Gaming, review

Miracle Mia

It’s been a while since I actually reviewed a game, the last one being back in September for Sayonara Wild Hearts, so a couple of weeks ago when Shademare reached out to me on Twitter and asked if I would be interested in taking a look at their title Miracle Mia, I perused a few trailers and thought sure, why not?

Miracle Mia is best described as a story-driven 2D action game. You play the titular Mia and have to fend off a variety of foes using her magical tennis racket as you progress through a series of pastel-coloured and beautifully realised locations. What makes the game unique is the aforementioned tennis racket, enemies aren’t defeated in the traditional sense of just hitting them (though that is an option), the idea here is to repel their attacks back in the direction they came from (or towards another opponent) in what is, in my opinion, quite a clever mechanic.

On that mechanic, the key thing here is just how well it works, the game moves at a decent pace and you never really feel like the controls are lagging behind you in any way, they’re perfectly responsive which comes in handy as the difficulty ramps up.

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There’s some element of platforming here, with Miracle Mia utilising jumping, dashing and teleportation techniques to traverse the terrain, there are times where you have to rely on quick reflexes and times where you’ll be battling whilst also performing some mildly complicated control pad gymnastics, though for the most part, these moments are usually filler between fairly static battles. The challenge comes from moments where you have to combine a variety of things in order to progress, such as dashing through opponents in order to stun them but making sure you don’t stay on a fragile platform for too long. It really does make for some energetic play.

Aesthetically, its very pleasing, the variety of locations are wonderfully realised and carry over a very Japanese aesthetic, though I’d have to say that the magical girl theme to pretty much all the main characters only really works from a distance, when characters faces appear closer alongside speech bubbles (in order to further the plot) it does tend to look very generic. Thankfully though these moments, whilst common, tend to happen whilst you’re playing so aren’t massively distracting, allowing you to soak in the tones and themes presented to you as you progress.

Unfortunately though, its the story and its presentation, that does begin to drag this game down, then there’s its length, now I’ll admit, I didn’t reach the end of Miracle Mia as it began to strain on my ability to stay interested, it just seemed to be quite a long experience (there’s a chapter select and I think I counted ahead to over 20 chapters), with everything that was introduced in the time I spent with the game, it didn’t really need to feel like I was going to have to spend a lot longer with it than I already had to see its end, there were enough interesting ideas on show for a short, sharp experience, after all, its better to leave the player wanting more than it is to have them wondering just how much more there’s going to be.

Formats: PC (Steam)
Release Date: 23 August 2019
Publisher: Shademare
Developer:  Shademare
Code provided by Shademare for review purposes.

Books, Gaming, General, Movies

On Review Scores

I’ve seen two people writing about review scores on games recently, its not an uncommon discussion. Brad at Mental Health Gaming (whom you should all keep an eye on) recently wrote about why he will never have review scores on his website. Whilst Lottie Bevan in issue 27 of Wireframe Magazine discussed the correlation between boobs being a prominent feature in a games design and that game having a higher than expected score on Steam. (Wireframe should also be a must-read, in my opinion, I subscribe to the magazine and get it through the door every fortnight, but they also allow anyone to download pdf’s of the magazine absolutely free, so there’s not much of an excuse to not check it out!).

It got me thinking, they’re an odd thing review scores, and they often lead to a lot of debate. They were one of the biggest stressors I had when I was writing reviews regularly on bitparade, because really, what makes a game a 7 out of 10 and not an 8? I did go through a spell where I tried to have them dropped from the site, and regular readers of this page may have noticed I don’t apply a score to anything. When people debate these things it can easily lead down the road of abuse, just as was mentioned by Brad on Mental Health Gaming, and this happens even more so when the game in question is from a much-loved series.

Then there’s the pressure of the writer feeling like they should maybe score higher than they were considering doing, purely to appease a publisher. To me, it always felt like something that went unsaid/unwritten, after all, no one really wants anything out there telling the world that their latest offering doesn’t cut it, but as writers we’d rather our opinion was valued more than an arbitrary number applied to the end of an 800+ word review where we go into reasons why we like or don’t like certain aspects of a game, sometimes things work, sometimes the ideas are genuinely forward-thinking but the application of those ideas just doesn’t quite cut the mustard and required more time to get them to a stage where they could have made more of a difference to the game overall.

Those things are all taken into account when writers write about games, take my review of Decay of Logos from back in September. Personally, I really, really enjoyed Amplify Creations take on the Soulslike style of action-adventure games, it had some glaring problems that more manpower, time and money could have fixed, but they tried to do things differently, they tried not to just clone FROM Software’s recipe, and apply a few other influences to boot. They didn’t quite pull everything off, there were bugs there that maybe shouldn’t have been and the game got ripped apart on social media, unfairly so in my opinion.

I’d rather talk about what I think the developer is trying to do and then whether I think they’ve succeeded in that or not, rather than write a bit about the game then go meh – 7/10 because no one gets anything from that. But if the writer has put some work into studying the games design and can get that across to the reader, who knows, it may surprise its publisher and the studio get the green light and an increased budget to make their next game more in line with what their original vision was.

When you factor in stuff surrounding bonuses based upon Metacritic scores, then that, again, puts pressure onto the reviewer to score a game favourably, because (and I’m sure I’m not speaking for myself here) the last thing any person who writes about games, be it for a professional publication or a hobbyist like myself, wants is for the creators of a game to be punished based upon a fucking number thrown at the end of a piece of writing.

Obviously, the counter to this is “well, people don’t read reviews”, well, then maybe they fucking should rather than sending death threats over Twitter because Endless Tale of Sorrow: The Word of Man only got an 89% when it clearly deserved a 90%.

