Category Archives: Xbox Reviews

Streets of Rage 4 – Review

We’ve had a few weeks now to get to grips with SEGA’s recent revival of the iconic Streets of Rage franchise. A sequel to 1994’s Streets of Rage 3, it’s safe to say that Streets of Rage 4 has been a long time coming. After an over 25 year hiatus and at the hands of a new development team, can this newest entry hold a candle to the legacy of its predecessors, or would the Streets of Rage franchise been better off left in the past?

Style and substance


The most apparent feature of Streets of Rage 4, and a notable departure from its predecessors in the series, is the game’s stunning hand-drawn art-style. The four playable characters you are presented with as you start the campaign are excellently designed and beautifully animate. Series veterans will certainly appreciate the newly reimagined renditions of classic characters, who retain enough of their original moves and animation to feel nostalgic and familiar whilst also gaining some brand-new moves which keep them feeling fresh and interesting. Of course, this entry brings a few new characters into the roster, like the slow-moving but ridiculously strong cyborg powerhouse Floyd or the fast-but-weak Cherry who provide a distinctly new experience, even for series pros.

The Streets of Rage series has always been famous for its soundtracks, and this new entry certainly continues that legacy. The soundtrack is comprised of thirty-five memorable tracks. Ranging from house to hardcore and techno to trance the sheer number of genres encompassed by the music here means that people of any musical taste will certainly find something to love in this soundtrack. The only valid issue that can be raised at the soundtrack is the fact that the looping of certain tracks, particularly in the first few stages, can become a little repetitive after a while. The music is otherwise excellent and I can count on one hand the few other fighting games which even come close to having a soundtrack half as catchy and enjoyable as this one.

Chicken out


Gameplay in Streets of Rage 4 sticks pretty much to the established series formula. Each character has their own variations on light attacks, heavy attacks, jump attacks and a plethora of special moves at their disposal. These are activated through various button combinations which are all pretty intuitive, but still manage to be fairly challenging to master. Of course, it’s still possible just to sit back and enjoy random button-mashing your way to success on the lower difficulty settings. Luckily for less skilled players, dying in Streets of Rage 4 isn’t a very big deal. Upon loosing all of your lives, you are given the option to sacrifice some of your final score for an immediate resurrection and can sacrifice a little more to gain a few lives out of it. If you become really stuck, there’s always the option to start the stage again with a new character or difficulty setting selected.

Each of the game’s lengthy stages are comprised of first beating a couple legions of almost pathetically weak goons and then a climactic boss fight. The majority of stages also have a mid-boss fight, the difficulty of which should certainly not be underestimated. Although the re-use of some previously defeated bosses at the end of some of the latter stages in the game feels a teeny bit cheap each fight is still memorable and never fails to provide a good challenge.

These stages each take place in a different environment, the background sprites for which are lavishly detailed and excellently drawn. Different lighting conditions allow for some impressive lighting and reflection effects which, despite being drawn on the sprites themselves rather than being rendered by the in-game engine, manage to look absolutely phenomenal. The majority of backdrops in Streets of Rage 4 look so great that they will leave you wishing they were available as downloadable desktop wallpapers. To spice things up, levels are also littered with various destructible objects including traditional wooden boxes, rubbish bins and even telephone boxes. Destroying these objects can drop either money or food, which serves as a health item. Watching your character beating up an oil barrel until it spouts out a perfectly crisp roast chicken is not only hilarious, but can provide a much needed health boost in the more intense combat sections.

Knockout blow


Pleasingly, each stage can be tackled multiplayer, through the form of good old-fashioned local co-op. Up to four players can team up locally to help each other in the fight (provided you have enough controllers of course) and there’s even an option to play with someone remotely through the online co-op system. Unfortunately, online co-op only supports one additional player, instead of the usual four, but just the option to experience co-op gameplay remotely is a very nice addition. Your other players are even given the option to play with the character’s original styled pixelated sprites active, which is surprisingly practical and goes a long way to stopping you becoming confused about who is who on what is an otherwise very crowded screen.

