Review | Letter Quest : Grimm’s Journey Remastered

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Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered (often referred to as Letter Quest Remastered) is a word-assembling RPG where you defeat monsters with your vocabulary, your scythe, and bacon.  

I was introduced to LQR by two of my friends, who assumed that I would enjoy its celebration of verbal geekery. I’m happy to say that they were correct. 

In LQR, titular young reaper Grimm must battle though the foes who are blocking him from his desired treasure … pizza. Battling is carried out by finding words in a board of Scrabble-style letter tiles; your score for each valid word becomes damage to the current enemy, who will then retaliate with attacks of their own. Each defeated enemy and completed quest awards Gems, which you use to strengthen Grimm’s selection of scythes and to buy skill upgrades and equipable books that offer bonuses. 

This is my best word so far. 11-letter words are uncommon, but they output tons of damage.
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Review | Aəero : Complete Edition

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Imagine flying a Wipeout-style ship along the musical ribbon from Vib-Ribbon, while dodging lasers, while playing a twin-stick shooter at the same time, and that almost sums up Aəero.

Aəero is part of a new generation of indie rhythm-action games that has sprung up since the over-saturated -Hero games met their demise and Beat Saber took VR gaming by surprise. It shares two foundations with other experimental rhythm games; a blend of various gameplay styles, and an aim of creating flow-inducing multi-sensory experiences. However, my first few minutes with Aəero felt more like a sensory assault. After reducing my TV volume, lowering the in-game volume to 40%, and lowering the vibration strength to minimal, I could then dive into its challenging and immersive gameplay.

The core gameplay of Aəero is balancing the duelling roles of the left and right analogue sticks. With the left analogue stick, players follow the ribbon of white light that traces out each song’s most salient melody. The ribbon can soar and fall with the singer’s pitch, or swoop and spiral to follow synthesizers and bass. For me, the most challenging songs are the ones which quickly swap between delicate adjustments and larger jumps or spirals. When the ribbon isn’t on-screen, players instead use the left stick to avoid obstacles and fly through narrow gaps in routes interrupted by burning lasers or crushing platforms. The right stick controls the aiming reticle, which players use to target enemies and projectiles, while the right trigger fires the ship’s laser beams. 

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Impressions | Dear Esther : Landmark Edition

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As Dear Esther begins, the protagonist stands at the entrance to a deserted island quickly revealed as being in the Outer Hebrides. Behind the protagonist is a short concrete path leading into the ocean. I promptly walk them into the ocean (for science, of course). As a result I discover some of the island’s mystery within seconds of playtime. My screen fills with indistinct images and pulses like a heartbeat, while the narrator’s own voice whispers “come back…”, before the protagonist reappears at the starting point. After walking into the ocean again to see if any of the environment changed as a result, and only unlocking an incongruous-seeming achievement for drowning, I start to actually play Dear Esther.

While I’ve played other Environmental Narrative Games before, I’ve somehow never played Dear Esther nor had its story spoiled. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from the game that brought ENGs into mainstream discussions.

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Review | Spyro Reignited Trilogy – Spyro 2

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Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer was the first game I recieved with my PS1, and also my first 3D game, so this is a nostalgic revisit for me. (As it’s named Ripto’s Rage in the Reignited Trilogy, I’ll just refer to it as Spyro 2 here). It was also one of my favourite games – I remember enjoying Idol Springs and Crystal Glacier, and finding the summer and autumn home worlds incredibly peaceful. I don’t think my 7-year-old self ever reached the final third of the original game, as it was mostly unfamiliar. This time, however, I beat Ripto at 98% completion after about 13 hours of in-game time, then reached 100% at about 14 hours (blame the Fracture Hills level for that delay!).

The major difference between Spyro the Dragon and Spyro 2 is revealed in the first cutscene, which shows off a more detailed story taking place across a larger set of worlds and also introduces you to allied characters who need Spyro’s help to take their homes back from antagonist Ripto.