Gaming, review

Sayonara Wild Hearts

It’s not often I come across a game that I’d struggle to place within a genre, but I think Simogo’s Sayonara Wild Hearts tries to do that, and maybe comes up with its own. Is it an endless runner? yes, is it an on rails shooter? yes, is it a rhythm action game? kind of. What it is, is actually an interactive music album. I’m not entirely sure if such a thing has been done before, no doubt some prog rock outfit or experimental electronica creator has tried something, but like this? Surely not.

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a concept album about a girl who has to learn to live with a broken heart and the emotional rollercoaster that goes with that, all told in vivid shades of purple, pink and blue, using some really good music and a narration from the legendary Queen Latifah, the difference here is that you play as the protagonist as she uses a variety of vehicles (and a stag) to defeat a variety of gangs and individuals in order for the lead character to repair her heart.

Levels play out in what one would describe as being like an endless runner, or those of us who are a little older would be as “on-rails”, think Panzer Dragoon or Rez where you control where the character moves on a 2D plain, dodging on coming attacks and obstacles whilst collecting hearts, building up your score in an old fashioned score attack manner, as the music video you are now a part of plays on and the music drives the emotion of the scene. There’s no invasive HUD, the only on-screen prompts are for when you directly take on each of your opponents, usually in some kind of duel at the end of a series of tracks.

It’s a proper sensual experience thats best played with the lights out and the sound up and its genuinely emotive. I’ve played through it three times so far, though I’ll come to those in a moment, but as the game nears its end, there’s a sequence of events where the protagonist begins to get the better of each of her foes and the music builds up and I genuinely get a lump in my throat and my eyes have had tears in them all three times. It’s a beautifully emotive game thats brilliantly put together, the emotion doesn’t just come from the game play, the story, the music or the visuals, its a culmination of all of those elements and it creates something that is very, very special.

But.

Yes, but.

I can’t shake the feeling that Simogo could have made it even more special. You see, there’s a decision been made here, and I think I understand what they were trying to do. Your very first play through of the game your only choice is to play it track by track, unlocking the next one as you go, which in any other game isn’t a problem. Here though, for me, it is, and that is because as you progress and get to the end of a track, you’re thrown out of the experience to click on the next track and then begin playing that. It’s not until you’ve finished that first play through that you then get to select Album Arcade mode from the Extras menu option. In Album Arcade mode you play right from the protagonist being in her bed room, the world tipping upside down and her being thrown out of her window into the games first track to Queen Latifah’s closing comments as the Protagonist is returned to her bedroom. This is how I think Simogo really wanted the player to experience the game, it certainly feels like the more purer experience and as the game is roughly 90 minutes long it doesn’t feel too long for a one sitting play through.

But I can see why they made the decision to go with the level select option as your introduction to the concept they’ve come up with, its safer, its something gamers are used to, its how every other music based game we’ve ever had is played, or if they don’t throw you back to a level select screen your quite often given a few story driven cutscenes to watch. I’m thinking of iNiS’ Gitaroo Man and Ouenden or NanaOnSha’s ParappaTheRapper or Um Jammer Lammy, where each song to be played through is different to the last with a genuine beginning and an end. Sayonara Wild Hearts feels as though it should do things differently, and admittedly in the Album Arcade mode there’s still noticeable breaks between the tracks rather than one continuous evolution of the music.

Which makes it hard to really criticise Simogo for that decision, what they’ve created in Sayonara Wild Hearts is genuinely emotive, very unique and amazingly special and I genuinely feel like my criticsm is nitpicking, but its definitely a feeling thats hard to shake and now that I have access to Album Arcade mode, its the way I’ll continue to play through it as I’ll definitely be returning, just as I return to Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Rez from time to time, and that I’m mentioning it alongside that masterpiece shows how highly I place Sayonara Wild Hearts.

Formats: PlayStation 4 (Version Tested), Switch and Apple Devices
Release Date: 19th September 2019
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer:  Simogo

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Dead to Rights 2 (PlayStation 2)

Dead to Rights 2 is a strange beast, it seems intent on distancing itself from the original game but also wants to be associated with it. This may sound contradicting, but thats how Dead to Rights 2 plays.

The original didn’t receive favourable reviews when it was released 2 or 3 years ago, so its understandable that the developer wants to change things around a bit and take a slightly different approach, although, with it being a sequel, or in this case a prequel, it has to be the same style of game, and in this case its a generic third-person shoot-’em up.

Although the game offers nothing new, it is a fairly decent shooter at times. The game is fast and frantic and isn’t complicated to get to grips with at all, and is ideal for the odd quick play when you cant think of anything else to play. This short play method is accentuated by the level design, which at best is repetitive and almost purely corridor based.

It literally gets to the point where every 5-10 minutes you are confronted with a loading screen thats lasts just as long as each section of level. So on average an entire level can take between 15-30 minutes including 3 loading screens which makes the game feel like a throw back to some early PlayStation titles, especially when you look at titles such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which use disc streaming to create and entire State that only has 3 or 4 load points. This is also a problem when it comes to the graphics, as although the graphics in the GTA titles aren’t great, they’re quite a number of rungs above those of Dead to Rights 2, which at best looks like a high-end PlayStation 2 launch title.

No shoot-em up would be playable if the targeting system was terrible, and while Dead to Rights 2 isn’t awful, its nothing special either. Holding down a shoulder button will lock onto the nearest enemy with either a green, yellow or red icon depending on how likely your bullets are to hit the guy. This would be great if it actually made an impact on your shots, but Jack Slate seems so cock-handed with a gun that you miss just as many shots when the target is green as you do when its red. Its just as well that you recieve plenty of ammo whenever you kill someone then.