[REVIEW] Wyv And Keep

Jessica “Allahweh” Brown — @Allahweh
(PC [REVIEWED], Mac, Linux)

Before receiving a review code for this title, I had never heard of Wyv and Keep, or developer A Jolly Corpse.  I thought the name of the developers was kind of funny, yet clever, and I wasn’t sure what to make of the game itself.  Honestly, I’m not sure what I expected from the game based solely on the title alone, but probably something odd and silly.  And actually, that’s not really all that far off from the reality of the game, though certainly in a good way and not a bad one.

Wyv and Keep is an indie PC title that has been in the works for quite some time and has amassed a rather loyal following.  Earlier this year, the game went into its beta phase and it finally saw its official release through Indie Royale and Desura on June 14, where it has been largely well-received.  At its core, the game is a two-dimensional puzzle-platformer that intentionally harkens to the 8 and 16-bit days of yore, designed by a team that has an obvious affection for that era in gaming.

The story revolves around Wyv and Keep, two hapless treasure hunters who find themselves deep in the jungle thicket of the generically-named Amazonia, searching for legendary treasures deep in ancient ruins.  Wyv seems to be the brawn of the duo, certainly not one to think his way through a situation and instead preferring to smack things and blow stuff up while hoping for the best.  Keep, on the other hand, almost seems to enjoy the academic side of their adventures more than anything else, keeping a close eye out for journals and notes that tell them the story of those that came before them while giving them fair warning as to what to expect and what to watch out for.  Sadly, due to a miscalculated landing in what seems to be the Amazon River with their plane, the pair starts their adventure with essentially no gear other than their wit (or lack thereof) and must make their way through a series of increasingly more dangerous and puzzling locations as they search for the secrets hidden within an ancient pyramid.

The game is fairly linear in design, presenting players with several “worlds” (areas) broken down into nine main stages each.  Each stage of the game is a “room” and, simply put, the goal of each room is to collect as much loot as possible and find a way to open the door to the next area, restarting as little as possible and getting the best time possible.  If you know what you’re doing, most stages can be completed in less than a minute, though your first playthrough each level may take several attempts to get things just right.  Each area is scored upon completion, with ranks being awarded in terms of overall completion time, number of restarts required for completion, and how much loot was collected.  Players dissatisfied with their times can go back and repeat an area as much as desired in order to strive for perfection – a fact which adds to the game’s replay value.  Some stages also contain optional items to pick up, such as keys that can be used to open locked doors in later stages to reveal hidden areas.

In its single-player “Story Mode,” the player ultimately must guide one of the two characters to the door at the end of the stage, swapping between the two with the simple press of the shift key.  Puzzles will often require using one character as a stepping stool to jump to a higher area, using one to stand on a pressure-switch to open a door for the other, or things that are quite a bit more complicated.  Some puzzles are very time-sensitive and will require one character to push a block on a switch, which may spark a trap right next to the other who will then have to be switched out to in order to run and open the door to the next area.

It is for the above reason that it is obvious that Wyv and Keep was, at its heart, designed to be a multiplayer experience.  Because of how simplistic the controls are, two people can actually play the game locally via the same keyboard, with one player using WASD and the other using the arrow keys for movement.  Yet, the game does feature the ability to play it online with friends with the levels available being determined by the farthest stage the player hosting the game has gotten to.  While playing online, players will have the ability to chat with the other person via a rather basic instant messaging system, but due to the fast-paced nature of the game I would strongly suggest that some kind of voice communication be used for serious players not wanting to be frustrated by totally-avoidable deaths.

Because the game was designed to be a multiplayer experience, it’s a shame that the network play is so bugged right now.  Co-op games will randomly disconnect with no easy way to get back in and resume (despite one’s internet connection being just fine), the game suffers rather harsh lag-spikes at unfortunate moments, and sometimes the multiplayer lobby is completely bugged and you either cannot select a person to play with, or the game won’t allow you to choose what stage you want to play.

Even beyond this, the game itself suffers a few bugs in places that, while not completely game-breaking, do hinder the enjoyment of the experience a fair bit.  There were several times when I would jump up and over something and somehow fall outside the environment, or get stuck somewhere (that wasn’t designed to be part of a puzzle) and be required to restart the area, costing me valuable in-game score points for rather difficult stages.  Occasionally the graphics would glitch out, not showing a switch as being pressed, showing a block in a position that it wasn’t actually in anymore, and, unfortunately, occasionally having enemy darts glitch out and kill you without you seeing them.

Despite these setbacks, the game still stands rather well on its own.  I love how the game pays homage to classic puzzle games like The Adventures of Lolo and The Lost Vikings, and has references to other classic series like Mega Man (some areas even have disappearing and reappearing blocks that really capture the feel of those classic NES titles).  The game also features a beautiful soundtrack, and even if you never play the game itself, it is worth buying for the music alone (or picking up the soundtrack, if they ever make it available separately).  So much love and attention went into this game that it really still manages to shine despite a few gloomy clouds that hang on the horizon.
If A Jolly Corpse spends some time working out the bugs with the game’s online multiplayer mode and fixes some of the glitches in the main game itself, I am confident that the game will be that much better.  Yet, even if they don’t do so, this game is still a good deal of fun (although a bit short) and worth a look.