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Review | Spyro Reignited Trilogy – Spyro the Dragon

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I’ve been taking my time with the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, as I wanted to enjoy each game fully without rushing them and without worrying about getting a specific completion % or making review notes along the way. I didn’t want to ruin my own experience in any way.

After completing most of Spyro the Dragon and Spyro 2, taking a break, then returning a few months later, I reached 120% completion in just over 12.5 hours of playtime. So here are my thoughts on Spyro’s renewed debut.

I didn’t remember much about the original version of Spyro the Dragon, as I played it after the second and third games, and found it less interesting in comparison. I remembered some early world themes, and the general plot of Gnasty Gnorc turning the other dragons into crystal statues, but much of the game was new to me.

The gameplay in Spyro the Dragon focuses on rescuing the crystallised dragons while collecting gems and dragon eggs. 5 dragon homeworlds are hubs that each contain portals to 5 levels: 3 standard levels based on the homeworld aesthetic, a timed flight level where you fly Spyro through obstacles, plus a boss level. The sixth homeworld, inhabited by antagonist Gnasty Gnorc, contains the remaining levels and final boss fight.

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Review | Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled [Updated]

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I rarely pay attention to upcoming games, because I dislike the media hype-to-disappointment cycle that comes with every new game. But a new version of Crash Team Racing, a game that my childhood self absolutely loved, was guaranteed to hold my interest. However, I worried that it wouldn’t be remade fairly – that CTRNF would be forced to take on the often-harmful baggage of modern gaming.

The original CTR was techically short but absurdly replayable. You could simply win each race once to reach the final boss and so nominally finish the campaign mode in 3 hours. But mastering CTR required learning the tracks inside and out to complete the challenging token races and devilish Relic races.

To me, any attempt to force attention-manipulation mechanics like season passes and time-gates into CTRNF risked ruining this tight design and its quality-over-quantity nature. So I’m disappointed that Activision and Beenox have followed the convention of including seasonal “content roadmaps”, time-locked shops and item rarity tiers. I’m happy about the prospect of continued interest and additional racers, but Activision’s attempt to shove the lifecycle mechanics of a looter-shooter or an RPG into a kart racer is shortsighted and unnecessary.

So from here I’m going to pretend those extras don’t exist, and focus on the game itself. Thankfully, the game is everything I hoped it would be.

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Review | Team Sonic Racing [Updated]

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While I generally find kart racers fun, I wouldn’t call myself a serious fan of them. Two exceptions to this are the original Crash Team Racing, which was one of my favourite games as a child, and the thoroughly enjoyable Sonic and All-Stars: Racing Transformed.

Although Team Sonic Racing (TSR) was made by the same development team as Racing Transformed, Sumo Digital, I was pessimistic about it before release. When I briefly played TSR at EGX 2018, I felt like it might be unable to differentiate itself from other kart racers. At the time, my opinion was: “Sumo Digital promise that unlockable parts will let you change your car’s looks and performance, but that’s just not the same as turning your car into an aeroplane.”

I wanted to be proved wrong, but unfortunately I can’t say that the game has done enough to change my mind. Before I follow that train of thought, I’ll explain what TSR actually is, and what it does well. 

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Review | Tyler: Model 005

Screenshot from Tyler Model 005
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This is another tag-team review from me and Adoboros; he handled the controls of Tyler: Model 005, while I helped to solve the puzzles. This review has gameplay spoilers and minor story spoilers.

During its opening sequence Tyler: Model 005 (which I’ll shorten to TM5) presents itself as a charming puzzle-platformer with a sympathetic main character — dormant robot Tyler, who wakes up confused and amnesiac after an electrical surge.

Your job as the player is to explore the house which Tyler awakens inside and to figure out what’s going on, solving environmental puzzles to access more of the house and turn on more light sources. Tyler is tiny enough to hide inside a coffee cup, making even small rooms seem vast to him, so the game’s setting isn’t as cramped as you might expect from its description.

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Impressions | Borderlands : Game Of The Year Edition (2019)

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Even though I’ve previously enjoyed playing Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (via co-op), I could never say the same about the original. In solo attempts, I would get stuck at about 10% campaign completion because I couldn’t navigate through the open world. Playing with friends often failed due to lag and frame rate issues. However, after two friends who adore the series both gave me rave reviews of Borderlands: Game Of The Year Edition, I joined them to try a co-op campaign again.

