Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the month “September, 2014”

Fez for PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360, PC, OS X and Linux

Fez is almost the quintessential ‘indie’ game. It’s a platformer with a clever twist, with a pixel art style and a creator famed for his outbursts. Such a cliché! I really love this game though, and I was thrilled to revisit it on PS4.

Fez follows Gomez, a youngster who discovers the ability to perceive the third dimension. He sets out to collect a few dozen cubes which will save the world…or something. Fez doesn’t have much of a plot, but its world is curiously fascinating and engaging, with a few amusing NPCs and some decent writing. This may sound odd, but this is a minimalist plot done right. There’s nothing to get in the way of the pure gameplay, but there’s enough intrigue about the world itself to give everything a context.

Fez is a platformer at heart, with the main gimmick being the difficult to explain fact that each area has four sides, which Gomez can switch to at will, changing how the world is perceived. This is used for simple platforming to collect cubes from a series of different worlds, which can be explored at leisure. Fez is an open game, with exploration being a huge part of its charm. The actual platforming itself is frustratingly imprecise, but the ingenious level design more than makes up for it. There are a few spins on the formula, such as platforms which can also be rotated and throwable bombs, but by and large Fez is a great example of how a game can get away with one really strong, original mechanic rather than aiming to be a jack of all trades.

Fez is a game filled to the brim with secrets, many of which incredibly obscure and complex. The world of Fez is filled with codes and ciphers and treasure maps, with no hand holding as to what corresponds with what. There are whole rooms with purposes that seem maddeningly obscure, only for the key to their existence to be found half the game away. This sort of thing normally turns me off, but none of it is needed for the main game; you can reach the credits without delving into this stuff and it adds an extra layer to the experience. A palpable sense of mystery suffuses the entire game, with a nagging desire to just understand how this world works.

The visuals are absolutely lovely, with gorgeous pixel art vistas and some lovely lighting effects. The music is good too, very chilled and low key yet absolutely suiting every area. The different regions are suitably distinct from one another, with suitably different vibes.

Fez is the creation of one creative genius, one who has been forced out of the industry by the levels of abuse he’s suffered at the hands of the despicable online commentators. People have said Phil Fish should get a thicker skin, but why the hell should he? Anyone who can make games like Fez is a gift to the game industry, so I can only hope one day the online gaming community reaches a point where it deserved eccentric figures like Fish enough that he’ll come back to the fold and maybe, just maybe, polish off Fez 2.Fez_(video_game)_cover_art


Destiny for PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360

It’s funny; I expected to have mixed feelings about Destiny, I never quite brought the hype. The interesting thing is that the things I expected to love I hated and the things I expected to hate I loved.

Destiny takes place centuries into the future, after the downfall of ‘The Traveller’, an object or possibly being found on Mars which gave humanity the ability to travel space, live far longer and eventually bring about a utopia. Eventually however, a nebulous force known as ‘The Darkness’ arrived and caused The Traveller to fail, bringing about the destruction of civilisation. Fragments of the Traveller known as Ghosts have scoured the solar system to find ‘Guardians’, those who seek to defend the last vestiges of civilisation and drive hostile alien forces from the Solar System.

In short, the plot of Destiny is appalling. Truly, irredeemably bad. Destiny repeatedly fails to adhere to the most basic rules of good storytelling. Rather than showing us or letting us discover the world organically, all lore is confined to horribly narrated (we’ll come to that later) loading screen or unlockable ‘Grimoire’ cards which cannot even be viewed in game. We’re given precisely zero reason to care about the fate of the universe, with almost no actual characters or any feeling of stakes. I don’t struggle to keep up with complex plots, so there’s no excuse for why I frequently had no idea what I was doing and why. I went to this ancient temple and discovered this thing so I could go to this place and then I had to get a thing to get another thing which will help me get another thing to get into another place so I can get to the next place where the next thing I need is. Playing Destiny is kind of like trying to read that sentence. What’s so surprising about this is that this is Bungie. Among the AAA shooter crowd, Halo probably has had the strongest story-telling, with genuinely likeable characters and real stakes. How could these be the same people who made Destiny? But enough about the story, I could rant about it all day.