Petchulant: A Love Letter To Tekken

Callum Petch — @CallumPetch

Oh, Tekken.  How I love thee!  Whilst others may pledge their allegiance to Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat or Dead Or Alive, I stick to you like… something… sticky?  Wait, that’s gross  (Shut up, it’s a hot day and my brain has shut down already).  What I mean is, whilst others may boast superior story modes (Mortal Kombat 9), or better graphics (Dead Or Alive 5), or deeper fighting mechanics (Virtua Fighter 5), or the wondrous power of the Capcom money train (Street Fighter, a series that I just can’t get into, no matter how hard I try), I will forever be yours and you will forever be mine.
My love affair with you began way back on the original PlayStation, when Tekken 3 first stormed onto the scene.  You were on the bundled demo disc that came with my PS1 (side note: remember demo discs?  Extremely useful little buggers) and I played the Ling Xiayou/Eddy Gordo demo constantly.  Eventually, I managed to borrow a copy of the actual game from a friend of mine and you became a regular staple of my PlayStation (alongside Muppet Monster Adventure and Bugs Bunny: Lost In Time…  shut up, I was six).  I spent hours mastering characters; unlocking end movies of the strange, the serious, and the hilarious; hunting for your many secret modes; grinding to unlock Gon (that tiny, game-breaking bastard)…  I was in love.  Everything about you appealed to me; you looked great; there were a ton of modes for hours of replayability; the AI was always one step ahead of me, meaning that I could never be too good at you, keeping the challenge and the fun intact; and you awoke a love of martial-arts cinema that I didn’t know I had (a love that is still worryingly under-served today).
I was never a fan of Soul Blade, Namco’s other PlayStation fighter (which eventually morphed into the, initially, critically-preferred Soul Calibur series).  Yeah, it was pretty, but I never liked its combat, which I found stiff and too complex, and the game’s initial difficulty (which, according to my extremely hazy memory–or that might just be the onset of heat stroke–was akin to trying to knock down a mountain by headbutting it repeatedly) turned me off the series completely.  Tekken, though, you were devastatingly simple to pick up, especially with characters like Eddie Gordo and Hwoarang (who was my go-to character of choice once I mastered him and people wanted to play against me).  Anyone could jump into a game and at least have a shot at winning a round.  You were that accessible.  But your system was also far more intricate than you let on and dedicated players soon went from randomly mashing buttons, to having four or five go-to combos, to eventually learning the very subtle intricacies of Eddy’s various capoeira stances, the kind of differences that separated a Tekken newbie from a Tekken lord.
You also released an ill-advised third-person action spin-off that
we’d all prefer to not talk about, but moving on…
Years passed, but my devotion stayed strong as you went from a fun tag spin-off that inadvertently served to catch me up on your history, and is likely best remembered for the throw-away bowling mini-game which was anything but (Tekken Tag Tournament), to a slightly awkward transition into the PS2-era that nevertheless was still a strong and highly-underrated entry in its own right (Tekken 4), to inarguably the best instalments in the series (Tekken 5 and its updated-PSP entry, that would later double as a PSN launch title in Japan, Dark Resurrection).  All the way, I remained under your spell due to your continually rock-solid mechanics, your large variety of modes, your endless little secrets and a tone that was serious when it needed to be (the Mishimas, whose saga has no right to be this compelling) and full of wacky Japanese humour when it didn’t (a style of humour that I’m a fan of, having grown up watching a ton of Takeshi’s Castle) Tekken, you were fun, the kind of fun that kept me playing long after I should have stopped caring.
Then, however, something changed.  Tekken 6 dropped onto home consoles in 2009 but something felt… off.  You weren’t grabbing me like you used to.  I wasn’t as madly obsessed and in love as I was with Tekken 5.  Consequently, I started picking faults.  The decision to cap Ghost Battle rankings at 1st Dan for each character unless you took them online was a stupid idea.  Trying to find a match that didn’t lag to unplayable proportions, or just simply drop altogether, was like trying to find a brain cell in a Geordie Shore cast member.  The lack of a traditional Arcade mode to progress through, instead replaced by a mini kind of “boss rush” only accessible through Scenario Campaign, made unlocking the various ending movies a lot more unfulfilling (and the quality of said endings was also lacking this time around, too).  Load times, even after the 5GB optional install (which you absolutely must take if you want to get through a fight before you reach 50), were inexcusably long.
And then there was Scenario Campaign.  Oh, what a mess Scenario Campaign was.  I mean, the idea was sound, bring back that old Streets Of Rage style brawler but in 3D, but there is a reason why you don’t take fighting game characters and plonk them in a 3D scrapper whilst keeping the same control scheme for moves as you’d have in standard one-on-one gameplay.  The camera was operated by a drunk Michael Bay, the targeting system seemed custom-designed to pick the wrong person at the worst time, your AI partner (Alisa Boskonovitch) might as well have been a sack of potatoes because a sack of potatoes would have been useful, the story was way too self-serious to laugh with and placed far too much emphasis on the dullest character in Tekken history (who also happened to be a newbie, Lars Alexandersson), the difficulty was brutally unfair at many points, and it looked like arse compared to the main game.  Yeah, it lasted a while, so you couldn’t say that you weren’t getting your money’s worth, but the lack of quality doesn’t make it worth it.
Let’s not kid ourselves, folks, Tekken 5 (and its spin-off/update,
Dark Resurrection) is still the best Tekken.

