Should I Buy? – Twilight Heroes

Don’t worry, this has nothing to do with *that* Twilight. Instead, it’s a free text-based superhero browser game. Ever played Kingdom of Loathing? It’s like that. No? Well. I suppose I should explain.

You live in the ridiculously crime-ridden Twilight City, and one day you’re pushed too far and decide to take matters into your own hand. And then get beaten up. But, you find a magical talisman that bestows special powers upon you. From there, you set out on your quest to combat crime by patrolling areas of the town and completing quests.

When you start you’ll be asked to give a superhero name and choose one of four classes. There’s the strength based Animalist, the speedy Gadgeteer, the cerebral Psion and the balanced Elementalist. Each gets its own different skills and its stats (Strength, Reflexes & Intellect) grow at different rates.

Unfortunately, you only get one hero per account, so you’ll have to use multiple email addresses to play as the different classes. For the record, I’m a Gadgeteer called Calico Jack. I get skills like stun grenades and electrified nets.

All the gameplay is handled through text screens. Don’t let that put you off though, after all if Echo Bazaar (which I bet none of you are playing, even though I reviewed it twice and mention it at every possible opportunity) can work on text alone, so can other games. For the most part it does, though it means combat is pretty lifeless.

The game tries to get by with humour, loving puns, spoonerisms and pop culture references. It makes stuff a bit hard to take seriously, but I’d already accepted this game wasn’t going to be dark and gritty when I was attacking angry old ladies with a water spray bottle because it was three times stronger than my slingshot.

The game is quite well paced, with new areas opening up as you complete quests and get better vehicles. However, it never tells you how strong enemies in any particular area will be so you might roll up with your beanbag cannon and find regular mooks steamrolling you.

This pacing does rely on you actually doing the quests, but therein lies a few more problems. The biggest is that sometimes you need to be using certain items or have certain skills that the game gives no, or very oblique hints to. There is a link to the game’s wiki on the side that you can use to check these things out, but that shouldn’t be necessary.

There’s a few more systems at play. Once you reach a certain point you can perform a ‘retcon’ to send you back to the beginning of the game to play through the content again with additional challenges for rewards. There’s also the ability to decrypt stuff with computers and combine different items to crate new ones. The decrypting and combining don’t give you any hints on what works though, and so unless you’re willing to trawl the wiki you’ll probably ignore them.

There is a system whereby you can donate money and get in-game rewards but I’ve not tried it so I can’t comment.

You only get a limited number of turns per day, though this can be extended by a certain amount with level ups and a daily limit of caffeine and sugar.

All in all I’ve been having a great time with this game for the past few weeks, and I recommend it to anybody out there with the free time to sink into it. Where else can you dress up in padded pyjamas and fairy wings to battle ravers with a dented hubcap?


Should I Buy? – Puzzle Bots

Wadjeteye Games are a small indie studio dedicated to producing adventure games for the PC. And Steam just so happened to put one of their games on sale for a very reasonable price and cheap adventure/puzzle games games are pretty much Kryptonite to me. Anyway, Puzzle Bots is a game in which you take control of a group of miniature sentient robots.

Strangely enough, to discuss the actual plot would in itself be a spoiler, as it doesn’t kick in for quite a while. At least the first half has none of the main plot driving it, instead focusing on the interactions of the five inventors and their robots.

Starting with Hero, you gradually gain control of a bunch of robots each of which has one ability. The trick is to use these abilities in conjunction to solve the various puzzles. Luckily, the puzzles are creative enough to never make it annoying that you’re limited to these five tools.

There are some niggling gameplay problems though. Like overlong animations you’ll have to watch several times while trying to work a puzzle out, or some robots going without any real use for long stretches of time. Also, I found the majority of the game as intellectually challenging as a Mister Men book. Then again I can breeze through an Ace Attorney game in a day or two, so maybe I’m just too experienced with this type of thing.

The robots are pretty cute, and their personalities are pleasant. The human cast isn’t quite so great. They’re a nice diverse bunch, and their dialogue is fine, but the acting doesn’t always pan it out and it’s clear that some of them are only really there because they needed that many people.

Also, when the plot does finally come around, it all gets explained in a Scooby Doo type ending that doesn’t do that great a job of answering all your questions. And there’s a few instances of what seems like lazy animation, but I can forgive an indie game that.

It’s also quite short, with just seventeen puzzle sections. The ones that’re there are good, but I got all the way up to the second to last section in a single sitting.

But yeah, it’s fun, interesting, clever, looks pretty and funny in places. It’s good, but not great. Due to its short length I can’t really outright recommend it but I can say that if you like puzzle games that aren’t too hard or are just looking for a bite-sized game of this type, it’s one of the better options.

