Death Squared Review – Nintendo Switch

Death Squared broke me.

Now, I don’t mean broke as in a “made me break stuff” kind of way. Rather that on multiple occasions Death Squared reduced me to a near-blubbering mess of a person struggling to comprehend just how I’d solve the puzzle facing me. Yet eventually I’d overcome it, but that fleeting euphoria would last as long as it took for the next level to appear. I’d even go as far to say that there were definitely times where it invoked memories of another isometric problem-solving game from my past, one that also featured two characters who drove me head over heels insane at the best of times…

Reminiscence aside, Death Squared is a 2017 3D isometric cooperative puzzle game from Sydney gamedev SMG Studios. It’s based around an incredibly simple concept: Move your AI ‘bots from point A to point B. That’s it! Sounds easy in concept, right? Once you start throwing lasers, moving platforms, and needing to coordinate moves into the mix, suddenly you’re heading towards ‘broken’ territory. As an added bonus Death Squared is as couch co-op friendly as it gets, meaning that it’s another delightful game to play with people you don’t want to have to like for much longer.

While Death Squared can be enjoyed with up to 3 other people, I opted to spend the bulk of my time slogging through the 80 level single player story mode. I started out simple enough – move from the starting point to the round circles that serve as the goal. As the levels progress, more and more elements are introduced that forced me to use the tricks I’d learnt in a completely different way. The progression feels natural, and I never found the difficulty being artificially ridiculous just for the sake of slowing my progress down. There are times where it does feel like a struggle to push through lots of levels in a single sitting, with my 20 minute bus ride each day feeling like an optimal playtime before I started feeling broken and needing to stop. Your mileage may vary here, but it’s something that is negated by the more people you have to play it with.

Trying to enlist some celebrity assistance

So what about the story you ask? It revolves around a slacker named Dave (Voiced by Rice Pirate Mick) and his virtual assistant IRIS (also voiced by Rice Pirate Mick!). Dave’s a level 1 supervising technician at a futuristic robotics company who has one job: to monitor the AI Test ‘Bots (you!) as they go through their paces. Mick’s delivery and timing on his lines is fantastic, and really sells the banter between the two. This all plays out in the background as you work through the story mode along with the odd company email load screen, and complements the mode well.

When I’m Sixty-fouuuur

It’d be harder if the controls were unwieldy, but beyond a couple of times where I did something dumb and found myself getting stuck on the geometry, the twin-stick control method works pretty well. Left stick moves the Red ‘bot, while the right stick moves the Blue ‘bot, and this setup even plays into the puzzles in later stages. This can make for some rather tricky times when playing solo, as my brain would often assume the left stick corresponded to ‘bot on the of the screen, only to have the other one suicide off a ledge. I even tried giving one of the Joycons to my 5 year old, but he proved to be more frustrating than trying to just do it myself. To him, watching the colourful square dive off the edge and explode was the absolute height of hilarity! The edge detection on the platforms can be a little touchy at times, as I’d find a bot tumbling to its doom despite swearing I had ample space to maneuver. These moments were rare though, which is reassuring for a game that involves some fairly precise movements at times.

Booooom

One thing I’ll say is that this is a game that feels more at home on the Switch than any other platform I’ve seen it on (which is to say, Death Squared is on pretty much everything!). Given the Switch ships with two Joycons by default and the “pick up and play” nature of the system, this makes Death Squared a really good first game to grab if you’ve just gotten the console and want some co-op games to play. Add a pro controller or two into the mix, and there’s a party right there!

Did I mention it’s also only $14.99 on the Nintendo eShop (and slightly higher on other platforms)? Given there’s a good 8-10 hours of play in the story mode, and many, many more hours in the Party or super-hard Vault, Death Squared is definitely worth checking out.

Death Squared was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch. Played story mode to completion, and ran through a handful of the Party mode levels. Review code provided with thanks to SMG Studios.

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blahjediAaron Clement
Tassie based retro gaming guy. Co-host of the Press Play On Tape Podcast. Father of 3 and married to the very tolerant Kellie Clement. Coffee powered!

Follow Aaron Clement on Twitter and Instagram

 

 

Things That Go Bump in the Night: The Spooky Pinball Story

From little things, big things grow. This is definitely the case with Spooky Pinball.