Don’t get me wrong, I still played the hell out of Tekken 6, but always with the thought in my brain that it could have been so much better.  Other fighting games started to grab my attention.  The deep and technical fighting of Virtua Fighter satisfied my craving for a fighting game with challenge.  Mortal Kombat’s legitimately great story and gothic horror vibes gave me a fighter with a stronger personality.  Dead Or Alive 5’s (initial, yes I did realise my mistake upon playing the damn thing) promise to tone down the ridiculous sexualisation made me no longer ashamed to be a fan of the fast-paced arcade brawler.  You and I, Tekken, drifted apart.  Other fighters were satisfying my needs and doing it better than your underwhelming current-gen entry.

Then, finally, I picked up Tekken Tag Tournament 2 last week and realized exactly what my fighting game life had been missing since I replaced you with various pale imitators: fun.  From the opening movie (just try watching this without laughing in stupid glee) onwards, the fun had been brought back to Tekken.  Scrolling through the ridiculously comprehensive character list (short version: if they’ve been featured in a Tekkengame at any point, they are playable here), the memories came flooding back, and blazing through the Arcade Mode for the first time (with Asuka Kazama, one of my two default characters) had a palpable sense of fun ricochet through my being.  I was kicking arse in an arena designed around Snoop Dogg backed by a rap song he made specifically for this game!  The tongue was most definitely in cheek this time, and almost everything was designed with the goal of having fun.  75% of the ending videos are just plain crazy, money is practically dumped over you to encourage you to customize your fighters to death, stages are often the right kind of silly (two words: Magic Show), and Tag Throws carry often their own individual personalities.
On more technical levels, TTT2 is challenging, yet fairly balanced.  I can tell when the AI is getting tougher, but I know that I can honestly blame myself if I lose because, at least 80% of the time, it’s my fault.  I went to the well on that combo once too often, or I didn’t tag out fast enough, or I should have seen that combination coming, or I really shouldn’t have backed myself into that corner.  And then there are the little touches.  Characters having specific tag throws or reaction animations when paired with certain other characters, the return of even the most obscure characters who get their own ending videos and everything (and, in Violet and Combot’s case, their own Training-cum-Story campaign) or how [mild spoiler, but who cares] Unknown really is a corrupted Jun Kazama (oh how I would love to have seen initial fan reaction to that reveal).  The kind of little touches that, rather than supposedly making up for a crap fighter (oh hello again, Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL), instead enhance a great fighter and make my years of being a devoted Tekken fan seem rewarded.
And I haven’t even mentioned how amazing the music in this is!  I could
waste hours sat listening to the customization theme alone!
It was about the time, Tekken, when I had unlocked Hwoarang’s ending video (who of course challenges Jin Kazama to a motorcycle race and gets busted whilst Jin gets off scott-free because of course) that I realized why you, Tekken, still hold my heart after almost 15 years.  Whereas other games focus on deep mechanics; high-quality story-telling with a side order of blood, guts and jump scares (f*ck the Krypt demon); and making me feel ashamed to be playing said game (I’m pretty sure that when you first boot up Dead Or Alive 5, you’re immediately added to the Sex Offenders Registry); you, Tekken, always focus on fun.  Everything you do is in service of fun.  Sometimes your attempts at fun don’t work out as intended (I’ll stop shitting on Scenario Campaign once you physically erase the memories of slogging through it from my brain), but that’s okay because most of them do.  Even after all of these years, you are still the one arcade fighter I would happily take to my grave because you know what you want to be: you want to be fun.  And you are fun.  Stupid, chaotic fun and a balanced, challenging, accessible, yet deep fighter custom-designed to keep the fun running.  “Fun” is something that is sorely lacking in current videogames and you, Tekken, thanks to Tekken Tag Tournament 2, have brought that fun back, and I could not be happier for it.
I haven’t taken it for a spin online, yet, but I’m looking forward to my first incredibly one-sided thrashing from somebody on the other side of the planet who eats, sleeps and breathes Tekken because I’m going to have fun whilst it happens.  Thanks, Tekken.  I do love you so.
In Actually Important News, This Week: Microsoft have released My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic avatar items!  There’s even a prop Rainbow Dash that you can use!  It is the greatest thing ever and why don’t I own an Xbox 360. IT’S NOT FAIR DAMMIT!!
In ACTUALLY Important News, This Week: Microsoft have once again reversed course and are now allowing indie developers to self-publish on the Xbox One.  Now, admittedly, there are caveats and drawbacks (indies can only do so through Windows 8, which developers are not a fan of), but it’s the principle that counts and said principle is showing that MS are reversing course on policies almost as much as the current UK government.
I’m hilarious.
Callum Petch made a meal and threw it up on Sunday.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch), listen to the Pupcast (iTunes link) and read a brand new Petchulant every Friday here on GameSparked (yes, I know it’s Saturday today)!

