I’m seeing a bunch of people come forward in notes of this post, tags and reblogs, talking about their own experience and especially talking about the last tweet. This last tweet seems to hit people hard and while I can’t talk about bad things right now I can talk about how to get rid of them….
The ‘A Few Short Words’ series is a place where we talk about games that we may have missed the boat on reviewing, but they’re not old enough to be a retrospective. An inbetweeny article, if you will. ANYWAY!
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is an interesting beast. An indirect sequel to niche visual novel 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (a game so niche it wasn’t even released in Europe) for the DS, Virtue’s Last Reward was released worldwide in 2012, right in the middle of the 3DS’ early-life game drought (and, incidentally, became one of the first genuinely interesting titles for Vita).
999, following on as it did from games like the Ace Attorney series of visual novels, was rather well received, thanks in part to ‘worldwide distribution’ via DS rom downloads and R4 carts. 999 stars Junpei, one of a cast of 9 characters, each of which have a numbered bracelet attached to their wrist and a hidden backstory. The 9 are forced to play a deadly game of ‘find the exit’ by Zero, the mastermind behind their kidnapping, lest they explode violently from playing the game wrong – oh, yeah: the bracelets pack an explosive charge – or drown from being on the boat for more than the titular 9 hours. It’s revealed very early that Zero is one of the nine, leading to an atmosphere of suspicion from the word go. Why is that guy acting so suspicious? Who’s the girl with the red hair, and why does she seem so familiar with the game? What’s the deal with this Santa dude – he seems remarkably unphased by the time limit or explosives. 999 had 6 endings (although only two are mandatory to get the true ending) but each reveals more about the characters who are costarring, creating a great sense of immersion. 999 also has one of the most interesting stories in all of games – full of twists and red herrings from start to finish – that most developers could learn an awful lot from.
Virtue’s Last Reward is 999′s follow-up title. Linked to 999 but not a direct sequel, it follows another group of 9 trapped in a strange facility with bracelets on their wrist. The player, this time, is Sigma, a young college student. He’s abducted in a similar fashion as in the first game and thrown into another game of escape. This time the deaths aren’t quite so gruesome – if you don’t play the game, you don’t explode – but the outcome is the same. VLR does everything bigger than 999, with 24 endings, more characters in total, a completely mind-bending plot, and a girl who, somehow, seems to be able to jump twenty feet in the air.
The best thing about this series is how there’s no reliance on hocus-pocus rubbish or ‘a wizard did it’ handwaves. If you’re into your sci-fi, you’ll love Zero Escape, because every concept that is raised, every seemingly unexplainable happening, is completely grounded in scientific principles (usually physics). Virtue’s Last Reward, for example, contains sections on medical imaging, quantum mechania, and even implications of worldwide disasters. The series doesn’t shy away from telling difficult stories, either, with many characters having hidden depths and traumas.
Virtue’s Last Reward is easily one of my favourite games of recent times. It’s complex sci-fi with a heavy lean on the sci, a wordy mess of ideas that has you guessing the whole way through. I thrashed through the nigh-30 hours of content in but a few days, constantly bothering twitter pal @wanyal with my theories about who is whom, where and when the game takes place, what the deal is with various subtle points, and so on. The best thing about this is that when the reveal finally arrived, it pieced together a lot of what I’d already guessed, while filling in the gaps and correcting a few bits that didn’t quite fit right. This is A REALLY GOOD THING TO DO because IT MAKES THE PLAYER FEEL SMART but ALSO GIVES THE WRITERS THE SATISFACTION OF A BIG REVEAL.Take note, games writers.
A word of warning, though – while it may not seem obvious at first, 999 and VLR are networked together to an immense extent. If you’re interested in the series, I’d highly recommend trying to pick up a copy of 999 first (the DS was region free, so the American version will work anywhere), or, if all else fails, emulating it or downloading the rom to put on a DS flashcart. Then dive into VLR and have an absolute belter of a time.
Second word of warning: Virtue’s Last Reward ends on a colossal hook for a sequel that, as of right now, is on hold. So be prepared to be outraged when you get to that point.
ZELDA’S BACK, BABY *rapturous applause*.
Because of the current hubbub about Link’s gender in the trailer, I’m referring to them as male purely because that’s what Link’s always been up to now. I’d love to play as a female Link, though!
So, Nintendo had a pretty good E3, right? Let’s talk about the best bit of it – that thirty seconds of super sexy Zelda gameplay we saw.