Though these flaws that make it an iffy proposition for an adult would actually make it great for a kid, so if you’ve got young’uns in your life, this could be a really fun game for them.

Price: (Steam) £3.49
( £3.45

Should I Buy? – KrissX

Despite the rather ludicrous spelling, this game is pronounced ‘criss-cross’. It’s another simple puzzle game Steam had up on sale recently and gosh darn if it isn’t an addictive one. Like Yosumin! there isn’t much to it, but its in the endless variability of its core mechanics that it becomes worth your time and money.

Basically, you have a crossword grid, like below. The catch is that each word is jumbled up. Hovering the mouse over each word gives you a hint as to what it is. For example, if you had CODIEL and the clue was ‘like peaceful’ or ‘unlike angry’. I’ll let you figure that one out though.

I'm not sure why the Owl is there either

Aside from word gird puzzles and occasionally being asked to put a jumble of letters in alphabetical or reverse alphabetical order, that’s all there is to it. As you complete more grids, the words get longer, the clues more tangential and the number of words gets upped. This means that you can pretty much keep playing until it gets too tough, then start a new profile and go again. Or just persevere with patience and a thesaurus.

There’s also a Time Attack Mode, special themed grids to unlock and a Create A Puzzle Mode to keep you occupied, but it’s all just spins on the same basic formula. How much, if any, enjoyment you get out of this is equal to how much you love wordplay. In my case, that’s a lot so the purchase is really justified to me.

There’s not much else to say, it’s well presented and calls you awesome if you do well which is always a plus. If you’re not sure just how much you’d get out of something as simple a KrissX, check out the demo.

Price: (Steam) £3.99

Should I Buy? – Bioshock: Rapture

I’m not talking about a videogame today. Instead, I’m talking about a videogame tie-in novel because quite honestly, it’s how I’ve been spending my time. Just a warning, if you’ve yet to play Bioshock, you may want to skip this post as both it and the book will contain spoilers. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum here though.

Bioshock: Rapture is a prequel novel to the first two games and concerns itself with telling the story of the creation, rise and fall of Rapture. Not having read very many ‘expanded universe’ novels before, I’m unsure exactly what purpose these books are meant to serve. I’ve decided that in Rapture‘s case it’s to connect all the dots and give a bit more context to all those audio logs you found lying around.

It’s written by Bram Stoker Award winning John Shirley, and his previous novels include urban fantasy and cyberpunk so he’s at least got the pedigree for this sort of book. I think ultimately it’s too big in scope though. It’s trying to explore the different characters, tell the story of Rapture, set everything up for the first two games and be a big ensemble piece all at once. And while it certainly doesn’t miss a chance to include some winking reference or whole scene from the first game, its ability to do the others fluctuates.

The book clocks in at an impressive 470 pages which sounds fair when you consider the scope of the work but there’s some things Mr Shirley just can’t seem to stop himself from repeating. In a way, the book feels like the work of Ayn Rand interpreted through the style of Mario Puzo. It has Rand’s grandiose sensibility and philosophy mixed with Puzo’s pacing and ability to portray moral ambiguity and a decaying society.

It gets off to a wobbly start, trying to establish its three leads and spends too long getting into Rapture proper. When it does get there, it kind of plods along with establishing scenes that don’t really establish that much. It fails to really bring across the grandeur of Rapture’s glory days, or the general feel for the society.

This only really troubles the first third of the book though, things pick up once the cracks in Ryan’s vision start showing. This is also when the lead character Bill starts to come into his own, his working man’s perspective is both easier to identify with and allows the book to refrain from taking a side in the various conflicts.

That being said, Bill probably isn’t the viewpoint character even half the time. Shirley hands out scenes to minor characters like candy. It does mean that he gets to explore things Bill isn’t there for, some of which is very important, but it does mean the book lacks focus. And as a result, momentum is a rare commodity. Though I will say he does a terrific job with Sander Cohen. And once the book starts attacking Ryan’s beliefs and he stops just spouting his philosophy and instead has to defend it and his actions, he gets really interesting.

As the book goes on though, it finds firmer footing. Things get tighter, faster, heavier and we get to see the result of Shirley’s experience with cyberpunk. He does seem to forget about setting up Lamb’s plans after she takes over Persephone, but that’s probably for the best.

I know that anybody who reads or is seriously considering reading a videogame tie-in novel isn’t looking for mind-blowing literature. And Rapture is certainly a worthwhile read for Bioshock fans. Shirley was clearly fond of the source material and delivers a faithful story that just tries to do too much. Perhaps if it had been two books, or just about Rapture’s decline it would have worked better. As it stands, it’s worth your time if you’re a fan of the games.

NOTE: RRP is £7.99, prices may vary depending on store.

Should I Buy? – Yosumin!