Despite the problems with the story, Destiny manages to achieve something truly astounding. It’s a fantastic FPS. It’s also a great MMO. On consoles no less! The shooting feels like Halo, which is a very good thing in my books, with the three classes all having unlockable skill trees to personalise the experience. I went for the levitating Warlock, as did most people looking at the games I’ve played online, but all three of them seem fun and the balance is good. The repetitive nature of this game has been criticised, but I actually never really got tired of the core mechanics. There’s a disappointing lack of vehicular combat, my favourite thing about Halo, but the un-weaponised speeders you can summon at will are pure joy to pilot. The social elements are brilliantly integrated, and I ended up loving this element more than anything, surprising myself as I tend to be a fairly solitary gamer. The player can return to the central ‘Tower’ between missions to buy new equipment and collect bounties, which give EXP rewards. Dancing around the Tower with strangers bought some of my favourite moments with Destiny.

Bungie really worked to sell the scale of Destiny, but frankly they lied. There are four areas; Earth, the Moon, Mars and Venus. Each contains a handful of story missions, which are fun but probably the most boring part of the game. Each world also allows you to patrol, which means travelling the planet map picking up mini-objectives. This was the element I was most excited about, but the promise of open environments simply does not come through. Yes, some of the areas are open, but are inevitably linked by valleys or tunnels, making each feel like a separate battle arena rather than a coherent whole. The worlds are no fun to explore, with none of the sense of awe or scale promised by the developers. The PVP mode is called ‘The Crucible’ is actually surprisingly fun, with a range of game modes. As mentioned above though, the lack of vehicular combat was felt keenly however. The best parts of the game are ‘Strikes’, where three person teams embark on a lengthy mission culminating in a boss fight. Although these fights get less interesting as the game goes on, the first few were some of the most exciting, tense and rewarding multiplayer experiences I’ve ever had.

Destiny is a stunning looking game, with beautiful environments and fantastic art direction. If only Bungie had found something to fill this lovely world. The music is good, sweeping and operatic when it needs to be and tense and pounding when the moment suits it. One thing really sticks out though; the voice acting. It’s terrible, across the board. Talented actors like Peter Dinklage, Bill Nighy, Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres and Claudia Black deliver stilted, dull performances. This isn’t really a criticism of those actors so much as of Destiny’s script. It would be an impossible feat to make much of Destiny’s dialogue sound good. Dinklage in particular almost crosses over to being compelling his voice acting is so phoned in; I never got tired of hearing the dripping contempt for his own dialogue, so…Destiny has that going for it I guess.

The main takeaway of Destiny is that it is slick. In fact, slick would probably be the best word to describe this game. That’s both a good and a bad thing. Whilst sometimes holding negative connotations in the game industry, a slick experience is of underrated importance. Everything in Destiny just…well, works. For a launch online game, Destiny’s lack of problems is possibly unprecedented. Everything fits together really well, with the separate modes and elements all feeling part of a coherent whole as you progress your character. The shooting is rock solid, the social elements fantastically integrated, the levelling smooth and satisfying. Destiny is quite clearly a game made by pros. To the negative implications of slick then; Destiny is a game that lacks a soul or a sense of direction. There’s no roughness or charm to this world, no irony or wit. In fact, probably the best analogy I can think of is the Star Wars prequels. Sure, the CGI was shinier and the lightsaber fights more over the top, but the grimy and witty world of the Original Trilogy always wins.Destiny_box_art

Assail by Ian Cameron Esslemont

I’ve said before how I’m utterly incapable of reviewing these books with any façade of objectivity right? Good, just so we’re clear. Assail is set in the Malazan universe, so I’m pretty much guaranteed to like it. I didn’t love it though, with this novel not quite living up to the promise of the most dangerous land in the world hinted at for over a dozen books now.

Being a Malazan book, Assail follows a series of characters on separate journeys which begin to converge and combine as the book progresses. Rumours of a gold rush in Assail have brought fleets from all over the world, from Malaz to Korel to Lether to Genabackis, almost every civilised nation holds an interest. The travellers include the Falaran Jute, who is caught up in a Malazan plot and Reuth, a young Korelri navigator. Meanwhile, in the mysterious Salt Mountains, the young warrior Orman Breggin comes into possession of a famed weapon, and seeks to join the clans who live in the foothills. Returning characters include Esslemont stalwart Kyle, now known as ‘Whiteblade’ following the events of Stonewielder, who is drawn back to his home continent. Meanwhile The Crimson Guard finally make their way to Assail to rescue the captured Cal-Brinn and his squad, as well as to learn the truth of their Vow, hinted at in Blood and Bone. The famed bard Fisher Kel’Tath returns to his homeland of Assail after his time in Darujhistan, and soon encounters an amnesiac Tiste Andii washed up on the shore. Finally, Silverfox has arrived to bring the gift of the Redeemer to the T’lan Imass clans on Assail, but instead suffers a terrible betrayal that sees the Imass moving north, slaughtering all in their path.