Verdict:


Streets of Rage 4 is a rare example of simple concept perfectly realised to its full potential. With incredible visual flair and an amazing soundtrack, beating up wave after wave of enemies has never been more enjoyable. For those who are not fans of the beat-em-up genre, things may seem overall a little simplistic but for those yearning for something to quench their insatiable thirst for arcade violence, it doesn’t get better than this. Ironically in a series titled Streets of Rage, in this entry at least, there’s absolutely nothing to be angry about!


Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.

StarCrossed – Review

The last time we covered StarCrossed was when we sat down for a lovely chat with Francesca Carletto-Leon, the game’s narrative designer, and discussed her mission to create a co-op game that brings people together in more meaningful ways. With the game debuting on the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One last week and lockdown ensuring the majority of us have far more time to spend interacting with members of our own households, there’s never been a better time to grab a controller, kick back on the couch and defeat some baddies – together.

Shooting stars


StarCrossed takes two eager players to the Nova Galaxy in order to try and protect the mystical Harmony Crystal from a plethora of intergalactic nasties and their legions of ghoulish minions. There are five playable characters for players to choose from, each possible character combination is accompanied by a specific set of charming character-to-character interactions which are presenting in the game’s visual-novel style cutscenes. Although fairly basic, the plot is nevertheless engaging and provides a few much needed moments of rest between high-octane segments of gripping gameplay. There are a couple memorable moments per character and the overall theme of friendship and unity is sure to leave your heart suitably warmed by the time the credits roll.

The heart-warming plot is accompanied by a set of cutesy magical-girl inspired visuals. The full-size detailed sprites used for the various characters in their selection screen and cutscenes are excellently drawn with an instantly recognisable StarCrossed style which blends elements of high-fantasy, fairy-tale lore and traditional sci-fi. The 3D combat sprites used in gameplay are equally stunning, watching the neon lit minimalist renditions of the characters dancing around your screen as you play feels just right and helps evoke the nostalgic feeling of a traditional arcade game. The occasional use of 3D animated background rather than traditional 2D background sprites is a nice touch, adding an interesting degree of depth to scenes.

The music, whilst not incredible, is still a pleasant listen and provides a soothing accompaniment while you play. Similarly, the occasional voice lines are delivered with great enthusiasm and the good casting choices compliment the character design. Although voicing the entire script would be understandably out of the question because of its long length, just a few more special attack lines would be a nice touch and help prevent the audio from becoming a little repetitive.

Fun for all the family


Gameplay in StarCrossed is unapologetically co-op oriented. Controls are mapped like a standard space-shooter but with a pretty significant twist. Players attack not by firing individual projectiles as you would probably expect, but rather by bouncing a shooting star between them, manoeuvring the star to collide with enemies in order to cause damage. Players can also press a button to spin kick, increasing the star’s speed and damage. This requires quite tricky timing and in my experience proved to be a lethal distraction from dodging the large number of enemy projectiles which are often on screen at the same time. Players also have a unique ultimate attack, which is charged when damaging enemies and unleashed for extremely high damage.

The surprisingly steep difficulty curve and the constant introduction of new enemy types and variations keeps things engaging and ensures that players master communicating and coordinating with each other to survive, connecting well with the plot’s overarching theme of unity. Unfortunately, the frequent reuse of enemy types feels a little repetitive at times but luckily the robust auto-save system and a spattering of memorable boss-fights sprinkled throughout the campaign prevent things from ever becoming truly frustrating.

Switch it up


Designed from the ground up for local co-op, StarCrossed has a plethora of options to help you play together. Friends can split play between the keyboard and a USB controller or close friends can huddle up together for the more intimate “split controller” mode which splits controls between a single controller. The keyboard bindings are sufficient but a little fiddly and I would highly recommend playing the game on any controllers you have available. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers are supported on PC but Steam Big Picture Mode managed to do a decent job at mapping the various controllers I managed to dig out for testing. Just be aware that your mileage with this feature may vary.

Naturally, the game transitions perfectly on to the Nintendo Switch because of the immediate availability of two controllers. The colourful visuals are an excellent fit for the platform and StarCrossed stands out as one of the, if not, the best co-op titles available for the Switch. On the other hand, Steam‘s ‘Remote Play Together’ feature is a big win for the PC version of the game, allowing the otherwise local coop only title to be played pretty seamlessly online – without the other player even needing to own the game! Outside this, the console and PC versions are otherwise identical so you can be confident you will get the full experience no matter which version you pick up.