HERE’S THAT ONE SCREENSHOT THAT WE ALSO USED FOR THE FEATURED IMAGE (click for embiggening)
Right then, let’s fire up the analysis machine. I could talk for ages about this screenshot, but luckily, Midnight Resistance’s Andi Hamilton has already done the work for me. What I will say, though, is this: that landscape looks awfully like the general layout of underwater Hyrule from Wind Waker – from a different position in the world. If we look to the far distance, in the middle of the image, there appears to be a few spires, and to the right, a body of water. Could it be that that area is actually the one below, from Wind Waker? (This is a view never seen in the game, but is in fact an image taken with a free camera mod).
Of course this isn’t conclusive. But it should be noted that very few of the previous Zeldas have featured a particularly mountainous Hyrule – the only one that has being Wind Waker. There’s a few other links, too, including the art style. I’d pitch that the new Zelda isn’t built on the Wind Waker HD engine (itself just a port of the Gamecube’s Mario Sunshine/Zelda engine), but it’s clear Aonuma’s taken a LOT of cues from Wind Waker HD’s style. Let’s have a look!
Flat colours! Some detailing, but not too much! Lots of brightness! Cel shading! It’s 1) beautiful and 2) very Wind Waker. Also: that shirt. Link’s not in his traditional green tunic, which is weird in itself, but notably in a sky-blue top with white detailing, which will be familiar to anyone who played a significant amount of Link’s Gamecube outing.
Now, I’m not saying this game is a sequel to The Wind Waker. I’m saying it’s a prequel, with ties to another fan favourite game.
Wind Waker starts with a hefty load of exposition, that handily explains the events of Ocarina of Time and afterward. Wind Waker takes place in the ‘Child Link’ timeline – i.e. the one where Link gets sent back in time to live as a kid again, but instead fucks off to look for Navi. The events of Majora’s Mask occur – a game based heavily around bereavement and loss, and the realisation that you can’t ever save everyone in a single 3 day cycle. Between Ocarina and Wind Waker, Ganon rises again, but is not defeated – rather, King Daphnes locks Hyrule below the ocean, drowning a huge majority of the Hylian population.
What if Zelda U is about Link failing to defeat Ganon? Nintendo’s been dropping heavy Majora’s Mask references recently, with significant hints in A Link Between Worlds (notably the Dark World fanatics wear very Majora-style masks themselves, plus there’s the mask itself in Link’s house), Aonuma talking about the game a lot, and Zelda Williams carrying a model of Majora’s Mask on stage at the Smash invitational. MM was about a number of various dark themes, but chief among them was the hopelessness the moon represented.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s a central theme for the new game. If we’re told at the start that the game takes place before Wind Waker, then we know that we are doomed to lose. A true convention breaker, since this title is all about that, according to Aonuma. The entire game centred around that one fact – that this Link is not the Hero of Time, that he cannot defeat Ganon, only weaken him enough to set up the events of Wind Waker. How amazing would that be?
Anyway, enough of that theorising. Let’s talk about other parts of that trailer.
If I had any clue what the hell this thing is I’d tell you. It might be a robot? But it could also be organic? It looks like it’s got plants actually growing on it, so it must be pretty old. It shoots lasers and stuff and makes things burst into dynamic-light-source-flames, which looks awesome. It also destroys parts of the environment – could Zelda U be going all Battlefield on us with Levolution?* We just don’t know! And this time I don’t even have any wild theories! MOVING ON.
This is some kind of light arrow thing. As GameXplain pointed out, Link actually pulls a trigger to ‘turn it on,’ and it seems to be an extra special type of arrow, because it’s not kept in his quiver. This confuses matters even further – is this a Hyrule with futuristic technology, meaning that thing COULD be a robot, and those lasers it fires actually sci-fi lasers and not magic lasers? UGH AONUMA YOU’RE NOT ANSWERING ANY QUESTIONS HERE.
I’m tired now, but much like Smash’s reveal last year, Aonuma’s 30 seconds of Zelda gameplay has more to discuss than any damned CG trailer most of the other companies showed. I’m already dying to see and hear more. I squealed a bit when that shot of the field came up. Feed me your Zelda heroin, Aonuma. Do it. I love it.
*I’m not even sorry for bringing up this ridiculous marketing term again
Today, much-loved hidden gem PISSMAN received a substantial update for the first time since it’s January 1st, 2013 release, adding a whole new area.
First unveiled to the world on New Year’s Day 2013, PISSMAN was an instant success. Garnering universal critical acclaim (a number of review quotes are provided below this article) and numerous awards (and again), PISSMAN is the work of internet superbeing @davehurricane, and was the first game released byMidnight Resistance’s publishing arm. PISSMAN is completely free, with no microtransactions, yet manages to raise many existential questions and provide hours of gameplay to boot.
