Sprint Vector review – world’s fastest VR

Game review: Sprint Vector is the world’s fastest VR game
Sprint Vector (PSVR) – virtual racing

The best new PlayStation VR game this year mixes Mirror’s Edge with Mario Kart, but won’t have you reaching for a sick bag.

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If there’s one thing everyone knows about VR games, it’s that you shouldn’t make anything that involves too much fast movement. That does rule out a lot of obvious game types – if you’re wondering why there hasn’t been a Call Of Duty VR yet – but for most people that would only have them hurling their guts up within 30 seconds, and vowing never to play virtual reality again. Unless, that is, they play Sprint Vector.

Sprint Vector uses something its developer calls the Fluid Locomotion System, adapted from their previous game Raw Data, that means you don’t get sick playing a game that is a cross between Mirror’s Edge and Mario Kart. We still don’t advise you playing it with a full stomach, but for all but the most sensitive player Sprint Vector does represent a significant step forward in the kind of games that work in VR.

It comes at a cost though, not the relatively modest asking price but the fact that you also need the PlayStation Move controllers to play the game. Which, as you might infer, means it’s an almost entirely motion-controlled game. So that also means you also have to be reasonably fit to play it. Sprint Vector is asking a lot of its players, but it does reward that dedication with an unforgettable experience.

Since there’s no reasonable real-world explanation for what you’re doing in Sprint Vector, developer Survios has used the time-honoured excuse of everything being a futuristic game show. We could’ve done without the robot presenter but other than that there’s a minimum of other distractions, as you pick one of the 12 race courses and strap on your virtual rollerblades.

Sprint Vector claims that it can be played while sitting down, but we never managed to get working properly that way. Or at least not in a manner that was in anyway as consistent as standing up and pantomiming the moves as if we were really doing them. This is where the Move controllers come in, as you need to swing your arms up and down in order to speed up, while pressing the trigger button and then letting it go at the end of your swing.

If that sounds too much like hard work, it’s not quite as bad as it seems as a steady rhythm is more important than the speed you move your arms. That, and races only ever last a couple of minutes in total. But, yes, you will be getting unpleasantly sweaty if you intend to have more than one go.

Sprint Vector’s courses aren’t just simple race tracks but complex obstacle courses that outdo almost anything in Mirror’s Edge. You constantly have to jump over and around obstacles, fly over empty chasms, and climb up walls; before learning the double jump and drift techniques that are essential for actually winning.

Sprint Vector (PSVR) - Mirror's Edge has nothing on this
Sprint Vector (PSVR) – Mirror’s Edge has nothing on this

You’ll recall we also compared the game to Mario Kart, and that’s not just because it’s a multiplayer game but because it also has power-ups you can collect on the way. There’s jump and turbo pads as well, but also heat-seeking rockets and proximity mines to give you that extra edge. You can ignore this aspect if it seems too much for you, but it’s a sign that this is a proper race game, with real depth, and not just a tech demo.

Playing on your own is inevitably not as fun as with other humans, but it is vital to learning the courses. They all have shortcuts to discover and different themes and visuals, so despite their short length it can take a long time before you know your way around properly. But there’s also a range of special challenge maps that take the form of time trials or collectathons, that are extremely difficult but bring the game even closer in spirit to Mirror’s Edge.

Apart from the physical toll it takes on your body, the only real problem with Sprint Vector is the inevitable inconsistencies with the motion controls. They are kept to a minimum, but given this is a game about split second reactions even the smallest mistake on the game’s part can have you cursing its name. Wall-climbing seems to be the most consistently problematic, and you soon learn to be extra deliberate in your actions when that part of the course comes around.

The game could probably do with a few more tracks as well, but overall this is a fantastic achievement in both game design and VR technology. The only downside is that, as far as we understand, the lack of nausea is because you’re mimicking the actions yourself. So the days of running around in a traditional first person game, but in VR, are still some way off. But in the meantime, Sprint Vector offers plenty of entertainment while you wait.