So, yeah, there’s a lot of stuff going on, as per usual. I didn’t dislike any of the storylines, although several felt fairly superfluous to the central narrative. This is the big problem that can plague fantasy; there’s nothing wrong with a huge cast as long as they all seek to reinforce and strengthen the core narrative, but in the Malazan series that’s not always the case. Esslemont is worse for this, but Erikson has been guilty of it too. Assail is, much like Blood and Bone, a travelogue narrative, with lots of people wandering around and exploring in ships. I didn’t mind in the last book because Esslemont drew the South East Asian influenced Jucuruku really well, but the faintly Nordic continent of Assail never quite comes alive the same way. The palpable aura of menace which has surrounded the continent since way back in Memories of Ice doesn’t truly realise itself. Assail has been described as a coda for the Malazan series, but that’s not really the case. What it is is a wrapping up of several (but not all) of Esslemont’s storylines as well as Erikson’s Silverfox arc. I don’t want to sound too negative; I enjoyed most of this book, and the actual ending convergence is fantastic, but there’s so much stuff beforehand that simply retreads old ground. The highlights for me were the Fisher and Silverfox arcs, as well as Jute, the most likeable newcomer. There gets to a point where you’ve read sixteen books in a series that you’ll sort of have to enjoy each new instalment, a bit like a literary Stockholm Syndrome.

Esslemont’s writing improves in some ways but steps back in others. He’s always been good at action scenes, but Assail has probably one of the best conclusions in the entire series. Something I really missed was the lack of a good bromance, one of my favourite running themes of the series. In fact, humour isn’t really on much display here, which is a shame because Esslemont actually showed a real knack for it particularly in Stonewielder and Blood and Bone. The dialogue in general takes a few steps backwards, with relatively well drawn characters from previous books such as Iron Bars beginning to actually lose some of their nuance.

The new characters are probably the most mixed bunch Esslemont’s introduced yet, with most simply serving as passive observers of the actions of far more interesting returning characters. The scene stealer is Cartheron Crust, former High Fist under Kellanved, supposedly ‘drowned’ under Laseen’s purges. It really drives home that Esslemont is at his best when he’s writing about the Malazan Empire itself. Whereas in Erikson’s books the Empire which gave the series it’s title played a less and less vital role, Esslemont’s best work is to be found in stories about this central organisation, which despite the naming of the series there’s still a lot we don’t know about. Esslemont’s next book is a prequel series set in the Old Empire, which I’m actually really optimistic about, as it forces Esslemont into focusing on what he’s good at.

Assail is absolutely worth a read and shouldn’t be skipped by any Malazan fan, but don’t expect to visit the land of human tyrants crushing armies of T’lan Imass promised back in Memories of Ice. That’s not what we have. I can’t really be trusted though; if it’s set in the Malazan world, I’ll always be in.18490649

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist for Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

I’ve never played a Splinter Cell game before, but on sale for a tenner on the Wii U seemed like a good enough deal to give it a go. Overall, it was a positive stealth experience, only slightly overshadowed by my recent playing of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes.

Blacklist follows long-time series protagonist Sam Fisher, as head of the clandestine US agency known as Fourth Echelon. A group calling themselves ‘The Engineers’ have released the ‘Blacklist’, a plan for a series of terrorist attacks on the United States with the intention of forcing them to leave nations they are currently occupying. Fisher and co travel around the world in their fancy expensive plane to head of the attacks and stop the Blacklist.

I kept expecting Blacklist to develop a sense of irony or moral ambiguity about what was happening but, no, that didn’t really happen. The whole thing is so gung-ho and macho, with Fisher doing some really questionable things. It skirts near lots of interestingly risky territory, but never does anything with it. When Fisher tortures for information, it’s always ok because he saves the day. There’s even a visit to Guantanamo Bay which contrasted heavily with the much more interesting story of Ground Zeroes. It’s not all bad; I liked the villain, and the Engineers are a genuinely interesting group. Maybe I’m missing something coming to the game new, but Blacklist almost struck me as a parody of manly American military games.

