Video Game Review: The Swapper [PS Vita/PSN]

The Swapper [PS Vita/PSN]

The Swapper
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS3, PS4, PC, Mac, Linux, Wii U
Genre: Puzzle platformer
Developer: Facepalm Games & Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Digital
Price: $19.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: August 5, 2014

The Swapper is a puzzle-platformer that just oozes atmosphere. Originally released for the PC last year, this Facepalm Games adventure received overwhelming praise from critics and fans alike. This week, the ever-prolific Curve Studios is set to introduce this indie hit to a whole new set of gamers via the Playstation Network.

Set deep in space on a seemingly abandoned space station, The Swapper places you in the role of a lone explorer who is trying to make sense of the situation. The feeling of isolation here is undeniable — you are just one person alone in a massive, eerie location. Shortly upon arrival, you gain access to a mysterious new weapon, dubbed the Swapper, that gives you the ability to create clones of yourself — up to four at once. At first it appears to be a neat little tool, but soon it’s clear that it may have some unexpectedly heady consequences.

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PS Vita Game Review: MouseCraft

MouseCraft

MouseCraft
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS3, PS4, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Puzzle adventure
Developer: Crunching Koalas & Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Digital
Price: $14.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: July 8, 2014

Don’t let its uninspired name fool you — MouseCraft is not related to Minecraft (or Warcraft, Starcraft or any other “crafts”). The latest release from popular indie publisher Curve Studios is actually a puzzler that plays out like a hybrid of Tetris and Lemmings.

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Titan Attacks! [PSN: PS3/PS4/PS Vita] Review

Titan Attacks!

Titan Attacks!
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Windows, Mac, Linux
Genre: Arcade Shooter
Developer: Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Digital
Price: $13.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: May 6, 2014

Curve Studios has been on quite the roll lately. Over the last several months, they have brought popular indie hits such as Stealth Inc, Thomas Was Alone, and Proteus over to the Playstation Network. This month they have dabbled into the retro world of arcade gaming with Titan Attacks!.

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Video Game Review: Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

Proteus
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC and Mac OS)
Genre: Open World
Developer: Ed Key, David Kanaga, Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Studios
Price: $13.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: October 29, 2013

Labeling Proteus as a video game is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, it is playable on gaming systems (the PSN release is cross-buy for both PS3 and Vita) and there are a handful of trophies to obtain, but that’s about where the familiarity ends. This is more of an experience, one completely unique in the world of gaming.

Proteus is all about exploration from a first-person perspective. Every new “campaign” places you near a randomly-generated island, and your only task is to explore it as you see fit. There is no proper end goal or set destination — what you get out of your experience is entirely up to you.

Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

Every island is filled with hills, trees and mountains. Leaves float through the air, flowers sway in the wind, the sun rises, the sun sets. It rains, it snows. Small animals — which resemble frogs and rabbits — hop through the forest, hitting musical notes every time they hit the ground. You can’t really interact with them, but you can chase them until something else catches your eye.

Walking throughout the vast, colorful island produces new sounds with nearly every step. Ambient music plays in the background, creating a beautifully tranquil atmosphere, and different areas change the tune in ways that only enhance the mood. It’s as if you are traveling through your very own musical forest in which even random objects alter the soundscape.

Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

The pixel art style used for the graphics provides a surprisingly lush environment. The visuals, while decidely retro in appearance, actually work quite well in creating alluring scenery. The vibrant colorscape certainly helps in this regard, as do the changes in weather and seasons. Watching the snow fall during winter is especially serene.

A single trip through the island and its seasons can be completed in an hour or less. However, each visit provides an entirely new experience, so this isn’t exactly a one-and-done endeavor. For the Playstation Network release, the inclusion of cryptic trophies strengthens each playthrough, as the descriptions are vague enough that it can take some serious thinking to figure out what to do.

Proteus [PS Vita/PS3]

All of this culminates in a truly special, fantasy-like adventure. The $13.99 price point is a bit steep, but if you have a good imagination and are willing to step outside the boundaries of conventional gaming, Proteus may be just what you’re looking for.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC, Mac OS X and Linux)
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Superflat Games, Curve Studios
Publisher: Superflat Games
Price: $12.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: September 24, 2013

In a world where most modern horror games rely heavily on action and frantic combat, Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is a breath of fresh air. This is a game that manages to crank up the suspense while providing an intense, creepy atmosphere, all while being presented in a pixelated 2D environment.

