Gaming, review

Duck Souls+

Things aren’t quite what you expect them to be with Duck Souls+

If you’re judging by its title, you probably expect roguelike mechanics, clumsy control mechanics, a lot of atmosphere and punishing enemies at every turn. If you take a look at screenshots then maybe you’re thinking a cute little one screen puzzle platformer.

That last one is close to the truth, its also misleading. Yes, Duck Souls+ is cute, its brightly coloured and fun to look at, its also a one-screen puzzle platformer, but don’t let that fool you into thinking its easy as its anything but.

Unsurprisingly you play through the game as a duck, challenged with retrieving the lost duck souls or something to that effect, the plots only really referenced very early on and isn’t important to what follows. Once that little intro sequence is done with you’re plonked on a full-screen level and challenged with getting from one point to the other before being allowed to move onto the next one. As you progress more challenges are thrown in your way. You’re then given a few levels to get used to each new obstacle, first on its own and then mixed with other obstacles you’ve previously had to learn.

Thankfully Duck Souls+ realises that we’re all at differing levels of skill, with developers Green Dinosaur Games providing two difficulty levels, Normal and Hard, the main difference being the former gives you well-placed checkpoints in levels allowing the player to take a breather and figure out the next step without worrying that a mistake will see you sent right back tot he beginning of the level. However, the beautiful thing is, you can drop out and change the difficulty level at will without there being any gateway preventing you from progressing if you choose to chop and change between either of them. Add in that the levels never really outstay their welcome and you have a short sharp, entertaining little game that’s perfect for both long gaming sessions and just picking up and playing.

It’s that last point that I’d like to build on a little. I played the PSN version of the game, which is compatible with both PS4 and Vita, and whilst there’s no Cross-Save feature here, meaning you have to play through each installation individually rather than being able to switch between the two at will (a feature that the Switch version benefits from due to it being one system with two methods of playing it rather than two separate consoles). I tried it on both systems and personally found the more confined screen but smaller controls felt much more accurate than playing it on the households main TV using a Dual Shock 4, in fact, the Vita’s d-pad is absolutely perfect for this game, add in the systems sleep function and I found myself picking it up and playing it in little fits and starts rather than the more dedicated time I tend to have with the PS4.

The games price point is definitely worth a mention, at £4 on the PlayStation Store, its ridiculously cheap, the budget pricing gives the impression that its a budget game, but it genuinely feels anything but. the presentation is nice and a lot of care and thought has gone into the level design, decisions such as the interchangeable difficulty level sitting alongside this price point does make it slightly disposable, but there’s also far less pressure on the player to just “Git Gud!”

Formats: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (version tested), Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita (version tested)
Release Date: September 8 2019 (Steam), April 2020 (Other Systems)
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Developer: Green Dinosaur Games

Gaming, review

Curious Expedition

You can’t move for retro looking Roguelikes these days. It often feels like almost every other game carries with it the mechanics of earning abilities as you progress but losing equipment and progress, having to start your playthrough essentially from scratch, but with the idea that each time you start over the game is a little easier than the last attempt. Most tie this to a Metroidvania style game, getting you to explore a large 2D environment. This is where Curious Expedition differs.


Curious Expedition isn’t a side scrolling platform action game, no, its developers Maschinen-Mensch, style it as an “expedition” game wherein the player is tasked with becoming a notable person from the 19th Century who embarks on an expedition to find hidden pyramids, return home with treasures and become the worlds most famous explorer, this is all played out with a Civilization Revolution style map that you move your crew across, clearing fog of war, finding villagers, causing volcanic eruptions and running out of Sanity as you “progress”. Games take maybe an hour to ninety minutes to get from your first expedition to your last, provided you get that far, meaning its quite fun to just switch on and not have to really focus on what you’re doing, its fairly light as far as Roguelikes go.