Blacklist is a stealth game, with really solid mechanics. Sneaking around, knocking people out and infiltrating areas never really stopped being enjoyable for me. The ‘mark and execute’ function was a lot of fun, which sees Fisher identifying up to three targets then shooting all three in the head if you’ve managed to knock enough people out stealthily. It looks cool and it’s really satisfying. In fact, for a stealth game the actual shooting mechanics are pretty good, but your priority will always be to stay undetected, and it’s clear that’s the best way to play. The basic mechanics are solid, but there are all other sorts of gadgets and other stuff put on top. From grenades to noise makers up to a remote controlled drone, you have a lot of tools at your disposal. More often than not though I opted to just sneak around and knock people out, but it’s nice to have options. The levels are reasonably open and very well designed and are a lot of fun to explore. There’s an upgrade system, as new suits focusing on stealth or defence can be purchased, alongside new guns and gadgets. You’ll likely end up with a lot of money after every mission, particularly if you complete optional objectives, so you’ll always be able to buy something new to suit your play style. Aside from a bafflingly unnecessary and clunky FPS section, Blacklist was fun throughout.

You could never accuse Ubisoft of being stingy with their games; you always get a huge amount of bang for your buck. Alongside a meaty main campaign are a whole bunch of side missions with a focus on co-op play. Of course, I was playing on the Wii U so there was literally no one else ever online. It’s not really the games’ fault though, but if you’re a Wii U owner with a taste for co-op, you may want to keep that in mind. Again, the intriguing looking multiplayer mode didn’t get a look in, so keep in mind that from a practical standpoint the Wii U version may miss a few features, even though they technically are there. All these are accessed from the plane you return to between missions, making everything feel nice and coherent and connected.Splinter-Cell-Blacklist-logo

Blacklist has a hugely bland look, but it’s functional enough and the big action moments are appropriately action-y. The voice acting is good, even if the actual characters they were playing weren’t particularly. The biggest technical issue I found were the brutal load times for almost everything. Make sure to have something to do while you wait or a lot of time will end up being wasted.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is an unremarkable game, but an enjoyable one nonetheless. I wouldn’t pay more than £15 for it, but if you do see it for a price like that it’s definitely worth a go. You could do a lot worse.

The Last Tinker: City of Colours for PS4 and PC

So, we can all agree that, no matter the quality, nostalgia will ensure we will have a fondness for the games of our adolescence. The 3D platformer is a dying genre, but once it was my bread and butter. Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie were my everything. I even loved the less well received ones like Donkey Kong 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. It’s a genre I really adore, and The Last Tinker promised itself to be a return. Sadly, it’s not quite there, but I had a very good time with it nonetheless.

The Last Tinker takes place in Colourtown, a city split into three districts based on colour; red, blue and green. Although the residents of each district once lived in unity, now they’ve grown suspicious of each other. The player controls Koru, a monkey, who accidently unleashed a force known as ‘The Bleakness’ which steals colour from the town, draining it to white and turning the residents into stone. Koru must unite the three colour spirits, and Colourtown in the process, to stop the Bleakness.

Ok, so it’s all nonsense, but it’s quite sweet and the writing is gently funny in a Banjo Kazooie esque way. The whole thing is a hilariously obvious message about racism, which would be cringworthy if it wasn’t so well meaning and oddly sweet. Not much else to say about the story; it’s as you expect in games like this.

The Last Tinker disappointed me almost immediately in one respect; the lack of manual jumping. The platforming is achieved just by holding the right trigger, which I got used to, but was a little disappointing. The platforming lacks weight or technique, and just involves holding a button and moving in the right direction. The combat is surprisingly decent, with a range of different attack types and enemies. Overall though, few of the gameplay systems work particularly well, although I did enjoy sections where you need to guide weird mushroom men around, which can be interacted with in a variety of ways to get through the environment. One of the worst offenders is a hideous grinding mechanic, which is a shame because I love grinding sections in platformers! It’s the only really successful mechanic in the game, but The Last Tinker is very much an experience greater than the sum of its parts.