The game tells the story of You, an unnamed protagonist (in his words, his name “doesn’t really matter anymore”) who is seemingly the lone survivor after a disease wiped out the rest of the population. Tired of being stranded in his apartment, he decides to head out in hopes of finding someone, anyone, who might still be alive in this post-apocalyptic world.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Of course, our hero isn’t really alone. Just outside of his apartment, he finds a truly repulsive, faceless monster whose presence is punctuated by piercing static and muted screams. Initially armed with nothing but a flashlight, the only way to get past this ghastly creature is to hide in the shadows and attempt to sneak past it. This is a common occurrence, as the monsters become more and more frequent in their appearances. Eventually, you’re able to get a gun, providing an alternate method to deal with enemies, but ammo is so scarce that it is often best to be as stealthy as possible.

Much of Lone Survivor takes place in the dark, and strategic use of the flashlight is necessary in order to find your way around. Again, supplies are scarce, so it’s best to conserve the battery. This can make it tricky when scoping out an unfamiliar location, as even the slightest glimpse of light will cast the creatures into a frenzy, chasing you until you reach a new room.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Perhaps even more frightening than the relentless enemies is the rapidly deteriorating mental health of the protagonist. In order to stay in good (or at least acceptable) shape, you must eat often while also getting a proper amount of sleep. There are food items scattered throughout the in-game world, some good (fruit salad), some bad (squid on a stick), but all are beneficial for keeping your stomach full. There are no health bars or other HUD reminders — the only way to know if you need to sleep or eat is through random text prompts. Wait too long to do either and you will begin to hallucinate, which is never a good thing. You can also talk to plants and stuffed animals to keep your sanity, and if you play your cards right, you might even be able to befriend a *real* cat.

The frequent reminders to eat and get some rest only add to the already riveting tension, and with a possibly insane protagonist, it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s merely in his head. As such, the game has an intriguing cerebral element, becoming something of a psychological thriller in its own right.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Now, while the game absolutely succeeds in providing a haunting atmosphere, it does have some noticeable issues with its core gameplay. For one, there is a lot of backtracking. In order to save progress, you have to frequently go back to your apartment and rest, although this is helped somewhat by teleporting mirrors scattered throughout the building. Many of the doors are also locked at first, requiring you to explore and find their keys in order to get through them. This can be a tedious affair at times, especially when you find yourself going back and forth between the same two locations. There are also concerns with the game’s combat, as using the gun feels clunky and occasionally unresponsive. The gun can be aimed in three directions, but it’s difficult to actually fire off a good shot in the way you want to. This does make enemy encounters even more disturbing, though it feels like kind of a cheap tactic to do so.

Still, flaws aside, this is a very unique horror experience that is an especially excellent fit for the PS Vita. As the Director’s Cut, this is the definitive edition of Lone Survivor, and it includes new locations, dialogue, music, endings and even a New Game+ mode. The campaign can be finished in just 3-5 hours, but multiple playthroughs are warranted in order to discover new endings and learn more about the game’s narrative. As such, there is a solid amount of value here for horror buffs. Just make sure to play this in the dark and with headphones on… if you dare.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

Spelunky
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC and Xbox 360)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Platformer
Developer: Derek Yu, Blitworks (PSN)
Publisher: Mossmouth
Price: $14.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: August 27, 2013

Spelunky is one of the most infuriating games I have played all year.

It’s also ridiculously fun and insanely addicting.

Originally a 2009 PC game, the 2D cave-exploring sensation known as Spelunky received an enhanced release on the Xbox 360 last summer. Last month this upgraded edition made its way back to PC while also hitting the Playstation Network for the first time. The PSN release happens to be a cross-buy title, meaning one purchase nets you both the PS3 and Vita versions. For the sake of this review, I focused on the Vita, and for good reason: Spelunky is especially efficient in bite-sized gaming sessions (and it’s only ~100 MB!).

The game’s general concept revolves around you, an unnamed adventurer, who must make his way from top-to-bottom in a series of randomized dungeons, all while collecting loot and upgrades along the way. Each level is full of a wide variety of dangers. The first world, the mines, is filled with snakes, spiders and spikes, just to name a few obstacles. Falling into the spikes results in instant death, forcing you to start all the way back from the beginning. Later worlds, such as the jungle and an ice cave, present even graver difficulties.

Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

Every new game starts you off with four hearts (touching an enemy = loss of one heart), four bombs and four ropes. The bombs are incredibly helpful for paving your own way through each area, and they can be used to wipe out enemies and find hidden treasure. The ropes are used to get to locations unreachable by jumping, or to descend lower without having to take a huge fall. More of these items can be found within each level, and occasionally a shopkeeper even shows up with new upgrades for sale. His items are random, and they range from machetes to jetpacks to cameras, all of which can be crucial survival tools.

