Tag Archives: gaming

The Otterman Empire – Review

There doesn’t seem to have been much to celebrate recently but that certainly doesn’t stop us from being in the mood for a good party game. The Otterman Empire from indie developers Tri-Heart Interactive is one such game. A bright and colourful co-op shooter in which you play as adorable otters, might just be the you need to keep you and your friends cheerful when times are tough.

A l(otter) heart


Set on an intergalactic space colony, The Otterman Empire places players in the shoes of a customisable aquatic warrior who is tasked with defending the planet against the evil mad scientist Dr Tiko by destroying his seemingly endless army of malevolent machines. Players can face this challenge with up to three friends in local co-op play or opt to face it alone in single-player. There are eight selectable characters to choose from, each with a unique design and diverse selection of unlockable cosmetic items to discover.

From a visual standpoint, The Otterman Empire is a pretty good all-rounder. The colour palette is bright and cartoonish, perfectly complimenting the game’s character’s colourful designs. I found all of the eight included maps to be intriguing, each one covering a distinct visual theme. These range from a futuristic sport themed space arena to the gardens of a mediaeval looking castle. My personal favourite was the game’s first map, a sleek futuristic city environment which was both gorgeous to look at and a lot of fun to explore.

Your progress through the game is mapped, if you’ll pardon the pun, by the maps you unlock through playing. Each one has three alternate game-modes to try with a potential of nine total stars to unlock – three stars being the highest obtainable rating per game-mode. By unlocking a sufficient number of stars, you gain access to the next map. In theory, this ensures the player will spend a sufficiently long amount of time in each map to get really to grips with it. but in reality, this system just becomes a bit of a slog after a while; with players forced to repeatedly go over the same maps in order to get a high enough rating to progress.

In spite of the forced repetition, the different game-modes which are on offer in each map are nevertheless pleasantly varied. My personal favourite was ‘squidditch’ a fast-paced mode which challenges players to use their jetpacks to slam dunk as many bombs into enemy spawning portals as possible. Both jetpack fuel and ammunition is replenished through sliding gaily along waterways which are dotted along maps and additionally serve as a quick method of transportation when you’re in a hurry. The other game-modes on offer are similarly unique and all require a distinct set of skills for players to master.

Not quite a party


It is a huge shame that no matter which map or mode you choose to play there seems to be only two total enemy types found throughout the entire campaign. There are stationary turrets which will blast any player unlucky enough to stumble into their field of view with a laser beam and smaller, laser-firing flying drones, which are often equally as stationary. The strategy for tackling both enemy types is the same, unload as many shots into them as quickly as you can, and this tangible lack of enemy variety causes gameplay to become incredibly stale in only a matter of minutes.

Overall, the campaign mode offers a few interesting modes to try out, but the seeming lack of effort put into enemy design and behaviour leaves the whole ordeal feeling like one big wasted opportunity. It can be tackled in both a single player or as part of a local co-op but why anyone would actually want to play the campaign in co-op, and not the far more interesting versus mode which does away with the boring robot enemies, is beyond me.

Sitting down with the versus mode and having your buddies blast away at each other’s otter avatars is an awful lot of fun! It allows you to return to your favourite maps and revitalises the more interesting game modes from the campaign. PC users also have the option of Steam‘s ‘Remote Play Together’ with which you can invite a friend to play a livestreamed version of your game through an integrated browser window. It is entirely reliant on the other player having both a fast internet connection and USB controller on hand, but does you the chance to play the game with people who are not in the immediate vicinity.

Otterly baffling


I am happy to report that since launch, the game has received numerous patches and small updates – the most significant of which was a fix for the PC version of the title, which launched with a borderline unusable keyboard control scheme. It would be nice to see some further additions to help improve the overall polish of the game.

A notable area for improvement is the audio design. Whilst most of the included original music is good, the audio design of the in-game dialogue definitely needs some work. With no actual sound effects beyond a few frequently repeated, and strangely quiet, soundbites, the character interactions of both the campaign and tutorial feel completely lifeless. Another appreciated addition would be a reworking of the game’s graphics menu, which still doesn’t include basic options like changing the window’s resolution or even just the option of playing the game in windowed mode!