In a little rural Wisconsin town called Benton where the population is a smidgen under 1,000 people, we witness what the power of family, friends and community can achieve when they all work together towards a common goal. Charlie Emery’s vision of making his own pinball machines was a big risk, but he was never going to be swayed by all the people that told him he was mad for leaving his secure job of 20 years to pursue his dream.

Joel and Dana Reeves’ Things That Go Bump in the Night: The Spooky Pinball Story chronicles the story of how Spooky Pinball came to be, from its very humble beginnings with their podcast, its hardships in starting up the manufacturing of pinball machines to its eventual and continued success.

With unprecedented access to the Emery household, key folks from Benton and pinball industry luminaries, this documentary weaves a narrative that keeps you glued from start to finish. From Chuck’s re-theming of Firepower II to Godzilla and chance meeting with DIY extraordinaire Ben Heck (Heckendorn) at the Midwest Gaming Classic in 2011, to America’s Most Haunted, Domino’s Pinball Adventure and Rob Zombie Spookshow pinball table productions, you live through the ups and downs of being a pinball manufacturer.

If you are into documentaries that delve into the resilience and determination of people that strive to succeed in the boom-or-bust world of pinball manufacturing no matter what, then Things The Go Bump In the Night: The Spooky Pinball Story cannot be missed! Get on Vimeo right now and rent (or buy) this film – you will love it!

Oh yeah, we have our fingers crossed that Spooky Pinball will produce Ben Heck’s dream machine, Bible Adventures with its numbered modes; Adam and Eve 2-ball multi-ball where every shot scores except for the apple, 40 days and nights of flood, 40 years in the wilderness, 7 deadly sins, 10 Commandments and the 10 Plagues of Egypt – what’s there not to like!

Film: Things That Go Bump in the Night: The Spooky Pinball Story
Where: Vimeo
Released: June 30, 2017
Duration: 1 hour 4 minutes + bonus features
Price: Rent AUD$5.20 or Buy AUD$11.72

source: Things That Go Bump Movie

 

A Retro Gamer’s Stroll Through 80s Yakuza 0

Before we begin, let’s set the record straight – I have never played a Yakuza game! Yep, you read that right. You may throw out a “WTF?” at this point, and you’d be justified in asking exactly that – what the fudge, dude?

Well, I won’t bore you with why I haven’t played any of the previous Yakuza games (you can blame it all on those retro games I keep playing!), but at least you’ll get a perspective from a player experiencing the franchise for the very first time! I come into the Yakuza universe as a total noob, so go easy on me.

The vibrant lights of Pink Street!

So,”What’s this Yakuza 0 all about anyway?”, I ask myself. Well, first and foremost, I had heard that this prequel Yakuza action game, dubbed Zero, was set in the 80s, my favourite decade! That was enough to pique my interest in the game, so I thought I’d jump in the deep end and have a go!

Sobering up some drunkards, the old fashioned way!

Beating up peeps can work up a thirst

From a noob’s point of view, Yakuza 0 eases the player into the game with great cutscene sequences that set the narrative for the protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, or simply just Kiryu. Obviously the title gives it away, Kiryu is a yakuza, a lowly debt collector for the Dojima Family (of the Tojo Clan). Kiryu is framed for murder and is then used as a pawn by a bent crime family lieutenant who aspires to be top dog. I’ll spare you the rest as I don’t want to spoil it for you!

Visiting the ‘family’!

No mobile phones in 1988, so pay phones were the best way to conduct business on the streets

I’ll be honest, I really wanted to play Yakuza 0 to roam the streets of 1988 Kamurocho, the notorious redlight district of Tokyo – to explore its karaoke bars, dart parlours and of course, its amusement centres – Club Sega and Hi-Tech Land were high on my list so I could play some (well, a lot of) Out Run! I really didn’t care for the story as to why I was setup for murder and the whole Empty Lot business.

Smoking can kill you! So can a bent lieutenant…

But before I could explore Kamurocho, I would have to dispense some good old fashioned beat-downs to street punks and hoodlums that were dumb enough to move in on my turf. Oh yeah, cash is earned the more peeps you beat up. These fight sections definitely reminded me of classic Dreamcast brawling action games, just like Shenmue. And just like Shenmue, it’s fun to explore the vibrant city you find yourself in.