The presentation its quite quirky, every discovery, trade and decision is played out using diary entries that provide the game with its character, sommetimes they really portray the seriousness of any particular predicament (I had someone break a leg and I had to decide whether to leave them or try to heal it, I had to go with the former as I didn’t have the equipment to do the latter, thus making my inventory space smaller so I had to also leave some other items behind) or adding humour at times. It’s a lovely way to portray what looks like quite a static game and each entry is really well written, which gives it the feel of those Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular in the Eighties and Nineties.


There are a few things that confused me though, I can’t say the game doesn’t try to teach you its mechanics, maybe I just didn’t grasp things well enough. As you explore the map your Sanity meter depletes, this can be replenished by eating consumable items such as chocolate or by sleeping at any villages you find, but both of these can be hard to come by. When the meter reaches 0 you’re crew begin to make mistakes (such as the aforementioned broken leg or they drop items from your inventory, making the rest of the journey even harder) and you’re encouraged to try and make your time walking as long as possible, fewer longer trips results in less Sanity being lost than more frequent but shorter trips.

I couldn’t really grasp the battle system either, its turn based and relies upon dice rolls, but beyond that I didn’t really get on with what the games tutorial was telling me to do, these battles take place against things like wild animals that are patrolling area’s you are walking through or villagers that happened to take offence at your presence (as not everyone is always pleased to see you). It was these moments that led me to getting my Game Over’s as I just didnt have the correct members in my expedition to have the correct dice in order to fight anything off.


The games biggest disapointment however is that, currently at least, its missing a multiplayer mode. From what I can tell the developer has been working on one, at least they have been for the PC version thats been out since 2016, but when playing it, there was no sense of competition or urgency to beat the other Explorers and I couldn’t escape the feeling that a turn based game, with players starting at different points on the same map, racing to find the pyramid first, finding ways to make progress harder for the other competitors, would have made this game an essential couch co-op title rather than a fun little distraction.

Formats: PC (Steam), XBox One (version tested), PS4 and Switch
Release Date: 2016 (PC), April 2 2020 (Consoles)
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
Developer: Maschinen-Mensch
Code provided by Thundeful Publishing for review purposes.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Senran Kagura: Estival Verus (PlayStation 4)

This is the second time I’ve covered a Senran Kagura game, having reviewed 2014’s Nintendo DS title Senran Kagura Burst. Back then I made a note that there was an element of fun to the side scrolling beat-em up, even if it was incredibly repetitive and rather embarrassing to play. Those values still apply 2 years on and its now harder to escape that feeling of embarrassment with a full blown console release. But its that just judging a book by its cover?

Well, sort of. You see a huge part of what makes Senran Kagura Estival Versus is the level of titilation that is thrust upon the player, at every turn the game seeks to take advantage of its all female cast, with clothes being torn during battle, video sequence depicting their clothes disappearing as they transform to their Shinobi forms, dialogue that plays upon harem anime tropes (theres on character in particular that is pretty obsessed with the other girls’ breasts), ridiculous physics that invoke memories of Dead or Alive and a rather revealing and/or fantasised wardrobe collection. In this post-Feminist Frequency world it all feels rather crude and a little unnecessary. I mean I like boobs as much as most men, but Senran Kagura Estival Versus is basically one of those mouse mats with an anime girl print and �wrist support�.

And yet, its kind of fun. Once you get past all the dialogue sequence (which can be skipped and aren’t essential for actually playing the game) you’re presented with a 3D brawler. OK, its more Koei-influenced than Platinum, which isn’t particularly a bad thing. Theres normally a large amount of enemies on screen at any one time and you soon rack up a large number of comboes, and the actually battle system is fairly varied and has an approachable level of complexity, allowing you to mix up the normal standard + hard attack comboes with wall runs, specials, aerial dashes and projectiles, amongst other things. Each girl wields a different weapon and thus has a different fighting style with some being much faster than others, for example. Unfortunately, whilst all this is pretty good stuff, its all attached to a bunch of enemies who seem to want to wait for you to attack them. This could be put down to the number of foes involved, but even boss fights (which usually pitch one girl from a group against another) see your sole enemy backing off and waiting for you to attack rather than taking any initiative and challenging you, which means the only aspect of the combat mechanisms you really need to master is the timing on the parry, get that nailed down and nothing stands in your way, particularly as it stuns surrounding foes leaving you open to beat the crap out of everything without answer.

