Tag Archives: game

House on the Hill – Early Access Review

It may be a few months away, but there’s never too early a time to begin thinking about Halloween! If you’re looking to get in the spooky mood before the big day, you might be attracted by the prospect of a good horror game. House on the Hill is one such game; a recently released indie horror title, which offers four uniquely scary experiences in an almost anthology-like fashion, centred around one giant mansion just waiting to be explored.

Smash and grab


Opening in a dimly garage, the player character is introduced as a desperate criminal looking for their next big job. Working in conjunction with your mysterious partner – your companion throughout the game, constantly offering you tips and commenting on the world around you via a digital earpiece, your goal is to break into the titular house on the hill. A deserted Victorian mansion, this huge home houses a selection of valuable jewellery alongside a number of disturbing secrets.

One of the most intriguing and important elements of House on the Hill is its dynamic plot, with each venture into the house having its own story to tell. In the four chapters of the game the unlucky thief faces off against everything from a gas-mask wearing psychopath inhabiting a hastily constructed murder maze in the mansion’s basement to the spirit of a murdered wife dwelling in the attic and even some kind of bizarre mediaeval crab monstrosity from another dimension.

The creatures tend to be revealed near the end of each run, but as you progress through the mansion before then, you are surrounded with environmental clues hinting at the monster’s backstories and nature. For example, you can learn from objects on a desk that the gas-masked man of the first run was a decorated war veteran with a collapsing family, both factors which hint towards the source of his mania. Despite the enemies not being particularly unique in terms of originality, this surprisingly subtle approach to storytelling kept the adversaries a constant source of intrigue and had me eager to keep venturing back into the house time and time again for more answers.

Each of the stories ends with the game literally being rewound, like an old fashioned film cassette, showing an entertaining recap of all your choices up to that point. You will notice that each story is also subtly different from the last, with item placements changing and new areas of the mansion becoming open for exploration. Your companion also gains new voice lines, each chapter revealing a little more about his personality too. This continued character development helps give the otherwise disconnected feeling stand-alone stories a pleasingly engaging sense of continuity.

Photographic memories


Some of the chapters also introduce their own unique puzzles and game mechanics which helps to keep things feeling a little more fresh on your repeated venture. The puzzles were, thankfully, always the right difficulty, being just challenging enough to feel rewarding without every becoming immersion-breakingly hard. Your auditory companion is always more than happy to spout some helpful tips, doing so sometimes only a few seconds into the puzzle.

Some might feel this abundance of guidance to be a little on the side of handholding, but it ensures even the casual players would never become stuck and helps keep your focus on the narrative being told. Although it would still admittedly be a nice touch if these tips were made optional, perhaps via a popup when you launch the game, to keep those players who were eager for a bit more of a challenging experience happy.

Besides the puzzles, the most interesting mechanic introduced is the certainly the game’s camera. As you would expect, the camera allows you to take photos of your surroundings, producing a Polaroid print which must be shaken to reveal a picture. These photos even take on a supernatural quality, often causing changes in the world around you. You can photograph the various paintings scattered throughout the mansion to reveal hidden, and often spooky, hidden variations. Later on, it becomes part of the game’s puzzles, being able to bring objects like hidden doorways into existence with a snap.

As you journey through the game, your progress is mapped not just by the mechanics you master, but also by a location in the mansion which houses plinths which are adorned with the items you have successfully stolen so far and counts down your progress towards the game’s dramatic ending.

Up in flames


Unfortunately, this progress in the game is nearly always hampered by the player’s movement speed, which has you ambling around the mansion at an almost incredibly slow pace. Luckily, in the game’s chase section your movement speed is dramatically increased, presumably to keep things from becoming comically underwhelming. Outside of these sections, I often found the snail-like pace to detract greatly from enjoyment of exploration so an additional always-present option to press a key to walk a little faster would certainly be an appreciated addition.

There also needs to be some more work on the game’s translation which, although by no means unintelligible, houses infrequent but noticeable spelling and grammatical errors in subtitles. Furthermore, whilst the game’s voice acting is solid for the most part, the audio mixing definitely needs work. Sometimes voice-lines are far too quiet to hear over the background audio or suddenly, and startlingly, increase in volume between playbacks.