Giving the vocal chords are work out with some karaoke

What I wasn’t counting on was the game’s ability to suck me into its story-line and its fascinating characters. I had to put the idea of exploration and playing Out Run to one side, as I set my sights on finding the people that framed me for murder and then confronting the bent Dojima lieutenant, Kuze. To say that I was now hooked on Yakuza 0 would be a gross understatement. With about 80 hours of gameplay, I have a way to go, and that is before I even touch any sidequests! So if you excuse me, I need to get back to being a yakuza and kick ten shades out of some really bad people.

Behold, the holy grail of arcades!

Damn, it’s closed. Can’t wait to play some Out Run!

image source: Yakuza 0

SEGA 3D Classics Collection

RELIVE YOUR FAVOURITE SEGA MOMENTS WITH SEGA 3D CLASSICS COLLECTION!
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Let’s start this review by saying that we prefer our games on physical media! Nothing beats holding something tangible in your hands. We already downloaded some of the games from the SEGA 3D CLASSICS COLLECTION, but having all games bundled on the one cart, some that had never been released outside of Japan, was a temptation too great to pass.

This highly anticipated COLLECTION is available now at all good gaming stores around Australia. The compilation consists of nine classic SEGA titles, all beautifully remastered in stereoscopic 3D with some extra bells and whistles (features) thrown in for good measure.

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The CLASSICS COLLECTION hosts SEGA favourites like Sonic The Hedgehog, Thunder Blade, Galaxy Force II, Altered Beast and never-before-released Nintendo 3DS games including Puyo Puyo 2, Power Drift, Maze Walker and Fantasy Zone II (W and The Tears of Opa-Opa).

The big question now is, how do these SEGA classics play on Nintendo’s 3DS? Well, let’s just say that SEGA has not disappointed. With pretty much every genre covered, from driving, platforming, shoot’em up, to side-scrolling beat’em ups, maze crawlers and head-to-head puzzle games, there is something for everyone. You may have heard or read that Altered Beast and Thunder Blade are the weakest of the 3D remastered SEGA games, but let us assure you, they are faithful arcade conversions, that play, look and sound even better than their arcade counterparts! You’ll be hard pressed to find a weak game in the lineup, with your only problem being, what to play first. With that said, the stand out game of the COLLECTION for us is Power Drift! It is as close to having the real arcade driving experience without having the bulky machine in your living room – and you can play it on the go!

With 9 classic games remastered in 3D, multiplayer (local 2-player) mode on Puyo Puyo 2 and Altered Beast, pack art design by Ken Sugimori (Pokemon Art Director), plus Power Drift (and Puyo Puyo 2) making their Western debuts, there is only one logical conclusion, the SEGA 3D CLASSICS COLLECTION is a must get for your Nintendo 3DS!


source: SEGA Europe

Review copy supplied by Five Star Games.

 

NES Classic Mini: Review

nes3Disclaimer: If you were one of the unlucky ones who missed out on getting a NES Mini, then what I’m going to say below will probably not help. Aimed firmly at the nostalgia-fueled retro gaming market, the Mini sets out to recreate Nintendo’s beloved 30 year old console for a modern audience. Yet despite the baffling stock issues, and some odd design choices, they’ve succeeded.

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Nintendo brought the original NES to Australia in 1987, and while it wasn’t an immediate hit like in the US and Japan, come the early 90s, we all knew at least one person who had the console (if not yourself!). A neighbourhood favourite, the NES taught us platforming, how to play with (or against!) friends and introduced us to the likes of Mario, Green Mario, Mega-Man, Simon Belmont and a host of other memorable gaming characters. So when Nintendo announced that they were working on a miniature version of the venerable NES, the reception was (initially) incredibly positive.

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One of the biggest questions prior to the Mini’s release was how Nintendo would handle the hardware side of it. Thankfully, Nintendo opted against utilising a cheap “NES on a chip” setup, and instead built the Mini around a quad-core processor with 256MB of RAM, running a variant of Linux. Sounds pretty hardcore for emulating an 8-bit system right? The extra power is well used though, as the NES Mini offers three different display filters and the ability to output in 1080p, along with room for up to four save states per game!