Personally speaking, and I refer back to Dead or Alive with this, in particularly the Xtreme offshoots, one of the things I think is really lacking is a point to the exploitation nature of the game. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you kitting out all of the girls in the skimpiest of outfits, right from the start you can have them running around in their underwear if you so wish, at least Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball encouraged you to try and develop a relationship with the other characters to get to that point, it’d also add some involvement for the player during some of the lengthier dialogue sequences if there was some sort of relationship aspect to the game, providing a bit more depth to the entire experience. As it stands, Senran Kagura Estival Versus is little more than a weaaboo version of a Tecmo-Koei game, there is an enjoyable brawler within the (un)dressing of titration, but its a pretty difficult obstacle to climb unfortunately.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Republique (bitparade)

Back in the early 2000’s certainly after the release of Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Ubisofts Splinter Cell, it felt like any third person action game had to include a section of the game that required you to be stealthy. These were often the weakest aspects of those games as it tended be something that both changed the pace of progression and asked the player to do something that felt against the nature of that particular game up until that point.

Whilst playing Republique, I’m reminded of this time, not because of any �shoe-horning� of a game type into something else, but because its been a while since I’ve played anything remotely like this. The player is initially tasked with aiding Hope escaping from a prison cell and the building she has been entrapped in and to do this you have to avoid the detection of guards using a combination of the games default camera settings and Hope’s mobile phone that has an app installed to allow her to control CCTV camera’s to gain an advantage over her captors. It all sounds needlessly complicated but, having been initially developed for mobile platforms its genuinely not, you can happily ping around the various cameras in each room/hallway, get an idea of your surroundings,m investigate any items of interest that appear and the navigate Hope to the nearest exit.

You see, Hope needs to escape, her reasons aren’t just because she’s been incarcerated, but that she is also going to be recalibrated, she has gained access to literature that those in power deem to challenge their Orwellian control over the populace and they will use any means necessary to keep the people from uprising the oppression they have been placed under. In some respects it reminds me a little bit of another early 2000’s era game, Ubisofts Beyond Good & Evil, this is down to a number of things, the use of camera’s (admittedly done differently between the two as Jade in BG&E; is documenting the oppressors actions rather than escaping from them), the game having a female lead character and the fact you tend to be in a rather defensive position rather than a need to be on the attack all the time, avoiding confrontation is usually (or in Hopes case, pretty much always) the best option. It also feels a little French, which I cant explain why, but the game feels like the kind of work we would have seen from Ubisioft prior to them just becoming a publisher that releases an Assassin Creed or Tom Clancy game every year. I suppose the develop, Camouflaj, being from Canada plays some part in that (although I only discovered that after beginning to write this review).

I actually really like Republique, although I struggle to play it for long periods of time, even though it is broken down in an episodic nature I find it difficult to play through a good chunk of each episode in one sitting. I’d say this is partly down to the games rather oppressive atmosphere, you want to free Hope, just because the game and its setting does everything in its power to make you feel that way. I also think that my struggles with it are also down to its very mechanics, the camera’s aren’t always clear and its sometimes difficult to know what a guard is doing as they move behind scenery that you just cant get a good view of add in that Hope isn’t the easiest character to control, whilst the pace of the game is reminiscent of stuck behind someone in a town centre who just wont move out of your way and let you get on with your business. There’s room for improvement here, but Republique, as a rather rare example of the stealth genre now, is actually a decent attempt at an entry into the genre and certainly rises above elements that used to get tacked onto other games, like that ridiculous stealth section in Atari’s Fahrenheit.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo (PlayStation 4)