The overall experience was, in the end however, very positive one. There’s a certain charm and exuberance to The Last Tinker which shines through, the feeling that the developers enjoyed making this game. The environments are varied, and there are some quite cool set peace boss fight moments. When taken apart, it’s quite clear that The Last Tinker doesn’t really work, but wrapped up all together in a package it ends up being a very enjoyable experience.

The game looks incredibly charming, with a handcrafted aesthetic which is highly appealing. The music is lovely too, and the little noises made by the characters as they talk reminded me fondly of the old Rareware games back in their prime. Without this level of visual polish, I doubt I would have enjoyed The Last Tinker nearly as much. There are occasional frame rate drops, which is a shame considering that this isn’t exactly a hugely demanding game visually.

The Last Tinker is difficult to recommend due to the huge number of things it doesn’t get right. The actual platforming is weak and the combat is bland, but something about it really appealed to me. If, like me, you’re an early twenty-something whose childhood bread and butter was games sort of like this, perhaps you’ll like it too.  19324

Strider for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC

Strider is the kind of game which is a lot of fun whilst playing, but then fades from your mind almost immediately after putting the controller down. It’s a slick, fast paced experience, but one which never quite achieves the depth of other Metroidvania experiences.

Strider Hiryu is sent to assassinate Grandmaster Meio, the dictator of Kazakh City. Standing in his way are…well, a lot of people. It’s hard to keep track. The whole plot is insane and confusing and makes no sense, but I guess that’s mean to be part of the charm? Well, it doesn’t work. The whole thing is a confusing mess that interferes with the gameplay.

Thankfully, Strider is a lot of fun to play. The actual combat is among the best I’ve encountered in the genre, as we mow down row after row of foes. Strider can be equipped with a bunch of different upgrades for his plasma sword, and playing around with them on the fly adds a slight tactical edge to the fast paced hacking and slashing. Strider is a Metroidvania too however, and its here that it falls down. The world isn’t nearly compelling enough, not open enough, for this game to compete on the same level as classics such as Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid, or even the more recent Shadow Protocol. The world isn’t much fun to explore, and the stuff to find is all fairly dull.

It’s a decent length though, with the periodic boss fights being the absolute highlight. Sure, they’re your standard ‘learn attack pattern, exploit’ type affair, but who cares when they’re so much fun. They all look cool as well, with some really epic set pieces. There are a few cool special abilities, with the ability to scale walls giving the experience a pleasant verticality.

Strider looks excellent, with a stylish and clean look. The whole thing runs very smoothly, which coupled with the cool visuals makes the whole thing very satisfying to play. The music is forgettable, but gets the job done in the moment. The voice acting is hammy and ridiculous, but…y’know, why not? It fits.
Strider is a cool, if not hugely memorable game. I enjoyed my time with it, but it didn’t scratch the Metroidvania itch I was hoping for. Instead I got a well put together side scrolling hack a slash with exploration elements, and I guess that’s alright.Strider

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

I discovered, fell in love with, and finished this trilogy pretty quickly, and am now pretty gutted that it’s gone. Lev Grossman’s Magician Trilogy ended up comfortably exceeding the ‘Harry Potter for adults’ expectations I had for it, hybridising a wide range of influences into something which references and builds on previous fantasy works, whilst crafting something incredibly new and exciting at the same time. The Magician’s Land is a great end to this trilogy.

The Magician’s Land picks up a few months after The Magician King left off, with Quentin kicked out of Fillory by Ember despite his heroism in saving the kingdom. After briefly working as a Professor at Brakebills, Quentin is now recruited into a robbery to take a briefcase with a tantalising connection to his past. Alongside him are a group of talented magicians, including the new character Plum, who had been previously expelled from Brakebills. Meanwhile in Fillory, Elliot and Janet return victorious from battle to be informed by Ember that Fillory is dying. Having grown since their Brakebill days, Elliot and Janet set out on an epic quest to save the land they’ve grown to love.

