[REVIEW] A Rose in the Twilight


A Rose in the Twilight
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Available on: Vita (reviewed), PC
Price: $19.99


A Rose in the Twilight is a dejected and atmospheric fairy tale surrounding the unlikely pairing of a cursed girl and her stone giant companion, as they attempt to flee the castle in which she’s held captive. Its unique aesthetic and gameplay hook pair nicely with the game’s portrayal of blood as a life force, ultimately presenting a memorably gloomy tale that fans of the Brothers Grimm should no doubt enjoy.

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Cave Story+ Gets Physical, Physical. Oh, and a Launch Date.

The fine folks at Nicalis are bringing the definitive edition of indie darling Cave Story to the Nintendo Switch on June 20th in both physical and digital formats. In a PR e-mail received earlier today, the official price is set at $29.99 for either version. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Snake Pass

Snake Pass
Developer: Sumo Digital
Publisher: Sumo Digital
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PC
Price: $19.99 USD

The folks at Sumo Digital have taken a novel approach to the beloved mascot platformer of the N64 era, in by which they’ve gone and removed jumping altogether. In Snake Pass, players control Noodle the snake and slither and weave their way through branches and blocks in order to locate three hidden gems. Every stage presents an increasingly difficult obstacle course to navigate, but underneath the game’s beautifully colorful exterior and charming characters lies a game whose enjoyment will be largely dependent on your ability to adapt and appreciate its frustrating control scheme. Continue reading

A Platformer Without Jumping? Snake Pass Looks Awesome!

Set to release tomorrow for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch, Sumo Digital’s Snake Pass explores the concept of navigating a world typically built for a platformer, but without the ability to jump. Instead, players control a colorful snake named Noodle, who slithers and wraps themselves around blocks and branches using a rather unique control scheme. Continue reading

VVVVVV Was the Perfect Travel Distraction and a Great PS Plus Freebie on Vita

Whenever I travel, I like to bring along my Vita to pass time during bouts of insomnia. I’m a terrible sleeper, so it’s not uncommon to be wide awake at odd hours while every normal human is sound asleep. I recently found myself in this exact situation while out of town for the holidays, but thankfully found solace in one of this month’s Playstation Plus freebies, VVVVVV.

This fun little 2D puzzle platformer by Terry Cavanagh (Super Hexagon) initially released more than 6 years ago, but more recently found a home on PS4 and Vita during the summer of 2015. Unfortunately it doesn’t support Playstation’s cross-buy feature, but its bite-sized adventure certainly feels right at home on Vita.

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When six crew members (whose names all start with the letter ‘V’, hence the name of the game) are tossed in to a dimensional rift, you take control of Captain Viridian in hopes of locating your now-missing friends. It’s mostly a traditional platformer, navigating a labyrinthine map in search of checkpoints and teleporters, while avoiding death at the hands of various hazards.

Each of the missing crewmen are tucked away in specific locations that remain hidden to the player, but the map is far more expansive than it leads on. And since there’s no additional power-ups or abilities to unlock, every inch of the grounds is open to explore at your own pace.

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It’s a short and sweet adventure with a really catchy soundtrack by Magnus Palsson, but the core of the game lies in its clever platforming. Rather than utilizing traditional jumping mechanics, pressing the X button instead sends Viridian soaring from the floor to the ceiling, or vice versa. One simple puzzle tasks you with traversing the ceiling to avoid the spikes below, while a more intricate one may have you rapidly shifting positions between disappearing platforms or patrolling enemies.

Without the ability to simply jump over gaps or onto platforms, Cavanagh has taken a genre we’ve seen beaten to death over the last 34 years and makes it feel new again. There’s a gradual increase in difficulty that’s well paced, so I never once felt overwhelmed; just challenged. VVVVVV can definitely be a bit of a demanding game where death is a constant, but its design is entirely accessible thanks to a generous checkpoint and fast travel system.

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Even as someone whose skill in platformers has steadily declined over the years, I managed to make my way through VVVVVV in just under two hours. There were a few sections that had me clinching my Vita tighter than I should have, but I was never frustrated or on the verge of rage quitting. Trial by dying has never been my favorite learning exercise, yet I felt compelled to push on while humming along with Palsson’s magnificent bleeps and bloops pulsing in the background.