The UI on PC is absolutely huge and there is absolutely no way to resize the text and buttons so that they don’t occupy large areas of the screen. Simply addressing these few basic issues would go a huge way in improving the title’s overall look and feel. It would also be nice if damage taken was more obviously communicated to the player. It’s hard to keep track of your health in the heat of a battle and there were many occasions when I didn’t even know I was taking damage until I had died.

Verdict:


The saddest thing about The Otterman Empire is that the game is almost good. Whilst there has evidently been a lot of love and passion behind the title’s unique art-direction, quirky writing and superb community management over the years; a number of baffling design missteps and a lack of overall polish unfortunately prevents me from being able to wholeheartedly recommend this title. It isn’t an inherently awful option if you’re craving a local co-op fix, but many would-be players will likely find that the game’s current issues are just a little too hard to swallow.


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

3 fun games to keep you moving whilst staying at home

Working from home has a lot of benefits. You miss out on a busy commute to your workplace or school, you no longer have to shell out good money on a sub-par pre-packaged meal on your lunch break and, maybe best of all, the time that would be spent these mundane activities is suddenly time saved that you can spend doing what you really want to. Perhaps the only downside to working from home our already sedentary lives are becoming even more so, with even more of our day now being consumed by sitting at a desk in front of a PC.

That’s why we have compiled a little list of titles which will help keep you moving whilst staying at home. Just a disclaimer, I’m obviously no health professional and the games on this list are of course not a real substitute for a solid workout at the gym or park but I still feel they could nevertheless very beneficial to your wellbeing; provided they’re used in conjunction with other forms of regular exercise of course!


3. Jump Rope Challenge

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch

Price*: Free!

Kicking off our list is Jump Rope Challenge which was recently released for free onto the Nintendo eShop. Players hold a Joy-Con in each hand and utilise the gyro controls to simulate jumping with a skipping rope whilst an onscreen bunny avatar mimics their actions. Every jump you make causes a pleasingly tactile controller vibration and increases the on-screen number counting up your jumps. You can set up daily goals with a range from one hundred to nine hundred jumps, which may not sound like much but you’d be surprised what nine hundred jumps in a short period of time can do to your calves!

You are incentivised to come back every day by a calendar screen which fills in each day with your time and number of jumps. This also serves a nice way to track your progress on your jumping journey. As a nice little bonus for pushing your limits, reaching the daily cap of one thousand jumps unlocks a special background image and accompanying set of whacky sound effects. There’s even an included multiplayer mode – provided you have enough joy-con’s to share around of course.

It sounds very basic and that’s because it is. For free however you can’t complain and if you’re particularly budget conscious, Jump Rope Challenge is an excellent way to get you and your family moving every day. Just make sure you remember to wear your Joy-Con straps or you might end up having to shell out for a TV repair!

If you want a little more variety in your daily exercise, or perhaps don’t own a Nintendo Switch, then read on…


2. Just Dance 2019

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, Wii U, Wii mini, Wii, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3

Price*: £15-£25 depending on platform, free demo available

Just Dance 2019 may seem a curious choice for this list, especially in light of the release of the more modern Just Dance 2020, but the incredible volume of platforms on which the game is available, both ancient and brand new, make this game miles ahead of the other titles on this list in terms of sheer accessibility.

In Just Dance 2019, players select a song from the included song list and then wildly flail their limbs in an attempt to mimic the on-screen dances as closely as possible. Whilst it’s a little slow at first, most songs gradually pick up the pace and by the end of a session you will have likely worked up quite a sweat. With a solid scoring system, which comes the ability to compare your totals to an online leader-board, and the tantalising prospect of unlocking more songs and goodies, it’s shocking just how addictive, and enjoyable, Just Dance can become.

There is a good variety in the forty songs included in the track-list which features popular mainstream artists like Britney Spears, Ariana Grande and Pharrell Williams, some international titles from Hatsune Miku and Blackpink and even the Pac-Man theme! If the included titles are not to your liking, there is also a subscription service which unlocks an additional four hundred songs through ‘Just Dance Unlimited‘. As a little bonus, a copy of the game comes with a one month free trial of this service.

