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

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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, gog.com 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: (gog.com) $5.99

Should I Buy? – Penny Arcade: On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness Episode 2


Now I really did mean to get round to this sooner, but better late than never. For those of you who don’t know, Penny Arcade are a real web success story. From a webcomic started as a hobby by Mike and Jerry, it’s the biggest on the web. It has its own charity, its own merchandise, two annual conventions and have branched out into other ventures like a new comic, the Trenches, hosting shows like Checkpoint & Extra Credits on PATV even its own games.

On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness was intended to be an episodic four game story, but the developer moved on to something else after the second game had disappointing sales. Let me assure you, that’s not because its’ a bad game. If anything, it’s better than the original. And luckily, Zeboyd Games are picking up the series! Yay for them. I like you now, Zeboyd games. Well OK, I liked you for making Cthulhu Saves the World, but now you get extra cool points.

Episode 2 continues the story of the first, with Tycho and Gabe still investigating the strange goings on of New Arcadia and once again drawing your custom character into the fray. Like Puzzle Agent and its sequel, this follow up works better overall despite being mechanically very similar because it has a tighter narrative than makes your actions feel weightier.

The gameplay is unchanged from the first (what ain’t broke), it’s still the limited yet fun JRPG type stuff. In a nice touch, you start the game at the first’s max level instead of being reset to level one. In response, the enemies are toughened up to match, but it’s only really cosmetic as you weapons and special skills have gone down to to their baseline.

At least the game has a reason for not using your kickass old weapons, so all is forgiven.

While the first game focused on hobos and mimes, here its the absurdly rich and the mad that get your grizzly attention. It’s nice to see the plot picking up the dangling threads from the last game and beginning to build itself a mythology. Though there’s still a really rather limited amount of environments, they tend to flow together better.

Again, the comic’s legendary humour is omnipresent, and Jerry’s writing style is well suited to the macabre, the occult and the dark humour. Fans of the comic will be pleased to see Dr Darktalon Raven Blood, Divx & Charles the Apple fanboy joining the cast under varying guises.

I really enjoyed the time I had with both games, and I really can’t wait for Zeboyd to deliver the third. I heartily recommend this game to everyone. And buy the first one too.

Actually, this week I’ve only reviewed sequels. I guess that makes it a ‘weequel’.

OK If Penny Arcade had done that joke they totally would have gotten away with it. Stupid Penny Arcade, with their money, success, talent, money, talent, respect, talent and money…

Price: (Steam) £8.99 – Combo Pack
(XBLA) 800 Microsoft Points

Should I Buy? – Freedom Force vs the Third Reich


The original Freedom Force was a fun, if sometimes repetitive superhero game that put you in charge of the titular crime-fighting organisation.

Freedom Force vs the Third Reich manages to bring some more plot cohesion and differing objectives to the table to liven itself up. As you can infer from the title, there’s some seriously silly time travel shenanigans going on here.

After you stop a superpowered Soviet called Nuclear Winter and his accomplice Red Oktober from starting an atomic war with Cuban Missiles, you arrive back at base to find yourselves under attack from Nazis. As you do. From there, you have to go back to stop the Nazis from ever conquering the world.

There’s no major change to the game mechanics. The interface has been tidied up a bit, and the Energy system for your superpowers has been simplified but that’s about it. There’s a handful of new heroes to help you out, the most prominent being the non-powered 30’s heroes you encounter. Though they’re fun, they’re not as strong as the guys that fly, shoot fire and alter the fabric of reality with their minds.

The others range from decent to useless, though the grim Tombstone is both useful and funny. All the old characters return, just as useful as before.

Yep, he's shooting flying Nazi brains. That happens. Remind me why you don't own this again?

From what’s above, you may be thinking that this game’s just a holding pattern. Not really changing anything and being only cosmetic in difference. That’s true, to a certain extent but the story is enough to earn itself equal footing with its predecessor.

In the original, you fought your way through a colourful Rogue’s Gallery but never really had a clear plot focus until the end. vs the Third Reich paces itself better by focusing on just a few supervillains and a greater emphasis on story arcs.

And if you’re wondering just how a colourful and goofy game about cheesy superheroes that make BIFF signs appear when they punch people addresses the atrocities of the Nazis, they don’t. The big bad Nazi guy is a demented psychic and the ranks of gun-toting soldiers is liberally sprinkled with altered gorillas and flying brains that shoot lasers.

There’s enough costumed campery and nasty ne’er-do-wells to give you another reason to pay your pounds for this extraordinarliy entertaining game that’s fully fond of alliterative acclamations.

Price: (Steam) £2.99
£4.99 (Double Pack)

(gog.com) $5.99

Should I Buy? – Puzzle Agent


I can save you the trouble of having to read this. Do you like Professor Layton? Then yes. While Professor Layton is the respectable, well turned out gentleman of puzzle games, Puzzle Agent feels like its horror-fan little sibling.