You control the titular PISSMAN, a naked, pink man with a huge cyan P tattooed directly on to his chest. PISSMAN moves left and right with the arrow keys, can fly with X, and PISSES with C. This is all the information available to you. It remains unexplained why PISSMAN has the power of flight, or, indeed, why he can PISS indefinitely. Some fans theorise that PISSMAN was exposed to radioactive material as a child, and his flight ability is actually provided by an ultra-pressurised stream of INVISIBLE PISS. This neglects to explain how PISSMAN is able to run faster along the ground than his PISS is able to travel. Rumours of PISSMAN ORIGINS have so far proved unfounded.
The main attraction of PISSMAN is its incredible PISS PHYSICS. PISS is ejected from PISSMAN in large globules, a third the size of his head, and each is realistically modelled with bouncing splash physics and gravity, as a real PISS GLOBULE would be. This PISS can build up, filling the various nooks and crannies of the level, potentially even engulfing PISSMAN himself. Luckily, PISSMAN is able to breathe his own PISS, ensuring he will not die in such an eventuality.
Other theories suggest that PISSMAN is, in fact, a subservient entity of the LORDS OF PISS, godlike beings known to control all PISS in the universe. This would explain his various abilities, including his PISSBREATHING, as well as provide a reason for his existence. There are still so many questions regarding PISSMAN, however. Why does he not wear a costume, like a normal superhero, instead opting for a huge P tattoo? Why does he lack any obvious organs through which his PISS could emerge? We just don’t know.
Anyway, on to the update. PISSMAN’S 24th June, 2014 update adds a whole new corridor to FILL WITH PISS. The official PISSMAN twitter account has shown off a secret area, but it is currently unknown how this area can be reached. Any hints will be featured on this very article ASAP.
If you haven’t checked out PISSMAN, now is the time. With loads of new content to uncover, a myriad questions to answer, and a potential 3D sequel hinted at earlier this year, there’s never been a better time to be a PISSMAN FAN.
Those PISSMAN reviews in full:
“An astounding technical achievement. That PISSMAN can model thousands of PISS particles realistically at a constant 60FPS is a true testament to next-gen technology” – 9/10, Eurogamer
“P***MAN’s orange P*** reminds us of Mtn Dew – could there be a licensing deal in the works?” – 11/10, IGN
“A solid 10/10″ – 7/10, EDGE
Those PISSMAN Awards in full:
Game of the Year 2013: PC Gamer, Rock Paper Shotgun, Videogamer.com, Kotaku, IGN, Eurogamer, myriad others.
Best Use of Colour: Indie Games Foundation
Breakthrough PISS: BAFTA
Fewest Guns While Still Being Enjoyable: IGN
Hello everyone! Blimey, it’s been a while, eh? Haven’t been to a Luftrausaholics Anonymous meeting for quite a while.
I’m afraid to say I’ve relapsed. Shortly after I stopped coming to meetings, about a month ago, I took a long trip away and found I had no time for Rausing. But since I’ve been back, I’ve had the itch again. The urge to fly through the skies, stall and fall into the sea, tearing filthy English scum apart.
I should explain. Luftrausers is not just a game. It’s pure adrenaline shots of enjoyment, injecting the player with brief moments of endorphins. It’s a game of moments, of firing the cannon at an Ace just as it’s about to open fire and destroy you, of engaging the afterburner after razing a battleship and escaping enemy fire with but a slither of health remaining. It’s about dancing around a blimp, whittling away at Mr. Churchill’s behemoth of a balloon, tearing it to shreds and watching it explode and crash into the sea. Each round lasts about 30 seconds to a couple of minutes.
I’ve played nearly 30 hours.
I’m not normally that into score-attack games. Super Hexagon grabbed me but that was the only one before Luftrausers. But Luftrausers is different. It’s Vlambeer, so naturally it was hyped to fuck before it came out (and rightly so). It pulls you in with the lure of a series of challenges for each weapon, a constant tick-tick-tick of unlocks, the ever-present tease of a hyper-Rauser that can only be unlocked on completion of every challenge for every part. Then it sinks its teeth in, constantly pushing you to beat your high score, to show everyone on the leaderboards who’s boss. It’s got instant-restart, the hallmark of any great quickfire game (EXAMPLES: Hotline Miami, of course, Nuclear Throne, 10 Second Ninja, Binding of Isaac, Tower of Guns, etc.), so you’re always thinking “just one more go.”
I’m 30 hours in and I still haven’t unlocked that hyper-Rauser. I’m not going to stop playing until I do, and then I probably still won’t stop playing.