Sprint Vector

In Short: A milestone in fast action VR games, which solves most of the problems with motion sickness while also being an excellent first person racer.

Pros: The movement system is well thought out and surprisingly nuanced. Course design is imaginative and varied. Plenty of options, including some fun challenge maps.

Cons: The game takes a considerable amount of physical effort to play, and the motion controls aren’t 100% reliable. Could do with a few more tracks.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PlayStation VR* (reviewed), Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive
Price: £19.99
Publisher: Survios
Developer: Survios
Release Date: 13th February 2018
Age Rating: 12

* PlayStation Move controller also required.

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Ivy is back for SoulCalibur VI… and she’s still barely wearing any clothes

Ivy is back for SoulCalibur VI… and she’s still barely wearing any clothes
SoulCalibur VI – she’ll catch her death in that

One of gaming’s most controversial female characters is back, with an outfit that’s almost exactly the same as the Dreamcast original.

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Like any good fighter, SoulCalibur has some characters that are such favourites it’s impossible to imagine the game without them. And that definitely includes Ivy Valentine.

She hasn’t been confirmed until now, but the video below shows her in action with her signature sword that transforms into a physics-defying whip.

Defying physics is all part of Ivy’s shtick though. And while Bandai Namco do seem to have reduced the amount of animation on her breasts, the costume is so skimpy it’s unlikely to do anything to silence critics of the character.

Today’s other reveal is much less controversial, although actually more surprising. It’s the scythe-wielding Zasalamel from SoulCalibur III. He’s the only character so far that wasn’t in the original game, which suggests that the final line-up will be more varied than previously implied.

So far the other confirmed characters are mainstays Mitsurugi, Sophitia, Xianghua, Nightmare, and Kilik.

The only brand-new character so far is named Grøh, who uses a double-ended sword that can separate into two and is, for reasons not yet explained, referred to as The Agent in Black.

SoulCalibur VI is due to be released this year, on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. We played an early version of it back in December, and came away quite impressed.

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Nintendo Labo hands-on preview – the best toy Nintendo’s ever made

Nintendo Labo hands-on preview – the best toy Nintendo’s ever made
Nintendo Labo – do it yourself gaming

GameCentral gets to play around with Nintendo’s latest, and strangest, creation: a cardboard-based construction toy for the Switch.

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The first thing you ever learn about Nintendo is that you’d have more chance predicting the lottery than guessing what they’re going to do next. Which is frustrating, because after 2017 became such an amazing year for them the question of what comes next has never been asked with quite the same level of anticipation. And never has the answer been so unexpected…

Nintendo Labo was first announced last month, and while it does contain some classic video game elements it’s primarily a construction toy aimed at tweens. Think Meccano but with ordinary cardboard instead of metal and you’ve got the basics of it, except the Nintendo Switch and its Joy-Cons can be used to turn the various contraptions into full-functioning high-tech toys.

Two separate Labo packs have been announced so far: the Variety Kit, which contains five different objects to build, and the Robot Kit which has one big giant one. They’re both out on April 27 and cost £59.99 and £69.99, respectively. That seems a lot, for what is just some sheets of cardboard and a few bits of string and elastic bands, but having now played around with them ourselves we’re already convinced Nintendo has another major hit on their hands.

Last week we attended a special event at the Science Museum in London, where parents and their kids, and a few assorted journos, were able to come along and play with each of the kits. But rather than the cacophony of shouting and running around we expected, we don’t think we’ve ever seen a room full of kids so quiet and so obviously enthralled with what they were doing – even as some of their parents looked on slightly bewildered.

The first thing everyone was given a go on was the RC Car from the Variety Kit. This involves just a single sheet of cardboard, where you have to press out the various pieces to make a vaguely insectile looking contraption (each of the creations is officially referred to as a ‘Toy-Con’). We were told this would take about 20 minutes, but really it was much less than that, as you follow the instructions on the Switch screen about which part to bend where and which tab to insert into which slot.