Older brothers posing with the new arrival!
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The included display filters are Nintendo’s answer to the problem faced by anyone trying to run old hardware on modern TVs, and getting stretched or blurry images. The default mode is 4:3, which sets the display to the aspect ratio the NES displayed in and still manages to look fairly clean and clear. CRT Filter applies a scanline effect to the picture, which gives it a blurrier “old school” look. Lastly, there’s the Pixel Perfect mode. This mode makes every pixel a perfect square, which Nintendo describes as letting you see the games exactly as designed (at the cost of the picture being slightly narrower than the other two modes). When it comes to emulators, I’ve always disliked CRT/Scanline effects and this isn’t an exception, as I found the fake blurry look to be a real turn off. My personal preference is the Pixel Perfect or 4:3 modes, with the former looking much better on larger TVs, while the latter looks better on smaller sets.

Bub helping compare the different display filters
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On the software front, instead of running with existing Virtual Console releases for the games, Nintendo’s NERD (Nintendo European Research & Development) division opted to create a slick new emulator for the Mini to get the feel “just right”. I remember playing Super Mario Bros. on the Wii Virtual Console and being put off by the controls, with the movement feeling laggy or “off”. Here, Mario moves and jumps with pinpoint precision, just like it was when I played it on my full-sized NES. I’m also a big fan of the front-end Nintendo has designed for the Classic Mini, as it’s clean, fast and gives you everything you need straight away (although I would’ve loved to have seen some history for each game!).

Mega-Man 2 still looks and plays brilliantly!
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The attention to detail doesn’t stop with the hardware and front-end either, as the included controller is a near-perfect replica of the original. Picking it up will definitely trigger memories of the last time you used one, and feels like the same uncomfortable grey rectangle we all grew up with. Sadly, the 1.5-2m long lead the original NES controller had didn’t come for a ride, as for some baffling reason Nintendo made the Mini’s controller cords 50-60cm long (at best)! This means you need to get the Mini really close to you, or sit right up against the TV in order to use it comfortably and avoid sitting with your nose against the screen. There are already third party extension leads and wireless controllers available, but this is something that really should have been sorted out before the launch.

Classic controller look and feel, but with an teeny, tiny lead
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As the Reset button on the system is how you return to the main menu or to utilise the Save State feature, it could be why they’ve gone with the shorter leads. Either way, it’s still incredibly inconvenient and really flies in the face of the polish given the rest of the unit. I can understand not building a reset button into the controller in order to be faithful to the original design, but we’re dealing with a modern recreation of a 30 year old system, so “authenticity” has already gone out the window! After using it for the last few days across a number of TVs, I’d suggest getting a longer HDMI lead so you can sit the NES Mini near you – or look into a number of the previously mentioned third party options.

Some of the best games made for the NES in one easy to use menu
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And what about the games? The list of 30 pre-installed games are all worthy of the Nintendo Seal of Quality™, with very few among them that wouldn’t feature in at least one person’s top 10. The single best part though, is that we’ve received the original 60Hz NTSC versions with the Mini. That means not only is everything running at full speed (Bubble Bobble is significantly more playable than its PAL release!), but it also means no more black borders at the top and bottom of the screen.

Double Dragon II in glorious 60hz full-screen is fantastic…
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One minor, but interesting point is the lack of seemingly random graphics above and below the playfield that was present in a number of PAL region games. These were the result of a programming trick that took advantage of “hidden areas” on NTSC televisions to store graphics to be used later in a level, and was invisible to our friends in Japan and the US. For Australia, games like Double Dragon II would frequently show these random sprites due to the smaller display area. It’s a minor thing, but Nintendo’s choice to use NTSC games on the Mini means we’re seeing these games as they were originally intended.

…While this is from the 50Hz PAL version with the “hidden” sprites showing
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There’s a lot to love about what Nintendo’s done with the NES Mini. The included games are arguably a snapshot of some of the best the system had to offer, even if you’re not able to add any extras games to it. The overall presentation from the menu interface and save state support, to the physical design of the Classic makes this a slick little nostalgia machine. While there’s questions around how many extra shipments we’ll see, if you love the NES and the opportunity comes up to get one for the RRP, then it’s well worth it. Just don’t pay hyper-inflated eBay prices!

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blahjediAaron Clement
Tassie based retro gaming guy. Father of 3 and married to the very tolerant Kellie Clement. Coffee powered!

Follow Aaron Clement on Twitter and Instagram

 

 

 

Review: Western Press

Taking you back to an era when the duel abided, Western Press is a fast-paced duelling simulator best enjoyed with a bunch of friends, or by people with super-human reflexes.