The scope of the narrative expands even further in The Magician’s Land. Where The Magicians focused just on Quentin and The Magician King also contained Julia’s story, The Magician’s Land expands the point of view characters to Elliot, Janet and Plum, alongside Quentin of course. What makes there varying viewpoints so great is the way that they contrast each other. Relatively gritty and grounded scenes following Quentin on Earth are followed by scenes of epic fantasy with Elliot and Janet in Fillory, and both are great. The storylines all do come together in a satisfying manner, so don’t worry that Grossman stretched himself too thin. Almost all hanging story threads are addressed, and pretty much every character pops up for some kind of cameo. It’s an immensely satisfying finale.

There’s one passage towards the end of The Magician’s Land which I think may be one of my favourite pieces of writing I’ve ever enjoyed. It’s an action scene on a scale unlike almost anything else. It’s an unbroken stretch of writing as a character surveys the entire world. It’s almost the literary equivalent of one of those awesome single camera shots you sometimes see in movies, like that great one in The Avengers. I really cannot describe it, but it had a real effect on me, making me feel incredibly excited but also unbelievably tense. I can’t stop thinking about this scene; Grossman’s writing is just fantastic.

The entire trilogy is about growing up, and many characters who we first saw as callow youths are now coming into their own. Quentin is lightyears away from the rather pathetic figure from The Magicians and his journey is the foundation everything else is built on. If Quentin’s character arc wasn’t so compelling none of the high fantasy shenanigans in the world could save it, but he grows and changes in such interesting ways it makes you wonder why other fantasy characters can be so static. Many other characters get their moment in the sun, with Elliot outgrowing his alcoholic hipster irony to throw himself into his position as High King of Fillory. Janet, a fairly thin character in the first two books, really comes into her own, as we begin to get a real insight into the insecurities which underpin her and witness as she overcomes them. The Physical Kids have come a long way since Brakebills, and it’s been a pleasure to share their journey.

The Magician’s Land is everything the final volume in a series should be. It’s epic and stake raising without getting away from the character stuff that every good book needs. This is a trilogy everyone, regardless of genre preferences, should read.640

The Walking Dead: Season Two for Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, PC, Ouya, OS X, Android and iOS

Ow, my emotions. For most of its run, I’ve felt the second season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead to be overshadowed by The Wolf Among Us. It’s certainly not as consistent as the first season, with a fairly meandering plot and far less direction than the original, but particularly in the final two episodes everything came together, culminating in scenes as tense as anything else Telltale has created, and they have created some tense scenes in their time.

Whatever your choice at the end of the first season of The Walking Dead, Lee is gone and Clementine is out in the world all by herself. Set a couple of years after Season One, Clementine has grown both physically and emotionally. She is no longer the adorable and naive child of the first season, with her natural kindness tempered by a streak of pragmatism and much stronger survival instincts. Clementine comes across a new group, with new conflicts and dramas, and with them sets out to continue the long trudge for survival.

That description probably sounds quite vague, and that’s largely because for much of Season Two the plotting is rather meandering and unfocused. It’s not boring or anything, Telltale’s characterisation is strong enough to carry it through this, but there’s little sense of building tension and stakes over the course of the episodes, compared to The Wolf Among Us which did this really well. Episode 3 onwards begin to show a massive improvement however, but the central fascinating conflict which shapes the finale only really begins to manifest itself in Episode 4. Don’t get me wrong, I was thoroughly gripped by Season Two, but there’s a strong sense of making it up as it goes along. When it works though, it really works, with some decisions almost bringing me to tears of tension and frustration.

Season Two plays, well, much like Season One, in that there isn’t much in the way of gameplay. The action scenes are better, more in the vein of The Wolf Among Us, but there’s even less puzzle solving. That’s actually a good thing though, the one or two times Season One tried to be a real adventure game were clunky and broke immersion. Season Two is an even further development in Telltale’s movement away from adventure games to interactive storytelling, and that’s really not necessarily a bad thing.

The art style still looks nice, but as with The Wolf Among Us it runs fairly badly. I really hope the move to the next generation consoles fixes a lot of this, as it’s ridiculous that fairly low-key games like these run so horribly. Still, the character models are better than the first season’s, and the voice acting is still absolutely fantastic. Despite the tiff character models and unconvincing facial expressions, the performers manage to sell us these characters as real people with only their voice, something very hard to do.