And lo did we behold the harbinger of the apocalypse. Do you all remember how ridiculously addictive Bejewelled was? Well Yosumin! is just as ridicutive (my new word). It also seems to be some kind of military experiment in weaponising cute.

This is a colour matching tile game from Square Enix, better known for creating a series of increasingly androgynous characters than this sort of thing. Originally a Japan exclusive for the DS, it’s now been ported to Steam in an attempt to utterly horde your free time.

The story (such as it is) of the adventure mode is that a giant stained glass window the Yosumin somehow rely on has been smashed, with pieces of it raining down all over their domain. Your job is to go out and find them. This is done through entering an area and completing a variety of challenges therein.

Gameplay give you a Bejewelled type board in which the object is to create squares or rectangles which have corners that’re all the same colour. Doing so removes them from the board and spawns new ones. Simple enough. On each board you have certain targets you have to meet before time runs out. These can be things like getting a certain number one different coloured Yosumin, different sized rectangles or collecting a certain amount of fragments.

Playing through either Adventure Mode or Endless Yosumin will slowly introduce you to a range of things that shake up the basics like the Bigmin, Goldmin and Badmin. you might feel a little overwhelmed at times as you try to conquer a difficult board, but it’s quite well paced.

Yeah, I can see like half a dozen good moves in there.

Like Bejewelled, it’s simple enough mechanically but put together with enough spit and polish to make it infinitely playable. A lot of that comes from the Pavlovian rewards the game offers up. Beating a map gets you a nice fanfair, clearing the whole board at once makes all the tiles explode as the game shouts “Yosumin!” and clearing a set of challenges lets you see another piece of the window be remade.

Like I already mentioned, this game is cute sculpted to a near scientific degree. I found myself shouting “Yosumin!” along with the game and see coloured blocks when I try to sleep. A rent warning slipped under my door while I played this. The only thing that stops this from consuming the world like its predecessor is the fact that right now the most portable thing you can play it on is a laptop.

If you play Yosumin! my recommendation is to stay away from the Endless mode. The only reason I was able to tear away was the clearly marked stop points in Adventure Mode. Also, it has a demo available.

Price: (Steam) £5.99

Should I Buy? – Kingdom Hearts II

Tetsuya Nomura has had quite the rags-to-riches story in his career. He’s been working on the Final Fantasy series since IV, and really made his name as the character designer for Final Fantasy VII meaning that he was in part responsible for the radical shift in art direction the series took when it went into 3D.

Since the departure of Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yoshitaka Amano and Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy‘s creator, long time character designer and achingly good composer respectively) he’s pretty much the biggest name left in the company and the most prominent remaining guy who helped shape the early Final Fantasy‘s left.

It’s not really where he’s been spending his time though, as he’s the creator, director and lead designer of the new action-JRPG megahit franchise Kingdom Hearts. On paper it’s a silly concept, a gigantic Disney/Final Fantasy crossover in which a young boy wields a magic key across various Disney worlds as he tries to both find Mickey Mouse and hold back the forces of Darkness.

In execution though, it’s worked surprisingly well. See, while the kiddies get to relive their favourite Disney movies in non-terrible videogame form, the more mature players can instead appreciate its solid yet flexible mechanics and increasingly complex metaphysics…as well as being able to relive their favourite Disney movies in non-terrible videogame form.

Kingdom Hearts II is when the series really found firm footing. In it, Sora, Donald and Goofy awaken from a long sleep in Castle Oblivion after the Midquel Chain of Memories to discover that although Ansem’s Heartless has been defeated, the Heartless themselves are still around, and Organization XIII is leading a new kind of monster called the Nobodies in some vaguely sinister plot.

After an overlong and very boring tutorial section and a much more exciting introduction to the new status quo, the game promptly forgets about this for what’s at least a third of its length so Sora and co. can reunite with all their friends from the previous game. This isn’t such a blunder as it sounds, as the inherently nature of multiple small worlds means you get bite sized chunks of action that keep you from noticing this.

They also try to mix things up with the different worlds. Each gives you a character who’ll join your party while you’re there, a few unique Heartless and some mechanic to differentiate it from the others, even if its just a part of the scenery that can cause damage. It doesn’t always work, but it is the better for trying.

Adding Auron to a game is like adding Sean Connery to a film. Awesome, and not enough people do it

All the different locales are well designed and essentially compressed versions of what you remember from the films. Overall, the only place I’d say is ‘bad’ is the Pirates of the Caribbean world. The realistic artstyle is strange enough next to everything else, but the lack of any of the film’s actors makes it near painful.

The combat flows well, with lots of colourful and exciting action filling the screen. This game is easier than the original, though there’s still plenty of challenge to be found on the harder modes. It’s very easy for so much to be going on that you’re not so much fighting as hoping that mashing attack will end in some vague approximation of victory rather than death.