I also found the game’s occasional reliance on jump scares, particularly in the second chapter, to feel a little cheap but they are thankfully few and far between and so don’t really detract from the overall experience.

Verdict:


House on the Hill is an undeniably promising experience. Each of the four stories it presents may appear a little cliché to horror veterans, the game’s unique narrative flair carries just enough new ideas of its own to keep the experience interesting throughout and coming in at just over £5 with the tantalising possibility of future improvement updates and content additions; House on the Hill is a title that’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.


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

Contigo Games’ Francesca Carletto-Leon talks gaming, girls and the gender binary – Interview

StarCrossed is an arcade space shooter developed by Contigo Games and published by Whitethorn Digital. The game has two players dodging projectiles and bouncing a shiny star between one another, lining up shots to defeat wave after wave of enemies. It’s a charming mix of Pong meets Tohou Project, and certainly a breath of fresh air for fans of the bullet-hell genre. To learn a little more about StarCrossed before you read on, you can visit the successfully funded Kickstarter page or watch the trailer below:

Following the games’ recent release, I sat down with Francesca Carletto-Leon, co-founder of Contigo Games and narrative designer of StarCrossed,for a chat regarding the title’s stunning art-style, the influences behind her cast of diverse space-faring sprites, the impact of her work as an educator and her opinions on the current state of the games industry.

Fun with friends:

What made you decide early on to build StarCrossed from the ground up as a co-op title?

“The answer is pretty simple; we’re big fans of cooperative games and want to see more of them! Games made specifically for 2 players are quite rare. Personally, I find it quite difficult to find games to play with my partner. We love local multiplayer games but often feel like they’re designed to be played with a group of people and we’re not having the optimal player experience.

I believe there is something intimate about playing a game with someone. We’re sharing a goal and learning how to cooperate. Communication is important and we adjust our play to accommodate another participant. Our goal as a studio is ‘to create games and playful expereinces to bring people together’. StarCrossed was intended to fulfil this purpose.”

A story to tell:

Implementing visual novel style cut-scenes must have meant a lot of extra writing and with all those words, what kind of story is StarCrossed going to tell?

“During development, we actually cut StarCrossed’s Story Mode multiple times. As a part-time, self-funded, and remote team we were finding it difficult to create a large independent project. In our desire to have the game finished, the team had a lot of difficult conversations about scope and Story Mode, which was daunting and by far the more complex part of the game, was scrapped. However, as we began showing the game publicly, we realised the importance of including a Story Mode to explore the characters, their relationships to each other, and the universe of StarCrossed. It was a ton of work but I’m so glad we were able to make Story Mode happen and I hope our players enjoy it!

The plot of StarCrossed is what players have come to expect from the magical girl fantasy-genre; a group of chosen heroes must band together to defeat evil and save the universe. We wanted the story beats to feel familiar. What makes the story engaging to players is seeing the situation presented through the different lenses of each character. Each combination of characters has their own unique dialogues and, sometimes, additional scenes with our cast of supporting characters and villains. Each time you play, the dialogues change depending on the selected characters, so it ended up being quite a bit of writing!

The final StarCrossed script is actually over 20,000 words! It’s a novella!”

Eye candy:

The art-style seems to be a blend of fantasy and futuristic sci-fi. It’s eye-catching and adorable, but what ultimately do you hope to express with the way the game looks?

“Fantasy and sci-fi are both settings that our team really enjoys! We wanted the game to feel stylish and magical, but also contemporary and relatable to players.

If we’re digging deeper into our thinking, we see StarCrossed’s aesthetic as a reimagination of these established genres, which are often male-centric and standardised by cis white creators. Think about your favourite fantasy stories. What would they look like if marginalised people were involved in their creation? Just to state very clearly, I’m not saying these works aren’t vitally important and valuable, they totally are! But, we need to understand how much these genres could expand in the hands of different creators. There is no reason to not be inclusive in our design of fictional worlds.

Starcrossed‘s style and characters are cute and sparkly but the gameplay grows to be quite challenging. We’ve noticed that players make quick assumptions about the content of the game due to its visuals. Feminine games are often dismissed for being easy or ‘casual’. We hope to challenge those stereotypes.”