I’ve not paid attention to the world of Rally driving for a fair old while, actually not since Richard Burns sadly passed away have I actually followed it, thats probably more to do with its television rights issues than anything else. Still, the class has always made for excellent videogames of varying approaches, from the infamous SEGA Rally through to Codemasters more recent efforts and many more besides. Also, despite not following the discipline for a long while, I’m still aware of a few of its personalities, highest of which is definitely Sebastien Loeb, so it comes as no surprise that he’s got this particular game attached to his name.

First off, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo isn’t particularly light on content, racers will find they have over 300km of track available to them over 8 different rally locations plus 5 Rallycross tracks plus the most famous Time Trial event of them all, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Theres also around 50 cars from various power categories and era’s at your disposal, all of which have their own handling attributes. It’s a decent specification list for a racing game thats only really focused on one discipline, there’s also a couple of different game modes, including a career mode that has you working your way up to becoming the number 1 driver in the world as the titular Loeb’s prot�g� and a mode that both introduces you to Sebastien’s own career and challenges you with taking on the same events he partook in to get to where he has, minus a few elements that don’t fit in with the games discipline such as his involvement with the LeMans 24 Hours or World Touring Car Championship.

Whilst content is important, its nothing if a racing game is a pain in the arse to play. This is where things get muddy as Rally Evo’s handling model is incredibly off putting at first, its incredibly twitchy and feels far too responsive when at speed, it also feels far too easy to clip a bit of scenery and roll the car causing you to lose an incredible amount of time. Fortunately this can be undone by the games inclusion of a rewind mode, for which you get 6 tokens per race. Back to the games handling model, yet its twitchy, incredibly so initially, but I found the best approach was to use the bumper camera and make lots and lots of tiny constant adjustments on the steering, acceleration and even the braking, it feels much like you’d imagine from any in-car footage you’d find on YouTube. It takes some getting used to too, but once you do, the feeling of speed is exhilarating, and in actual fact the way in which the cars are so twitchy and the environments deadly reminds me of the original V-Rally and how challenging that was to handle back in the day but again, how rewarding it was as a speed freak once it all began to click.

Even once you’ve gotten used to the handling model, Rally Evo is still a challenge, obviously different cars with different set ups will require different approaches to this technique, this mostly comes down to the games various stages with different terrain also providing you with a challenge. Its much more difficult to throw the car around hairpin bends sideways, for example, on tarmac than in almost any other driving game that I recall playing, whilst the twitchiness is exaggerated further by the snow covered events. Getting the start right is also key in some of these events as you can find yourself spinning up the tyres for too long at the start if you apply too many revs.

Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo isn’t a must-have racing game, its certainly not either platforms strongest driving experience either, but it is rather enjoyable and really gets the adrenaline pumping as you throw your car around desert courses, kicking up sand behind you and launching all four wheels off a bump in the road before trying desperately to slow down for a 2 Right Hairpin Turn.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: LEGO Marvel Avengers (PlayStation 4)

Since 2005 we have seen the release of 21 LEGO themed video games from Travellers Tales, ranging from the original LEGO Star Wars through a variety of popular licenses including Harry Potter and Batman. We’ve already had one Marvel themed game from the studio, but that was its own set adventure, this time out the focus is quite squarely aimed at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With this in mind, you’ll find yourself playing through elements of most of the movies released from Captain America: The First Avenger up until and including Avengers: Age of Ultron.

That’s a lot of ground to cover, the Harry Potter franchise was split into two separate games. It’s also a rather large number of characters, over 100 in fact, although 13 of those are different suits for Iron Man alone. Unfortunately it also means the omission of a bunch of fan favourites, notably the FOX and Sony movie characters, so Spider-Man, the X-Men and (thankfully) the Fantastic Four (I really disliked using them in Marvel Super Heroes.