There’s plenty of options to keep things fresh like Limits, your plethora of magical abilities and the new Drive Forms and Reaction Commands which can take some getting used to but are also useful in addition to alleviating the monotony. Still, having to access these from a JRPG style menu on the fly can get more than a little distracting when you’re trying really hard to get turned into mincemeat.

Though the score is fantastic (if not up to Uematsu’s level), the voice actors don’t deliver as well. Whenever the original actor or someone similar enough could be found, like with Hades or Oogie Boogie it’s just as good as their movie versions but none of the other Disney people sound right. The original and Final Fantasy characters sound pretty darn good though.

Aside from the plot and the combat, there’s a plethora of mini-games to be had, mostly originating from Pooh’s Storybook. Nice a distraction as they are, they never rise above being a distraction. They do tend to get weaved into the plot just enough to make sure they don’t outstay their welcome though.

Another thing this entry delivers on is the boss battles. Only a few of them derive their difficulty from unfair gimmicks, the rest are simply really big, really fun enemies to hit with your Keyblade.

Once the game’s plot actually kicks in you might surprised at just how far it goes for a 12+ with its metaphysics and increasingly confusing backstory. Organization XIII are a Rogue’s Gallery of bosses as diverse and entertaining as anything out of Metal Gear Solid.

You might worry that Sora plays like some self-insert designed to be the big hero that makes everything right in the Disney worlds, but instead he plays as a Shonen manga-style kid hero and never really gets annoying. Donald and Goofy also make a nice pair of sidekicks and together they form a trio of heroes that really, really shouldn’t work yet somehow still does.

As to whether you can enjoy this without having played any of the other games, it holds up pretty well as a standalone piece. Sure, there’ll be parts where you scratch your head and wonder what they’re on about but generally enough information to get by and the ending is pretty conclusive if you ignore the vague sequel tease hook that we’re finally getting answers for in Kingdom Hearts 3D.

If you’re looking for a really fun, standalone action-RPG it’s a toss up between this and Birth by Sleep which is mechanically the better game if a bit lacking in content besides the plot and action.

NOTE: The menus are in English, just most of the screen shots easily available are from the Japanese only Final Mix+ version.

Price: (CEX) £15

Should I Buy? – Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror

As I mentioned before, the original Broken Sword came about on the tail end of the genre’s popularity, with the absurd difficulty and their wacky humour becoming increasingly anachronistic. Shadow of the Templars walked a knife-edge between the old school challenge and the new want for something pretty and engaging. On the whole, it did. The characters were likeable, the humour was consistent and subtle, the puzzles required real thought and it was gorgeous to see and hear.

The Smoking Mirror, not so much. That’s not to say that it’s a bad game, it just has the misfortune of being a sequel to an even better game.

This time around, our hero George Stobbart is reconnecting with the heroine Nicole Collard after time spent apart. Only she ends up getting kidnapped when she insists they visit the home of a professor that promised to help her identify a mysterious stone she was sent.

The resulting adventure takes place largely in South America (the continent, not the states) and Paris, though it does branch out on occasion. The art style that served the first game so well with the detailed backgrounds of proud old European architecture doesn’t lend itself so well to the various foliage of this game’s locale. That’s not to say the game has no moments of visual brilliance, and early dockside sequence manages a great noir-ish atmosphere by leaning on those self-same strengths that the first game had.

The beans

It also doesn’t sound as good. The voice talent is still good for videogaming, but slightly below the previous game. The worst offender is the redesigned Nico, who’s lost her sexy voice and even undergone a change in accent.

As for the actual gameplay, it’s still the same point-n-click the first one had. There’s no real balance between brilliant, intuitive puzzles and the insane moon logic the game the game occasionally grasps at. Sure, it’s nowhere near as weird as Monkey Island, and you can see that there is a clear logical thread to the actions, it’s just that trying the first link in the chain often seems a stupid thing to do.

There’s also sections where you play as Nico, who’s only differentiation from George is in the items she carries. It’s a nice addition that while being nothing special in itself, it means that the plot gets to stretch its legs in places and do things it otherwise couldn’t.

A lot of this review has been me saying that it doesn’t match up to the first, but it’s not like how the Star Wars prequels are much worse than the Original Trilogy, it’s more how Return of the Jedi isn’t quite as good as The Empire Strikes Back, despite both of them being excellent and iconic films. Or how Temple of Doom isn’t as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark for a more thematically consistent comparison.

Get this if you’re looking for this type of thing, it is one of the best available. IF you’ve not played the original, or the absolutely free Beneath A Steel Sky, get those first.

NOTE: This review is for the original version, are offering a remastered version with cool new stuff, though just how cool I don’t know. The original is included for free in the download though.

Price: ( $5.99

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