Tag Archive: downloadable

EGM‘s Ray Carsillo had a chance at PSX 2016 to go hands-on with the upcoming old-school, side-scrolling, beat ’em up that is Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Mega Battle. Playing co-op with another journalist, Ray chose Billy the Blue Ranger and took the fight to Rita Repulsa’s Putties, before facing off against King Sphinx. You can see the first level in its entirety in the video below.

Based on the original Power Rangers TV series, Mega Battle is dripping with nostalgia, even if a bit on the simple side when compared with most other games of the modern era. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Mega Battle is being published by Bandai Namco and will release for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sometime in January 2017.


No school like the old school

When compared to some of the EGM Crew, I’m admittedly kind of slow on the Indie uptake. Something that helps motivate me to take notice of the latest Indie darling that’s burning up the popular forums, though, is when it’s dripping with nostalgia from my 2D-game upbringing. The latest offering that fits that bill is a result of the one-man development wrecking crew that is Thomas Happ and Axiom Verge.

The action-adventure shooter puts players in the lab coat of a scientist named Trace. When one of his experiments accidentally triggers an explosion in the lab, Trace is knocked unconscious. Upon waking up, he finds himself on an alien world that proves to be quite hostile—and he has no recollection of what happened after the blast. Trace must now explore this unfamiliar landscape in the hopes to not only piece together his fractured memory but also find a way back home.

Trace’s story isn’t the centerpiece of Axiom Verge, though. In fact, it’s far from it. I only ever got small nibbles of the carrot that is solving the issue of Trace’s mysterious appearance on this alien planet, and many questions remained unanswered in the process of my playthrough. Normally, this would have me pulling my hair out. I’d be ready to come up with any number of loose connections to fit together what little plot I came across, filling in the blanks and creating a coherent timeline in my mind as best I could. Instead, Axiom Verge reminded me time and again, through its novel twists on stereotypical gaming devices and old-fashioned design, that the story is never the focus here—it’s always on the gameplay.

Axiom Verge is like a love letter to the original Metroid. It’s exploration tempered by a healthy dose of shooting all kinds of alien life-forms with a pinch of platforming, a wide assortment of weapons, and just enough narrative hooks to keep pushing you forward. Collecting a cornucopia of items that would open up more of the ever-expanding map, lengthening Trace’s health bar, or beefing up the various bioweapon blasters he comes across was a thrill as I watched my completion percentage climb. Deducing the patterns of gargantuan bosses with pixel precision became more and more of an obsession as I played, flashing me back to my childhood and the great gun battles of my gaming glory days. This is as solid a gameplay base as it gets.

In some aspects, however, Axiom Verge tries too hard to stay true to its gaming roots, and it could’ve take a page from other modern games in the genre to deliver a more pleasant overall experience. A prime example? The map system. The game would’ve been well served to include some sort of marker feature that I could’ve used to remind me the location of items I missed or areas I wanted to explore so that I could more efficiently plan my paths—especially considering the sheer size of the world.

A fast-travel system would’ve been welcome as well, because once I reached the 12-hour mark and collected around 80 percent of the items, I got really tired of schlepping back and forth across a map that features more than 700 unique rooms, gunning down the same enemies over and over. In fact, I pushed forth with the endgame sequence before hitting that magical 100-percent mark to prevent what had been a wonderful adventure up to that point from starting to feel like too much of a grind.

To that end, I realized that Axiom Verge truly shines when it breaks away from the restraints of the past it emulates and instead builds on top of those gameplay foundations. For instance, one of the most powerful weapons you get early on in your adventure is best described as a “glitch gun.” Firing its waves of distinctive radiation at walls comprised entirely of blocks of retro texture glitches from games of yesteryear will reveal new paths or items. Lambasting enemies with this gun, though, can have a wide array of effects—they might turn friendly toward Trace or simply become easier to defeat. When under the influence of the glitch gun, some enemies even open up new pathways; unwitting foes barrel through obstacles that would be indestructible by any other means. Taking an unwelcome by-product of past hardware limitations and development issues and turning it into a critical game component only encouraged more experimentation with each new room I entered, and it was a welcome twist on traditional 2D exploration.

The gameplay twists don’t end with just the weapons, though. You can use many items to bypass barriers—years of gaming experience has ingrained in us the need to hit a switch or acquire a key to make areas accessible, but that’s not the case here. Axiom Verge goes out of its way to remind you of the multitude of tools that open up the paths before you.