The clever bit though, apart from the fact that none of it requires glues, comes when you have to insert the Joy-Cons on either side of the ‘car’ and then use the software on the Switch touchscreen to control it. This works using what are essentially tank controls, as you turn each Joy-Con on and off to turn the car or make it move forward, with the HD rumble effect vibrating down to the ‘legs’ and translating into forward motion. It’s a magical moment when you first see it happen, and we’re sure our grin was as big as any other kid when we got it moving.

There was a prize for the best RC Car... we didn't win
There was a prize for the best RC Car… we didn’t win

Constructing a Toy-Con is far from the end of the process, as not only do all of them have multiple different functions but you’re also encouraged to customise them. There are extra, undocumented pieces for this in the kit – an elephant’s head and an excavator shovel for the RC car – as well as an official Customisation Set from Nintendo that has various stickers and stencils for £8.99.

We were at the event for three hours and we noticed many a child spent almost the entire time just customising the RC Car, and you can see the impressive results (some of which were no doubt aided by an adult) dotted around this page. Having no confidence in our own artistic skills though we starting experimenting with the models themselves.

You may well not have noticed, because it’s barely been used by anything other than 1-2-Switch, but the right Joy-Con has an infrared depth sensor on it and this proves vital to almost all the Labo models. On the RC Car it can be used to sense bright surfaces (some special stickers are provided with the kit) and move towards them automatically.

You can see it targeting the stickers, like some kind of pacifist RoboCop, on the Switch screen but you can also switch to manual and steer the car around in the dark via an infared or thermal view. This was demonstrated by a little set-up where you could put the car under a box and navigate through a maze of obstacles using the infrared view. And that’s all just from the simplest of the Toy-Cons.

Probably the most complicated of the Variety Kit Toy-Cons is the Piano, which apparently takes around two hours to construct. It has 13 keys that work exactly as you’d expect, with the right Joy-Con detecting which one is being pressed. But you can also insert one of four sound modifiers (a cardboard knob with a QR code-like strip around it) to change the sound (we found the cat chorus particularly amusing) or use a whammy bar-like device to add vibrato. It’s a hugely impressive achievement and comes with its own music games and a multi-track recorder.

Some of the Toy-Cons are more obviously video-game inspired, and if it was made out of plastic Motor Bike could easily pass as a home version of some long-lost sit-down arcade game. It’s basically the handlebars of a bike where you have to balance the frame on your belly and then steer with the handles as normal, including a carboard throttle and ignition button. The game itself is single-player only though and while the track designs are relatively complex it doesn’t seem like anything that’s going to hold your interest for long.

We’re not sure of the longevity of the Fishing Rod either, although the fact that we kept wanting to go back to it was a good sign. It doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the cleverest Toy-Cons, with the wire from the rod disappearing into a cardboard holder for the Switch that makes it look like it’s directly connected to the line on the screen. The act of fishing is exactly as you’d expect, but there’s a slightly macabre element where the only way to catch some of the bigger fish is to snag a smaller one and the drag it down further to act as bait for a larger cousin.

The final Toy-Con is called House and is a Tamagotchi style virtual pet. As far as we could gather it’s not in danger of dying if you don’t feed it, but instead the emphasis is on playing with it by inserting up to three different devices into the side of the house: a crank, a button, and a switch. Turning these around is a wonderfully tactical experience, as you play little mini-games like a coconut shy and a minecart race. It does all seem pretty simplistic though, and while things like shaking the house when it’s full of water, and seeing it flow realistically because of the motion sensors, is clever there doesn’t seem to be much else to it.

The Robot backpack isn't very heavy, but it does make you feel like a ghostbuster
The Robot backpack isn’t very heavy, but it does make you feel like a ghostbuster

All of the above is included in the Variety Kit, but the Robot Kit is its own separate purchase and comes with all the material needed to create your very own cardboard robot. Apparently it takes a good five hours to build, with the end result being a large backpack with four separate pulleys that attach to your feet and hands. The Joy-Con monitors how they move and this is then translated into the onscreen actions of a giant robot.