The formula is the same as ever, work through each level beating the crap out of everyone and everything to release a whole bunch of LEGO studs and solve simple puzzles using the different characters abilities to progress through the level and unlock more content. I find it all to be kind of fun in small doses but I’ve never been one for games that put a lot of focus on collecting things, although the chance to play a game as using Ms Marvel, Wasp, Captain Britain or Squirrel Girl (all of whom aren’t MCU characters but are unlockable here) is enough to keep me chipping away.

LEGO Marvel Avengers features a handful of over-worlds, the biggest of which is once again Manhattan, here you can take on extra mini-quests and even be involved in solving random crimes that happen whilst you’re running around, it makes the game feel surprisingly lived-in, although getting around is a bit of a ball-ache as the vehicles are horrible to control. That’s one of the many problems I’ve always had with the series and the other two key ones that irritate are still here and have been for as long as I remember. The way the split-screen works has always been an issue for me.. The fixed vertical split leaves very little room for being able to see what’s going on whilst the reactive split-screen, where the split moves with the character, feels sporadic and far too intrusive and in my humble opinion the entire franchise would work better if bothy were dropped and you both had to stay within the confines of the screen, its not like you’re allowed a lot of freedom to go off wandering when in the structured levels, although the hubs they’ve introduced in more recent titles would definitely be affected.

The other thing that gripes is the games checkpointing. It often feels sporadic, and in a franchise that feels like its aimed at family members who want to play together, it leaves something to be desired that you may have to abandon the game at times that the game doesn’t want you to forcing you to replay whole chapters, which grates when you’ll find yourself having to return to every section of the game later on anyway in order to unlock everything. As I say, these are all issues that have been apparent for a long, long time now and with the schedule being roughly two titles per year or thereabouts, plus with Dimensions being a thing, it’d be nice to see them being addressed rather than each and every game feeling like a re-skin. I recently went back to the original LEGO Star Wars and whilst there’s been a lot of stuff added over the years, there’s still a hell of a lot of things that felt broken then that feel broken in Marvel Avengers, which considering the 11 years or thereabouts between them, is a ridiculous situation to be in.

That’s not to say that there isn’t fun to be had with this release, as per usual, if you’re a fan of the subject that’s being covered you’ll find plenty of content to keep you happy and the little jokes are as amusing as ever. But its just annoying to be criticising a series for the same thing again and again,

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: MXGP 2 (PlayStation 4)

Funny story, I don’t think I was supposed to be reviewing MXGP2, our promotional copy arrived at my address but had Ben’s name on it. Regardless, I’m the resident racing game fan so it made more sense for me to keep hold of it rather than forward it on to our resident Beat-em up player. That being said, I don’t tend to get on very well with motorcycles in video games, I think the last motorcycle racing game I was any good at was a Ricky Carmichael game on the original PlayStation, which despite being of a similar racing discipline was a very different type of racing game.

MXGP2 then, if the name didn’t give it away, is the latest motorcycle racing title from Italian developers Milestone (whom over the years have covered a huge variety of racing disciplines) and carries the official MXGP licenses, featuring over 60 individual bikes from key manufacturers such as KTM and Suzuki over two different racing classifications. Your key focus will be the games career mode wherein you create your own rider, partake in races and gradually earn enough money to improve your bike, customise your kit and improve your chances of winning races.

You see MXGP2 isn’t like most other racing games, you probably wont be winning races from the off as your competitors will have far better bikes than you, so its all about grinding out results over a period of time, which will rub some players up the wrong way (its that or I was absolutely woeful at the game), I personally didn’t mind this as it ties in well with the simulation focus that the game has. The core element of the game, riding the bike, takes an incredible amount of input that I’ve not experienced in any other racing game as you tend to control your rider rather than the bike, shift your weight backwards and forwards to find that extra bit of grip, riding the clutch to keep revs high as you exit corners and learning the optimal angle for taking off of jumps at in order that you land in a manner that you don’t lose too much speed, its incredibly taxing and requires ,pre attention than the current highest profile motorcycle game Driveclub Bikes (which itself covers a different style of bike).