While on the subject of all those tools, though, Happ may have gone a little overboard in regards to how many items he crammed into Axiom Verge. One of the other reasons I gave up on that 100-percent run was that it dawned on me about halfway through my playthrough that a lot of weapons and items are useless. I’d say three-quarters of the guns are style over substance and offer little to no value in terms of furthering your exploration or combat proficiency.

And if you get stuck at any point—like I did toward the end of the game before finally figuring out one particular obstacle—and start doing literal laps around the world trying to figure out where to go next, it’s pretty damn frustrating when you stumble upon a secret room that you think may finally push things forward. Instead, you get a completely useless gun. It makes the otherwise tight design come off a bit haphazard, whereas the best Metroid-like games have a laser focus and no real overabundance of anything, especially when it comes to the weapons.

Working in the shadow of something as massive as Metroid and other games of that ilk is no easy task, though, and Axiom Verge does more than enough to earn its place among them. It manages to work within its limitations and still innovate in subtle-but-effective ways. Even with its classic motif, a little modern polish would’ve gone a long way, but it’s hard for me to be anything but immensely satisfied and impressed with Axiom Verge as a whole.

Developer: Tom Happ • Publisher: Tom Happ • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.31.15
A wonderful throwback to a bygone era, Axiom Verge’s focus on classic gameplay provides a welcome change of pace, even if it could’ve benefitted from a hint of modern design.
The Good Old-school side-scrolling shooter action and exploration that could give Samus Aran a run for her money.
The Bad Too many useless weapons; the desperate need for a fast-travel system.
The Ugly Uruku, the giant, gun-toting slug boss.
Axiom Verge is available on PS4, with PS Vita and PC versions coming later. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review.

Carving out a niche

The big project on everyone’s mind during this year’s GDC was, of course, Sony’s Project Morpheus. Because of this, another work-in-progress at the show might have flown under a lot of people’s radar, but I went hands-on with it before the week was through—and it’s finally ready to be revealed.

Project Totem is the latest Microsoft exclusive from developer Press Play, the folks behind Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. It’s a puzzle-platformer that, like many games in the genre, has a simple premise. You play as a pair of blocks that normally would sit in a totem pole. Each block is sent down a path that often has a similar, yet not exactly identical, layout to their counterpart.  Your objective? Get both blocks to the end of the course in order to unlock larger and more intricate carvings for the ultimate totem pole.

Where puzzle-platformers shine isn’t why you’re running these courses, but in how you traverse them. Gameplay is the driving force in this genre, and fortunately, even in the six pre-alpha-build single-player stages I was able to test, there seems to be enough easy-to-learn-yet-difficult-to-master mechanics to give Project Totem the addictiveness to compete against similar games.

The first, most critical element that I needed to learn was that the totem pieces are always linked. When one jumps, so does the other. When the other runs right, so does the other. Run left, and…hopefully you get the picture. The puzzle aspects quickly become evident from this mechanic when the courses stop being as identical as the totem pieces. Some pathways can only open when one of the totems steps on a particular switch. Other pathways can only be walked through by pieces of a certain color. And sometimes the lower totem block will have to serve as a stepping-stone for the upper one to reach the next platform.

As the courses become more intricate, the totem blocks also begin to acquire special powers. The first of these makes it so the two blocks can flip-flop positions at any time, even in mid-air, to move through color-coded barriers. Meanwhile, certain powers allow you to change the gravity of a single piece so one can be walking on the ceiling while another is on the floor.

Just as I began to get comfortable with these abilities, though, I had to start using them in unison. For example, in one instance I had to swap totems while simultaneously having one of them use its gravity powers. As more powers become unlocked, it was easy to imagine how crazy it might be to use three or four powers quickly in succession or different powers for each individual piece.

Besides this single-player mode, there’s also a time-trial mode to see how fast a player can beat each stage. The game also offers local co-op, which has completely different stages from single-player. Also, instead of each player controlling an individual totem (that would probably be a bit too easy), they control two totems for a total of four totems onscreen at once. When obstacles start becoming three and four blocks high, the emphasis on teamwork quickly becomes clear.

Even though Project Totem is still in its pre-alpha phase, Press Play is confident they can have the game available for download on Xbox 360 and Xbox One sometime in Q3 2014. And from what I was able to play of it at GDC, I’m fairly confident they can hit that mark, since the seven total stages each had a layer of polish you don’t normally see from games still labeled as pre-alpha. The controls were tight, the obstacles were creative, and there was a nice feeling of accomplishment every time I overcame a new challenge. If that’s any sign of what’s to come, puzzle-platformer fans should definitely keep an eye out for this one.