While the Vita has a comprehensive library of meaty role-playing games and visual novels, many of which I enjoy immensely, my ideal to-go experiences are these bite-sized adventures that I can pick up and play in short bursts. Whether it’s just an impeccable case of “right place, right time” I’m glad I gave VVVVVV the shot it deserved. I don’t have much of a reason to revisit it any time soon, but it definitely ranks high on my list of ideal travel games, alongside the likes of Spelunky, Super Meat Boy, Rogue Legacy, and Risk of Rain.

REVIEW: Downwell

Downwell
Developed by: Moppin, with porting assistance from Red Phantom Games (Minutes).
Published by: Devolver Digital
Available on: PS4 (cross-buy with Vita), PS Vita (reviewed, cross-buy with PS4), PC, iOS, Android
Price: $4.99
In a nutshell: It’s like those dreams where you’re falling, except you have shooty boots and die at the end.

Ojiro Fumoto’s vertical rogue-like platformer Downwell took the PC and mobile world by storm last year, winning a handful of Game of the Year awards from the likes of The Jimquisition and Destructoid (where it was awarded a perfect 10/10 score). Then toward the end of the year Downwell’s publisher Devolver Digital showed the game running on a PlayStation Vita and I about lost my shit.

Downwell is great, so let’s just get that out of the way immediately.

I really enjoyed the rogue-like on PC, but I always felt it wasn’t a game I was comfortable playing tethered to my bedroom. No, Downwell belonged on a handheld. It’s challenging, therefore I die a lot, and it was something I could see myself playing on the go in many, many short bursts. Downwell was already available on mobile devices, but touch controls just aren’t responsive enough when it comes to platformers. The thought of playing Downwell on my Vita though? I needed it. I needed it bad.

Fumoto, developing under the pseudonym Moppin, worked with Red Phantom Games in order to port Downwell to the PS4 and Vita handheld this past Tuesday, May 24th, for an affordable $4.99. Although it’s not mentioned anywhere in the product description over at the official PlayStation store (at least not yet), cross-buy is fully supported. I would have gone with the Vita version either way, but it’s nice to have Downwell readily available on the PS4 should I feel the need to play on the big screen. I probably won’t though, because it refuses to launch (temporarily, I hope).

Gunboots blow stuff up and slow your descent, but can only be recharged upon landing.

Gunboots blow stuff up and slow your descent, but can only be recharged upon landing.

I’m not sure what the exact issue is here, but I receive an error every time I attempt to launch the game on PS4. The error states that Downwell needs an update in order to launch, but according to the “check for updates” feature I’m already running the most recent version available. I’ve attempted to uninstall and reinstall the game in a variety different ways — remote downloading from Playstation.com, manually installing from my PS4 library, etc. — and nothing has fixed the issue. I’ve tweeted at Devolver Digital for help, and once I receive a reply (or the game magically works) I’ll update this review accordingly.

UPDATE 5/28/2016: According to Devolver Digital and the President of PlayStation, Shuhei Yoshida, Downwell is cross-buy between PS4 and Vita. However, PlayStation’s customer support swears it isn’t. I was advised by Devolver to contact PlayStation concerning the issue, and I was told via live chat that Downwell isn’t cross-buy (regardless of who’s saying it is — you know, the game’s publisher, the Official PlayStation Blog, and Shuhei fucking Yoshida) and the best they could do was offer me a $5 USD coupon. I’m not the only person having this issue, but there are those who bought one version or the other claiming to have no problem whatsoever. All I can say is “buyer beware.”

Without playing the PS4 version, I can briefly talk to you about a couple of differences between the two.

For starters, the PS4 version will change the color of your DualShock 4’s light bar according to which color palette you choose. A nice touch, but nothing major. Since Downwell initially started out as a mobile game, the Vita version supports tate mode, essentially allowing you to rotate your Vita 90 degrees and play with a display similar to that found on mobile devices. Also a nice touch, but I preferred playing it in standard mode zoomed out to compensate for the otherwise lack of vertical depth.

In its simplest form, Downwell is a vertical platformer where the objective is to make it to the bottom of a procedurally generated well using nothing but a bit of luck, a lot of skill, and a concentrated power of will pair of gunboots.

It’s not as if you’re constantly falling downward, since there are platforms and enemies to land on, but Downwell’s rogue-like element of procedural generation forever prevents you from memorizing layouts and using that to your advantage on the next go. It also ensures every playthrough is unique, which significantly increases its replay value.