This also makes the deformable terrain an important feature. As you’re riding around the ground beneath your wheels will compact and the behaviour of the circuit will change. However it only does this to a certain extent, and feels really inconsistent, what should be a key feature feels poorly realised and leads to the game feeling frustrating, as does the overly aggressive track boundaries and harsh punishments for cutting them. No one likes opponents cutting corners, but in MXGP2 there are some corners that you step ever so slightly out of the boundaries on and you’re immediately punished by having your bike reset to the middle of the circuit (often further back then where you exited the corner) at a standing start with your competitors flying off into the distance. What’s all the more frustrating is that this punishment is applied in an inconsistent manner, a number of times on a few circuits I was able to take aggressive short cuts on corners without any punishment whatsoever, which again, makes the entire race experience feel really frustrating. I’m not one for wanting to go out of the boundaries of a circuit, but when such harsh punishments are applied inconsistently it just annoys me.

Thing is, I really want to like MXGP2, I was really looking forward to playing a racing game that offered something different, a lot of the road bike based games cover similar circuits to a lot of the racing game that feature cars and all of those feature pretty much the same roster of cats to drive so a dirt bike game genuinely had me feeling enthusiastic about playing something a little different, and the technical mechanics of riding the bike are genuinely intriguing and challenging, but there’s just so much about the overall quality of the whole experience to be gained from this game that I jut didn’t want to sink anymore time into it than I felt I needed to have done to provide this review.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Grand Kingdom (PlayStation 4)

A few weeks back I joined in on the beta for Grand Kingdom, a turn-based online JRPG, and actually quite enjoyed it so have been really looking forward to its final release. Despite being released on both the PS4 and the Vita (NISA do seem to be keeping Sony’s handheld ticking over in all territories…) I opted to play it on the former, the reason being is that I’m mostly housebound at the moment and dont tend to take handhelds out anymore anyway, so if I dont have access to the TV I can still play via Remote Play and enjoy it that way. So yes, I’m playing Grand Kingdom via PS4 but I honestly can’t see there being all that much difference between the versions.

As already mentioned, Grand Kingdom is a turn-based strategy RPG, although it does things a bit differently to what many of us expect from the genre. Its a side on, almost PS1 era Final Fantasy-esque in battles, but still uses a rudimentary grid system, with you having an upper, middle or lower path that you can switch between/move along depending upon how full one of the many status bars is for each character. Once you’ve moved a character into position its time to give them an action, some of which can be combo-ed whilst others require you to have a certain range from your foe.

Grand Kingdom’s focus is on a kind of �big picture�, it is, first and foremost, an online RPG. You enter into �wars� to which you contribute towards a chosen faction by achieving certain tasks, contributing resources and by defeating online opponents. There are single player, story driven chapters, but they’re mostly designed to give you an idea of the world at large and introduce you to the games mechanics, there’s also not a whole lot of them. Theres a few single player skirmish type quests too that are updated from time to time, fight of X number of enemies, get to the end of the map in Y number of moves, that kind of thing. But again, the meat of the game is its online integration.

The biggest problem with all of this is that it can be really overwhelming. The core of the game takes place either in the menu’s that accompany your guild HQ or the four cities you can choose from to represent (you sign contracts for a number of wars and can change, if you wish to do so, at the end of said contract) or on a tile based map that you move a chess-like piece around to collect resources, take over fortresses or battle against other players/AI opponents. You’re usually told that failure comes from exceeding the number of turns you have on a map, but from my experience its pretty hard to fail in this way and more common aspect of failure comes from being unable to continue a mission as your Troop (of which you can have six, of up to four characters) are unable to continue as they lack health, morale or TP (which on the maps allows you to use skills thaqt replenish the other two, TP is earned via winning battles).