As there was already a Borderlands: Game Of The Year Edition in 2010, I found the name re-use illogical, especially as the 2010 release is still on sale. To avoid confusion, I’ll use Borderlands to mean the series/games in general, “the original Borderlands” to mean the 2009 release, and GOTY to mean the 2019 release. But that’s a minor issue, so I’ll get on to the actual game.

Because GOTY is a remaster rather than a remake, the core gameplay, mechanics and plot are left untouched. The story retains its sparse exposition, as well as its odd pace – it still idles for most of the game then jumps to its full intensity during the last half hour. But the impactful gunplay, chaotic elemental effects, irreverent dialogue and deranged enemies are just as entertaining as in the original Borderlands. Customising your character’s build in co-op to get full-team boosts and combine each player’s abilities allows lots of opportunities to experiment with setups and weapons (and plenty of comedy from Brick’s melee adventures).

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Review | The Swapper

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Full disclosure: due to my ineptness at puzzle platformers, the helpful Adoboros handled puzzle-solving, while I watched and occasionally gave him useful ideas.

When launching The Swapper, the first thing I noticed was its atmosphere (pun not intended). It’s not horror-game-tense or oppressive. Instead it’s somber and melancholy, a tone I’m unused to seeing in games. The next thing I noticed was its uncommon style. Every location and character model was hand-made in clay then digitized through photographs to create a unique world. It’s diffcult to understand just how much work went in to crafting the game, especially as it runs at 60 frames per second.

The Swapper opens as a lone astronaut is ejected into space inside an escape pod. When the pod lands, you take control of the silent astronaut, and start to explore the doomed spaceship Theseus. The remaining crew are hiding in a sealed chamber, so your path is isolated and your exploration uninterrupted … until the scenery starts asking philosophical questions.

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Impressions | Forza Horizon 4

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If you’ve ever played a Forza Horizon game, the core of Forza Horizon 4 is pleasantly familiar. Its most important aspects — its cars and locations — are as impressive as you would expect. FH4 refines the classic Horizon open-world gameplay and extends it across even more environments, taking you from muddy cross-country treks to snowy hills and frozen lakes.

Showcase races, which place you against showstopper competitors like planes and hovercraft, also return. Although these are fun displays featuring ingenious opponents, the showcases occupy an awkward middle ground between a setpiece spectacle and a race. Showcase races are focused on putting you and your opponent in the right positions for dramatic jump scenes and conflict points, which detracts from their stated role as a race. I have a game clip of myself trailing a Showcase opponent yet suddenly being switched to first place as a race ended. It’s a minor gripe, but that kind of switching makes Showcases feel somewhat dishonest — I believe the Showcases would have been better if they were purely a spectacle, rather than being a mixture of race and setpiece.

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Impressions | Spec Ops: The Line

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Last week, I finally played Spec Ops: The Line (only 6 years late!). I’d heard about its ambitious, ethically challenging story, but I’d tried to avoid spoilers. Going into the game, I knew one thing; I would have to make choices that I wouldn’t want to make.

I was expecting tough choices from The Line. However, I wasn’t expecting false choices. The Line contains a mid-game scene where protagonist Walker (and by extension, the player) is treated as if they can choose between two actions, even though the game mechanics allow only one. In the next dilemma, the game lets you continue assuming that only one choice is possible; this time, you could have done something else.

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EGX 2018

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After enjoying my visit to Insomnia63 last month, I was looking forwards to visiting similar events in future. However, I wasn’t expecting the chance to attend another one quite so quickly. On Sunday I went to the final day of EGX 2018, alongside two of my friends. Danny, aka Adoboros, has also written up his thoughts on EGX here if you want to read them.