The ‘Just Dance Controller’ app is a fantastically handy feature, removing the need to splash out on additional controllers if you want to get your friends or family dancing alongside you in the up to 6 person local multiplayer. Players can also try the game out before buying through the free demo, available on all platforms, which is restricted to a single song.

However, if you’re looking for something a bit less fun-oriented and more oriented towards serious exercise, then check out the item below…


1. Wii fit

Platform(s): Wii mini, Wii

Price*: £40 second hand (including balance board)

Wii Fit is one of the best selling Wii titles and one of the best selling console games of all time – and for good reason! Using the included Wii Balance Board, players can undertake a variety of fitness activities accompanied by a virtual personal trainer. You can receive serious virtual lessons which coach you in yoga and building up core strength or partake in the more light-hearted mini-game activities which have you jogging around a virtual island paradise or shaking your hips around for a virtual hula-hoop.

The in-built body mass index (BMI) calculator is a fantastic tool and a good way to track your fitness as well as monitor the positive effects of your various digital workouts. It’s lesser-known successor Wii Fit Plus, also for the Wii and Wii Mini, adds a great many more minigames and exercises alongside a host of useful tools such as a calorie counter, the ability to create custom fitness regimes and even a few elements made to help you assess the fitness of your pets!

Lesser known still is the games sequel Wii Fit U, which is available on the Wii U. The Wii Balance Board returns accompanied by a gamepad stand and pedometer. This version of the title adds even more features and tools, even carrying over your progress and biometric data from the original Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus.

Just beware however, as any version of Wii Fit requires both a working Balance Board and Wii Remote, tracking down a fully functional version now almost thirteen years after its initial release could become quite a gruelling task.


*Prices are obtained from a range of sources and were accurate on the date of writing.

Dark Light – Early Access Review

Dark Light, a new game from developer Mirari&Co, was released into early access last month. With the prospect of a future console release on the Nintendo Switch and numerous content updates ahead of it, I was very interested to take look into this title and see if Dark Light had set off on it’s perilous early access journey to a promising start or whether, unfortunately, there is still a long way to go.

It’s dangerous to go alone


Dark Light transports players to a brutal yet beautiful cyberpunk world. Set after a reality-warping apocalyptic event which sent the remnants of humanity scurrying to hide underground, the player is tasked with suiting up and venturing outside to explore a dangerous world of distorted city ruins, maze-like sewer systems and hellish industrial zones.

From a visual standpoint, it’s safe to say that Dark Light is breath-taking. Every facet of the world around you positively exudes an overriding atmosphere of decay. Despite being presented from a side-on 2D perspective the environments you explore have a real feeling of depth, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of a detailed foreground which accompany the intricate backdrop sprites. Although the colour scheme may be a little drab, being comprised mainly of muddy greys and dark greens, the use of bright neon lighting throughout the otherwise dark levels helps add a nice splash of colour and throughout my playtime I often found myself stopping to soak in just how gorgeous some of my surroundings really were.

You aren’t just left to explore these lavish environments alone either, throughout the game you are accompanied by a friendly drone which, in addition to serving as vessel for the game’s tutorial, assists you by providing useful information and illuminating the path ahead through its built-in torch. The further you progress in the game, the darker environments become and the more you begin to understand the importance of this solitary light source. Some of the more powerful late game enemies are even wholly invisible outside its rays.

Dark(er) souls


The majority of gameplay in Dark Light follows a consistent gameplay loop. Starting with a basic pistol and sword, you are left to explore the map, killing enemies as you go to shards and new gear. These shards are used back at the starting area to upgrade your energy and life force. Increasing your life force allows you to take more hits before going down with energy acting more like a traditional stamina system being slowly depleted when you use your attacks or abilities. Exploring is quite the challenge however and with your earned shards being immediately lost upon death it’s worth thinking twice before heading out. Luckily there are frequent “portals” which allowing the player to save or fast travel at the cost of respawning enemies, similar to the famous bonfire save points of Dark Souls.