WesternPress_Front

When I was growing up, one of the Commodore 64 games my circle of friends used to like playing as a group was Law of the West. A single-player only game, you were tasked with attempting to Sheriff a lawless town, but gave you the chance to start a gun duel in order to settle a discussion. We’d often sit there as a group taking turns to insult people, then try to get the draw on them to shoot first, only to suffer through a long load time when we failed for the next person to have their go. That’s probably as close as the similarities go, but for me Western Press’ pixel-art graphics and gun duelling invoked memories of this nearly forgotten retro-title.

WesternPress_pic1

The first release from Melbourne-based indie studio Bandit-1, Western Press calls itself “the most historically accurate frontier duelling game ever (probably)”. And to be honest? While I’m unsure if the gunslingers of the wild west needed to press 10 random buttons in order to shoot, I’m more than happy to accept this claim. Featuring 12 unique characters, several different local and online multiplayer modes for up to 16 players, Steam Workshop support (for creating your own duellists or stages), and a single player Skill Tester mode, there’s a reasonable amount of content on offer here.

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Matches in Western Press play out in a fairly straightforward fashion: pick your character, select what input method you want to use, then get set to reel off 10 commands as fast as humanly possible.  First person to complete their key combination in the fastest time, or with the least amount of mistakes wins. While it sounds deceptively simple, you’ll need insanely good reflexes to beat your opponent – press first, think later! One thing that is surprising is the different variety of controllers Bandit-1 have included support for. Allowing you to choose from keyboard input to XBox or Playstation joypads, and even Dance Mats (but sadly no steering wheels or Power Glove), the game will even automatically change the on-screen icons depending on what you’re using!

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As with similar games in this genre, I found the most fun I had with Western Press was against other people, and not trying to outsmart the AI. My attempts to best the skill tester left me angry and frustrated, as my poor old reflexes just aren’t up to the task of beating a perfect, immortal machine! If you’re someone who digs local co-op competitive multiplayer games and wants something else to add into the catalogue of games to play with mates, you won’t go too far wrong with giving Western Press a shot.


trailer source: Bandit-1

Western Press is available now from Steam for Mac and PC. Review copy provided by Surprise Attack Games.

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blahjediAaron Clement
Tassie based retro gaming guy. Father of 3 and married to the very tolerant Kellie Clement. Coffee powered!

Follow Aaron Clement on Twitter and Instagram

 

 

 

 

Man Vs Snake – The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler

Man Vs Snake – The Long and Twisted Tale of NibblerWhat the heck is Nibbler? Oh, the Rock-ola arcade game from 1982 which is a mash-up of Pac-Man and Snake? Nah, doesn’t ring any bells. Anyway, Man Vs Snake – The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler tells the story of high scoring Nibbler players’ quest to become the undisputed world champion.

Just like Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe competing to become The King Of Kong, Man vs Snake (MvS) introduces the main protagonist, Tim McVey (no, not that Oklahoma City bomber bad guy), the dude whom in 1984 was the first video gamer to clock Nibbler with a billion point high score, earning him the Rock-Ola arcade machine in the process. Then enters the dark horse, one Italian named Enrico Zanetti, whom had held the unofficial high score for Nibbler (not recognised by Twin Galaxies) and the main contenders to Tim’s high score, Canadian video game champion Dwayne Richard and “The Machine”, Rick Carter.

With a cast reading like a who’s who from the US arcade world including Walter Day, the theme is set – so what’s a high-score challenge documentary without some controversy aye? Just like The King Of Kong, it seems as this is the genre du jour. Not wanting to spoil it for anyone, an unfair advantage is uncovered which leads to accusations of, well let’s just say it, cheating! Balance could have been given here by allowing the accused to elaborate on their side of the story, but that may have spoiled the narrative of the documentary.

The film fulfils its primary objective by capturing the essence of not just the players wanting to beat one another, but showing the tension, determination and sacrifices they go through to conquer the mountain that is the Nibbler high score. In the end, the real battle in Man Vs Snake, just as the title eludes too, is between man and machine. If you were a fan of The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters, then Man Vs Snake – The Long and Twisted Tale Of Nibbler is compelling viewing!

Man Vs Snake – The Long and Twister Take Of Nibbler will be available from June 24 on all major streaming platforms. Visit the Man Vs Snake site for more details.

Man Vs Snake

Man Vs Snake

Nibblerimage source: Man Vs Snake