Tag Archives: switch

Going Under – Review

Walking around city centres these days it’s easy to see that we’re living in the era of tech start-ups. Almost every corner you see is now populated by cliquey cafes crammed with checked-shirt wearing, latte-drinking hipsters out for a break from their pot-planted desks where they sit on bouncy beanbags, not chairs. What happens, however, to all the fledgling companies which don’t make it, the ones which never get the shiny office buildings or gain bean-bag chairs? Going Under is a game which attempts, in a very light-hearted manner, to answer this question; taking you on a journey through the dark underbelly of Neo-Cascadia – the city where tech start-ups come to die.

Magnificent melee


A rogue-like, the title ‘Going Under‘ refers not only to the failing companies, who’s sprawling underground offices form the majority of the game’s setting, but also the physical act of descending into these dungeons at the start of each new run. Inside of these arenas, combat is third-person and melee oriented, with a particular focus on improvisation. Like Dead Rising, players can pick up and make weapons of the objects in the world around them – although the brutally bloody chainsaws and gold clubs of that game are replaces with more light-hearted cardboard boxes or staple-guns. There’s also a weapon durability system, which some will find particularly reminiscent of Breath of the Wild, whereby the objects you collect to use as armaments smash into pieces after only a few attacks.

There’s something undeniably enjoyable about your trusty wet-floor sign suddenly smashing mid-fight, sending you frantically flailing toward the nearest weapon in the room regardless of level or type. This unpredictable pandemonium is almost encouraged by the fact that your only dodge move, a basic dodge roll, automatically equips the nearest weapon if you don’t have one in your hand. This lead to many hilarious (and intense!) encounters where my high-level battle-axe unexpectedly exploded leaving me to fend off a room full of enemies with only a mop.

The inclusion of a weapon durability system is an excellent way to encourage the player to experiment with new weapons and try everything the game has to offer in a genre where, traditionally, gameplay involves working out the best combination of items in the game and sticking to them almost religiously. If there are no items nearby, the player character can always engage in combat bare-handed, which is very helpful in a cinch but with large enemy health bars is far too ineffective an endeavour to ever be considered a viable playstyle.

Luckily, it’s quite hard to find yourself without weapons as when you first enter a dungeon there is always a small selection of basic items to pick up before entering the first room. Rooms act almost as compact stand-alone combat arenas which, once entered, cannot be exited until a number of enemies have been defeated. The rooms themselves are randomly laid out but often include a number of items to discover like weapons and health pickups. Many enemies also drop the weapons that they carry which can be picked up.

There is also no time pressure to enter the next room once the one you are in is clear, giving you ample time to explore and pick up any items you missed. Some rooms also give you the opportunity to complete challenges in order to gain a drone-delivered crate containing more powerful gear. If you’re particularly lucky and find a room with a lot of decent gear, you don’t have to leave any behind with the player’s pockets being able to carry up to three weapons which can be quickly swapped at the tap of a button.

Each time combat ends you have breathing time where you are free to explore the room and collect any items you may have missed before you move on. Hovering over any item in the world shows you its name, a brief (and often amusing) description in addition to a quick indicator which shows if the item is better, worse than or the same as what you currently have equipped. This is a fantastic little quality of life addition which makes good gear much easier to identify than in games with more traditional numeric stat systems.

Nice to meet brew


There is also the chance for a shop to spawn on the map, styled like a hipster coffee shop, in which you can spend the money you pick up from defeated enemies on a variety of trendy soya-based health items. In addition to health buffs you can also buy ‘skills’ which grant powerful abilities like elemental attacks or increased damage. If you’re particularly short on money, floors can also contain a room where a skill which can be obtained for free. There is also a chance for a room with a charming curse to salesman to appear who will exchange up to three skills or items for a debilitating de-buff. These include things like enemies exploding on death or all of your weapons breaking after one hit and create an enjoyable risk vs reward dynamic.

In Going Under‘s small hub world, styled after a lively office building and serves as the place from which player can enter the game’s three dungeons, a number of NPC’s can be interacted with to gain “tasks”. These function like quests and present the opportunity to unlock characters as “mentors”. Your selected mentor provides a unique bonus to your run which gradually levels up through use. When accepting a task, you are shown one of the game’s charming cutscene, which feature some excellently drawn 2D sprites.

Dialogue is represented through playful smart-phone style text messages which pop-up on the screen as the scene plays out – accompanied by cute notification sound effects. Outside of cutscenes, the game’s visuals still remain one of its strongest suits. The low-poly pastel aesthetic is not only memorable and distinctive but looks absolutely adorably. Going Under‘s quirky bright colours, light-hearted dialogue and enjoyable slow-paced music creates a very calming effect and, as a result, playing the game feels almost therapeutic in the absolute best of ways.

Going under


Unfortunately, some fans of the genre might be put off by the game’s difficulty, which is a little on the easy side – particularly for a rogue-like. A lot of this easy difficulty is due to the game’s combat, which is certainly more on the casual side. The simple formula of frantic button-mashing and occasional dodging is very approachable, it has the downside of making enemy encounters, and even boss fights, trivially easy after only an hour or so of play. Although there is an option to decrease difficulty (by turning on ‘assist’), it would have certainly been nice to have some ways of making the game harder too.

I also found that whilst the use of lifeless text-to-speech in some cutscenes is certainly fitting, considering the setting of a tech company, it detracted somewhat from the game’s otherwise high degree of polish. On the subject of lifeless, the game’s hub world is very small with little to do other than wander around and occasionally interact with objects.

Lastly, the game’s humour is constantly enjoyable but feels a little bit tame. The tongue-in cheek parody of workplace culture and the modern tech industry certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel and might feel somewhat generic if you’re used to that kind of comedy. Regardless of the fact that I personally found the game very funny, this particular brand of almost nihilistic millennial comedy might not be to everyone’s taste, and its constant presence in almost every facet of the game might go so far as to be incredibly annoying to some.

Verdict:


Going Under is a quirky and confident rogue-like. What it lacks in difficulty it certainly compensates for in style with its adorable visuals, fun (albeit somewhat basic) combat and relaxing music. It might be unpaid, but your adventures in the dungeon will certainly be an internship to remember!


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

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.

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.