Roll Model

Some years ago I read an article about the greatest PlayStation 2 games that nobody bought. I had most of the games on that list and figured that it would be worth seeing what else might work for me that hadn’t worked for most. The first one I picked up was an odd little title called We ♥ Katamari. It was bright and colourful, it had a very strange intro with a really catchy theme, and I was absolutely in love. I do, in fact, ♥ Katamari.

Over the years I’ve managed to miss every other Katamari game, either because they’re hard to get hold of, on systems I couldn’t afford for only one game, or just sounded like really bad versions (I’m looking at you, mobile ports). As such, it was with a certain degree of squeeing, flapping and excitedly running around that I learned that the original, Katamari Damacy, was coming to my beloved Switch, as a glorious remaster. Since I first got my Switch, I’ve been saying we need to put a Katamari game on there. I was right, It’s a great fit and I’m so happy it’s happened (it’s also on PC, but my PC broke and I can’t afford to replace it).

Katamari Damacy Reroll includes all the beautiful Katamari fun (not Beautiful Katamari fun, that’s the Xbox 360 version), with shiny new graphics. Katamari games have always had a particular art style, slightly blocky people and animals, simple and clear textures, and just plain weird cutscenes. It’s all here, all prettied up for your collecting pleasure.

You take on the role (ha!) of the prince. Your father, The King Of All Cosmos has broken everything in the heavens, leaving only the earth (and I guess the sun). Consequently, you are charged with heading down to earth to roll up whatever you can, to make new stars, constellations, and a new moon. You do this by rolling a colourful, lumpy ball around. Things smaller than the katamari will stick to it, while larger things will bash you away or just stop you altogether. The larger your ball of stuff gets, the larger the stuff you can grab gets.

Early levels will see you rolling up small items around a small room. Later on, you’ll be moving from small enough to roll under a car, with plenty of head room; to a gargantuan ball of terror that gathers even the tallest buildings. Most of the time, you’ll be given a target size and a time limit to aim for. Some levels however, will have special conditions. Maybe, you have to catch as many crabs as possible; maybe you have to carefully roll up things that aren’t cows, to get big enough to get the largest possible cow, to please the king (this level can get in the sea); maybe you’re trying to guess when your katamari hits a specific size, without your normal gauge.

Movement is done through tank controls. Both sticks in the same direction to move that way; one forward, one back for fast turning; speedy, alternate waggling of sticks to get a speed boost. Well, that’s true for normal controls. You can also use motion controls, but oh heckins I cannot recommend that at all. It feels clunky, unwieldy and like you’re going to run out of time before you master it.

The music in Katamari Damacy Reroll is typically cheery, fun, and not a little silly. It’s in all sorts of style from jazzy numbers, to mambo, to acapella that even in a 15 minute plus levels it doesn’t get boring or annoying.

It’s a really odd concept, but it really works and is a huge amount of fun. While I completed every level of the game in one afternoon, I’m still going back and trying to get better scores on the levels. Larger stars will replace the old ones, smaller ones are destroyed for stardust, just making the sky more twinkly. My sky will be full of stars and stardust and I’m looking forward to playing a huge amount more. *begins plotting campaign to get more Katamari games on Switch*

Pros:

  • A huge amount of fun, at a budget price
  • Looks fantastic
  • Great soundtrack

Cons:

  • The cow and bear levels can get in the sea
  • It has to end eventually
  • Motion control is the literal worst

Overall Score 9/10

Let’s (Mario) Party!

If you’ve owned a Nintendo system in the last 20 years (well, now I feel freaking old), chances are you’ve played one of the fifteen or so Mario Party games. If not, the concept is pretty simple – roll dice to move around a game board, compete in simple minigames, collect coins (to buy bonus items and stars, the player with the most stars after a set number of turns get to rub their glorious victory in the faces of their loser friends (Suck it, Peach. Shy Guy is the boss round here. Go back to your castle and cry more! … Ahem). It’s a really simple idea that is made or broken on how good the minigames are, as that’s what you’ll spend most of your time doing.

And so we come to the eleventh game in the main console series – Super Mario Party.

Once again, Mario’s heroes and villains have gathered to see who will be the superstar. Choose from 16 characters (to start with and 4 more to be unlocked as you play), including fan favourites like Shy Guy, Waluigi, Bowser and Dry bones (I mean, Mario and that lot are in there too, but they get quite enough of the spotlight in other games tbh. Also, I think it’s time to petition Nintendo for Bowsette DLC). Each character will have access to their own unique special die as well as a basic D6. Shy Guy, for example has is five sides showing ‘4’ and one of ‘0’ – pretty handy if you’re looking to move a very specific amount to land on something good.

With your character chosen, you can set the difficulty level for any CPU players and then stroll on into the Party Plaza. Here you can check out the game’s modes. Initially, not everything is open, but in time you’ll have access to a whole range of options.