Nintendo Tries To Fly With Winged Pikmin

Mat Paget — @MatPaget

If you’re eagerly awaiting the release of Pikmin 3, and are trying to absorb as much about Pikmin as possible in anticipation, then you might be interested to know that Nintendo of Canada is planning to be front-and-centre at the Red Bull Flugtag Ottawa-Gatineau challenge with a Winged Pikmin, a new type of Pikmin.
What is Red Bull Flugtag? Well, it challenges teams to design, build, and then fly their contraption off of a “22 foot high flight deck.” Nintendo of Canada plans to fly a Winged Pikmin off that thing. Will they take flight? You’ll be able to find out on July 27 at 10:30 AM, and you can watch it live right here.
If you want to check out Nintendo of Canada’s Flugtag profile, you can do so here.
People who are interested in seeing the Winged Pikmin in various stages of its life, can check out the photos here.
Pikmin 3 releases on August 4 for the Wii U.

The GameSparked Podcast July-23-2013

The GameSparked Team

Mat and Myles go it alone on this week’s episode of The GameSparked Podcast. Mat regales listeners with the happenings of his birthday before closing the book on Rogue Legacy. Myles, on the other hand, talks mostly about his trip to Victoria, and a very unfortunate mid-night accident. To finish things off, they talk about how much they loved Pacific Rim. And that’s about it. Not a lot of videogames on this videogame podcast. All that, and not much else, on this week’s episode of The GameSparked Podcast!

(Right Click, Save As)
Original Intro Music by Cody DeBoer
The DubSparked Remix by Kevin Madden

[REVIEW] Rogue Legacy

Mat Paget — @MatPaget


Roguelikes are often brutal and unforgiving, being inaccessible at times. Though their popularity seems to be booming more than ever, thanks in large part to dedicated independent developers, there are still a lot of people who won’t even touch a roguelike based only on how merciless some of them can be. Although I wouldn’t call Rogue Legacy a roguelike, it does feel like a good stepping-off point to understand a few of the concepts that populate the subgenre. Not only that, but Rogue Legacy is good enough to stand on its own, whether or not you even know what a roguelike is.
Rogue Legacy is more comparable to Metroidvania platformers, particularly Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but it does take a few notable elements from roguelikes that are enough to cause it to be labelled as such. For starters, once a character dies, they’re gone for good. And upon selecting your next character, and re-entering the castle, the world (enemy, chest, and room layouts) will be completely different from the first time you went through it — the world is randomly generated, so no two playthroughs will be exactly the same. Add on the difficult nature of the game, and that’s about where the similarities to roguelikes end — for the better, as Rogue Legacy‘s blend of genres is superb.

The gameplay is incredibly simple, offering one button for each action — attack, magic, jump, and special. The one attack, one weapon you are equipped with for the entire duration of the game may seem like it would get boring with suck a lack of variety, but this isn’t the case. Having only one weapon to master allows you to become as skilled as possible with it, and believe me, you’ll need to be for some of the trickier encounters in the more difficult areas. It’s the spells that offer the variety in Rogue Legacy‘s combat, with around ten of them to mess around with. They range from throwing a dagger directly in front of you, to summoning a storm of crows that’ll go after enemies directly, and stopping time completely. The special skill is class-specific; for example, the Barbarian King/Queen’s special is a hearty shout of “Fah Ro Dus,” which knocks back every enemy in the room.

But classes like the Barbarian King/Queen aren’t unlocked from the get-go. Along with upgrades to stats like your Health, Attack Damage, Armour, Mana, Crit Damage, and a bunch of other typical RPG stats, they can be unlocked through the game’s Manor (or, in other words, skill tree). It starts off pretty simple, allowing you to unlock a blacksmith, but it soon branches out until the screen is filled with possibilities. However, the leveling up in the game doesn’t give you skill points, or any other alternative, to spend — all stats are bought with money, which stays with you when you die, but is taken away when you re-enter the castle.

This also goes for buying equipment such as swords, armour, and runes that you’ve found throughout the world. Swords and armour increase your respective stats in obvious ways (the changes are displayed to you before purchasing), while runes are a tad different. Unlocked after completing a challenge room, runes can augment each piece of equipment, giving you a new ability. These runes can also be stacked, so if you decide to have a couple of the same ones, that ability will increase in strength. Double-jumping, sprinting, receiving health and mana after every kill, and having damage returned to enemies are just a few of the modifiers you can purchase and work with. Buying as much stats and equipment as possible before going for another playthrough is absolutely crucial, as it eliminates the roguelike quandary of “starting from square one again.”

The progression your characters will go through is gradual, yet feels amazing. They will get stronger over time, making it incredibly satisfying when you’re able to take out enemies in one hit that took several a few playthroughs earlier. It doesn’t get to the point where you can just run through the game, however. The game still requires you to use finesse to take out the enemies, and there are a few of them that are disguised as chests and paintings that you will forget about. There is rarely a time the game doesn’t require you to use skill (with a touch of luck at times) to make your way through the rooms and areas it throws at you.

Among the normal rooms full of enemies and chests, are a handful of rooms that offer either some kind of minigame, or a special bonus (or curse). One of the minigames consists of paying up 25% of your gold, then choosing one of the three chests in hopes of tripling your money spent. The other minigames are hosted by an apathetic clown, telling you to hit a certain number of targets with either daggers or axes. These games are nice little breaks, which are often rewarding. There are two other special rooms: one with a fountain that will heal you, and another with a shrine you can pray at. Praying at the shrine will either bless, or curse you with a modifier such as being able to walk on spikes, or having some of your money go flying everywhere when hit by an enemy.