Laser boots are awesome. Running out of shots for the laser boots are the opposite of awesome. Unawesome. Or something.

Laser boots are awesome. Running out of shots for the laser boots are the opposite of awesome. Unawesome. Or something.

You also resemble Homestar Runner, if he were ass naked. So there’s that.

You can move left and right on your way down, using either the d-pad or analog stick, and pressing the X button doubles as a jump function and a trigger for your gunboots. The boots fire straight down, killing things and slowing your descent to the bottom, and their firing pattern can be altered with power-ups found in side rooms. There’s machine guns that rapidly fire bullets, and run out of them just as fast. There’s also lasers, spread shots, and certain perks that extend their range, but the catch is that they can only be reloaded when you land on solid ground — be it platforms or monsters.

You can probably see where this is going. If not, just imagine Spelunky if it were a vertical platformer.

Completing a stage allows you to choose from a few different passive benefits (randomly assorted, of course) like a combat drone that mimics your character’s actions, merchant discounts, and the ability to shoot corpses to cause an explosion. You can even cause destroyed objects in the environment to hurl bullets up toward the top of your screen and provide covering fire, which is just about always handy.

There’s a variety of enemies to encounter along the way, like floating eyeballs and bone-tossing skeletons, but not all of them can be stomped on Super Mario-style. Knowing which monsters to shoot or stomp is key, which clearly becomes easier with each subsequent playthrough. Good players rarely touch the ground (side note: I touch the ground a lot), instead hopping from monster to monster to extend their combo modifier. This increases the amount of gems earned that can then be spent in the in-game shops for health refills, ammo expansions, and more.

Knowing when to save your bullets for a safer fall, however, is exponentially more difficult thanks to the randomness of your level’s design.

The unpredictability of a rogue-like is a blessing and a curse, as I’ve said on multiple occasions. I’ve had great runs end in colossal failures, which caused me to set my Vita aside for a much needed time out. I’m an adult and I get frustrated at things. It happens.

It wasn’t always my fault though! I know, that excuse, but taking damage causes the game to slow down a tad and even that split second can mean life or death in Downwell. It wasn’t something that occurred often, but when it did I sure as hell paid the price. Well hello there, Mr. Turtle, let me just jump on your face to reload my gunboots an–OH FUCK SHIT FUCK WHY AM I HITTING THINGS THAT FEEL LIKE PISSING RAZORS!?–I’m dead.

Downwell features unlockable color palettes, from this eye-pleasing aqua blue, to eye-gouging Game Boy spinach green.

Downwell features unlockable color palettes, from this eye-pleasing aqua blue, to eye-gouging Game Boy spinach green.

In other news…

Downwell’s visuals are extremely tame, using nothing more than a three-tone approach in its retro aesthetic. The default palette uses black, white, and red to differentiate platforms, collectible gems, and things that hurt like hell if you step on them. Simply playing the game for a set period of time unlocks additional palettes, even ones that resemble the Game Boy’s spinach green and Virtual Boy’s deep red schemes. It felt odd paying tribute to Nintendo on a Sony platform, but I had a good laugh at the idea and went right back to the default layout.

Downwell isn’t winning any visual achievement awards, and it doesn’t need to because its deeply rooted in what matters most: fun. It’s just fun. I leap in to the well, I hum along with its now familiar theme songs, I probably die, but I have a blast in the process. If this were an arcade game in the 70’s and 80’s it would have been a quarter sponge, because every attempt makes you feel like you can do better next time. And the next time.

I failed my chubby little well diver more times than I care to count. Failure is a constant, but the rush of plummeting to my inevitable demise while slowly besting my personal… bests (shut up) deeply sunk its claws in to me. My ego may be a little shattered, since I always fancied myself “gud @ games,” but this is the exact type of game my 7 year-old self would have obsessed over on the NES. And actually, it’s the exact type of game my 34 year-old self will continue to obsess over on the Vita. Maybe the PS4. Someday.

*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I did spend a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if it’s worth playing.

Full disclosure: This review was done using a PlayStation Vita copy of Downwell that I purchased myself. While I’m sometimes given games to review, I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers and constructive feedback to hard working developers. Whether or not I pay for the game is irrelevant. 