First up there’s classic party mode. 4 players go head to head to take on one of three game boards, each with their own unique mechanics to help or hinder your progress. Once all three have been completed, you’ll open a fourth board for this mode. You can choose to play 10 or 30 turns. With 10 working out to approximately an hour of play.

Different spaces on the board will have different effects, blue for extra coins, red to lose coins, exclamations cause special effects on the board (e.g. taking a warp to another area), clovers award a random bonus, bad luck spaces cause a random loss, and then there’s the ally space.

The ally space allows you to pick up a companion from the remaining available characters. You’ll get to use their special die and they’ll roll a bonus die along with your roll that will add 1 or 2 to your total. It’s cute and fun watching dialogue between sworn enemies, agreeing to help out… just this once.

Next there’s couples mode. Two teams of two make their way across a much more open board. Rather than the usual, single lane, branching path, these boards tend to have more room to move and plan your strategies. Both players on a team will roll their dice and the total is added together. Players then get to move the total of the dice roll each. I found this mode to be a bit slower on the board itself, as the teams make plans to move around. Do you move together, towards the star or split the party, with one going for a special item, to gather coins, or pound on your opponents in order to steal their precious coins?

Additionally, the fact that one player will always move first of the two, becomes important, since the first player can trigger a special event, which may change the possible routes around the board. This could mean that bad planning sees the second player being stuck behind a wall, losing some of their moves.

During this mode, you’ll find allies being air dropped in at intervals. If you can swoop in and grab them before the opposing team, they can really make or break your game. Here the ally’s added dice rolls will only go to the player that picked them up, rather than to the team as a whole.

If you’re feeling up for some rhythm action, there’s Sound Stage mode just for this. The actions range from washing suds off of a window, riding a horse by pulling on the reigns, spiking fruit with a sword, and more. The music is great and controls are suitably responsive as you waggle your way to victory.

Next up is challenge road. A single player mode where you must play through each of the 80 minigames in a specific order. The difficulty is pre-set and can get pretty tricky, especially if there’s games you know you’re weak on.

Finally, why not take a nice gentle paddle down the river? I’ll tell you why not, because the water it pretty darn choppy in River Survival and there’s plenty of obstacles in your way (Bloopers making whirlpools, Cheep Cheeps bouncing out of the water, etc.). This mode is played as a co-operative, four player team, working together to take on the many dangers of these choppy waters (and maybe overthrowing capitalism once they’re done… please?). As there were only two of us playing, I was initially concerned that having two CPU players would make life super difficult. We made sure one of us was on either side of the boat, with the CPU helping one of us each, they did a great job paddling where we wanted and held their own in the mini games.

One game in particular really showed off how considerately programmed they are. It’s a basic memory game, with cards laid out showing the suits, you’re given the target suit and after a few seconds, they’re flipped over, some will move and then you have to pick out the correct cards. My first thought was that, if I’ve been focusing on one particular card, and the CPU picks that one, I’m pretty screwed. However, I noticed that there was a distinct pause before they move, giving you good time to get to your target. It’s a simple thing, but makes all the difference and stops it feeling unfair if you’re not playing with a full team of hoomins.

Along the course of the river, you’ll find balloons, which will trigger minigames. These can be completed for additional sailing time, with higher scores/better times meaning your earn more time. There’s also stop watches which award an extra three seconds. As you progress, there’s the chance to pick different routes so you can eventually see all five endings of this mode.

If all the main modes seem like a bit of a time commitment that you can’t afford, there’s a mode to free-play any of the games you’ve unlocked and even compete in five minigame, online marathons.

That’s already a lot of game, but wait, there’s more. Anyone who’s seen the trailer for the game will have noticed that there’s a special mode using two Switches. First, you’ll need two consoles and two copies of the game. Set up is pretty simple from the tile screen, and then you can head into Toad’s Rec Room. Now, just lay your Switches down next to each other, on a flat surface. Draw a line on the screen to let the system know where they are relative to each other. Now you can drive tanks through warp pipes to travel between the screens and attack your opponents. It’s pretty cool, but expensive to get started.

This game has a huge amount of heart. One of my favourite features is the high fives. At the cue, just punch the air with your controller in hand and your characters will perform a cute little high five. In River Survial mode, you can perform the manoeuvre after every minigame, or clap your paddles together between areas to earn three extra seconds. In couples mode, you can do it to gain some extra coins after minigames.

If that’s all a bit hectic for you, why not retire to the sticker room and just cover some scenes in Mario themed stickers. If you’ve got Mario character amiibo, you can unlock shiny stickers for those characters, other amiibo will award you additional party points to spend on more unlocks.

