Tag Archive: sidescroller


Nowhere to run

When Limbo appeared on the gaming scene six years ago, it was a revelation for many. It’s minimalistic visual style combined with its tight gameplay and open-ended finale left fans pointing to it as a shining example of why games are art—with some still arguing the finer points of its potential message today—and the viability of the gaming Indie scene. So, it’s no wonder the industry has been abuzz since we found out about Inside, the second effort from Limbo developer Playdead. Inside may be a bit more colorful than its grayscale predecessor, but it still delivers a powerful experience.

Inside has players in the role of a small boy who finds himself running from forces who wish to restrain and capture him, bringing him back to one of any number of facilities where inhuman experiments have been carried out on less fortunate souls. Over the course of his adventure, the boy will move through factories, forests, farms, train yards, and even sunken labs via a one-man submarine. What compels him to continue on, though, is the core of a mystery that will keep you playing well past the ending, searching for secrets that hope to help fill in the blanks to another one of Playdead’s purposely vague worlds.

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It is in this familiar-yet-strange setting that we find the true star of the game. Although visually simplistic, with the gameplay never leaving the 2D-plane and much of the world painted in muted tones, the 3D backgrounds paint a macabre picture of forces at play that are beyond our understanding. It is this moody, atmospheric backdrop that shines more brightly than any potential narrative device could, and is at the core of what makes you want to keep playing Inside. It begs you to ask the question “what happened here?” and there is no greater force that makes you want to keep pushing right on your joystick to find out.

The scenery is simply the foundation for the macabre environment, however. A tale within a tale is told through the NPCs, puzzles, and death traps we are forced to navigate while playing. The gameplay is simplistic on the surface, with only three inputs needed on the controller: jump, grab, and run. Our young hero’s ability to interact with the environment around him then empowers players in a way games with more complicated control schemes often fail to do. Whether carrying and moving all sorts of items around, pressing switches to change the landscape of a room, blending in with the faceless crowd, or even using some of the facility’s still active experiments to your advantage, a beautiful layer of complexity quickly evolves from these humble mechanics.

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The evolution of said mechanics in the environment is also done at a perfect pace. Although the difficulty never reaches anywhere near Limbo’s levels, since Inside seems to want to tell a story by having players move more slowly and carefully through the world instead of testing them via trial and error, the puzzles do advance and teach players at a natural rate so you never feel overburdened. If you replay certain sections like I did searching for secrets—and yes, Inside has its fair share of secrets—the stark difference between the start and end of the game in terms of how intricate the puzzle solutions are will quickly become evident at that point.

What might be most impressive about Inside, though, is how your thinking might change as you play the game—not just in terms of puzzle-solving, but in terms of your character’s purpose. Even with over a dozen special secrets to find in Inside, everyone gets what appears to be a rather finite, closed-book sort of ending, a definite departure from the interpretations Limbo afforded. Where things changed for me with Inside was what the motivation of the boy was. I stopped thinking of him as running from something, and more possibly running to something. And this is where Inside’s value truly lies. There is so much that can be left open to analysis, that can be played and replayed, and every person can experience things in a different way, bringing something new to the conversation.

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Inside can be looked at as a mirror-image to Limbo. Whereas Limbo focused more on punishing puzzles, Inside deals more with meticulous movement. While Limbo’s simple graphics made it easy for players to focus on the task at hand, Inside distracts them with a world that is as much a character as the protagonist. And as Limbo left its conclusion up in the air, Inside might have you questioning the purpose of your journey when you reach the fixed ending. They share a common thread, however. You are told almost nothing at the start, but will come to explore a brilliantly designed, but dangerous world that will suck you in from the beginning and never let go as you fall down another expertly crafted rabbit hole from Playdead.

Developer: Playdead • Publisher: Playdead • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 06.29.16
9.5
Inside is a brilliantly crafted game that will keep you talking about it long after you’ve finished playing. Its moody, atmospheric world and terrific puzzle-platforming are simply the hooks to first draw you in.
The Good Moody, atmospheric puzzle-platformer that digs its hooks into you from the second it starts.
The Bad Puzzles never pose any real challenge.
The Ugly My desire to discuss this with other people, but I’m the only one in the office to have played it thus far.
Inside is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Playdead for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Mighty isn’t the word I’d use…

You will be hard-pressed to find a more rabid Mega Man fan than me. For years now, my cries to Capcom for a new game in the series have fallen on deaf ears. When Mega Man co-creator Keiji Inafune decided to leave Capcom several years ago to start his own company, and it was announced that one of his first major projects was going to be a spiritual successor to the Blue Bomber, you can imagine the joy I felt. I clearly wasn’t alone, as the Kickstarter to back the project raked in just over four million dollars. Flash-forward nearly three years later, and after countless delays, finally, Mighty No. 9 is here. And—for both better and worse—I can tell you this isn’t your daddy’s Mega Man game.

Mighty No. 9 takes place in a future that could be a result of people watching too much Battlebots. Robots do their fair share for humanity in this time, but many have the primary purpose of simply fighting in the local arena for entertainment. The most powerful of these, known as Mighty Numbers, are the brainchild of one William White. When a mysterious virus causes all the robots—including the Mighty ones—to go haywire, humanity looks ready to succumb to their new metal masters. Dr. White has one trick up his sleeve, however: Beck, his newest Mighty Number. Beck’s power allows him to assimilate other robots, and has seemingly left him immune to the virus. It’s now up to Beck—with a little help from his robot sister Call—to save the other Mighty Numbers and find a cure for this virus.