For this one we weren’t allowed to try all the modes, which we noticed included a Vs. option, but the main one was basically a timed challenge to destroy as much of a city as possible. Swinging your fists around works exactly as you’d think, while walking takes a bit of getting used to as you have to purposefully stomp forward each time and not just mince about on the spot. Within a few minutes it feels like second nature though, and there’s even special moves like a power jump and the ability to fly if you put your arms out.

There’s also a visor on your head that when you flip it down switches you to first person view. But our favourite bit, as Transformers fans, is that if you bend down you transform into a sort of car that shoots lasers (sitting on your knees is the best way to make this practical for long periods). It’s frankly the most fun we’ve ever had with motion controls, and not least because they seemed to work perfectly every time.

The Robot Kit also comes with a number of challenge modes that emphasise practising each of the skills, but how much longevity there really is to the software we couldn’t say at this point. One of the other options we weren’t able to use was labelled Calories, so there’s obvious a fitness element there at least.

We can only imagine what creations YouTube is going to be filled with once Labo is officially released, especially as it fully encourages you to create new devices and replace worn out pieces of carboard with your own. The software that comes with each kit has a section named Discover where it shows exactly how each Toy-Con works, both mechanically and in terms of the infrared sensor, and suggests way you can customise it yourself.

Some of the Toy-Cons also interact with each other, so there’s a trick with the piano where you can cut out a shape and then have the Joy-Con inside scan it and turn it into a fish – whose colour and eye position you can set manually. This can then go on to be used back in the Fishing Rod game.

The most complex extra though seems to be the Toy-Con Garage, which uses a simple visual programming language to determine what happens when a Joy-Con button is pressed or when the IR sensor detects something in front of it. In the demo we were shown this was used to create a gun (using extra materials from the Motor Bike Toy-Con) that can ‘shoot’ a cardboard man attached to the other Joy-Con.

Nintendo Labo is aimed at kids from seven years and up, and from what we saw they were absolutely fascinated by the concept. And we don’t mind admitting that we were too. Not only is Labo likely to be used for far more elaborate creations in the future but it’s clear that even if you just follow the instructions there’s plenty of scope for learning and creativity. It may not be the next Mario or Zelda, but Labo certainly seems likely to be Nintendo’s next big hit.

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Fe review – sing a song of Metroid

Fe review – sing a song of Metroid
Fe (PS4) – more like meh, actually

EA’s new indie label releases an ambitious new title that has designs on being a 3D Ori And The Blind Forest.

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Metroid has never been a big seller for Nintendo, but the reason it all but disappeared during the N64 era is that they could never figure out a way to make it work in 3D. Mario and Zelda made the leap from 2D in groundbreaking fashion, but the contrivances of a Metroidvania game were not nearly so malleable. They finally cracked the secret by making Metroid Prime a first person game, but even today there are very few games in the genre that work with a standard third person view. And after Fe you begin to understand why.

For the record, our favourite third person Metroidvania is Batman: Arkham Asylum. But once you move the genre into 3D the distinction between it and any other action adventure immediately starts to fade away. In fact, if we hadn’t happened to have met the developers at a press event, and asked them the question directly, we wouldn’t even be certain that Metroid was the primary inspiration for Fe.

It’s certainly not an obvious connection to make at first glance, given the game’s strange, angular art design and monochromatic colour schemes. But within a few minutes of starting the game you’re presented with a dais featuring icons of lots of moves you cannot perform yet, and you begin to realise that the reason you couldn’t climb the trees before is simply because you haven’t unlocked the right ability yet…

There’s no dialogue in Fe (which is Swedish for fairy) to describe exactly what is going on, but you play as a fox-like creature in what appears to be an alien forest. There are things that look a lot like deer, but also manta ray-like birds flying in the sky, so it’s clearly not Earth. Wherever it is though, the opening cut scene has it being invaded by robotic-looking bipeds whose impact on the environment is an obvious allegory for our own world.