I’d say we spent about 15 hours total playing through classic party mode, river survival, couples, sound stage mode, and challenge road. After all that, I’m still up for playing it a whole bunch more and really excited to see what it’s like with four friends. The music is great, it’s graphically beautiful, with wonderful texture work, and it never once felt like I was fighting the controller.

Speaking of which, all you need to play the game is a single Joy-Con. There’s a good variety of games using motion control (for example to throw boomerangs or shave ice), many using the stick and one or two buttons, or just single button pounding. Even the HD rumble feature is put to good use (This was really my first experience of the HD rumble as I’ve not had a chance to check out 1-2 Switch). One game features a number of passing characters (Wigglers, Bullet Bills, Thwomps, etc) each causing the controller to rumble very differently. The rumble is then played back blind and you have to identify which character it was you could feel. I was super impressed with how different they could make the rumble feel.

Another game sees you having to select boxes and shake them to see which have the most nuts inside. Once you’re happy, pop them down on your side of the play field and see how you scored at the end. It’s a really innovative use of the controller and I’m super glad it’s not been ignored beyond that pricy tech demo

#12SwitchShouldHaveBeenAFreePackInWithTheConsole.

Pros:

  • A lot of game to get through.
  • AI is capable in co-op and challenging at higher skill levels.
  • Very replayable.
  • Looks beautiful.

Cons:

  • No option to use download play to try Toad’s Rec Room.
  • River mode doesn’t work super well in single player.
  • I was robbed in classic mode during the bonus awards *shakes fist*.

Overall Score: 10/10

Zombies Ate My PC Gamer Weekender

tl;dr get Basingstoke! Here’s a link

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This past weekend I got the chance to visit the PC Gamer Weekender at London Olympia. Not a venue I’ve been to before, so it was nice to explore a bit. The door staff were helpful and pleasant; the lifts were huge, certainly enough room to not only get a couple of electric wheelchairs in, but to turn around easily too. On the event floor, there’s a cloak room café area, and toilets are well sign posted. A seating at one end for refreshments and a large tabletop gaming area near to stands selling collectable cards, general nerd merch  (including the legally required number of Funko Pop figures for such events), and a good selection or tabletop games (damn you Pandemic and your many tempting variants!). In addition there were two stages – quite close together – which hosted a number of panels for game reveals and tech talks that I largely missed. And Finally, the most important area, the bit most people came for: the glorious corridors of game stands *crowd makes excited oooooh sound*. Luckily, the event wasn’t too crowded, so it was easy ish to get to try things, and wasn’t too overwhelmingly peopley.

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Game I actually went to see – 2 Point Hospital.

I played a lot of Theme Hospital in my youth. Like, a loooooot of Theme Hospital. Its quirky humour, charming graphics, and involving gameplay kept me coming back for more, even though I wasn’t very good at it. It’s one I came back to again and again and had only recently been wishing that someone would update. So the recent announcement that some of the old Bullfrog team were getting 2 Point Studios [www.twopointstudios.com] together and would soon be releasing 2 Point Hospital, a spiritual successor to Theme Hospital. The panel introduced some members of the team and their mission statement.

Good news everybody, 2 Point Studios want to re-imagine sims and be the home of “little people games”. For those who loved Populous, Powermonger, Theme Park, and Theme Hospital, this is excellent news. Personally, I’ve felt the industry has been lacking good games in this genre for some time. From what the announcement trailer has shown, and the gameplay footage shown at the Weekender, the game is looking fantastic. The graphics are clean and colourful, looking great from a distant overview, right down to fully zoomed in; the interface is simple and clear; and for those familiar with TH, it’s looking like everything we would want from a successor.

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One of the main draws of TH for me was the wacky afflictions which patients could come in with. Bloaty head – a massively swollen head that needs to be popped and lightly re-inflated to normal size, slack tongue – a huge lolling tongue that personally I’d just learn to live with for… reasons, and invisibility to name a few. 2PH has new conditions all of its own. Including light headedness – waking up to find your head is now literally a lightbulb which will need to be unscrewed and replaced with a new head, and mummification – wandering, bandaged horrors that need to be popped into a casket, and have their coverings unwound. The devs announced that the final game will be filled more of these punny illnesses for you to cure with unusual and entertainingly animated equipment. Do try not to get embarrassed at people seeing your skeleton when passing through the x-ray machine.

I was excited before, seeing this at the Weekender and nothing I saw did anything to lessen that. It’s looking great and I’m very hype. Devs are not yet ready put an exact date for release, but my body is ready just as soon as they are ready to put it out.

2 Point Hospital will be available on Steam at some point in 2018.

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Pleasant surprise of the show – Guns of Icarus Alliance

I’ve not played GoI for some time. I got quite into it for a while, but I just didn’t have the time and too many other things that ran better on my PC (To be fair, the PC I was using at that time was junk and GoI just chugged on it).