The aesthetic has also been clearly influenced by Japanese Magical Girls, what inspired you to bring this popular manga genre to a video game?

“Before we really solidified StarCrossed’s visual identity, we knew the game was going to be a cooperative local multiplayer game. When we began looking into designing the setting and context for the game’s mechanic, we were excited about the idea of making a game with feminine aesthetics. For many members of our team, Magical Girl shows and comics like Tokyo Mew Mew, W.I.T.C.H., and Sailor Moon were an important part of our childhoods. These are stories about young heroines who are tasked with saving the world, but are also growing up and dealing with the drama of being human! Between battling aliens and monsters they also deal with heartbreak and complex emotions.

The Magical Girl genre is centred around themes of teamwork and collaboration. In most examples, strangers from different backgrounds come together to achieve a common goal. These stories are about young girls being powerful and finding strength in being together. Anyone who has been a teenage girl knows that friendships at that age are terrifying and it’s common to feel alone. You’re also grappling with internalised misogyny that dictates girls are sneaky, bitchy, not to be trusted, so it’s so important to have media that shows girls uplifting each other and collaborating in positive ways!”

Following on from this, does the game aim to subvert the Magical Girl genre and, if so, how does it differ from other genre subversions we’ve seen before?

“We purposefully wanted StarCrossed to borrow common Magical Girl tropes, so we started from what we knew and expanded from there. It was important to us that we keep the playfulness of the genre and have our characters explore not only their new magical powers, but also their emotions. In Story Mode, each character navigates their relationship with their partner, with themselves, and with the universe.

We made it a goal to create an inclusive Magical Girl story, which includes people of colour, non-binary people, and body diversity. This is our way of subverting the genre and building upon the existing core themes.”

Star-crossed lovers:

Are the relationships between characters entirely platonic? To put it another way, can we expect to see some romance emerge as the story progresses?

“The romance in StarCrossed isn’t overt, we intentionally wanted there to be a bit of nuance to the relationships. If you’re reading the relationship as romantic, it’s definitely there.

We wrote StarCrossed to be a gay space romance!

This was actually something we struggled with, so it’s a good question! Our team had many discussions about how explicitly we were showing romance between characters, keeping in mind that these characters are representing players. Since this is a game about negotiation and cooperation, the consent of both players is important and we didn’t want to force a relationship the pair of players might ultimately be uncomfortable with.

When demoing at events we see lots of couples come to play, but we also see parents and their children, platonic friends, and strangers. Having the characters enter a relationship that doesn’t mirror that of the players, and which they did not choose, can create discomfort. At the same time, we absolutely love when players want to pair and ship our characters! The design of the game is totally encouraging that.

Ultimately, we didn’t want to make a statement that the height of all relationships is romance. Close platonic friendships are just as meaningful and powerful as romantic ones!”

2019 has been an amazing year for non-binary representation across the world of TV and gaming. It’s great to see that ​StarCrossed ​ will feature non-binary characters but do you think AAA developers should aim to be more inclusive in their projects?

“The obvious answer is yes, absolutely. There’s absolutely no reason to not be inclusive in our storytelling. We are designing fictional worlds of our own creation and they reflect on our values. If you’re not being inclusive in your cast/characters and worldbuilding, you’re blatantly saying you don’t care about certain people and their stories.

I believe the way we achieve this as an industry is to diversify our workforce. Offering opportunities to marginalised developers is immensely importan, but we also need to make sure they are thriving and supported once they are here. ​Harmful workplace practices like crunch​ are rampant in the games industry and ​are inherently ableist​. Developers of colour and marginalised genders also experience burn out and ​leave the industry more frequently due to inflexible work spaces​.

As consumers, we can encourage change by supporting the work of marginalised developers and games with inclusive content. Throw your dollars at these awesome people and projects!

What to take away:

Finally, you have a great deal of experience as an educator. Did your experiences influence StarCrossed – even though it’s a video-game, can players still expect to learn something from playing?