Puzzle Agent is a so far two game series developed by the ever versatile Telltale Games and tells the tale of the only member of the FBI’s Puzzle Research Division investigating the mysterious closure of an eraser factory in Scoggins. Said factory is so important because it’s where the White House gets it erasers from, and you’re sent because all attempts to contact the sleepy northern town have been answered with puzzles.

Silly as all this sounds, the game somehow manages to play it all seriously, though it’s never afraid to make the occasional jab at its own lunacy. Instead, it’s more concerned with being a horror game. Telltale were fully aware that they couldn’t get away with big shocks or grotesque monsters, so Puzzle Agent instead goes for a slow burning sense of unease and mystery.

The influence from Twin Peaks and Stanley Kubrick is almost palpable, although it never quite manages the balance of mystery versus explanation that it needs, and the ending all but screams ‘sequel tease’.

Gnet it?

That being said, that my complaints with pacing all get quickly put aside when it decides to twist the screw and bring in the chills. The character of Tethers is also a surprisingly good lead, with a credible and strong character emerging from his initial nervous persona. The others are all weird townsfolk of varying levels of cliché, though I will give special mention to both the writing and acting of the character Glori Davner for managing to rise up from the rest of townfolk.

Now you may have noticed that I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding any mention of the actual gameplay, save for a brief comparison to the king of puzzle games. Really, Puzzle Agent is very much the same. It’s lacking in the sheer numbers of puzzles, but there does tend to be a better reason for you solving them.

So was mine by the time I'd finished

It has a near identical Hint system, but also lacks any additional puzzles or challenges. If I were to say the puzzles have one advantage, its that they tend to be explained better than some of those from Professor Layton though this by no means makes them easier.

It doesn’t present itself as well as its older brother, opting for a more simplistic approach with its art style and a near-absent musical score. Though the stripped-down visuals serve the tone, as soon as there’s a close up of an art piece the rough edges show quite clearly.

The puzzles do tend to repeat themselves, this may be an annoyance to you, but the ones this happened with were personally some of the puzzles I most enjoyed.

This game is cheap, widely available and while not overly long, certainly earns its price tag.

Price: (Steam) £3.99
(iPhone) £2.99
(iPad) £4.99

Should I Buy? – Sid Meier’s Pirates!


Those of you who know the name Sid Meier, it’s probably as the creator of the Civilisation series, in which you take your chosen civilisation from the Stone Age right up to the present day. Pirates!, on the other hand is something quite different.

Pirates! was originally created in 1987 for the Commodore 64, and yes I review some fairly old stuff sometimes, don’t worry I’m not going that far back. Instead, the old version that was still being ported to newer systems right up until 1991 was remade back in 2004 to allow a new generation of gamers to to experience the incredibly fun and influential game.

The premise is simple, you are a pirate in the Caribbean. More correctly, you’re a guy with a ship that has no official allegiance to any nation or company. When you start the game, you can choose which decade to play in, which itself changes the number, wealth and power of settlements and the traffic therein. There’s also the ability to pick your nationality (which doesn’t change much of anything) and your special skill, which will make one aspect of the game easier and your difficulty.

It’s when you start that the game’s most glaring omission becomes apparent. There’s no tutorials. Things aren’t too hard to pick up, but you’ll have to learn how to sail your ship in and out of combat, which goods are worth buying and selling, when it’s prudent to change ships, how large a fleet you should amass and everything else by yourself.

This isn’t nearly the trouble it sounds like it is, because the interface is well designed and the gameplay is simple in operation, but diverse in execution.

You see, outside of a vague overarching story of rescuing your family members from imprisonment, the entire game is a sandbox of free choice without any mission control or morality system to worry about.

You’ll still carry the consequences of your actions though, get overzealous and attack a War Galleon or Blackbeard and you’ll get your buckle considerably swashed. If you antagonise a nation too much, they’ll put a price on your head and send privateers after you. On the other hand, attack a nation’s enemies and protect its interests and become a privateer in their names, gaining titles and land in the process.

They're not fighting for loot, they just can't decide if Batman would beat Captain America in a fight

The core gameplay lets you sail your ship around the Caribbean to do as you see fit. Individual elements such as sword duels, ship-to-ship combat and charming a Governor’s daughter are handled with minigames. Some are simple cases of pressing the right buttons at the right time, others are more complex. They all work well, with nicely increasing difficulty for more complex matters.

Your ship itself is another major factor. Obviously, you’ll want to keep it in good condition, but what upgrades should you get? What class and model should you use? You’ll have to capture a ship in combat to get a new one, so you’ll probably try out plenty of different combinations. But still, if you’re a merchant, should you go for a big fat cargo ship that can carry over 100 tonnes, or something more nimble in case you come up against pirates?

And if you’re gearing up for combat, do you want a big slow warship with 250 crew and 80 cannons? That’ll cost you a lot in food, and you might sink any ship you try to take with a volley. What about a little 40 crew sloop? You can’t carry much loot, and you can’t take down big combat targets. What approach do you want? Where’s the right middle ground for you? The answer’s in their somewhere, and it’ll be a lot of fun finding out.