There are also rooms that host nothing but a portrait of a videogame. These portraits are of Cellar Door Games’ past projects, and viewing them will give you a history lesson on the development of each title. These are completely unrelated to the game at hand, and won’t help you at all, but they quickly became my favourite thing to come across. They’re interesting, funny, and will have you jumping in joy when you see one — that is until one of them turns into a goddamn enemy.

Rogue Legacy is not without its flaws, however small they may be. The only control issue I found was that the downward stab demands absolute precision, and there are platforming sections that require this precision, which makes it incredibly hard not to get through them without accruing damage — I found myself avoiding these sections altogether. Bosses are another thing that could cause a few problems. Although I didn’t have many problems with them personally (thanks, in most part, to luck), they definitely disturb the flow of the game, which I can see stopping some players in their tracks — though the bosses won’t stop anyone from exploring the rest of the world’s areas.

Even with its flaws, there’s nothing to hate about Rogue Legacy. The beginning may start a little slow for some players, but it quickly snowballs into something you won’t be able to put down. The character progression is incredibly rewarding, the game’s humour is refreshing, and you’ll be saying to yourself “Just one more game,” even after you promised yourself that on the last run.

[REVIEW] Dusty Revenge

Marcus Estrada 

Have you always wanted to explore the Wild West as an anthropomorphic white rabbit? Likely, the answer is no. But even if you’ve never dreamed about such a game, developer PD Design Studio made something that certainly stands out. Dusty Revenge is a stylish 2D beat ‘em up with colorful characters, but is there anything missing from the fun? It all depends on your affinity for the beat ’em up genre. In either case, maybe there’s something about Dusty Revenge that will draw you in.

Beat ‘em ups have seen a resurgence in the past few years. Before this, it seems like the only ones we had played were the likes of Double Dragon or Final Fight. Now, however, there’s a great deal of options available to you, the latest of which is Dusty Revenge. In this game you’re given far more story than is expected of the genre. This is the first thing the game does right, as it helps draw you into a more interesting experience. No, the story isn’t incredibly deep, as it starts out as yet another “revenge for dead family member” tale, but it fits well with the backdrop.

The world Dusty Revenge inhabits is an alternate sort of Wild West. The deserts are dry, buildings are crummy, and all the baddies just happen to be anthropomorphic animals as well. Despite their animalistic nature, they are still able to cause a ton of damage to you via gunshots, rolling over you, or simply pounding their fist in your face. Thankfully, Dusty (the aforementioned lead character) has a host of attacks and upgrades.

You start off with a very small stash of attacks. The few basics include a quick, but weak attack, as well as a slower, yet stronger one. There is also a ranged attack available through Dusty’s gun. These can be strung into combos, although you only gain access to most combos through leveling up. Leveling up is an incredibly simple process as all you have to do is collect XP by killing. Once that’s taken care of, there are no stats to tweak or anything: the game just automatically unlocks new skills for you.

Hammering off combos via the keyboard or an attached game controller work perfectly fine. If there’s one complaint it is that there isn’t much excitement to be gleaned from most of the battles. Dodge one attack, hammer away at an enemy, jump and strike, and rinse and repeat. You can very quickly find yourself running patterns of attacks at the varied enemies without having to worry after a while. This is one downfall of beat ‘em up games for most people who don’t call themselves fans.

On the occasion that there are tough fights, or certain enemies that will give you a bit of added trouble, you need to make use of your partners. They are both introduced relatively early on and give special skills beyond what Dusty is capable of. For example, once there are enemies shooting you from windows, you can assign the sniper to target them. Players then must zoom in with the sniper scope and take them out themselves. During these support segments, the main playfield is slowed, meaning you aren’t going to find Dusty dead after switching back from another character.

Where the game gets more interesting is the bosses. There are a handful of huge enemies who you must contend with, and each has their own strategy. In comparison to the rest of the game, boss encounters are one of the few times players will ever actually fear for their character’s life. With strong enemies who have a range of attack types, you’ll be forced to learn their ways and skillfully take them out. It’s a shame that more complex play wasn’t required during many of the game’s other segments.

Although gameplay (no matter how smooth) is a bit lacking, there is one spot where Dusty Revenge excels and that is in the visuals department. This game has an excellent art style that makes it look like a cool, incredibly violent cartoon. The lead characters all look like they can kick some ass, even if they’re not “humans,” and the art style combined with character design makes the game far more interesting than it ever would have been with run-of-the-mill cowboys duking it out.

For the price of ten dollars, you’re getting a pretty solid couple hours worth of beat ‘em up action with Dusty Revenge. The main issue lies with how much you love beat ‘em ups and if fairly repetitive play is worth it to you or not. There are definitely reasons to play, such as learning the combos to dole out as much pain as possible, or to enjoy the art style, but these are all meant to serve as anchors for exciting gameplay. Although this doesn’t seem present, Dusty Revenge still provides an interesting take on the beat ‘em up world.