“I have to challenge the “even though it’s a video game” because I work in educational games as my day job! Interactivity and gameplay loops are extremely conducive to learning and I believe all games teach us something. Games exercise our brains, improve our reflexes, and provide players with a safe place to explore extreme situations!

StarCrossed is a game centred around collaboration. Players practice communicating and trusting one another. Frequently, we’ve astounded parents by getting two young siblings to play together nicely after a day of wandering an expo floor fighting over controllers and who was better at playing games. The parents look at us like, “How did you get them to stop arguing?”. Game design is so powerful! It can influence our relationships and communication styles.

We hope that StarCrossed can offer a playful space where people come together and feel good about collaborating.”

Where to play:

Grab your friends, team up and get sparkly!

If you want to help bring greater diversity to the world of videogames, and have some great fun with your friends while you’re at it, you can support StarCrossed by picking up a copy of the game on Steam using the link below:

3 great mobile titles the challenge the stereotypes

As I’m sure you’re aware, our mobile app, the Arcadeberry – Mobile Website Hub, has recently launched for Android and Amazon devices! Although we’d highly recommend you immediately go and download our app (you can even pick up reading this very article on it!), all this talk of mobile apps has got us thinking:

It’s an unfortunate fact that the mobile game app market has quite the poor reputation, especially on the gaming front. It’s an even more unfortunate fact that this reputation is actually quite well deserved. Most mobile titles are vacuous, surface-deep money-grabs. With countless asset flips and endless in-app purchases, many of us have simply just given up trying to find good games on the appstore.

That’s why we decided to wade into the practically infinite appstore library to try and pick out some diamonds in the rough. Although there a certainly more great games to be found on the appstore, and this list is definitely not exhaustive, these three great titles might be a place to start rebuilding your trust with mobile gaming.


3: GameStart Pixel Battle

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Price*: Completely free

Developer: Eliphant

It may have just been released as a little promotion for GameStart, a Southeast Asian gaming convetion, but GameStart Pixel Battle is actually a surprisingly excellent game.

You play as Alyse, the convention’s mascot, in a battle against a mysterious figure who has been sabotaging games. There’s a plethora of levels to play and numerous unique playable characters to collect as you go. If you’ve played any Mega Man title, you’ll likely be familiar with Pixel Battle‘s blend of 2D side-on running and gunning.

It’s not surprise considering the fact the developer, Seow Zonghui, worked on the Capcom endorsed fan-project Street Fighter X Mega Man. Pixel Battle may just be a Mega Man game at heart, but it’s an excellent Mega Man game at that. Best of all, it’s a Mega Man game you can carry around in your pocket, and is downloadable completely for free! That’s right, no pesky in-app purchases or even a single advert to be found.

With a small file size of 50M, GameStart Pixel Battle is a great little offline title to keep on your phone for when you need your gaming fix out and about.

You can click here to open GameStart Pixel Battle on Google Play.

 


2: Cytus II

Screenshot Image

Price*: £1.79

Developer: Rayark Iternation Limited

Set in the near future, Ctyus II takes us to cyTus – an online virtual city – in the shoes of Aesir, a famous DJ hosting a virtual concert.

A solid rhythm game which has players frantically tapping notes as they pop up on their screens, Cytus II features 35 base game songs from a variety of composers and in countless genres. With electronica, rock and even classical music to choose from, Cytus II offers something for everyone.

Although the game does include song pack purchases, with which you can expand your repertoire, these are wholly optional. You nevetheless get an awful lot of high quality content for the entry price of £1.79. The music is great, and songs offer different levels of difficulty and a comprehensive scoring system which both serve to offer much replayability. If you want a cheap and cheerful mobile ryhthm game to keep you occupied on the go, you don’t get much better than this.

You can click here to open Cytus II on Google Play.


1: OXENFREE

Screenshot Image

Price*: £3.89

Developer: Night School Studio

A gripping mystery set on a dark island, OXENFREE is like the adventures of The Famous Five gone horribly, horribly wrong.

The plot is excellent and, as it is best experienced first-hand, I will try and keep details to a minimum. Just be sure it’s intense and excellently written with a handful of shocking and memorable moments.