Verdict:


Cute and colourful, StarCrossed is a overall a confident co-op title with a set of excellent visuals, good writing and a diverse cast of playable characters. With its few shortcomings only becoming apparent when the more repetitive segments begin to overstay their welcome, the title nevertheless succeeds in crafting a memorable experience that will certainly bring you closer to those you choose to share it with.


Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.

SuperEpic: The Entertainment War – Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of  SuperEpic: The Entertainment War was provided free of charge by Numskull Games


SuperEpic: The Entertainment War, an indie-developed sidescroller, successfully delivers a best-in-class Metroidvania adventure that confidently mocks the slew of AAA games it has managed to supersede.

In the world of SuperEpic, greedy corporate pigs (literal pigs might I add) have bought out every game developer and are now pumping out mass-produced highly-addictive mobile titles that have entranced the populace and are draining their wallets at about the same rate as a Steam Christmas Sale. The adorable raccoon protagonist Tan Tan and his facially deformed llama steed, Ola, must whack, slap and thwack their way through swathes of RegnantCorps’ evil employees to put an end to their vile videogames for good.

Conveyed through cutscenes of pleasing animated slides and walls of text, the plot is certainly not one of subtlety. Although it does little to reinvent the wheel in terms of its retro presentation and simplistic writing, the plot of SuperEpic provides a decent number of chuckles and more importantly creates a perfect unobtrusive skeleton upon which the game’s excellent gameplay can be hung.

A classic Metroidvania, SuperEpic boasts large hand-crafted levels that can be explored in a non-linear fashion. The handy minimap is an excellent addition, and one that would have greatly benefitted other games in the genre. Being able to avoid confusion makes exploring levels and finding the plethora of hilarious hidden secrets dotted throughout levels even more rewarding.

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Exploration is littered with enemy encounters and gripping boss fights. Revolving around three attacks – a quick attack, guard break, and uppercut – the combo-oriented combat is deceptively simple. Whilst button mashing may get you through most levels, far more rewarding is the intricate mastery of each induvidual move and learning of unique button combinations.

The combat is also extremely satisfying, largely due to the brilliantly meaty sound effects and neon hit indicators. Furthermore, the impressive variety of unlockable weaponry – raning from household cleaning tools to comedic hammers allows the combat to retain a fresh feeling throughout the game and leaves you thirsting for more by the time the credits roll.

Handily, SuperEpic also includes an unlockable “roguelite mode”, a procedually generated challenge which gives you an even greater opportunity to amass huge quantities of the coins dropped by every enemy.  These coins can be used to further upgrade your weaponry and armour and add an additional satifsying dimension of progression.

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SuperEpic is also jam-packed with minigames. Scanning QR codes scattered throughout levels opens webpages containing short flash games on your mobile phone. Tongue in cheek parodies of popular mobile titles like Flappy Bird, these minigames are presented in-universe and provide an awful lot of world building. The use of QR codes also ahad me surpsingly immersed in the games’ universe, although I can’t help but feel such technology would be of greater service to a more plot-oriented title. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend going out of your way to try and exploring thouroughly in order to experience all of these optional extras.

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In addition to your mobile phone, for PC players I would also recommend bringing a controller to your play session. Whilst the developers have done an adequate job of mapping the 4-button control scheme to your keyboard, a controller really helps recapture some of the button-mashing nostalgia of your childhood.

Alternatively, the Nintendo Switch version of the game works like a dream. Speedy loading times and smooth-as-butter performance make curling up in a warm bed with the switch in handheld mode and therapeutically punching pigs to a pulp an absolute treat. The handheld version also helps you to appreciate the sublime 32-bit sprite animation, which is beautifully detailed and clearly the recipient of a great deal of love and care.

It’s not just the animations that have recieved love and care either. Everything from the pause screen in which you can practise your combo attacks to the detailed and varied enemy designs seems meticulously crafted and as such can offer a game that has as much, and often times far more, polish than the majoirty of AAA titles. This sustained superiority helps emphasise the importance of the games’ overriding message.

SuperEpic is in its very execution a commentary on the modern gaming market. In an age of over-inflated budgets and multi-million pound videogames stuffed to the brim with predatory microtransactions and vicious payment models, it’s really heartening to see a good old-fashioned indie title that is able to so severly outclass its competition.