As the game starts you have no abilities other than being able to jump and to sing. The latter is used to communicate with other animals, as you learn their language via a little mini-game that involves holding down the right trigger with just the right amount of pressure. This in turn lets you use the animal’s special ability, such as turning certain flowers into trampolines or creating bomb-like seeds.

Your own intrinsic abilities, starting off with climbing trees and gliding, can only be unlocked by collected a certain number of crystals. These can be found hidden about the world, but you’ll also tend to come across the minimum number necessary if you follow the game’s agreeably subtle sign-posting. You can turn on certain hints and onscreen indicators if you want, but it’s clear the game would rather you experiment and figure things out for yourself.

Fe (PS4) - these are the bad guys, obviously
Fe (PS4) – these are the bad guys, obviously

It’s only upon completion that you realise that the climbing and gliding abilities are the only abilities you actually need to progress, and all the others are essentially optional. That’s not necessarily a problem, but the songs you learn also tend to have only a very specific purpose and you begin to realise that the gameplay is a lot more simplistic and linear than it at first seems.

It also doesn’t help that the platforming is sloppy and imprecise, and although it’s rarely particularly hard the fact that it seems such a chore having to do things again if you fail points to the fact that the mechanic is not nearly as fun as it should. The controls are also a problem when trying to be stealthy around enemies, as you attempt to avoid the torch beams emanating from their bodies.

None of these problems are enough to ruin Fe, but they do undermine the positive first impressions it makes. But although the game is only three or four hours long, even the art design begins to lose its appeal before the end. The lack of variation in colour and design not only makes navigation more difficult, but it becomes almost oppressive in its monotony.

Fe is not bad game, and if it turns up in a sale – which we’re sure it will – for something like half price we’d still recommend it. But it’s problem is that none of its ideas feel fully-formed, from the lightweight platforming, to the underdeveloped interactions with other animals. For a game that’s all about singing, Fe is disappointingly one-note.

Fe

In Short: Shallow mechanics hide a game that is much more simplistic than it first appears, but this is still a passingly entertaining take on a 3D Metroidvania.

Pros: The wordless storytelling and otherworldly atmosphere are immediately interesting. Competent level design and some interesting abilities to learn.

Cons: None of the abilities are used in any particularly clever ways and the singing is barely more than a gimmick. Sloppy platforming, and while striking at first, the visuals lack variety.

Score: 6/10

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Price: £15.99
Publisher: EA Originals
Developer: Zoink!
Release Date: 16th February 2018
Age Rating: 7

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Secret Of Mana PS4 review – remake on a budget

Game review: Secret Of Mana PS4 is another unexpected remake
Secret Of Mana (PS4) – SPOILERS: the remake’s not very good

The classic ‘90s SNES game celebrates its 25th anniversary with a full-blown remake – but does it do the original justice?

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It is a shame that video game remakes are still so rare. Remasters are more common than ever, but few companies ever spend the time and money necessary to remake an old game from scratch. That’s understandable, but it’s still a pity when you consider the high quality of remakes like Resident Evil, Tomb Raider Anniversary, and the recent Shadow Of The Colossus. Although it’s not like every remake turns out quite as good as those…

Secret Of Mana is an old SNES game from 1993, which is fondly remembered as one of the best titles on the system. Unusually for a role-playing game it was released in Europe the first time round, and it no doubt owes that fact to its emphasis on real-time, rather than turn-based, combat. It’s often described as Square’s answer to The Legend Of Zelda, but while the two games do share a lot of surface details that’s about as far as it goes.

We imagine this remake has come about because it’s the series’ 25th anniversary this year, although none of the other games are anywhere near as well known and many have never been released in the West at all. But if this remake is meant to excite interest in a brand-new game then we think Square Enix are, much like existing fans, in for a disappointment.

