure game of dystopian proportions.

Set in a cyberpunk future on the verge of becoming a dystopia, The Red Strings Club is an incredibly gripping and heavy hitting adventure game that manages to push all the right buttons. Playing as one of three active characters, an advanced AI android, a bartender and a freelance hacker, The Red Strings Club succeeds in pulling no punches. Asking deep and philosophical questions of the player constantly, there is rarely an easy answer to be found and the ones you do find can be shot down just as quickly. Mainly playing as the bartender and information dealer Donovan, you mix drinks to put patrons into the right mindset for questioning.

Being so driven by narrative there is a real fear in deciding exactly which questions to ask and when. Do you wish your intended target to feel guilty? Would they let slip better information for a specific question if they felt overly confident? On numerous occasions I found myself staring at two choices for great lengths; following the logical train of thought for both, unhappy with my options but also seeing no alternatives. There is hidden depth to every choice that can affect the story in a multitude of ways. After each client has left the club you are asked ten questions in relation to the conversation you just had, testing your information gathering skills. Every bit of knowledge will count in the ultimate goal of trying to bring down the implementation of “Social Psyche Welfare,” a plan to improve society by removing negative feelings and emotions completely.

Looking very much like a classic adventure game in its pixel art style, The Red Strings Club has a nice gritty feel to it. Adding to this is the sombre and futuristic soundtrack, giving a sense of tension and importance to every scene. Skylines and neon signs glow in the distance of some scenes making this world feel more modern than stories like Blade Runner but still giving off a very similar vibe. Fans of Science fiction and adventure games will appreciate the world that DeconstrucTeam has created.

A simple and very enjoyable game with narrative that really must be experienced first hand to really appreciate. The Red Strings Club is a game you will easily find yourself playing multiple times to discover everything it has to offer.

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Mat Panek
Retromancer – Collector, repairer & fan of retro games & tech. Atari to Amiga, Nintendo to Sega! LD, Zip, Beta and a proud dad! One half of the TiredParents on Twitch.

Follow Mat on Twitter and Twitch

 

 

Disclosure: The Red String Club [Nintendo Switch] was kindly provided by Power Up PR for this review.

 

 

Battlloon – Nintendo Switch Review

Bursting with fun onto the Nintendo Switch is Battlloon, a balloon bashing battler of adorable proportions.

Who doesn’t remember the halcyon days of vollying balloons at each other as kids? Noname Studio certainly does and has distilled the fun of hurtling balloons at other balloons into its latest game Battlloon. You and up to 3 friends can locally battle it out in this simple and intensely colourful balloon bursting battler. Players can choose from 6 different balloon characters, each of which have a different defining characteristic. Some balloons are quick and nimble but very light and easily knocked about, others are the exact opposite and plod along but once they have momentum are nearly unstoppable. 

Controls are simple meaning that pretty much anyone can pick up a controller and give it a go. Holding “A” will cause your Balloon to inflate.Controlling your character with the stick and releasing the button propels you forward. Each arena is randomised in various ways with walls or spikes lining the exterior, while hitting a wall section will turn it into spikes meaning you have only one saving chance per section of wall. There are also randomised events in each arena, matching its general theme including piranhas or ice balls that will pop or freeze you. Getting popped isn’t the end though, with ghost balloons assisting in trying to defeat other players. After finishing a round, points are awarded for finishing position and bonus points for taking out the current winner or other players. 

The game uses retro styled graphics and music very well, helping to create a very light hearted and cheery atmosphere. Apart from a few varied stages with unique additions to the arena walls, there isn’t much else happening gameplay wise though. Essentially, what you see is what you get with Battlloon. It’s a fun game for short bursts but I wouldn’t suggest going in with any fewer than the maximum player count since this really helps the fast and frantic nature of the game. There are no unlockables as far as we have seen and no real match options to change things up, which can be slightly frustrating. 

Battlloon is a game that is packed full of charm with cute characters and colourful levels. While it may not have much depth on its own, it is certainly a fantastic addition to any games night!

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Mat Panek
Retromancer – Collector, repairer & fan of retro games & tech. Atari to Amiga, Nintendo to Sega! LD, Zip, Beta and a proud dad! One half of the TiredParents on Twitch.

Follow Mat on Twitter and Twitch

 

 

Disclosure: Battlloons [Nintendo Switch] was kindly provided by Stride PR for this review.