I touched on the battles before, but they deserve a little more information. Mainly because the make-up of your Troop and the members within it can have a significant effect on battles. At the point of writing this my party is made up of a Blacksmith who wields a hammer and is really rather strong, her melee attacks are generally all assigned to the circle button and after some experimentation with the order of which attack appears after which button press in the combo she has a devastating juggle/ground smash system going on. I also have an Archer who is great for picking off Troop Leaders from afar and weakening my opponent for the rest of the battle, a mage of sorts deals out fire damage whilst I have a Witch that I have jumping between lanes to deal out healing potions (although these are heavily limited so its a good idea to teach all of your party members the Quick Heal ability). Jumping back to the mention of Troop Leaders, you’ll assign your own from one of your 4 party members for each Troop, as will your opponent. If you focus your attacks on these at the beginning of a battle and succesfully take them out, it lowers your opponents Morale and thus their attack and defense also drops. Its a fairly simple tactic that comes in useful time and time again.

It’s only really the overwhelming nature of everything thats in Grand Kingdom that would make it difficult to recommend, if you’re into SRPG’s you’ll pick it all up with no problem, its just that theres a lot to remember and its not always streamlined enough to make particular things feel natural when you’re playing. That said, its deeply interesting and thanks to its less than formulaic nature is a breath of fresh air. I know this review is pretty short, and the game probably deserves something much lengthier and in-depth, but theres such a lot of stuff going on here that Grand Kingdom is definetly one of those games that you have to experience to even begin to understand it

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir (PlayStation 4)

Odin Sphere was one of those games that many completely missed out on right at the end of the crossover between the PlayStation 2’s generation and the Xbox 360 coming out. Even though it was a bit of an oddity even then, its fair to argue that the gaming landscape has changed somewhat and it sticks out even more now, despite Sony’s platforms (in particular the Vita which Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir has also been released on and Ben may comment on at a later date) generating a bit of a niche for �this sort of thing�. Before we go ahead tbough, I’d like to state that I won’t be comparing Leifthrasir to its predecessor. I understand this is essentially a remaster of the original game, with some gameplay tweaks here and there, and whilst I owned Odin Sphere, I did so at a time that the PS2 had been moved to a different room and thus, aside from the opening couple of hours or so, it never really got the attention that I actually wanted to give it.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a little different from many games you will have access to on these shores, its essentially a hack and slash side scrolling RPG that looks as though every single bit of it has been hand painted. In stills its absolutely gorgeous to look at and, arguably, it stands up well to being animated too with small intricate little details like the flutter of Gwendolyn’s skirt really standing out. But its all well and good looking stunning, if you don’t have something under the hood then you’ll get found out.

Luckily Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir packs this in spades. I mentioned before that it was �hack and slash� but that really does it a diservice and strips it back to its basic combat element. You see, whilst you’ll get through chunks of the early game just bashing away at the attack button, you’ll soon figure out that you need to combine stick movements and button timings, plus throwing in abilities using the circle button and you’re inventory of alchemic potions all in order to get the better of the more difficult foes the game likes to throw at you. Thats before you consider how to counter and dodge and rack up large combo’s. The controls are incredibly responsive and you the player never ever feels like a mistake is down to the systems put in place.

Which is a very good thing, what with there being 4 characters stories to play through (the aforementioned Gwendolyn; a Valkyrie and daughter of Odin is your introduction to the game wherein you’ll also get to meet the rest of the playable cast before taking on their chapters). Each character has around 6 or 7 chapters each and they can take about an hour to an hour and a half each to play through, so despite looking limited, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir isn’t a short game by any standards.