Secret Of Man’s plot and mythos was never very complicated, and centres around an evil Empire trying to resurrect a giant floating battleship named the Mana Fortress – which is powered by the titular magical energy. In order to stop them a generic chose one is granted use of the Sword Of Mana and has to power it up by visiting eight temples from around the world.

The plot may be completely forgettable but the interplay between the three main characters can be amusing. Although the English voiceovers are pretty awful, and even the Japanese voice track doesn’t seem to have much more effort expended on it. Thankfully the music – either remixed or original – is still great, but the game often struggles to hang on to the original’s ‘90s charm.

Although you start with the Mana Sword, each of the three characters can gain a variety of other different weapons, but all are used in the same basic fashion: press the button and wait for a little meter to build up to 100% before you unleash the most powerful attack possible. Sometimes you don’t have time to wait, and that, along with the use of magic and items forms the backbone of the action.

If that sounds just a little too simplistic for its own good you’re not far wrong, especially when you take into consideration that Secret Of Mana doesn’t really have an equivalent of Zelda dungeons. The Mana temple are the closest you get, but while some of them do have a few simple switch puzzles it’s primarily still just combat. Combat that can often seem repetitive and unfair, since monster attacks seem to land even though you were clearly nowhere near them and allies often don’t help out in any useful fashion.

Secret Of Mana (PS4) - the map screen was mode 7 in the original
Secret Of Mana (PS4) – the map screen was mode 7 in the original

The best way to play Secret Of Mana though is with three people, something the original managed via a multi-tap. This helps you forget how one-note the gameplay is and makes the fetch quests and other window dressing seem much more vital and interesting. But while getting three people to play at once is a lot easier in the remake that, and an autosave feature, is really the only advantage it has over the original.

Whereas Shadow Of The Colossus is a clearly a labour of love, benefiting from a generous budget, Secret Of Mana is a cheap and tawdry looking remake that rather than updating the game to the standards of modern titles barely manages to get it up to the level of the PlayStation 1. The original game had state-of-the-art graphics for its time, but here the low-detail, neon-coloured polygons are disappointingly primitive. The character models don’t have any kind of lip-synching at all, and animation in general is kept to a bare minimum.

The game is still flick screen, but moving from one to the other involves a bafflingly long loading sequence, that’s as frustrating as it is atmosphere-destroying. Secret Of Mana manages to present the original game in the worst light possible, removing the charm and intricacy of the original visuals and casting the simplicity of the combat in the harshest light possible.

If you can play the original version then we’d still recommend it, especially if you can get hold of it as part of the Classic Mini SNES. But this remake has less interesting visuals and presentation, and a general feeling of cheapness that makes it nothing but a curio for existing fan. Which is a shame, not just because the game deserved better, but because it means the chances of a good quality sequel are even more distant than ever.

Secret Of Mana

In Short: The original SNES classic deserves better than this overpriced and undercooked remake, which fails to recreate the original’s ‘90s charm.

Pros: With three players at once the game is still an enjoyable romp, with just enough in the way of role-playing mechanics and fun story moments.

Cons: The visuals are ugly and outdated, and the load times are very intrusive. Repetitive combat, with little in the way of puzzles or other distractions. Poor voiceovers.

Score: 5/10

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PC, and PS Vita
Price: £32.99
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 15th February 2018
Age Rating: 7

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Owlboy Switch review – taking flight

Game review: Owlboy on Nintendo Switch takes flight
Owlboy (NS) – pretty great

One man’s labour of love finally lands on consoles, in what is one of the best-looking 2D games ever made.

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When Owlboy was first released on PC in late 2016 it was described as being nine years in the making. We don’t know exactly when worked started, but that means it’s now been at least a decade between inception and appearing on home consoles. Normally it’d seem impossible for a game not to disappoint with that kind of build-up, but Owlboy remains one of the most visually impressive and enjoyable indie games we’ve ever played.