Each level has its own little quirks and secrets, and because of its randomized nature, you never know what you’re going to get. There is one constant, however; hidden somewhere in each level is a damsel in distress (which can amusingly be turned into a pug in the game’s settings). Rescue her and you’ll get one extra heart added to your life — these are critical to your success, and it is almost always worth the effort to save her.

Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

Spelunky has so many secrets, such as hidden rooms and characters, that there is *always* something new to discover. I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled upon the black market — a new room where seemingly every item in the game can be purchased. Too bad I didn’t have much gold on me at the time.

Now, as this is a roguelike title, the permanent deaths and constant restarts can be an exercise in patience. The obscene difficulty can be a huge turn off at first, but if you stick with it, the game is immensely rewarding. I can’t say I have ever played a game that made me jump for joy just for being able to reach the second world! It takes time to learn the behavior of every enemy, as while as how to avoid booby traps, but with every game you will get better. The game never feels cheap, as everything acts as it is supposed to. Enemies can fall to their death onto a bed of spikes just like you. It’s because of these consistencies that Spelunky truly works — it doesn’t resort to cheap tactics to raise its difficulty.

Outside of the main adventure mode, there is an option to play deathmatches. This throws four characters into a cramped environment where they fight to the death by throwing bombs, using powerups, etc. It’s basically a throwaway addition to the game, but it can be a fun diversion with friends.

Spelunky [PS Vita/PS3]

One nice perk about the PSN edition is that the game can be played LAN-style between the Vita and PS3. This means that two players can do a co-op campaign with one person using the Vita, and the other playing on the PS3. It’s an incredibly cool addition, and it’s something I would love to see other games do. There is no online multiplayer, unfortunately, but that’s not a huge loss given the game’s splendid local options.

In the end, Spelunky is a clever little title that works perfectly on the Vita. Its addictive exploration gameplay and randomized dungeons offer seemingly endless replay value, and its small download size means it will earn a permanent place on my memory card. There is a demo available so you can try this for yourself, but chances are you will get hooked just like I did.

9/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

Divekick
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC)
Genre: 2D Fighting
Developer: One True Game Studios & Iron Galaxy Studios
Publisher: Iron Galaxy Studios
Price: $9.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: August 20, 2013

Divekick is simultaneously a parody and an homage to the fighting game genre. What started as an innocent joke — what if there was a fighting game where all you could do is dive and kick? — quickly grew legs and became a sensation on its own. Now this “minimalist” fighter has been unleashed onto the PC, PS3 and Vita, giving the general gaming public a chance to see what all the fuss is about.

The result? A bona fide cult hit.

Divekick‘s concept is kind of genius, really. While there is a good-sized community of hardcore fighting game fans, there are even more who steer away from the genre due to the overwhelming complexity of many modern titles (myself included). By stripping away the gameplay to its absolute purest form, Iron Galaxy Studios have created an immediately accessible game that anyone and everyone can play.

Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

There are only two buttons to memorize: dive and kick. Essentially, dive is a jump button, causing the player to ascend vertically on the screen. While in the air, he can perform a kick. There are also special moves that can be used by pressing the two buttons together. Hitting your opponent with any kick variation will end the round. The first player to win five rounds is the winner of the match. That’s basically all you need to know.

What’s amazing is that there is a startling amount of depth to these seemingly simple encounters. An example of this is the game’s versions of “headshots”. If you manage to kick an opponent in the head, they become concussed for the next round, causing them to move incredibly slower than usual. This potentially creates a huge disadvantage for your opponent, making them easier targets for your next devastating kick (or headshot).

By only allowing for two moves, everyone is on the same level. In a way, each round feels like a poker game. You are constantly watching your opponent, learning their mannerisms and trying to outsmart them. Sure, some matter of luck is involved, but there will likely never be a situation where you feel you are outmanned from the start. That can’t be said for other fighting games.

Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

Divekick has a total of thirteen characters, each one with their own style of play. Fighting game buffs will recognize most of these options as spoofs of characters from other titles. In fact, there are countless in-jokes scattered throughout the game, most of which will go over the heads of those not in the know. That’s not to say this is only funny to fans of the genre; that’s not the case at all. Some bits are just generally amusing, such as Uncle Sensei’s “pro tips” that display on loading screens. This is a game that does not take itself seriously at all, and it’s all the better for it.