It helps that the Vita is the perfect platform for Luftrausers. Like Spelunky before it (and Binding of Isaac: Rebirth in the future), being on the Vita lets Luftrausers offer an ever-present thrill. I play it on my bus journey to work, a few frames of rausing action instead of checking twitter constantly. Constantly pushing against the limits of my skill, smashing through my scores. It’s a beautiful feeling, and one that would not normally be associated with a bus ride.
Go play Luftrausers. It’s unbelievably good. It might be my game of the year. I know there’s a new Smash out this year, and I’ve got Mario Kart on order, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to see how anything could be as good as Luftrausers.
It’s on PC and PSN. Just go. Grab it. You won’t regret it.
It’s going to be very, very difficult for anyone else to release a game as good as Mario Kart 8 this year.
Mario Kart 8 has been a long time coming. Unveiled way back in the game bonanza that was the January 2013 Nintendo Direct (and likely been in development for much longer than that), it was finally released late in May this year. But believe me, it has been worth the wait.
8 does admittedly follow the Mario Kart formula, but I suppose if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You play as one of 30 characters from the Mario universe, pick parts to make up your kart (as in Mario Kart 7), then go racing on 32 weird and wonderful courses. As has been the way since the DS version, 16 of the courses are brand spanking new, 16 are remastered versions of courses from previous games. In previous games these ‘Retro’ courses have been largely the same (but nicer looking), but for 8 a large majority of them have been completely overhauled. This is, for the most part, due to the game’s new antigravity mechanic.
Antigravity is the final piece of the Mario Kart puzzle. Adding to 7′s gliding and underwater segments, there are now specific places where you can drive up walls and on ceilings. Naturally, Nintendo’s amazing designers have made full use of this – in one track, you use antigravity to travel up then down a waterfall, taking a ramp and gliding away from it halfway down. In another, you take a glide up from an airport runway to a tilted hovering platform, using antigravity to traverse it then glide back down to the airport’s second runway. The designs are inspired and ridiculously good fun, and of the new courses, there’s not a bad one in the bunch. The Retro tracks are almost a 100% hit rate too – only the terrible Dry Dry Dunes (Double Dash) and Grumble Volcano (Wii) bringing the roster down.
Racing is pretty easy to learn – it’s basically the same as Mario Kart 7. On the Gamepad, WiiU Pro Controller or a Classic Controller, you can use either A and B to accelerate and brake or the right analog stick, X to get a rear-view, ZR or R to start drifting and do tricks off ramps and ZL or L to fire an item. Drift boosts are the same as they’ve been since Wii – You have to drift for a while before you get a boost, you can’t manually do it with the stick (which lead to snaking in Mario Kart DS and Double Dash). Antigravity uses these same controls, but adds a small extra mechanic – hitting another racer allows you to get a mini-turbo boost. This may initially seem beneficial to both racers, but if you can use it tactically, you can force another player to boost off the edge of the course. CRUEL.
While we’re on the subject of the cruelty of other racers, let’s talk about the online mode. Nintendo seem to have finally pulled their finger out and got it sorted – probably a quarter of my 20-ish hours of play have been spent online with some of my twitter pals, and I haven’t seen a single dropped connection, glitch or bit of lag. It’s just like playing with another 11 people locally, only without all the swearing that comes with that. There’s a few different modes of online play – matchmaking, which is exactly what it sounds like; tournaments, which are player-organised with specific rules and running times, and being able to play with friends and rivals – rivals being people you’ve previously raced with. All work as intended and are good fun. It’s good to see Nintendo have got their head around online play at last, and I can’t wait to see what they use this new knowledge for in future games (making Smash Bros less laggy, perhaps?)
Mario Kart 8 looks amazing. For all you stats fans out there, it’s 720p and runs at a rock-solid 60fps in the single and two-player modes. (That stuff by digital foundry about it running at 64fps but skipping a few frames so it actually runs at 59fps is the most astoundingly anal thing in history. It’s completely unnoticeable by anyone without bionic eyes). That framerate gets cut in half to 30 for multiplayer, but the screen actually refreshes at 60HZ still, with the top half of the screen getting odd-numbered frames, and the bottom half getting even-numbered. The HUD still renders at 60fps and this is actually really useful, because it stops any input lag that arises from the framerate of the actual game being cut in half. Nice work, Nintendo. The game’s also full of all these astounding little touches – including (but not limited to) Bowser’s Castle’s portcullis raising just as the race begins, the cows in Moo-Moo Meadows visibly breathing in and out, a fully rendered city lying below the N64 Rainbow Road, a big vine growing out of a rusted question block in Cloudtop Cruise… I could go on and on.