Petchulant: Cartoon Network Suck Time Explosion XL

Callum Petch

OK, it’s Thursday!  Let’s see what’s happened in the games industry this week that I can write about.  (Checks all major gaming news sites)  …sh*t.  OK, back-up plan!  What have I been playing this week?  (Mentally goes over list of games he’s played in the last two weeks that he could write about and that other people would be interested in reading about)  …sh*t.  Nevermind, there’s still time!  I can still think of something!  (Checks clock and sees that it’s actually Friday)  …sh*t.  Ugh, I really don’t want to have to talk about Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL.  (Hysterical metaphor for looming deadline)
Gorram it.
In theory, Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL is a veritable licence to print money and win my heart forever.  Basically, it’s Smash Bros. but with characters that I actually care about (sorry, folks, I was not raised on Nintendo and, therefore, have absolutely no attachment to any of those characters.  Feel free to pry my Gamer Card from my cold, dead hands).  Twenty-five classic Cartoon Network characters from nine classic Cartoon Network franchises and Ben 10, battling it out in stages set in their respective worlds.  With as many of the original voice actors as the budget could manage reprising their roles.  And the story mode was going to be narrated by Space Ghost.  Quite simply, this was a game custom designed to be my favourite game and no-one else’s.
Yeah…  yeah, it’s not good.
Oh, man!  Nostalgia all up ins!
It plays like Smash Bros. alright, just if Smash Bros. wasn’t in the least bit fun.  Or well made.  Collision detection is a mess; there seems to be almost no rhyme or reason as to which of your attacks actually hit your opponent, which attacks cancel out other attacks and, in many exasperating moments, knowing whether your attacks are actually doing any damage at all, thanks to the almost complete lack of feedback, both visual and physical.  The only constant that comes from the collision detection is that the AI will always hit you.  Always.  The camera is terrible, almost permanently pulled too far back for you to ever be able to make anything out, as well as being exceptionally twitchy, as if it’s being handled by a paranoid crackhead who loves abusing the zoom and pan functions on a video camera.
The character roster is shockingly unbalanced, pretty much a death sentence for a fighting game, with me being able to breeze through stages with certain characters (Ben Tennyson, any of the Powerpuff Girls), whilst being lucky to tickle my opponents with others (step forward, Chowder, you useless, useless sack of crap).  Stage design is unbelievably dull.  Despite having nine beloved and visually rich Cartoon Network franchises, and Ben 10, to cull interesting and unique stage designs from, almost all of them consist of five platforms stitched together in a 5×5 square box and nothing more.  The game never takes advantage of its source material enough to make any of its stages memorable or unique.  Oh, almost forgot, said stages are almost always small squares.  Very small squares not fit for more than two people at a time which, coincidentally, is the number of players that the game can cope with having on screen before the frame rate starts coughing up blood.  Seriously, trying to play this game with four people on screen at once is equivalent to Chinese Water Torture as you battle the frame rate, the poor collision detection, the small stages, the exceedingly pulled-back camera, and the unfair AI.
But the frame rate isn’t the only part of the presentation that is poor.  Graphically, the game looks like arse with textures that are flat and blurry, and character design that’s relatively accurate, but let down by graphical technology that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a PS2.  Sound design is also bad with, once again, almost no feedback on whether your attacks are hitting anyone, as well as a collection of bored voice actors spouting the same four lines over and over again.  You have not experienced Hell until you’ve heard Flapjack from The Marvellous Misadventures Of Flapjack screech “ADVENTURE!” at the top of his lungs for the thirtieth time in five minutes.
This promotional image does a pretty good job of hiding
just ugly the game actually is.
All of this, however, is just a warm-up for the main event: the Story Mode which is, in a word, balls.  The story itself involves some mysterious and evil force that’s corrupting the Cartoon Network universe and requires characters from each of the franchises to come together and battle against it.  Seems fun on paper, but the execution is severely lacking.  The script is poor and completely lacking in these things called “jokes,” the between level cutscenes are done in the cheapest Flash animation money can buy (on many occasions, characters have maneuvered across the screen by bobbing along, up and down like frakkin’ cardboard cutouts), and in-game conversations are not actually voiced, yet characters stand around and flap their mouths in time to dialogue as if they are (instead, the game announces which character is talking by playing one of two short vocal samples, which further explains why I had to hear “ADVENTURE!!” thirty times in five minutes).
Then you actually play the damn thing and it’s like you’re playing a relic from the PS1 era.  In fact, the vibe I get most from playing the Story Mode is that of the Scooby Doo And The Cyber Chase game.  That game does not hold up.  Platforming is the definition of floaty with there being many, many times where I have died due to sliding off of a platform that I just caught the edge of, or wildly overshot, thanks to the overly twitchy controls.  Level design is similarly dull, mostly consisting of walking to the right and punching anything in the way until they’re dead.  At random points (at least, they feel random by just how out-of-nowhere they arrive), the monotonous, brawler platforming is broken up by little gameplay-changing interludes: an on-rails mine cart section, a side-scrolling shoot-em-up section, an escort section… you know, the sort of things you’d find in a late PS1-era platformer?  Nevertheless, they’re all executed in the same haphazard manner as the rest of the game.
In fact, whilst playing Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL, when I wasn’t getting vibes of a really crap PlayStation One game, I was experiencing cheapness.  Everywhere I go in this game, I get a sense of its handheld roots: the presumably minuscule budget that went into this expanded port, of corners cut, and the non-existent effort put into hiding any of them.  Like how, on multiple occasions, I completed story levels within ten seconds of starting them because I launched my opponent off-screen with one combo.  How each level seems to be created using liberal amounts of copy-paste from other levels in the game.  How the cartoon clips you can purchase in the store last 45 seconds at most, instead of being full length episodes (it’s 2013, there is no excuse otherwise).  How there is no online multiplayer anywhere (no, really).  Everything about this game exudes this constant stench of Budget Game, yet it was being retailed for a full £40 (the British equivalent of $60), when it’s clearly not ready for the big leagues.
Have I managed to get across the fact that I hate Ben 10 yet?
Because I hate Ben 10.  Really hate it.
And yet…  the worst and most paradoxical part of Punch Time Explosion XL is that developers Papaya Studio clearly do care.  It’s the little things, the little touches that prove that they care about the source material.  Like how Bloo and Mac from Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends have a super move where Bloo transforms into his Mary Sue character from “The Bloo Superdude” episode and performs an epic metal guitar solo that stun locks everyone in awe.  Or how the game’s synergy partners (touching the mystery box helps assist the character with another character) can actually be kind of genius at points, like how The Toilenator from Codename: Kids Next Door’s synergy partner is Mandark from Dexter’s Laboratory because of course he is (watch the shows, people)!  Or how one of the Foster’s stages occasionally has a large assortment of imaginary friends race through it that you have to avoid, lest you take damage.  Papaya got the little details down, the fan specific nods that make a lifelong Cartoon Network fan like myself geek out over. Unfortunately, they completely failed to build a compelling or even half-way decent game to house them.
Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL should have been a licence to print money and a fantastic alternative to Smash Bros. (no, Sony didn’t make a Smash Bros. clone of their own, why are you so insistent about that?).  Instead, because everything about it that’s not related to the little fandom specific details is utter garbage, it just comes off as a giant waste of such a golden concept.  I don’t want Cartoon Network to give up with this idea, because I am adamant that it is a goldmine just waiting to happen if done right, but the game we have at the moment is one of the most disappointing that I have played in a long time.
In Actually Important News, This Week: Johnny Gat is coming back to Saints Row IV.  There are not enough “YES!”’s in the world to express the joy that I am feeling about this development.
Fuck.  Yes.