 

 

Nintendo Switch Review – Super Chrome: Bullet Purgatory

A low musical drone welcomes you to a black filled background with a lone spaceship, WAVE 1 appears and enemies swoop down firing off pixelated projectiles. Welcome to Super Chrome: Bullet Purgatory, a new space style shooter from Stumphead Games.

From the get go, Super Chrome: Bullet Purgatory evokes waves of nostalgia, bringing to mind memories of arcade classics like Galaga, Galaxian and Gorf. Feeling like it would be more suited to play on an upright cab than on a PC, Super Chrome: Bullet Purgatory is an extremely pure arcade space shooter. Early waves can be deceptive, luring you into a false sense of security. Underestimating the deadly efficiency of the enemies you encounter can be deadly as the screen is quickly filled with colourful projectiles. Unlike the classic arcade shooters it resembles, each wave is randomised meaning enemies and bosses will vary from playthrough to playthrough. While this may seem unfair to those chasing high scores, it certainly makes each playthrough uniquely enjoyably.There is a really nice clean aesthetic to Super Chrome: Bullet Purgatory; visuals are crisp and the colours are vivid, this makes enemies and projectiles really pop off the black background. 

Apart from the normal snappy and responsive controls you expect from a game like Super Chrome: Bullet Purgatory, there are some nice additions like special weapons and a warp function. There is a meter for each special weapon and enemies will randomly drop small recharges for them. The specials include a charge shot, auto firing drones that orbit your ship and a shot that splits on impact to home in on nearby enemies. The warp function is the real stand out addition though, it acts as a dodge and will shift you across the screen, allowing you to move through projectiles a short distance without being hit. This can be a real lifesaver, especially with bosses that fill the screen with waves of particles. As you progress through the waves, your ship will also get slightly more powerful standard weapons.

Fans of classic shooters, high score driven gameplay and a nice challenge need look no further than Super Chrome: Bullet Purgatory. It is a fun and frantic space shooter that definitely deserves your attention.

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Mat Panek
Retromancer – Collector, repairer & fan of retro games & tech. Atari to Amiga, Nintendo to Sega! LD, Zip, Beta and a proud dad! One half of the TiredParents on Twitch.

Follow Mat on Twitter and Twitch

 

 

Disclosure: Super Chrome: Bullet Purgatory [Nintendo Switch] was kindly provided by Pixel River PR for this review.

 

 

exA-Arcadia – The New Arcade Kit System

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Eric Chung, President and CEO of exA-Arcadia (EXA) has declared in his recent interview with Shmup’Em-All that their new arcade conversion kit system, exA-Arcadia, will be this generations’ NEOGEO. With a pedigree of SNK’s NEOGEO MVS arcade system, exA-Arcadia has some big shoes to fill. Eric’s statement does indeed seem bold, but he is confident that their innovative kit system will revolutionise and revitalise arcade gaming for developers and operators alike, giving them an easy to use system (to develop games) at a cost effective price point.

The exA-Arcadia System with four game cartridges as shown at JAEPO 2019
source: eXa-Arcadia via Twitter

So what does exA-Arcadia bring to the table for the operator? As already stated, this is an arcade conversion kit system, just like the NEOGEO MVS was back in the 90s, so its main aim for operators is to provide modern arcade content at a budget friendly price. This is all achieved by its clever hardware design, based on a secure Windows PC platform, which is more powerful than the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X consoles, which can hold up to four games (delivered in cartridge format about the size of the old CPS3 cartridges). The best part is that exA-Arcadia is JAMMA and JVS (JAMMA Video Standard) compatible, allowing it to be used inside almost any existing operable arcade cabinets. It is also compatible with both 16:9 LCD and traditional 4:3 CRT monitors. exA-Arcadia claims that their vertically oriented games can be played in horizontal mode, so operators don’t need more vertically oriented monitors in all of their cabinets to play EXA format games.

exA-Arcadia stand with sample games at JAEPO 2019
source: exA-Arcadia via Twitter

The attraction of exA-Arcadia is realised even further (for operators), as once the system is purchased, it is fully owned by the operator, meaning that there is no requirement for internet connectivity to access gaming content, nor is there a need to share revenue with the manufacturer or distributor – more money left in the pocket of the operator. For operators that want to offer their customers an online experience, exA-Arcadia has a feature that integrates with streaming services like Twitch. Together with a smartphone app and card system, the exA-Arcadia’s feature set can provide operators a deeper insight into their customer interactions, which helps in building loyalty and decision making on what is popular, ensuring that customers keep coming back.