The music deserves a special mention too. For the first time ever in a Kart game, the music is fully orchestrated and no two tracks share any music. Before 8, I never really had a great affinity for Mario Kart music (apart from a couple of tracks, like the one from 64′s Rainbow Road and Double Dash’s Sherbet Land), but 8′s music is a standout performance from start to finish. Beginning with the main theme, with its blast of Super Mario Kart’s theme halfway through, all the way through to the gloriously remastered version of Rainbow Road N64, by way of Cloudtop Cruise‘s joyful-weeping-inducing Gusty Garden Galaxy refrain, not a note is wasted.
Mario Kart 8 is the full package. It’s a game worth buying a WiiU for (not that there weren’t plenty of them already). I know I said in my recent article about Luftrausers that I was struggling to see how even Mario Kart could be that good, but here I am telling you how astounding it is. It’s going to easily be my game of the year, even with Smash Bros WiiU and 3DS on the way. It’s mind-blowing. Buy a WiiU, buy Mario Kart 8, get your free game, and get stuck into the best game of the year.
Yeah, you heard. 10/10. Battle Screen’s copy of Mario Kart 8 was purchased by us.
This opening sentence is brought to you by 10 Second Ninja’s time limit:
10 SECOND NINJA IS A GAME ABOUT FAST NINJA
10 Second Ninja is the latest game in a lineage that finds its roots in one of the first indie games to ‘make it big,’ namely, Super Meat Boy. The elevator pitch for 10SN shouldn’t take longer than the titular timer – “You are a ninja and have 10 seconds to kill all the nazi robots” – but the concept is so elegantly executed that 10 Second Ninja is able to stand up with the very best of its brethren.
You are ‘The Ninja.’ Robo-Hitler is invading Earth with an army of high-tech (but completely unarmed) robots. Each level has you destroying all the robots in the vicinity within ten seconds (else you die, presumably from a Hitler-induced heart attack or some such). With that done, you’re awarded a rating out of three stars, depending on how quickly you finished the stage. Three starring a level is a feat in itself, with a number of them requiring you to clear the screen in under two seconds flat.
The controls in 10 Second Ninja are as tight as you’d hope. It very much feels like Super Meat Boy, although with less slipperyness when stopping and no walljumps. There are just a few inputs (this example is on a 360 pad, for reference) – the stick or Dpad for movement; A to jump; X to slash with your sword, and B to throw one of your three shurikens. RB is used to reset the level at any time, much like how R To Restart was a constant presence in Hotline Miami.
The excellent control you have over The Ninja and the need for utmost precision distils the kind of immense flow only seen in the very best of its games. To smash those aforementioned three-star barriers, you’ll have to jump, fire a shuriken while moving right, turn in midair and fire another shuriken, land on a platform, jump to the next and slash your sword. All this in the space of around 2 seconds, or just 120 frames of gameplay. While I was playing, I’d occasionally look down at my hands and just think, “How the fuck am I doing this?” Then I’d look up, hit RB, and try and smash my time again.
So once you’ve got all three stars in every level of a world, you’re shown your ‘completion time’ for that world and how you rank compared to everyone else who’s ever finished it. Leaderboards are always a killer feature for these kinds of games, encouraging you to hone yourself to, well, ninja-level reflexes and precision. I’m currently ninth in the Forest World rankings (as of 2/3/2014) and pretty proud of it.
10 Second Ninja might be a game focused primarily on its gameplay, but that doesn’t stop it from looking pretty good too. Pearce’s pixel art style, first seen in his previous game, Castles In The Sky, shines once again, with enemies, traps and the player being easily identifiable in the environment. It’s clear that Pearce knows full well that good graphics should be used to aid gameplay, not hinder it. The sound design is also fantastic, with catchy tunes soundtracking each world and a thumping boss theme.
There’s also the slow burn of new mechanics, with a couple of new ones added in each world. For example, in the third world, there are giant icicles that can be dislodged with a shuriken. They’ll then drop on anything below them and destroy it in a rather satisfying fashion. These level gimmicks help to keep the gameplay fresh and, naturally, you’re going to have to use each feature to its fullest to get all three stars.
All told, 10 Second Ninja is really rather excellent. Dan Pearce’s debut action title is every bit as fun as its progenitors, and rightly deserves a place among the greats. I have a soft spot for games with flow, so I can see myself coming back to 10 Second Ninja again and again - even if it’s only to while away some time while Steam downloads something else.
Review code was provided by Dan Pearce, and I did some bug testing for it. Dan is a personal friend of mine but I’m a cruel asshole so I wouldn’t be giving 10 Second Ninja a 9 if I didn’t think it was worth it. 10 Second Ninja will be out on Steam on March 5th.