Although a strictly linear game, your dialogue choices offer a comprehensive degree of choice and a variety to your play sessions. The game is easy to control, and presented in a charming and unique graphical style.

Our only complaint with OXENFREE is that it’s just so good you might not be able to put your phone down until you and your friends have uncovered the sinister truth of Edwards Island.

You can click here to open OXENFREE on Google Play.


*Prices are Google Play prices (excluding discounts or sales) as of January 2020.

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.

 

How to download unlisted Steam games completely for free!

You may wonder where exactly digital games go when they die. The thing is, most of them don’t actually go anywhere at all. There are hundreds of games fully available on Steam‘s servers but no longer listed on the store – theoretically completely inaccessible. In some cases however, particularly with games that were once listed as free, it is possible to take a shot at download them following the guide below.

So why would you actually want to download unlisted Steam games? Although most the titles below are mostly just defunct free-to-play games with their servers shut down there are a couple of single-player gems in there. Some of the online-only titles, such as the failed Age of Empires Online, have even been brought back to life through fan revival projects and thus fully playable.

If you’re interested in maybe uncovering a hidden gem, or just curious about games long past, we’ve put together this handy guide to walk you through the process of getting lost games.


1: The games themselves

Here is a list of all the games that we’ve found that can be downloaded by this method. Notice links to the right of the title and take note of the URLs which correspond to the games you want to try – you will be needing them for the next step.

Age of Empires online - steam://install/105430
Arcane Saga Online - steam://install/238110
Arctic Combat - steam://install/212370
Arma 2:free version - steam://install/107400
Battle for Graxia - steam://install/90530
Brawl Busters - steam://install/109410
Bullet Run - steam://install/211880
Codename Gordon - steam://install/92
District 187 - steam://install/221080
Dungeon Fighter Online - steam://install/212220
F.E.A.R. Online - steam://install/223650
FNaF world - steam://install/427920
Haunted Memories - steam://install/241640
Maple Story(US-version) - steam://install/216150
Pandora Saga - steam://install/106010
Renaissance Heroes - steam://install/221790
Rusty Hearts - steam://install/36630
Spacewar - steam://install/480
TERA - steam://install/389300
TERA EU - steam://install/323370
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes F2P - steam://install/218210
Wizardry Online - steam://install/22136
Forge - steam://install/223390
Warface - steam://install/291480
Vindictus - steam://install/212160
Bullet Run - steam://install/211880
Dirty Bomb - steam://install/333930
Dragon Nest - steam://install/11610
Arctic Combat - steam://install/212370
Metro Conflict - steam://install/356640
F.E.A.R. Online - steam://install/223650
Brick-Force - steam://install/272490
Fiesta Online NA - steam://install/300970
Atlantica Online - steam://install/212240
Sin of a Dark Age - steam://install/223390
DC Universe Online - steam://install/24200
Arcane Saga Online - steam://install/238110
Chaos Heroes Online - steam://install/290830
Quantum Rush Online - steam://install/304890
Rise of Incarnates - steam://install/258160
Dragon's Prophet - steam://install/259020
Age of Empires Online - steam://install/105430
Dead Island: Epidemic - steam://install/222900/
Dungeon Fighter Online - steam://install/212220
Zombies Monsters Robots - steam://install/306830
Heroes and Titans: Online - steam://install/407090
Ragnarok Online - steam://install/2507400

2: Opening Windows Run and downloading your gameCapture.PNG

Ensure Steam is open. Once you have Steam open, press the ‘Windows’ key and the ‘R’ key at the same time (⊞ Win + r). This will prompt the “Run” dialogue box, as pictured above, to open.

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The next step is very simple. Copy the URL of the game you want from the list at the start of this guide, and paste it into the text input of the “Run” dialogue box . Finally, press “ok”. For the example pictured above we have chosen Codename Gordon a delightful little 2.5D Half-Life clone.


3: Enjoy your free games!

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After pressing “ok”, Steam should open the normal dialogue boxes associated with downloading a game. Click through them and voila! You have your game! To get more games, simply repeat steps 1-3 with a different URL.

Our list of available games isn’t exhaustive either, if you find any other games that can be downloaded through this method make sure to comment them here and we’ll add them to our list!