Re:Review: No Time to Explain

*Re:Review brings to light a review written during my tenure at the now-defunct website, What’s Your Tag?, in order to avoid losing it to the abyss of the internet. It generally appears as it did back then (along with the video review, if available), with only minor formatting or grammatical changes. Although the review was written by me, Bradley Keene, the source is always What’s Your Tag? (whose domain is no longer available).

Original review date: August 10, 2015
Developer: tinyBuild (Party Hard, SpeedRunners, Punch Club)
Available on: PS4, Xbox One (reviewed), PC

An unfortunate burn by a Russian publisher lead to a bittersweet launch in 2011, but developer tinyBuild have returned to give No Time To Explain the remaster it deserves on the Xbox One. It’s a comedy platfomer where you forgo jumping in favor of propelling yourself with a jetpack gun, get fat by eating cake, and save the future from… well, you.

The game starts off with a visit from your future self who’s promptly mauled and dragged along by a massive space crab. Picking up their jetpack gun, you launch yourself across a ton of short-but-ferociously challenging levels that will no doubt cause more than a few rage inducing moments of precise platforming bliss. This mechanic is something you’ll either grow to love over time, or loathe with every fiber of your being.

“…successfully combines polished gameplay with pure insanity.”

I was in the latter camp for the first hour or so, as the game rapidly took me out of my comfort zone. I love platformers, and each level seemed so easy on paper if I could only jump like a normal person, but that damn jetpack gun is such a troll! All I have to do is make it across this hallway full of sharp parts and I’m home free, and I can’t because I suck at jetpacking and my future self won’t stop screaming or pretending to be a pterodactyl.

Using the right analog stick aims your hot piece of science and propels you in the opposite direction. As your only reliable method of transportation, this requires a bit of finesse when used for longer jumps, hovering over spikes, or slowing yourself before ramming face first in to other pointy objects that aren’t your friends. There’s also a fair amount of variety in the game, as the same mechanic is used while blasting around with a shotgun or slinging around walls like Spider-Man wearing a straight-jacket. Oh, and there’s also a dedicated “dance” button, so there’s that to look forward to.

Giant crab boss is giant.

Giant crab boss is giant.

The level designs are pretty fun, with standouts including a world made entirely of junk food and a futuristic space lab rife with opportunities to impale yourself on spikes or meet the wrong end of a gravity laser. Each zone also ends with a traditional boss fight, reminiscent of something you might find in Contra or Mega Man games. I fought an armored orb surrounded by magnets, forcing me to bend my laser while dodging falling debris and its massive butt slam. I took down a speedy mole who shot lasers and used its drill-hands to dig through walls and pepper me with rocks. There’s even a throwback to an old Dr. Robotnik fight, where I had to put on some major lbs. and roll down a hill in order to expose a weak point.

As I mentioned earlier, No Time To Explain is pretty challenging, but once I started to get a little better, I had no interest in putting the game down. It’s such a refreshing and punishing platformer with an absurd sense of humor that really hit all of the right notes without becoming stagnant. One minute I’m eating cake and getting fat, so I can roll down hills and break stuff like a morbidly obese Sonic the Hedgehog, and the next I’m in a 2D shoot-em-up blowing the head off a triceratops equipped with lasers and a grenade launcher.

“…what started out as something I immediately wanted to uninstall quickly became one of the most enjoyable platformers I’ve played thus far in 2015.”

If you’re the type who easily rage quits, you may want to look elsewhere, but there’s definitely a rewarding platformer here for those willing to take the plunge. Achievements actually require work to unlock, like beating an entire level while holding Y to dance–essentially you end up playing through the level and its accompanied boss fight without using the entire left side of the controller. There’s a lot of replay value, with tons of customization items to find scattered around each level, and even a 4-player local co-op mode for you and your friends to get fat and shoot shit together.

No Time To Explain isn’t the most accessible game, and the humor definitely isn’t for everyone, but what started out as something I immediately wanted to uninstall quickly became one of the most enjoyable platformers I’ve played thus far in 2015. Aside from its strict learning curve, I don’t really have any complaints about the game at all. It successfully combines polished gameplay with pure insanity, like Super Time Force, or Hotline Miami, and hopefully we’ll see more from tinyBuild on Xbox here in the future.

*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I did spend a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if it’s worth playing.