As is obvious almost at a glance, Owlboy really is a labour of love. Its mammoth development time is due to the normal difficulties of indie development, but also lead designer’s Henrik Stafsnes Andersen’s struggles with depression. According to him the game is inspired by old NES games such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Kid Icarus, but as you can see the visuals are far beyond that, with a much more modern graphic style he refers to as ‘hi-bit’.

The game’s setting is a floating island in the sky, where a population of owl-people find themselves under attack by pirates. You take control of a young mute named Otus; a sad, bullied figure who starts the game in such a miserable state that it’s quite heartbreaking to watch. And although he and his friends eventually get into some typical world-saving adventures the storytelling is surprisingly complex and emotional, with serious themes always hiding just below the surface.

Although Otus can obviously fly he only has a simple spin attack with which to defend himself. And so one of the main gameplay elements is the option to carry others and make use of their special abilities. Otus has three best friends who he can always rely on, but there are also a number of other more fleeting alliances that mean you’re always on the lookout for new acquaintances. Weapons of various sorts are the most common kind of help, but there’s also a Metroidvania element where you’re teased with impassable obstacles and have to find the right person to help.

Allies can be teleported directly to you, thereby avoiding any problems with backtracking, but there’s still an impressive depth to the mechanics. Combat works like a dual stick shooter, and moves for both Otus and his friends can be upgraded with in-game currency. Most abilities also have dual uses as well, for both defence and puzzle-solving, which is where the game also bears comparison with The Legend Of Zelda.

Owlboy also resembles WayForward’s Shantae, both in terms of the Nintendo-esque gameplay and the Metal Slug style 2D artwork. But Owlboy is easily the superior in terms of visuals, with some astonishingly beautiful backdrops and incredible animation. It’s not really retro, since old 16-bit games never looked this good, but instead Owlboy feels like the natural evolution of ‘90s pixel graphics if the art form hadn’t been sidelined by the adoption of 3D in the PlayStation era.

Owlboy (NS) - a real hoot
Owlboy (NS) – a real hoot

But just as remarkable is the soundtrack by Jonathan Geer. As with the graphics there is a retro tinge to the music, but given the prominence of live instruments, instead of digital, it feels just as unique and progressive as the visuals. It also manages to match the events of the game perfectly, whether action or drama, segueing from one to the other with impressive grace.

In terms of faults, Otus is a bit slow and his movement lacks a certain amount of precision. But that seems to be a design decision meant to convey his character via gameplay, and it’s consistent enough that you soon get used to it. You could also argue that some of the dungeon puzzles are a little clichéd, if you’ve played a lot of similar games, but they’re still well beyond the switch-pulling banality of most mainstream games.

The only actively bad thing in terms of design is the final boss, which is a complete chore to defeat. But even that may be purposeful given how affecting the finale is, and how you’re suddenly made to feel guilty for wishing such a wonderfully made game would end. The only other unfortunate aspect is that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions, which were also supposed to be out this week, have been downgraded to ‘TBA’. (The May 29 date is just the physical releases.)

It’s a shame, because we were looking forward to recommending to everyone, what was one of our favourite games of 2016. But we hope it should at least be available everywhere within a few weeks or months. Either way, this is still one of the most emotionally rich video games of recent years, as well as one of the best examples of pixel art to ever take roost on consoles.

Owlboy

In Short: A superbly crafted 2D adventure that is a near perfect blend of new and old influences, in terms of both gameplay and the stunning visuals and music.

Pros: Some of the best pixel art ever in a video game, with amazing animation. Heartful storytelling, superb music, and some very clever gameplay ideas – especially the interchangeable allies.

Cons: Controls could stand to be a little tighter and the final boss is a real pain.

Score: 9/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Price: £18.99
Publisher: D-Pad Studio
Developer: BlitWorks and D-Pad Studio
Release Date: 13th February 2018
Age Rating: 3

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Bleed 2 console review – bloody great action

Games review: Bleed 2 on consoles is bloody good fun
Bleed 2 (XO) – an explosion of violence

One of the best 2D action games from last year makes its way from PC to Xbox One and PS4, and it’s lost none of its low budget (and price) charm.