I touched on the alchemy before, which is a key area of the game. Here you will pick up items that you need to mix with materials in order to create healing potions, antidotes and all the normal things you’d expect in order to keep yourself alive. You can also create offensive potions to use in battle (and personally speaking I generally saved these for the bosses and mid-bosses). Theres also a cookery element, which works in the same way but cant be done at any time. Instead you have to call upon a chef when you’re in Rest zone to cook the items for you and (usually, as there are a couple of exceptions) consume them right away. Almost everything you eat carries Experience too, including the fruit you grow using a combination of seeds that you find/are dropped by enemies and the life force (called Phozons) that seeps out of defeated foes as you progress. You simply plant the seed, expel the required Phozons and wait a few seconds for the fruit to grow. Some fruit give seeds back once eaten and the cycle continues. But the way in which you have to juggle creating fruit using Phozons and using said Phozons to upgrade your abilities adds just enough element of strategy to the game to make you consider what it is you are doing. Normally there is more than enough to go around and upgrades happen quickly enough for you to never feel too overwhelmed by your opponents, but there are times when one may have to suffer to work on the other.

Truthfully speaking, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir has been a breath of fresh air. It may be an old game give (quite a bit from what I understand) of spit and polish, it might be very similar to Vanillaware’s other games, but played on a big screen in the lounge its a an absolute feast and incredibly enjoyable to play.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Prison Architect (PlayStation 4)

I’ve played a lot of Prison Architect on PC, watched it as it slowly became a fully fleshed out game throughout its Alpha and eventually be fully released. I’ve spent hours upon hours starting and restarting my own correctional facilities. So it made sense that I take on the mantle of covering the PlayStation 4 version that /Introversion recently released.

This genre is always at its best on PC, and after trying Tropico 5 on PS4 thanks to PlayStation Plus it does still seem to be pretty much the same as its always been, a controller is just too cumbersome for quick menu navigation and analogue sticks don’t lend themselves too well to adding to the landscape upon which you’re building. However, Prison Architect have gotten this right and Double Eleven (who handled this port) have done it in such a simple way too. First off, it was always going to be easier to move around the terrain and build thanks to the games 2D graphical style, it just makes life so much easier when you use such a viewpoint, allowing you to see absolutely everything. It also fits in with the tone of the game, giving you a blueprint kind of development of your prison. Everything you’d ever need to run your prison is then mapped to menu’s access via the d-pad. Building tools are accessed by pressing left, reports report etc and you can still slow down or speed up time.

This release, and bare in mind its been a while since I did boot up the PC version admittedly, feels more gamelike than its big brother. You’re still developing your prison using Grants, which give you a list of things you need to put into your prison, but the manner in which its all done feels a little more relaxed and streamlined and its far, far too easy to get lost in adding more and more to your facility and lose focus of actually running it. Thats always been Prison Architect’s biggest problem, and its one thats transferred over with this port too. You’re inmates needs and behaviours aren’t always obvious. Sure the game has the means to tell you whats wrong and what has been happening, but the means by which to address them aren’t always obvious or simple to achieve and it doesn’t really feel satisfying when you manage to overcome these obstacles.

I guess thats why its named Prison Architect as the focus does appear to be on creating a prison, selling it at a profit, then making another prison and whilst the inmates all have names and back stories (some are really rather amusing whilst others are ridiculously dark) it doesn’t really feel like you’re providing the means to rehabilitate them.

Its now, however, I’d like to bring up Remote Play, something I do regularly when I cover PS4 games that I think will translate well to being played on Vita. Prison Architect is exceptional on the Vita, I’ve no idea if Introversion or Double Eleven plan on porting it over to the handheld properly, but as it stands now the Vita is a perfect partner to playing it on a big TV in your lounge. I was more than happy to switch over and lounge around on the sofa building more elements to my prisons and the text never felt difficult to read, and its this more than anything else in this port that enforces just how much time and care Double Eleven have put into this port of Prison Architect. Its praiseworthy to them that they have not only made the game feel at home on a console, but it feels at home being played on a much smaller screen too.