Callum Petch was scared but once he thought about, he let it go.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch), listen to the Pupcast (iTunes link) and read a brand-new Petchulant every Friday here on GameSparked.

The GameSparked Podcast July-17-2013

The GameSparked Team

The GameSparked Podcast contains naughty words, and inappropriate content. Viewer discretion is advised.

Let the disembodied voices of the GameSparked crew soothe your soul in the latest edition of the GameSparked Podcast! Mat makes off with some Steam sale swag this week and has a thing or two to say about The Swapper, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Rogue Legacy. Joe’s got a thing for complication and old timey warfare, so he chats about Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, Guns of Icarus Online, and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. Myles catches up this week with the help of some sweet deals, and briefly tells us about Antichamber and Scribblenauts Unlimited. Tune in to hear pressing issues such as marsupial genitalia, Gabe Newell’s fiendish plan to take all your money, and smashing conversation of Super Smash Bros. and Evo. All this, and much more, on this week’s episode of The GameSparked Podcast!

(Right Click, Save As)
Original Intro/Outro by Cody DeBoer
The DubSparked Remix by Kevin Madden

[REVIEW] Freedom Fall

James Davenport 

The only conscious emotion I felt while playing Freedom Fall was a banal curiosity. It is completely subpar in nearly every respect: the platforming is loose and float-y, the level design is repetitive, and the art feels kitschy, borrowing heavily from Bastion and pie-in-the-sky Platonic cartoonism. Freedom Fall’s only saving grace is a hearty narrative drive that playfully coerced me through the otherwise forgettable experience.
You are a prisoner in the sky. A tower reaching into the clouds is your cell, and your task is to escape. How do you accomplish this daring feat of brawn and bravery? The answer: avoid spikes and flame-breathing dragon statues. If you know what video games are, then chances are this is nothing new, and it’s been done better. The only differentiating conception is that the majority of the platforming is vertical, rather than mom and pop’s traditional side-scrolling comfort food.

The verticality harms the gameplay more than anything. Given the wide viewing-angle of most monitors and televisions these days, horizontal side-scroller design just makes sense. Obstacles enter the player’s field of vision earlier, thereby allowing the player to react appropriately. In Freedom Fall, the player can’t see what lies ahead unless they stand still and hold up or down, which isn’t the most exhilarating mechanic despite its good intentions.

Even if the player reacts appropriately to a given obstacle, it isn’t a signed-sealed-delivered guarantee for success. The hitboxes are a mess; that, or in some sweeping canonical whiff over my head, the air around fire, spikes, and arc-lightning is just as lethal as its neighbors. None of this is to say that vertical platforming can’t be done well (see VVVVV), but in Freedom Fall, I felt painfully constricted. Constricted by a holistic mechanical failure, and cheapened further by flashy wrapping-paper.

The narrative heartbeat’s flicker only exacerbates the game’s flaws. Upon the player’s first few flops downward, they’ll notice some crude graffiti etched on the wall…bearing a MESSAGE! *dramatic whirl* And since this thread is the game’s final saving grace, I won’t delve too much into it, other than to state this: it has heart and some pretty solid potential to tell a sweet moving story, but it ultimately falls flat and joins the majority of games’  boring narratives in the Badguy/Boss-fight clearance section somewhere way in the back between piles of blank CD-RWs and JCVD single-DVD movie combos (tragic, I know).