I admit, when I first started playing Mighty No. 9, I fell into the easy trap of looking for reasons why this game either could or couldn’t suffice as an entry in a series that dominated my childhood. The truth of the matter is that while there are some striking similarities—from the aforementioned story to many of the gameplay elements I’m going to speak on—Mighty No. 9 is different from Mega Man, but that alone does not lift up or condemn this title.

As a throwback to a bygone era of pinpoint platforming accuracy being a necessity, Mighty No. 9 does an admirable job of trying to scratch that nostalgic itch. Once I got over expectations and accepted the game’s mechanics for what they were—using my blaster to weaken enemies and then assimilating them by dashing through them—I found the level and enemy design to be familiar, and a bit on the bland side, but still enjoyable.

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Several new features also give the tried-and-true Mega Man formula a bit of a tune-up. All the characters in the game have voice acting, and while some are better than others (sometimes due to the writing falling flat), at the very least, Mighty No. 9 tries to offer more depth to the characters and world than Mega Man ever did. Some levels, like Call’s single stage and the lair of Mighty No. 8 (a robot named Countershade—think Search Man from Mega Man 8), try to branch out from the standard formula, giving you objectives to complete before proceeding deeper into the level.  There’s also a meta-strategy with assimilating certain enemies to give you boosts to attack, defense, and speed, and assimilating multiple enemies at once will give you score multipliers—offering surprising depth to what robots you destroy and when.

Speaking of scores, setting high scores at the end of each stage gives Mighty No. 9 a greater arcade feel than its inspiration. I used to challenge myself to speed runs of the old Mega Man games all the time, even completing Mega Man 6 in less than two hours once. Mighty No. 9 already promotes that with not needing to destroy every enemy outside of bosses, and offering up many shortcuts that take advantage of the dash mechanic. I am happy to report that my first playthrough of Mighty No. 9 only took three hours and thirteen minutes.

Unfortunately, Mighty No. 9 then begins to falter. Beating the game for the first time on Normal will then unlock harder difficulties, but it still felt easy, and Hard isn’t much better; only the Hyper and Maniac (one hit and you’re dead) difficulties really start to give your thumbs a workout. Sure, there are those insta-kill spike traps that will make every Mega Man fan grind their teeth, but Mighty No. 9 falls into a very modern trap of holding players’ hands at times when not playing those higher difficulties.

Abundant one-ups litter each level, special powers recharge on their own without items, and when you defeat a boss, the game even goes as far as to tell you what other boss is weak against that newly acquired weapon. I wouldn’t have guessed that Battalion (think Mega Man 10’s Commando Man) was weak against Cryosphere’s (Ice Man, Blizzard Man, or any other cold combatant from over the years) powers until the game offered that up to me, and once that cat is out of the bag, it’s really hard to forget. The only thing worse about the special powers is not assigning the trigger buttons to easily switch between them all on the fly like in later Mega Man games.

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Mighty No. 9 also has a couple technical issues, the worst of which is the horrendous load times. Whether waiting for a reload after dying, switching in-between levels, going into or out of cutscenes, or even just opening the menu, Mighty No. 9 spends as much time loading as it does allowing you to play. Considering how long this game has been in development, and how much it actually should need to load, the amount of time players will spend waiting for something to happen is atrocious. We’re not talking Skyrim size worlds here, folks.

There are also challenge, co-op, and versus modes in the game, most of which are blamed for the game’s countless delays. Unsurprisingly, these modes feel mailed-in at best. Challenge mode offers up a variety of single-player time trials and target quotas that will test your skills in no way close to the way the main game does. Co-op allows a second player to join in and play as Call in a similar set of lackluster objectives and levels. And finally, there is Race Mode, where players can compete directly against a friend in the game’s levels for the same objectives. Not a bad idea, but I’d rather just be put in an arena against a buddy at that point along with a roster of the Mighty Numbers, and duke it out the old fashioned way. Besides, you’ve already got leaderboards for scores and times in the other modes, so Race Mode seems redundant.

Mighty No. 9 had some big metal shoes to fill, and nothing short of the hopes of an older gaming generation on its shoulders. Beck and company may still be in the shadow of the Blue Bomber after this first adventure, but although not perfect, this isn’t a bad start. Mighty No. 9 might be a little easy, a little short, and have side modes that are absolute wastes of time, but the core is solid, and there’s definite room for growth and improvement that will at least keep me from calling Capcom so often anymore.

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Developer:  Comcept, Inti Creates • Publisher: Deep Silver • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 06.21.16
7.5
Mighty No. 9 has a strong gameplay core that isn’t better or worse than Mega Man—it’s just different. The further the game deviates from that core, however, the worse it becomes.
The Good It takes time to get used to the dash mechanic to defeat enemies, but once you do, you realize the game is really well designed around it.
The Bad Challenge, co-op, and versus modes are wastes of time; surprisingly long load times.
The Ugly All that mighty number family drama.
Mighty No. 9 is available on Xbox One, PS4, PC, Wii U, Xbox 360, and PS3, with 3DS and PS Vita versions coming later. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review copy was provided by Deep Silver for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.