As far as modes go, Divekick is incredibly basic. There are brief, nonsensical story modes for each character, but they grow tedious after finishing one or two of them. The real heart of the game comes in the form of its versus and online modes. Nothing compares to playing against friends locally or against random people online. Each match, when paired against someone else, is a tense, adrenaline-filled affair. Best yet, they are over relatively quickly, working perfectly as a quick go-to party option. Divekick + friends + booze = one hell of a gaming night.

Divekick [PS3, Vita, PC]

The PSN version of the game is cross-buy, meaning one purchase nets you both the PS3 and Vita versions. I played both extensively for this review, and I noticed no differences in terms of content. The Vita even has a unique way to play local versus matches — one player uses the d-pad for their two buttons, whereas the other uses the right buttons (i.e. square and X). I had a harder time finding ranked matches on the Vita, but that could have been an aberration.

Divekick is an incredibly addictive little game, and it gets my vote for the best party title this year. While some may scoff at the notion of a two-button fighting game, I am willing to bet that most will get hooked when they actually sit down to play it. That’s what happened to me. Absolutely worth a look for everyone, not just fighting game fans.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Dyad [PS3]

Dyad [PS3]

Dyad
System: Playstation 3 [PSN]
Genre: Racing, Puzzle, Shooter, Music
Publisher: ][
Developer: ][
Price: $14.99
Release Date: July 17, 2012

Every now and then a game comes around that defies classification. Such is the case with Dyad, an exciting new PSN downloadable title that blends together puzzle, racing, shooter and music elements while sprinkling a few drops of acid to the mix. For those infatuated with wild visuals and vibrant colors, this is pure psychedelic bliss.

It’s a bit difficult to actually describe Dyad, as it is one of those games that just needs to be played to understand. While perusing trailers and gameplay videos, I was more confused than anything. The flashing lights, frenetic racing and kaleidoscopic colors looked overwhelming, and I had no clue what was going on. From an outsider’s perspective, I suspect this is a common occurrence. However, as soon as I picked up the controller, everything just clicked.

Dyad has 27 levels, and the core gameplay has a similar theme throughout. Each stage takes place in a tunnel, and you control a squid-like character that can maneuver in the form of a circle. Various enemies and obstacles are presented off in the distance, and it is your job to manipulate these for your benefit as you frantically push forward. Each level has its own goal, and these help spice up the overall gameplay. Some early levels require “hooking” enemies together in order to boost speed, whereas others require the use of “lancing” in which foes are essentially consumed.

While the gameplay may sound confusing in text, the actual learning curve is quite simple. This is a textbook example of “easy to learn, difficult to master.” It’s possible to whip through the 27 levels in a matter of a couple hours, as all it takes to move onto the next is finishing a stage with a one star rating (out of a possible three). By getting the full three stars in a stage, a brand new challenge is unlocked in the form of trophy levels. In these, you are given a much more difficult goal to complete before time is up, with the reward being a trophy. In some of the later levels, it’s hard enough to get three stars, so completing many of these trophy levels can be an astonishing achievement in itself.

Since Dyad is a single player affair, any and all replay value comes in the form of beating these challenges while also trying to move up on the online leaderboards. Normally I don’t care about my online rankings, but I felt a tremendous sense of pride when I was able to finish a trophy level fast enough to be ranked sixth on the worldwide leaderboard. In that sense, it could easily get addictive to continually try to push your way to the top.

While the gameplay is impressively well-tuned, most people will be interested in Dyad because of its hallucinogenic properties. This is very much an audio/visual experience. While vivacious colors flash on screen, the game’s electronic music is perfectly synchronized with the action, creating something of a sensory overload. While screenshots give an idea of what the game looks like, the overall immersion from this is something that must be experienced. Many of the later levels move at breakneck speeds, creating a chaotic feel that certainly warrants the game’s preemptive epilepsy warning.

It is therein where Dyad’s biggest weakness can be found. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with the action on screen, especially as momentum builds faster and faster. There were a few instances where I resorted to button mashing until things slowed down a bit, and occasionally my character was moving so fast it was near impossible to play strategically. While a bit problematic for attempting to achieve high scores, these reckless segments are still thrilling, albeit not in the same manner as others.