With its Windows PC based architecture, the EXA system is open to both traditional (big name) developers as well as the smaller independent ones. The initial release of ten games that were showcased at California Extreme (CAX) and Stunfest in late 2018, clearly shows that the current focus is on shoot’em up (shmups) games, however there are currently fifty games in the development pipeline that represent a variety of gaming genres, like fighting, sports, classic retro style platformers and four player games to balance out the EXA line-up.

Visitors enjoying the exA-Arcadia offerings at CAX 2018

exA-Arcadia presence at California Extreme (CAX 2018)
source: Tanoshimasu via Twitter

Eric Chung is confident that their exA-Arcadia platform can overcome stiff competition from systems provided by the giants in the industry, namely Sega’s ALL.NET and Taito’s NESiCAxLive. Eric claims that exA-Arcadia’s attraction is its lower entry cost (prices have yet to be confirmed as at writing of this article) and the fact that they will not force revenue sharing on coin drops. The overall cost will most likely be even lower than the others (Sega and Taito) as there is no equipment required, like network routers and servers, and no monthly fee to access the manufacturer’s network.

There is no doubt that exA-Arcadia has captured the attention of the amusement industry and developers alike. We will definitely be keeping a close eye on developments, as the potential of what it promises will surely result in shaking things up in the industry.

Aka To Blue Type-R at Stunfest
source: Shmup’Em-All via Twitter

*This feature first appeared in the February 2019 issue of the NAMOA ‘The Collector’ trade magazine.

 

Nintendo Switch Review: Assault Android Cactus+

Blasting its way to the Nintendo Switch is Assault Android Cactus+, an arena based, multiplayer twin stick shooter with loads of charm and projectiles.

The player starts off Assault Android Cactus+ as the bumbling but well-meaning “Cactus,” a member of the Interplanetary Police Department, as she crashes into a rogue freighter ship known as the “Genki Star”. Throughout the course of the 25 Level campaign, more androids with various weapon types and personalities are unlocked for you to try. Interactions between each android and Boss AI are unique which really help flesh out the android’s personas. The Switch version of Assault Android Cactus+ is brimming with extra features. Apart from the story campaign there is also a Boss Rush, infinite, daily challenge and a Campaign plus mode that gives players a new challenge within the original story. Also included, there are features such as “EX Mode” options that can change game play elements and director commentary.

There is a very basic look to Assault Android Cactus+ that fits its busy play style very well. Enemies are easy to identify and colour coded to denote their threat levels. Arena design gets more complex and dynamic as you progress through the campaign and adds an extra depth to how each level should be approached. At certain points through the game it can feel like a “Bullet Hell” style shooter and with all that action going on at once the frame rate is nice and steady, even in handheld mode.

Thankfully controls in Assault Android Cactus+ are super tight and responsive, making it easy to flick back and forth between enemies. Different androids have varying combinations of weapons for you to try out, from spread shots and lasers as basic weapons to flamethrowers and missile launchers for secondaries. Certain levels will feel easier with specific character’s weapons but the game keeps track of the highest completion rank on the current stage with each android. Getting hit too many times will cause you to die and lose your secondary weapon charge but not actually fail the current stage, which only occurs when your battery depletes. Apart from standard controls with two sticks, there is also a Joy-Con mode which auto aims to the nearest enemy. This is obviously not the best way to play but is a nice addition that lets you show off the game to others without the need to carry around multiple controllers.

Shooting for high scores is loads of fun but if you are after some more in depth progression outside of those then this may not be for you. Fans of twin stick shooters will enjoy Assault Android Cactus+, especially with the help of some friends.

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Mat Panek
Retromancer – Collector, repairer & fan of retro games & tech. Atari to Amiga, Nintendo to Sega! LD, Zip, Beta and a proud dad! One half of the TiredParents on Twitch.

Follow Mat on Twitter and Twitch

 

 

Disclosure: Assault Android Cactus+ [Nintendo Switch] was kindly provided by Stride PR for this review.