Unfortunately, there’s really not much that can be said about the actual gameplay itself. It all works through being simple easy enough to get a handle on, its only through playing the game, exploring what’s possible and deciding what you want to do with your time that things really get interesting.

Sailing on the big, blue wet thing

What I can talk about is the refreshing charm of the game’s visual and auditory design. The brightly coloured people act talk Sim-like gibberish and act in a nicely exaggerated fashion, and the music is simple and cheery with everything looking like an indealised, romanticised version of pirates. There’s nary a rape or murder to be experienced, instead they prefer to ‘arr’ at you with a cutlass in hand and hoist the Jolly Roger.

You’ll eventually reach a point when you’ve done pretty much everything a character can do, and the game nudges you in the direction of starting afresh by making your character get stiffer and less responsive in combat and dancing as you get older.

Pirates! is a timesink, and one that’ll reward the time you put in with fun and unique experiences rather than repetitive grinding of the same actions. It’s much more The Sims than World of Warcraft, but with pirates instead of wacky careers and cannon fire instead of interior design.

I highly recommend this game though there’s a technical point to be made before I do. It’s designed to be played entirely with the number pad of a keyboard if you get the computer version, which of course laptops lack. Instead you’ll have to use the slightly awkward combination of mouse pad and direction keys. Play this on a home computer if you can, or failing that try to scrounge up a USB or wireless keyboard for your laptop.

Not that it’s unplayable with a laptop, just fiddly.

Price: (Steam) £5.99

Guest Review – League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth


Hey guys, I’ve got another piece from Mick Deakin over at the Game Scene, so enjoy! Also, check out his blog too, here’s a link to his new piece: http://thegamescene.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/moba-and-f2p/
Well, I say “buy” but both games are free. Don’t be fooled though, they may be of the same genre and be clones of the same game, but they are very different. I will also be writing a sister post over at the game scene, so once you’ve finished reading this review, head over and check it out!

In case you don’t know what parent game I’m talking about, here’s a quick history lesson. Once upon a time, there was this little game called Warcraft 3, and people could modify it. One day, someone made a little mod called Defence of the Ancients and it became one of the most successful game mods ever. It even spawned the whole genre that is now called MOBA, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.

If you let them, these games can suck up a huge about of your time. The rules are simple, but mastery takes a lot of practice. There are 2 bases, top right and bottom left of a square map, and 3 ‘lanes’ between them, top, middle and bottom, with ‘jungle’ filling in the spaces. The goal is to destroy the main building in the enemy base but there are turrets along the lanes getting in the way. Fortunately, both bases spawn minions to help you along the way, and if you get into the enemy base there are buildings that, when destroyed, buff your minions. Your role in all of this is to control a hero or champion and deal the majority of the damage.

Each champion has their own unique abilities, strengths and weaknesses and you have to choose which one you will wreak havoc with before the game starts. Your hero earns experience, to level up through the match and acquire more of their abilities, by killing enemy heroes, enemy minions, enemy towers or neutral monsters, the beasts that call the jungle their home. Landing the killing blow on an enemy minion isn’t necessary to get experience, simply being near them when they die grants you a share of it, but it is needed if you want to get gold. Gold can then be spent on shiny items to buff your hero and get an edge over the competition. Gold is also rewarded when you kill and enemy hero or your team destroys a turret. Yeah, simple…

That’s just about where the similarities end with the two games. Heroes of Newerth (HoN) continued where DotA had left off, using the same stat system and keeping things like denial (killing allied minions to stop enemies getting gold or exp) whereas League of Legends (LoL) took a simpler approach, splitting apart the stats into more descriptive attributes and removing the gold penalties for dying. This means that LoL is a much more intuitive system for the beginner, but HoN is by no means out of reach if you’re a little more determined.

Riot games (the people who make LoL) are also releasing a new game mode soon, which should keep you entertained long after you’ve become bored of the same 3 lanes over and over again.

Lastly, one key factor I find is often missed out of reviews, is the community. HoN is on the back foot here too. Don’t play it if you don’t like being verbally abused, as it’s possibly the worst community I’ve ever had the misfortune of encountering. I have even heard of people being quite viciously labelled as “noobs” on servers which advertise as being for “noobs” only. I’m not saying LoL is only full of saintly helpful people, but you may only get an abusive moron once in 10 or more games.

Of course, Valve’s Dota* 2 is coming out soon, and if you really like LoL or HoN you may be tempted to buy it. I know I am. However, it appears to be going along the same lines of HoN and sticking to all the original mechanics. Just something to bear in mind if you really hate HoN’s way of doing things.

* Interesting Fact: Note the ‘a’ not being capitalised. Someone filed a counter patent on the words “Defence of the Ancients” so Dota 2 is technically not the sequel to DotA.

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