But remember: I was compelledby the narrative. It may not have had much payoff–well, no payoff–but at least it dragged me through an otherwise banal experience with only a few I’m hungry’s and Are we there yet’s. And for some designers cracking out the pockets of air in their young mitts, I say, keep it up. Because, there may not be much here worth seeing, but Freedom Fall is the early stage of budding talent…probably…maybe…well, what’s the hurt in hoping so?

[REVIEW] Shin Megami Tensei IV

Jonathan Tay
At long last. After nearly a decade, the next, true installment of the venerated Shin Megami Tensei series is finally here. Atlus has seemingly moved past its remakes, spin-offs, and Persona series milking, and delivered the goods.  Does it prove that Atlus isn’t stagnating? Is it the best JRPG of all time? Is it here to cure cancer? Save us from our sins?
No, it’s just Shin Megami Tensei IV.

The first thing a series veteran will notice is how…different SMTIV feels. Instead of being a highschooler in modern day Tokyo, you begin the game as a samurai (somehow still wearing a school uniform), tasked with protecting the pre-modern Japan-esque Eastern Kingdom of Mikado. Assisting you are fellow classmates samurai Jonathan, Walter, and Isabeau. What are you protecting the kingdom from? Demons, of course. And how are you protecting it? With the assistance of a gauntlet that houses an AI that allows you to summon demons. Of course…?
The story’s quite the interesting spin on the series’ usual tropes, and there are some really interesting and cool twists along the way – it’s definitely not a rehash of previous efforts. Of course, it wouldn’t be an SMT game if it didn’t offer copious commentary, the topics of which include social stratification, religious organizations, the cost of progress, the battle between order and chaos, and what it means to be a human being. Ken Levine would be proud.
Why does it feel like we’re still in highschool?

The story isn’t the only thing that feels new here, though. The overall trappings of the game, like the art and music, are different as well. Little surprise, as series staples Kazuma Kaneko and Shoji Meguro have not done the art and music, respectively. Instead, they’ve been replaced by Masayuki Doi (character designer for most Trauma Center games) and Ryouta Kozuka (composer for Devil Survivor 2). They’ve done quite a good job – I enjoy the several new demon designs, as well as many of the tracks off the original soundtrack (Overture and Tokyo Map are a couple of standouts among many) – although I felt the old team could have delivered a superior one. Ah well, it’s a nice breath of fresh air, and at least Atlus decided to take a chance.

Anyways, if you’re not familiar with the gameplay, which is by far and large the meat and potatoes of this game, then think of it like a more mature and difficult Pokemon (even though the MegaTen series did the monster collection before Pokemon). The game is turn-based, and your allies in battle are the very demons you fight. When you encounter an enemy, you can talk to them in an attempt to recruit them, negotiate a ceasefire, panhandle, and several other fun things. They’ll want things in return, though, and your inclination to cede to their demands, as well as tell them what they want to hear, will affect your success in conversations. It feels like every demon has a personality, which is, and always has been, one of the coolest aspects of the series.
Combat is turn-based. The game uses the press turn system from previous games: each active party member you have will grant you an action icon. A critically important part of the game is managing weaknesses, as exploiting an enemy’s weakness, or attacking them with something they’re resistant to, can result in you getting or losing additional turns. It’s definitely more tactical than most other games of its ilk. I really like it, since if you know what you’re doing, you can win quickly and easily; if you’re careless, you can die instantly (although the game has its fair share of cheap instant death spells).
At last, you can finally live out your fantasies of being a thug from a GTA game.

Since managing skills and weaknesses is such a critical part of the game, having a good party is the key to survival. Besides recruiting demons in conversations, you can also access the Cathedral of Shadows on your gauntlet, which allows you to fuse two or more demons in order to make a new one. By doing so, the new demon will inherit the skills of previous demons. Thankfully, you can now specify exactly what skills the new demon will have, a feature conspicuously absent in previous entries of the series. Demon fusion is one of the biggest and most complicated (though by no means inaccessible; it has a list of recommended fusions for newcomers) aspects of the game, which can, and probably will, inspire collectors and power gamers.  

Besides having recommended fusions, SMTIVdoes several other things to ease those who are unfamiliar, which some series vets may decry. You can now save wherever you want, which is a godsend. You can also change the difficulty at will, and if you die, as you inevitably will, you will run into Charon, who, out of laziness to take you across the river Styx, will offer to ferry you back to where you died in exchange for money or Play Coins. Don’t worry, diehards, as the game is still really challenging on normal difficulty, although I believe that some of this is due to simply making attacks hurt more. There are also some random difficulty spikes, particularly in the boss fights, at the beginning and towards the ending. Or at least, the ending I got – there are multiple ones depending on what kind of philosophy your character expresses through his choices. Don’t worry, it’s a lot more subtle and not as black-and-white as Fable.  
You know, we’ve reached the end of this review and yet I’m really unhappy with it. It’s probably because I’ve only scratched the surface of the many intricacies in the design and mechanics of the game. There is so much to do here – the main quest alone will take 30-40 hours – and the Shin Megami Tensei series is the only one that’s really doing it. And damn, do they do it well. Shin Megami Tensei IVis quite the excellent game, offering several minor innovations to fans while making the game more palatable to newcomers. It’s a really wonderful package of RPG goodness, and lives up to its illustrious name quite well.