This creates a great feeling of danger and suspense while you’re exploring, with the player constantly having to balance the risk of losing what they have earned so far with the potential rewards of the higher-level enemies which are more frequent further away from the starting area. Combat itself is enjoyable and intense, with the player juggling between dodge rolls, firearm attacks, close-range sword strikes and useful throwables like grenades or turrets. Attacks look smooth with very satisfying animations and the wide variety of available weapons, most of which substantially altering the flow of combat, helps keep the combat mechanics from becoming stale after long periods of play.

From shambling zombie-like beings controlled by strange parasites, fleshy mutants to the devastating boss fights this wide variety of weapons is accompanied by a wide variety of things to use them against. The gory death animations combined with the on-screen damage indication give fights a visceral edge and the satisfying burst of shiny collectibles spewn by corpses provide a satisfying conclusion to combat which is sure to leave eagerly anticipating your next fight. I am also glad to report that whilst each area’s final boss fight provides a monumental challenge they still manage to feel like a good test of the player’s skill rather than anything cheap or overtly unfair.

In addition to combat, gameplay also includes elements of light platforming. Although Dark Light‘s system of using double-jumps and rolls to hop between vertical or horizontally placed platforms is nothing ground-breaking, it is certainly well done and helps provide an additional challenge for players to master. As in fights, platforming is for the most part fluid and well animated with the exception of the rope-climbing animation – which unfortunately stood out due to its unnatural stiffness.

Left in the dark


On the subject of unnatural stiffness, some lines dialogue and item descriptions contain small grammatical errors or odd wording choices which break both the player’s immersion in the game world and the flow of dialogue. Similarly flow-breaking is the game’s music. Despite what music there is being of great quality and notably complements the overall atmosphere well, the frequent looping of the music and general lack of variety in the tracks lends itself to a feeling more droning and monotonous than particularly atmospheric.

There is also an issue regarding the game’s short length. Containing a good selection of weapons and enemies but only a handful of areas and end-bosses the complete package from start-to-finish took me around four hours to complete, including the time taken to complete some additional level grinding to help me more easily tackle some of the harder bosses. Considering how much I enjoyed my playtime; I was quite sad to see it end just when I was truly getting into the flow of the mechanics so a good few hours more gameplay would certainly be appreciated.

Verdict:


With a stunning art-direction, exciting combat mechanics and solid platforming it’s easy to get lost in the world of Dark Light. Promisingly for an early-access title all the apparent issues, at the time of writing at least, are easy to remedy. The developer has already committed to introducing new areas and bosses to pad out the runtime and the game is already frequently receiving substantial quality of life updates. Dark Light successfully captures the most important elements of the souls-like and metroid-vania genres whilst introducing just the right number of new elements to create an experience that is in equal parts pleasingly familiar and excitingly original. If you’re a fan of either genre, Dark Light is certainly one to pick up now or, at the very least, keep a good eye on until release.


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

Google Stadia Controller – Review

The ‘pro’ version of Google’s game streaming platform, Stadia, is currently available completely freely for two months – complete with instant access to over twelve games! This has naturally lead to a big increase in interest surrounding the service, and if you’re interested in giving it a go for yourself why not first read our full review. You might also have some questions regarding the official Stadia Controller, the price of almost £60 is quite the large investment, which is why we have got out hands on one to see if it’s really worth all that money.

In your hands


Opening up the controller’s robust white box reveals the controller nested securely on a backing of shaped cardboard, again white, a few pieces of safety documentation and a USB type C cable. Anyone who has purchased an official Google product before will recognise this minimalist approach to packaging as the standard Google fare. Although stylistically the Stadia Controller‘s packaging is nothing particularly exciting, it feels very premium for a simple gaming controller and most importantly the reinforced cardboard used would certainly do an excellent job at keeping your precious new toy safe from damage in transit.

The most memorable feature of the simple unboxing process for me was the almost overwhelmingly sweet smelling plastic used on the controller itself. This isn’t just the classic ‘new plastic product smell’ either, with the odour produced by the controller smelling akin to a great big handful of sugar laden candyfloss. As pleasant as this smell was, it was quite unsettling for a new product to smell quite so tasty so it was probably a good thing when it finally faded after about a week of daily use.