The Walking Dead: Season Two may not quite have the impact of the first season, it’s nonetheless an absolute must play. Clementine is one of the best characters in gaming, and spending more time with her cannot be a bad thing. Bring on Season Three.the-walking-dead-game-season-2-walkthrough

Toki Tori 2+ for Wii U

The first impression of this game is one of absolute adorableness. This game is seriously cute. It’s also unbelievably hard, and gives almost nothing to the player. Much like with Pullblox, Toki Tori 2+ is a game with a childish aesthetic that left me more baffled than the vast majority of ‘adult’ games could ever claim.

In a lovely forest, a whole bunch of birds are kidnapped by a dark force, and the player is the bird who must rescue them, who is presumably named Toki Tori. That’s all there is to it, and it’s really enough. This game is confusing enough without any plot to get in the way!

Toki Tori 2+ is a puzzle game with Metroidvania elements. You cannot jump, and can instead only whistle or stomp. These two actions will affect the environment in different ways, such as whistling bringing certain animals towards you and stomping sending them away. The world of Toki Tori 2+ is filled with critters who must be interacted with and used in some frankly ingenious ways. Some animals even eat other animals to create new effects, such as the frog which can blow bubbles to carry our feathered protagonist around. There’s a strong element of exploration, with a world which can be approached in different ways and in a different order.

There may only be two moves in the game, but Toki Tori 2+ gets fiendishly complex. Some puzzles are infuriatingly arcane, but they all make sense by the internal laws of the game. It can be slightly hard to tell where you’re going, and the lack of hand holding meant that I frequently had no idea what to do or where to go. If this encouraged exploration that would be fine, but Toki Tori’s worlds are a series of puzzles, so simple wandering around is highly unappealing. I’m not someone who would normally argue this, but I wonder is this game might have benefited from being a more linear, level based experience. I think it would have meshed with the core gameplay mechanics slightly better.

Toki Tori 2+ is charm itself to look at, with the protagonist himself and all the surrounding critters looking suitable adorable. The music is sweet and lilting as well, with the sounds of the forest and the woodlands all being rather lovely. This is a very sweet game, all wrapped up in a very sweet package.

This is a game which could risk alienating almost everyone. It’s aesthetic may throw off ‘hardcore gamers’, but it’s punishing challenge will throw off ‘casual gamers.’ This, similarly to the PullBlox games, will appeal to those who like both. Toki Tori 2+ is a very strange game, but quite unique with simple but deep mechanics. Worth a try.01_logo

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams for Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

Giana Sisters is a game about two worlds; one is bright and filled with heroics, the other murky and unpleasant. This is appropriate, as it reflects my own feelings about this game. There are some great things here, but its flaws hold it back from standing alongside other better platformers out there.

The titular Giana Sisters are asleep when one is kidnapped and held prisoner by a dragon in the Dream World. It is up to her sister to rescue her, who is able to manipulate the world of dreams to change between pleasant dreams and nightmares. Hey, it’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it complex plots aren’t exactly the priority in platformers are they?

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is a platformer with a twin world mechanic; it’s not the first, nor does it really do it the best. In the lighter world Giana can launch herself as a fireball which can obliterate foes and bounce off walls, and in the dark world she can spin herself around into a controlled float. The worlds can be switched in an instant, with obstacles that only exist in some of the worlds. The problem is that compared to games like Outlander and Guacamelee with very similar mechanics, Giana Sisters ends up feeling very simple. That’s not to say it’s easy, and the levels are competently designed, but the core mechanic is never used in any particularly interesting ways.

There are only three main sections, but the individual levels are quite lengthy giving you decent bang for your buck. It can get a bit exhausting, and I wonder if double the levels at half the length might have been better. There’s sadly not a huge amount of variety between them; the two worlds are very distinct, but the levels lack any real character. As with much of this game, it’s functional rather than inspired.

Things aren’t all bad though as Giana Sisters has a surprising trick up its sleeve; it’s soundtrack. Put simply, the music is this game is incredible. Even better is that each track has two versions, which switch between the two worlds seamlessly as the player changes. There’s a glam rocky guitar version, and a sinister synth-y version, and both sound great. Alas, the same cannot be said for the visuals, which are bland and uninspired. It functions, but it never soars. One exception is the character animation for the final boss, who despite never being developed as a character is amusingly smug and loathsome.

Giana Sisters does a lot of things well, but on a console containing Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Rayman Legends, you really need to do something special to set yourself apart if you’re doing a platformer. Giana Sisters does not do that.GSTD-Flyer

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