The Arena

As Insomnia took place so recently, and in the same building as EGX, I instantly noticed the visual contrast between the two events. While EGX had a similar number amount of stands, it appeared less visually cluttered and more organised. Its fairly dimmed lighting made navigation easier by allowing colourful stands and lights to stand out. From an audio perspective, EGX also had fairly good sound balancing, where loud displays didn’t spill over into quieter displays too often.

Finally, the ratio of game displays to merchandise displays was weighted far more in favour of gaming at EGX. Merchandise was given a fair space, but games were front and centre.
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Review | Onrush

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The ingredients of Onrush are simple. Start with the frenzied speed and crashes of Burnout: Revenge, and mix in the co-operative objectives of Overwatch. Add cartoonish, Fortnite-styled character models and emotes, then finish with cosmetic loot boxes.

Onrush is a co-operative racing combat game, where players succeed by carrying out team-based objectives. It promises relentless speed and chaotic battles. It vows to keep you in the action at all times. So, how does Onrush achieve the goal of continual speed? And what does it feel like to play?

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Insomnia63 Gaming Festival

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This weekend I had the brand new experience of going to the Insomnia Gaming Festival. Having never been to any gaming events or tournaments, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I had a full weekend ticket, so I was there from Friday morning until Sunday afternoon.

As families often attend over just Saturday and Sunday, Friday was a fairly quiet introduction to the festival environment. We were able to get our bearings and explore the arena, and we could try all but the largest activities without queuing.

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Impressions | Three Fourths Home

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Three Fourths Home is about that conversation you always wish you’d started, and that regret you might not be able to repair. More literally, it’s about talking, driving, and closure.

TFH is a piece of interactive fiction with a simple premise: protagonist Kelly is on her way home from visiting her grandparents’ now-empty house when a storm approaches. Kelly’s mum calls to locate her, and their struggle to communicate forces their complicated family dynamics to unravel there and then. The entire game is held within this one conversation; as Kelly, all you can do is keep driving and keep talking.

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Tony Hawk’s Project 8: A Child’s-Eye-View of Skateboarding?

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Recently I spent a few days on Tony Hawk’s Project 8 for the Xbox 360. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Although many reviews described Project 8 as a realistic return to form for the Tony Hawk series, I perceived it as strangely unrealistic; busier, sillier, and closer to the jackass-inspired THUG2 than I recalled*. However, I couldn’t describe why I felt this way- something about the level design and gameplay just seemed “odd”.

While thinking about this, I remembered a video I watched months ago. The video, from the channel Errant Signal, discussed why the author found Burnout Paradise more appealing than other racing games.To the author, Burnout Paradise represented the childlike aspects of enjoying cars: rather than being a serious reproduction of aesthetically pleasing supercars, it instead felt like the world of a child playing with their toy cars.

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No Man’s Sky – Who was to blame?

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Just like the rest of the internet, I’m going to talk about No Man’s Sky...

More specifically, about the 1.1 update announced today.

1.1, known as the Foundation update, will add two new modes (Creative and Survival) to the main game, and will begin the Base Building feature, while adding features to existing mechanics like farming. Foundation also promises to improve multiple parts of the resource management side of the game, by making resources easier to store, automate and use. The patch list is one of the longest I’ve ever seen.
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Overwatch #2 – Learning Curves

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In case the last post didn’t say it loud enough, I’m a fan of Overwatch. Being able to feel myself learning new things while playing is a powerful motivator to keep going and play better, unlike the Russian Roulette gameplay of COD, where simply spawning in the wrong place can get you killed instantly. So, here’s what I’ve been learning so far.

Role Variety

As I’m not much of a PC gamer, and have never played any MOBA-type games before, I’m not very familiar with character types. While I knew that characters can generally be split into the roles of DPS (damage output), Tanks (taking a lot of damage), and Support (healing or buffing the team), I didn’t really know anything beyond that.

I expected Overwatch to follow that three-type structure, so finding that it actually has 4 main roles, as well as characters which overlap aspects of multiple roles, made it interesting for me. However, it also meant I played some characters really badly at first!