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Bleed 2 is the work of just one man: Canadian developer Ian Campbell. On his website he lists some of his favourite games as Ikaruga, Bayonetta, Viewtiful Joe, and Mega Man. And the great thing about Bleed 2 is you could’ve guessed every one of those influences just by playing it. But if you don’t know, or haven’t heard of, any of those games you’re still likely to enjoy this clever little indie gem. In fact, it might even make you want to seek out some of the classics it’s inspired by.

We only became aware of Bleed 2 when a reader mentioned the original PC version last year, but we had heard of the original (which was released on Switch in December) and knew it was well regarded. This sequel has the same basic idea: a 2D side-scrolling action platformer that, while it has influences from all the aforementioned games, is also reminiscent of other old school classics such as Contra and Metal Slug, as well as newer bullet hell shooters.

The last game involved pink-haired protagonist Wryn trying to prove herself Earth’s greatest hero by offing all the other ones. She clearly didn’t think things through though, because with all the other heroes gone aliens suddenly deem the planet ripe for invasion. Which is one of our favourite excuses for a sequel in a long time.

For such a simple-looking game there’s a lot more going on with Bleed 2 than you might first imagine. Wryn is armed with dual-wielded pistols that somehow never need reloading, as well as a sword. The guns are aimed via the second analogue stick, but unlike most dual-stick shooters this is a platformer as well. So you also have to learn how to shoot straight while jumping around (double jumps are for wimps, Wryn has a triple jump) and trying to use the boost of a mid-air leap to destroy objects and incoming projectiles.

Even then we’ve barely touched upon her full range of skills, which also includes the ability to slow down time like Bayonetta. But the most specific nod to Campbell’s list of gaming favourites revolves around Treasure’s classic 2D shooter Ikaruga. Wryn can deflect bullets that are the same colour as her hair, which means avoiding the yellow ones but batting the pink ones back with her sword.

Unfortunately, Wryn can’t change her hair colour on the spot but Bleed 2’s final surprise is that it’s a two-player co-op game, and luckily she knows a blonde. It’s only local co-op, so you can’t play with a stranger online, but if you both have a joypad it works great sat around the same screen.

Bleed 2 (XO) - motorway mayhem
Bleed 2 (XO) – motorway mayhem

Bleed 2 is not a long game. It’ll take most people only an hour or so to get through the whole thing, but then it’s not an expensive game either. The seven levels are quite short but the game manages to include 25 different boss fights and most of these are excellent. From a motorway chase involving a helicopter flown by alien kittens, to being pursued down a brick-filled, Mr Driller style tunnel by an excavator, the fights are more varied and inventive than almost any game made by more than one person.

Despite the short length there are plenty of unlockables to justify multiple playthroughs, including extra characters and weapons. The game also does its best to tempt you into trying a speed run. And has a whole mode set-up to try and beat it on one life. And if you can do that then hats off to you.

And hats off to Ian Campbell too, because this a cracking little indie game that given the price we’d recommend to anyone – whether they share Campbell’s taste in games or not. We played the Xbox One version, but for some reason the PlayStation 4 edition hasn’t turned up on the European PlayStation store yet. It’s out in America though, so we can only assume it’s just days away here.

We know the name is probably putting a lot of people off – since it sounds like some naff ‘90s first person shooter – and the screenshots probably aren’t helping either, but this is one of the best 2D action games we’ve played in a long while. And one that won’t bleed your wallet dry either.

Bleed 2

In Short: A knowing tribute to some of the greats of action gaming, and a highly competent 2D shooter in its own right.

Pros: Great control system that manages to pack in a dizzying array of weapons and abilities, and not seem overbearing. Excellent boss battles and generally good pacing and level design.

Cons: Very short and the graphics can be a little plain.

Score: 8/10

Formats: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, and PC
Price: £11.99
Publisher: Digerati
Developer: Bootdisk Revolution
Release Date: 9th February 2018
Age Rating: 12

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