Overall, SuperEpic: The Entertainment War is able to comfortably fulfil its lofty ambition to deliver a satisfying parody of the modern games. Although its writing may be too on-the-nose for some, this is more than made up for in the game’s gameplay which is the absolute pinnacle of indie sidescrolling action.

If you’re interested in playing SuperEpic: The Entertainment War, the game will launch on the Steam Store later this month in addition to the Nintendo eShop, Microsoft Store and Playstation Store.

 

Road to Guangdong – Early Access Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Road to Guangdong was provided free of charge by Excalibur Games


Jalopy, the recently free-to-grab DRM free via Humblebundle, is a game very close to my heart. A delightful little road-trip-them-up which took you through the gloomy vistas of East Berlin to Turkey behind the wheel of your mysterious uncle’s beaten up Laika brand car, aka. the crapmobile.

Despite holding an extremely engaging and unique premise, and letting you explore a setting rarely seen outside first-person shooters, Jalopy always felt like something was missing. It certainly wasn’t heart, which the game held in heaps with its endearing minimalist art-style, its charming little soundtrack and just the sheer nostalgia factor that arises from tapping into a well deep long-forgotten memories of family road trips. What Jalopy lacked was one of the elements from which most of its appeal arises: a sense of family.

Sure, you did have the option of bringing your uncle along for the ride but he never really adds much beyond some canned dialogue, a little guidance and, quite frankly, a lot of dead weight. The spiritual successor Road to Guangdong aims to rectify that void and, by the end of early access, perhaps offer come to one of the most heartfelt familial journeys in gaming today.

As previously mentioned, Jalopy took you from the dull dregs of a grey post-war Berlin to the sunny splendour of Turkey. Road to Guangdong on the other hand, as the title suggests, takes you across the bright and scenic Guangdong, China.

This new setting is presented with a delightful and extremely colourful art-style; which is very reminiscent of modern evolutions of Chinese woodblock painting techniques, in a manner that is altogether simply breathtaking. Almost any screenshot taken in game wouldn’t look out of place on the wall of trendy coffee shop.

Ironically, the visual presentation of the characters themselves can ironically only be described “blocky” – and not in a good way. They seem stiff, jumping around the screen much like the terrifying department store mannequins from Condemned: Criminal Origins and whilst in that game it added to the atmosphere, in Road to Guangdong it does nothing but detract from it.

I attributed this to a result of a general lack of animations; with the game only being released into early access this week it makes sense for the characters to have only a handful of stock shared loops. I expect that this and the apparent jarring lack of scene transitions will be rectified in a future update and preferably as soon as possible.

The reason these stiff animation issues are such a problem is that they really interfere with the narrative that they are trying to convey. As mentioned previously, Road to Guangdong is really about family. The plot itself revolves around your attempt to save a failing family business and you’re presented with a tonne of dialogue-driven interactions which have you repairing damaged relationships on top of your damaged car.

In the gameplay department, Road to Guangdong is  predominantly a visual novel and quite a good one at that, focused on your relationship with your eccentric aunt. Slices of the visual novel are delivered in between arcade-like driving sections. The driving mechanics are fairly surface level, although the car itself certainly feels very satisfying to drive with its loud engine and definite weight, you’re only really allowed to drive in a straight line in a manner only comparable to Desert Bus. The simplicity of the driving mechanics do allow you to focus more heavily on the dialogue however, which is probably how it was intended to be, but just a little bit more interaction with your vehicle would be nice and provide some much needed entertainment when the dialogue begins to slow.

Judging from an update released just today however, it seems that this wish is being very promptly granted, adding more detail to the dashboard and making some of the previously redundant dials and meters actually mean something. The game also offers some repair mechanics, but they’re very surface-level. You buy parts and repair you vehicle so it can keep going until you need to buy more parts and repeat the whole process again.

For now, that’s basically all there is to comment on – the game is certainly still in its infancy. Despite its flaws however, I would certainly recommend keeping a close eye on Road to Guangdong. It’s a brilliant story that has the potential to be a beautiful experience, despite being at the moment hampered by some characteristic early-access teething problems.