This new game is very much more of the same first-person, steampunk/dieselpunk multiplayer, airship crew simulator. Take to the skies and battle rival crews in huge areas. Take the high road, or sink as low as you can and into clouds to avoid detection, then sneak up on your enemy. Take on specific roles as gunner, engineer or pilot – though anyone can do any job in a pinch even put out the occasional fire.  The original game featured 7 magnificent airships, with Alliance adding a further six to date. Each is differently manoeuvrable and having varying amounts of guns and armour.

Alliance adds more than just new ships and enhanced graphics to the original 2012 release. Developers, Muse Games are very excited that they have successfully integrated cross-platform play with Windows, Mac, Linux, and PS4. While your account can’t be moved from platform to platform, you can play with your friends, without problems, regardless of which system they’re using. Additionally, faction war gameplay lets crews to earn war effort for their faction, which in turn allows them to take over or defend pieces of land on the map. There’s time in lobby to strategize and plan for the war effort, but if that’s not your thing, you can always set up a private game and have it out with your friends.

Alliance also sees the game ported to a newer version of Unity, which has allowed them to improve enemy AI. Staff at the booth told me a great story about one of the devs loudly complaining, as they believed someone in the office was picking on them. It later turned out to be an AI player that they’d upset.

So gather your crew, inflate your balloon, and set sail to the skies to fight your enemy. For the good of [insert preferred faction] because you’re the best and most right, obviously.

Guns of Icarus Alliance is available on Steam and Humble Store

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Game of the Show – Basingstoke

I’ve played a few of Puppy Games creations. They’ve mostly been fun and engaging updates on classic games with a unique art style that is instantly recognisable if you’ve played any of their stuff. Even their most fearsome enemies have a certain adorable look about them. Like a hangry loved one on a rampage. Speaking of hangry, what monster encapsulates that idea better than zombies (phew, think I landed that segue with no problems). This brings us to Basingstoke. Well, it’s Basingstoke, but not as you know it. Unless you know it to be on fire and the residents to be rather bitey. In this case, I’m referring to, the terminally British isometric roguelike zombie survival game that makes me crave a strawberry Cornetto.

“But Jane, everyone’s tired of zombie games. They’re so dead.” Well friend, unless you sever the head or destroy the brain, only the crappy, asset flippy, BS zombie games are going to fall to something like market saturation (also, your pun is bad). On the other hand we have this, which is beautiful, charming, and wonderfully fun.

The graphics are typical for the studio, simple, stylish and cute, with excellent lighting effects.  It’s not often I get to see road signs, traffic cones, keep left bollards, and ridiculous helmeted police officers that match those I see every day, in the videogames I play. That’s because so many games are set in the US. However, it’s these simple pleasures that first drew my eye to this game.

Sneak around post-apocalyptic Basingstoke to gather all the materials you can, avoiding the cute and dopey looking enemies. Items can be crafted from the materials you find to either directly attack the shambling horde – like a pool cue or pepper spray. Other items, such as a kebab can be thrown to try and draw the attention these ghoulish creatures from your delicious bod (I’ve been out drinking in Croydon on a Friday night and can attest that this does in fact work).

Apart from the shambling undead, I got to see some of the fast and vicious monsters. And by “see” I mean, I ran away as fast as possible, flailing and hurling sausage rolls to try and distract them. They may be adorable but those teeth aren’t to be trifled with… unless there’s a trifle to be found or crafted somewhere and used to temporarily blind them. Then I would maybe consider that as a last resort.

Once you’ve looted everything that takes your fancy and found the key item, you can make your way to (temporary) safety at the exit to the area. The end of the first section allows you to escape to The Red Lion pub, and part of me hopes there will be an option to stay there and wait for it all to blow over, shoot some pool and listen to Queen on the jukebox like a super quick, waiting for the phone call to end, Far Cry 4 alternate ending.

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For the event, they had all the current classes unlocked, with each character having varying starting equipment. I had a quick look at the office worker, police officer, and tourist – who gets a distracting polaroid camera and a GPS that guides you to the level exit. Each is beautifully designed, and I can’t wait to spend more time with them, waking up in strange toilets, in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Basingstoke’s areas are a mix of prefab and procedurally generated areas, to make for more variety and replayablity. I’ve only been to Basingstoke once, but if this game is accurate, I’ll have to go again, and be surprised it seems.

Not going to lie, of all the things that I’ve fallen in love with, the loading screen was the most surprising. It’s a set of temporary traffic lights and one of those “When red light shows wait here” signs, with an adorable zombie in a hard hat and hi-vis jacket. As the level loads, the lights change. I have no idea why this charms me so much, but there it is.

You can play it right now by supporting the Puppy Games Patreon for as little as $5.  Or wait until March 30th for the Steam release How’s that for a slice of fried gold?