An assault on the senses

When I first got my hands on a Windows Surface demo featuring Halo: Spartan Assault at E3 last year, I knew I’d never review the game unless it had a controller. Playing a twin-stick shooter without, ya know, twin sticks made the entire experience utterly frustrating, and I just couldn’t get past the idea of the inferior controls.

So, when I heard the game was coming to consoles and PC, I figured I could just wait for that version, since Spartan Assault’s largest, most obvious problem would be solved. Oh, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Even though the input issues have been addressed with a traditional controller, there’s so much more disappointment lurking beneath the Surface.

Spartan Assault’s single-player campaign passes itself off as a training simulation where up-and-coming Spartans can relive and learn from historic battles—fought by Halo 4’s Sarah Palmer and a new Spartan named Edward Davis—that took place on Draetheus V and its moon. The game also features a separate online co-op campaign in which you and a friend can take on the Flood. In regards to enemies, locations, and general aesthetics, Spartan Assault looks and sounds very much like a Halo game, just from a different camera angle.

Single-player is broken down into 30 missions across six chapters, offering an intriguing slice of Palmer’s backstory in bite-sized chunks that shouldn’t take more than three to five hours (six to eight if you also do the co-op adventure) to get through. Unfortunately, beyond the superficial details and the possible appeal of learning more about Palmer, there’s really little else here to draw longtime Halo fans in. And while the game’s length may sound short, Spartan Assault still finds a way to feel like a drag.

Now, I understand that twin-stick shooters aren’t really known for their depth of gameplay, but in trying to impart a stronger Halo feel, Spartan Assault also removes any and all charm that usually comes with this genre. Typically in such offerings, you eventually come across opposition that you can’t overcome through brute force alone. You need to strategize, even if it just means running behind cover and letting your shields recover. I never had this feeling in any of the game’s 30 missions. I ran in guns a-blazin’ every time and walked away. In a traditional Halo title, this might make you feel like a badass. In Spartan Assault, it made me feel bored.

The game does try to make things a little difficult by giving you limited ammo on all your weapons, something you don’t normally see in twin-stick shooters. In most games of this genre, you always have one weapon, even if it’s a weak little pistol that has infinite ammo for the sake of aiming, since it’s not inherently the easiest thing with the three-quarters top-down view here. By not providing any traditional aim assists with a laser pointer or an infinite-ammo weapon, the developers want you to be careful about wasting ammo, since aiming remains an iffy prospect.

This point becomes moot, however, due to the fact that many of the weapons are overpowered, and there’s so much ammo littered about the battlefield that I couldn’t imagine ever running out. And the fact the game tries to create difficulty through the genre’s natural limitations—and does nothing to hide this—just comes across as lazy design.

But the frustration doesn’t stop there. You earn XP as you play to unlock weapons. But instead of fully unlocking the weapons, you’re only renting them for that particular task, meaning you have to buy the best weapons again and again and again.

Or, if you’re rich, you can spend real-world cash to rent the guns for each of the game’s 30 missions—because it’s not enough that Spartan Assault for consoles ($15) costs twice as much as its Surface and Windows Phone ($6.99) siblings. Even though you really don’t need to buy any of the weapons to beat the game, you can’t help but feel like you’re missing something without trying them all at least once. The game wants to charge you even further to have the best experience possible.

And therein lies the true issue with Halo: Spartan Assault. It’s still just a mobile game using the same tired nickel-and-dime tactics to squeeze a few more dollars out of you. It’s just been cheaply ported over so that you can use a controller—which, at least, does work much better than the touchscreen inputs ever did. Sarah Palmer’s story, as much as I like the character, isn’t enough to make this anywhere near a worthwhile purchase. The developers couldn’t even tack on local co-op, which I would’ve enjoyed when taking on the Flood (in what proved to be a slightly more interesting experience than the single player campaign, if only because I was playing with a friend).

Players won’t be missing anything by mercifically passing on this one–Halo: Spartan Assault is easily the worst experience to ever feature one of the most famous names in gaming.

Developer: 343 Industries/Vanguard Entertainment • Publisher: Microsoft Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 12.23.13
A cheap port of a mobile game with glaring flaws at its very core that does a disservice to the Halo brand, Spartan Assault should be avoided like the Flood.
The Good Provides a bit more backstory to Spartan Sarah Palmer.
The Bad One of the worst twin-stick shooters I’ve ever played.
The Ugly The item rental/microtransaction system.
Halo: Spartan Assault is available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Windows 8-enabled devices (Windows Phone, SmartGlass). Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One.