There are currently three colour options available from the Google online store. White with orange accents, called “clearly white”, black once again with orange accents, rather disingenuously referred to as “just black” and “wasabi” – a light blueish hue with eye catching neon green accents. Personally, I fell in love with the “wasabi” colour scheme, but all three are suitably vibrant in the flesh and have a very distinctive Google feel to them.

Online gaming


The Stadia Controller doesn’t function quite like a normal controller, and the added functionality goes quite a way in explaining the product’s elevated price tag. Unlike a regular controller, which usually connect to your games console through Bluetooth, the Stadia Controller instead connects itself to your Wi-Fi network and then directly to Google‘s servers where your game is actually running. Theoretically, this process decreases the already minimal input lag experienced whilst playing on the cloud, but in our testing against a wired Xbox One controller didn’t make any perceptible difference.

Of course, without a user interface on the controller itself, hooking the device up to your Wi-Fi is handled by the Stadia mobile app in what is an admirably painless process. It’s worth noting that you only have to pair your controller up once, unless you intend on frequently changing Wi-Fi networks. In this regard, it’s very unfortunate that the controller does not feature the capability to save more than one Wi-Fi password. As it stands, constantly having to re-enter passwords in the app in-between Wi-Fi changes can become a bit tedious and adds an extra bit of hassle before you can sit back and enjoy your games.

There is of course the option to use the controller wired, making use of the USB type-C port which sits in between the two top bumper buttons. The plug-and-play experience with this controller is phenomenal, you simply plug it into any device and it works seamlessly. No faffing about with drivers and no unnecessary downloads; everything just works. This USB port also doubles up as the way you charge up your controller. It is worth noting that the controller can be used while charging, which is a nice touch and prevents you from having to end your gaming session early just because your peripheral has ran out of juice.

Out of control


Other than it’s Wi-Fi connectivity, the Stadia Controller functions very much like any other gaming controller. The buttons are well placed and whilst I initially thought the more irregular positioning of the left joystick might be a little inconvenient, but it’s surprisingly comfortable in practice. The rounded, softer than average looking D-pad and buttons are nicely tactile and feel great to the touch. The central ‘Stadia’ button is surrounded by an illuminated LED ring, which helpfully provides some useful information on your controller’s charging status, battery life and more. Those more familiar with Google‘s services may notice the ‘Google Assistant’ button (the one with four irregularly sized dots). In theory, pressing this button wakes your Google Assistant, which you can ask to perform basic tasks or provide information about your game using the inbuilt controller microphone.

Unfortunately, this pretty nifty feature doesn’t seem to have been fully implemented yet and pressing the button, in my experience at least, only leads to the display of a message that the Google Assistant “isn’t supported here yet’. Even more unfortunate are the controller’s two triggers, which are extremely soft with long travel time. I personally don’t mind a softer style of trigger, but the actuation points on the switches used is simply far too sensitive – definitely sitting at below 0.5mm of travel. I sometimes found that just holding the controller with your fingers on the triggers was enough to set them off and this becomes extremely frustrating and annoying in certain more skill-based games. The ability to customise how much force is needed to set off the triggers would go a long way to alleviating this problem so hopefully one is in the works.

There are also some issues regarding the plastic used for the controller’s body. It seems the sweet smell of it is accompanied by a candy-like softness which lends the controller to scratching extremely easily. If you intend to carry yours around in a rucksack or really do anything more than sit it upright on a soft surface, it is definitely worth investing in a carrying case. Whilst this isn’t too much of a deal breaker, this added cost should be taken into consideration when you decide whether or not to pick up this controller. A further damper on the portability of this device is the poor battery life – averaging at about five or so hours in our testing.

Verdict:


It is safe to say that the Stadia Controller suffers from more than a few teething problems. Even if a sub-par battery life and easily scratched materials may limit how often you use this controller while out and about, the experience using it at home more than compensates for this. Both the wireless and wired experience is butter smooth and accompanied by a design that is equal parts charming and cheerful. Although if you already own a compatible controller that you love it may not be entirely worth shelling out for this product at full price, for a relative newcomer to gaming who is looking for a controller for their Stadia system; you can’t go far wrong with this.

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 if you are yearning for something to quench your insatiable thirst for arcade violence, it doesn’t get better than this.

Ironically for a game titled “Streets of Rage”, 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.