Tag Archives: nintendo

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.

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 overall a confident co-op title with a set of excellent visuals, good writing and a diverse cast of playable characters. Its few shortcomings only become apparent when the more repetitive segments begin to overstay their welcome. Nevertheless, the title succeeds in crafting a charming memorable experience which will certainly succeed in its aim to 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.

Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure – The logic behind the DS’ bizzare keyboard

For many, including myself, Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure is a complete oddity. A typing tutorial game, an unusual concept but certainly one that isn’t unheard of, but for the Nintendo DS? The idea of pairing the tiny handheld device with a large stand and keyboard seems absolutely absurd, but that’s exactly what the weirdos over at developer Genius Sonority did. The strangest part however is that this unlikely match of technology came about thanks to a shockingly sound reason.

Image result for Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure

For many, this will likely be the first time you’ve ever even heard of this product due to its rather strange release status; only seeing the light of day in Japan (obviously), The United Kingdom and Australia. Even so, in the countries where it released in the West it suffered very poor sales; evidenced by availability brand new on Amazon to this day despite being a sought-after collectors item for those in the know.

Now, before we move on to the reasons behind the odd piece of kit I just want to address the elephant in the room. Those with a knowledge of the DS’ hardware are likely scratching their heads as to how exactly this wireless keyboard works. The obvious answer would be “via bluetooth duh” but that’s not quite the whole story. No models of the DS offer bluetooth support; not even the very latest 3DS lines. This lead to the creation of one of the most interesting and unique cartridges in the DS library.

Despite its unassuming appearance and regular retail price the Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure packs its own Bluetooth chip, powered by the system power supply when the cartridge is inserted. Although I wasn’t able to find any images of this chip, and I’m certainly not cracking open my copy to check, I’ve heard from various sources over the years that it’s definitely there. That or it’s just a convenient cover story to mask the fact the keyboard operates off of some kind of ancient and extremely forbidden dark magic.

To fully understand the purpose of this device, and the reasons for its conception, it’s important to first look at the wider context of the state of computer literacy in Japan. Despite Japan’s prevalence on the technology scene, the population in fact has one of the lowest computer literacy levels in the developed world. Demonstrated by the handy graph below from the OECD Skills Outlet study1:

Source: http://www.oecd.org/skills

Many people arrive at job interviews after very little exposure to computers, some even lacking the ability to type. Likely due to cramped living spaces in cities and lesser access to resources in rural areas, a situation has arisen whereby the majority of technology used by the population is mobile. The average person in Japan is far more likely to own a mobile phone or a tablet over a desktop computer. Even more likely to own say… a Nintendo DS.

Aiming to capitalise on the lack of essential computer knowhow Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure aimed to offer those without ready computer access the opportunity to learn how to type rapidly and accurately.

This still leaves one question unanswered however. Whilst Japan suffers from a general lack of computer skills, justifying its release there, why was the very same product released in Australia and England where computer literacy levels are just fine?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Japanese keyboards are almost identical to the British (and by extension Australian) keyboard layout2. All that Genius Sonority would need to do to bring the product to these markets is simply translate the game itself, which due to the game’s inherent simplicity couldn’t have been too hard a task, and then not print the Kanji characters which sit below the letters.

Image result for british and japanese keyboards
A typical Japanese keyboard

Banking off the success of the Pokémon would guarantee at least a few sales combined with the simplicity of the translation job, it would have been illogical for Genius Sonority to not bring the game to the commonwealth.

That banking off the brand didn’t work out too well however. The mediocre nature of the game itself lead to low sales and a mixed reception that quashed one of the most beautifully weird mixes of technology in gaming history. Even Amazon reducing the price to £9.99 in a flash sale failed to gain any excitement. The keyboard itself is probably the best thing to come from Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure, superbly built and quite frankly an absolute joy to type on. It’s excellent value especially considering it also boasts compatibility with not just it’s packaged game but any PC or mobile device.

And yes, before you ask, I even used the keyboard to write this review.


References:
1 www.oecd.org/skills
2 wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_input_methods and wikipedia.org/wiki/British_and_American_keyboards

Knight Terrors – Review

Knight Terrors currently sits proudly as the cheapest game on the Nintendo Switch’s estore; but is it worth picking up?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is yeeeeees.

With interesting visuals, fun gameplay and a very low price point, what is there to lose in buying this game? At £2.69 Knight Terrors costs less than an everyday cup of coffee, and will certainly last you a lot longer.

Knight Terrors is an endless runner in its simplest form. Much like the infamous Flappy Bird, from which Knight Terrors obviously drew some inspiration, it’s this apparent simplicity which gives this game a strangely addictive quality.

The game also benefits just from being on the Switch. The crisp buttons of the Nintendo Joy-cons make Knight Terrors‘ two button gameplay a treat. Knight Terrors is also a game that is easy and fun to pick up and play, making it a perfect way to kill some time in handheld mode whilst on the move.

There are four distinct game modes to unlock, loads of unique power-ups and plenty of monsters to discover and slay. The pixelated graphics are complimented well by the music, a simplistic yet pleasant collection of various chip-tunes.

Whether you want a game to occupy you for afew hours on journey, want to get rid of some leftover quid in your Nintendo Wallet, or just want an enjoyable endless runner; Knight Terrors is the game for you.