Quite simply, I haven’t played anything like Dyad before. While it has throwbacks to other games such as Rez and Tempest, it is very much a fresh and unique experience. The frantic gameplay and polychromatic visuals aren’t for everyone, but for those willing to give it a chance, it won’t take much to get hooked. Dyad is one of the more intriguing titles to be released this year, and I am looking forward to seeing what designer Shawn McGrath comes up with next.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Wipeout HD [Playstation 3, 2008]

Wipeout HD [Playstation 3, 2008]

Wipeout HD
System: Playstation 3
Publisher: SCEE
Developer: SCE Studio Liverpool
Release Date: September 25, 2008

Slick visuals, a pounding techno soundtrack, fast-paced racing gameplay. Wipeout HD has everything I love in a racing title, and I am shocked that it took me this long to check it out. Kudos to Sony for making this a part of their Welcome Back package a couple months ago.

I have never played a Wipeout title before, so this is all new to me. Those who have played the PSP titles, Wipeout Pure and Wipeout Pulse, will feel right at home here, however, since eight of their combined tracks have been remade for HD. The lack of original content may irk series veterans, but it’s pure bliss for a newbie like me.

Wipeout HD [Playstation 3, 2008]

In Wipeout HD, you pilot an anti-gravity craft through a variety of different races. Some are simple — i.e. regular lap races and time trials — but others are unique, such as the trippy-as-fuck Zone mode. The Zone mode is unlike anything I have ever experienced in a racing game. In this, you are racing alone on a track that keeps pushing you forward faster and faster until you are at breakneck speeds. The kicker is that the environment’s colors frequently change into a vibrant array of neon imagery that make it feel as if you are racing through an out-of-control acid trip. Seriously, it’s insane.

The game’s campaign mode throws all of these different types of races at you via eight different “levels”. The races start off easy enough, but they get increasingly more difficult the deeper you go. Around the halfway mark, there is a noticeable raise in difficulty, and it can become a challenge to even earn a bronze model at that point. Still, the races are quick and very, very fun, so even those who are easily frustrated will keep pushing forward.

Not enough can be said about Wipeout HD’s presentation. The game’s 1080p and 60 frames-per-second visuals are absolutely stunning, and the in-game racing is as smooth as can be. Quite frankly, this is amazing for a downloadable title. The techno soundtrack fits the gameplay perfectly, complete with tracks from some of my personal favorites such as Booka Shade and Mason.

Wipeout HD [Playstation 3, 2008]

As if Wipeout HD wasn’t amazing enough in its own regard, Sony included the Fury add-on pack in the Welcome Back package. Fury adds eight new tracks, 13 new ship models and three new game modes, all of which essentially double the single player content. Incredible.

I am smitten with Wipeout HD. This is exactly the kind of arcade racer that I enjoy, and I haven’t played such a game that brings everything together the way this does. If you missed out on getting it for free, rest assured that the bundle is still a steal at its $24.99 price tag. Brace yourself for a wild ride.

9/10

Free Games Announced for Playstation Network Members

Now that the Playstation Network is finally back, today Sony was able to announce their “welcome back” plan for PSN members. Here are the full details, courtesy of the Official Playstation Blog

“All PlayStation Network customers can select two PS3 games from the following list. The games will be available for 30 days shortly after PlayStation Store is restored and can be kept forever.

* Dead Nation
* inFAMOUS
* LittleBigPlanet
* Super Stardust HD
* Wipeout HD + Fury

For PSP owners, you will be eligible to download two PSP games from the following list. The games will be available for 30 days shortly after PlayStation Store is restored and can be kept forever.

* LittleBigPlanet (PSP)
* ModNation Racers
* Pursuit Force
* Killzone Liberation

* A selection of “On Us” rental movie titles will be available to PlayStation Network customers over one weekend, where Video Service is available. Those titles will be announced soon.
* 30 days free PlayStation Plus membership for non PlayStation Plus subscribers.
* Existing PlayStation Plus subscribers will receive an additional 60 days of free subscription.
* Existing Music Unlimited Premium Trial subscription members will receive an additional 30 days of free premium subscription.
* Additional 30 days + time lost for existing members of Music Unlimited Premium/Basic subscription free of charge for existing Premium/Basic members.
* To welcome users Home, PlayStation Home will be offering 100 free virtual items. Additional free content will be released soon, including the next addition to the Home Mansion personal space, and Ooblag’s Alien Casino, an exclusive game.”

It looks like I will finally get inFamous, which I have heard nothing but great things about. I already own LittleBigPlanet and Dead Nation, both of which are quality titles. I haven’t decided on Super Stardust HD or Wipeout Fury HD yet — both seem intriguing.

How about you guys? What two games will you be picking up?