The most obvious difference for me was trying to play as Winston; at first, I assumed from his size that he was purely a tank character. However, trying to play him as a tank failed- trying to jump into a fight just meant I died very quickly, and even my Ultimate ability didn’t seem to help. However, talking to one of my friends about which characters we liked showed me how wrong I was. Firstly, figuring out that Winston wasn’t purely as a tank, but intended to be a disruptor – a role I never knew existed in character ensembles- helped me understand how his moves worked. This helped me figure out how to do better in Control and how to use his shield and his Ultimate; this meant my next game with Winston set my personal best for eliminations.

Another example is support-of-all-trades character Lucio. While I like playing as dedicated healer Mercy in short bursts, she’s at her best when she’s invisible, flying around the edges of the battlefield like a counter-Tracer. Being Lucio, on the other hand, means I get to both be part of the action and help my teammates out with extra healing and shields.

The same logic applies to a number of other characters, a common example being Tracer. FPS logic dictates that you charge in and make kills, but playing Tracer that way will just get you killed. Rather than straightforward attacking, she’s a disruptive, evasive attacker, hovering around the edges of a fight chipping away at everyone in turn.

Team Focus

Unlike in standard FPSs, and even like Battleborn where the objectives can often be ignored, Overwatch relies on playing to the objective. This means learning how characters work as part of the team is essential. For me, that learning curve has mostly been from my favourite character, Mei.

Playing Mei as a beginner, especially with groups of random players, meant running around putting walls in places that made sense to me, but not the rest of the team. Initially, she seems like a defender whose job might be to hide in a control point repeatedly blocking its entry points. However, that approach isn’t the strongest, and also gets pretty boring.

After a few matches of practice, it’s easy to have fun making cheap shots such as blocking the enemies running towards the team . However, as this blocks the team from attacking those enemies, an impulsive Mei player (like me) could easily end up making enemies of their own team.

Now that I’ve played as her more, and watched other people play her, her ability to help the team is much easier to see. For one thing, her walls aren’t just for blocking routes, but for accessing them too. They can act as temporary platforms, letting Mei and other less-mobile characters jump to alternate entry points usually reserved for more agile characters like Widowmaker and Lucio. (I discovered one use of this approach by accident, when I misplaced a wall;instead of blocking the enemy exit door, I instead pushed the friend stood in front of the door upwards which let him jump into the ledge above the door. So we’re going to test that in a future game, with him using Torbjorn or Bastion to create an early disruption.)

I’ve also found, through YouTube guides, many more ways to play Mei as a defender of other teammates rather than focusing on self-defense. In one video, the Mei player had quick enough reactions to put a wall in between a character hooked by Roadhog and Roadhog himself, which blocked the friendly characters path and prevented them from being stunned by Roadhog.

While Mei and Lucio are gentle introductions to team tactics, playing Mercy means being thrown in at the deep end. Even though the team may be able to scrape together some healing in Mercy’s absence, Mercy’s ability to escape danger relies upon seeing another teammate. Playing as Mercy, if you wander off, you’re target practice.

Character Combinations

While I doubt I’ll have the reaction times for blocking Roadhog’s hook, I’ve had some success using Mei’s walls to deliberately block off a friendly Bastion, giving him the 3 uninterrupted seconds he needed to self-heal. With friends, we’ve found “our” characters, so working out which combinations of preferred characters are strongest together will be our next step. At the moment, we often play Winston/Winston/Tracer when we’re on Attack or Control (although this can be risky) while favouring Mei/Roadhog/Bastion during Defence matches.

Looking for ways I can combine the effects of different characters is part of the game I’m finding very interesting, although having only played as 5 of the characters so far means I have little to go on for many of the others. So the best thing I can do to learn more about the game now is to try playing as everyone else. Well, that should be easy.

Overwatch #1 – First Impressions

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It may be a bit early to say Game of the Year, but if Overwatch isn’t my favourite game this year I’ll be surprised.

I wasn’t expecting to like the game quite as much as I do- I was expecting to get bored fairly quickly after hearing there was no campaign. Yet I’ve had more fun on Overwatch than I have on games promising more content and variety.  A major part of the fun is precisely because Overwatch contains “less”.
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