If you are completely sold on the premise alone, and don’t mind a fair bit of early-access jank, by all means buy the game at once. For those sitting on the fence, it may just be worth waiting until the story can be told at its best in 2-3 months’ time when it is fully released and luckily for you; you can expect a follow-up to this review reflecting on the finished product when it’s finally out.

D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die Season 1 – Review

Coming from legendary Japanese game designer SWERY, who most notably wrote and directed the supremely bizarre Twin-Peaks inspired cult classic Deadly Premonition, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die has quite the boots to fill.

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Although certainly not identical to Deadly Premonition, D4 does bare many of the same hallmarks as its predecessor. The protagonist is yet another quirky investigator who also comes across a host of weird and wonderful characters in the hunt for a mysterious killer. Both games involve a red narcotic and even share some characters.

The times where D4 distinguishes itself to its predecessor however are where the game is at its strongest. Whilst D4 is still notably weird, it’s not quite as weird as Deadly Premonition and this does the overall experience a huge service. Whilst it was extremely difficult to relate to the uncanny citizens of Deadly Premonition‘s Greenvale each with their jarring stock-sounding motifs spouting head-scratching borderline-nonsensical dialogue, the characters presented in D4 felt considerably more real. As a result, I found myself genuinely invested in the struggles of D4‘s protagonist David Young far more than I was ever engaged in the actions of Francis York Morgan and his imaginary friend Zak in Deadly Premonition.

Don’t get me wrong, the characters of D4 are still for the most part a bunch of complete weirdos but their quirks and personalities seemed far more believable. They felt like real people, odd real people but real nonetheless. Perhaps this was due in part to the far sleeker presentation of D4. Whilst Deadly Premonition housed awkward looking characters who shambled around a plain environment repeating simple dialogue while perpetually looping stock animations, D4 is smooth and stylish. With a pleasing cel-shaded filter and a delightfully over-the-top anime inspired set of fluid animations, which I only caught blatantly looping on one or two occasions, D4 is an absolute joy to look at.

Gameplay wise, D4 is a point and click adventure broken up by simple mini-games or David Cage style quick time event action sequences. On PC the game is controlled by solely the mouse, but the XBOX ONE variant offers both controller and Kinect support – Kinect support that is unprecedentedly good. To my amazement, the Kinect ended up the best way by far to experience D4, the polar opposite of my expectation. The controls on the Kinect mode are engaging, responsive and shockingly accurate. You also have the option to swap between Kinect and controller modes fairly quickly, so for Kinect owners I’d recommend certainly using the Kinect for the action sequences and then maybe switching back to controller for the slower investigation portions. Gameplay wise the experience without the Kinect is very similar to the experience with the Kinect, although certainly with less flailing around, as what would have been the position of you left or right hand is simply mapped to a cursor instead.

I don’t want to spoil any details so I’ll be fairly vague here, but story-wise D4‘s prologue and first episode are deeply interesting and very engaging, offering an intriguing mystery with fun and rewarding twists and as a stand-alone experience one of the best mystery games I’ve ever played. The issues with D4’s story begin in the second (and final) episode. Whilst the first episode certainly created a lot of unanswered questions, it was fairly standalone. Had the game ended after episode one, I would have been not only supremely satisfied but clamouring for more just to tidy up a few threads, the big overarching questions that were set up in the prologue may not have been answered but the ones relating to that specific case had and the ones that didn’t have conclusive answers were certainly hinted at.

Episode Two did nothing to enhance the story and felt like a couple of hours of total filler. It was a linear slog through a dull environment before taking a colossal narrative nose-dive with a sudden twist ending which makes very little sense and sets the stage for a follow-up episode to clear everything up. The problem is, there is no follow up episode. D4 ends two episodes in and over four years later has no plans for continuation. While for many this may seem a total deal-breaker, for me I don’t feel continuation would have really benefited the game. It definitely peaked at its first episode (and it’s a very high peak) and with the direction the plot was taking in Episode two, I don’t feel future episodes would have ever been able to live up to the standard the first one set.

Despite not being technically a “finished game” per se,  I would wholeheartedly recommend D4 but with a big caveat. For PC make sure you buy it on sale, the £15 regular price is a little too steep for three hours of entertainment, and for XBOX ONE make sure you own a Kinect – it’s not worth buying a Kinect over but if you’re an existing owner it would give you a good reason to get some use out of the damn thing.