Should I Buy? – Super House of Dead Ninjas

Before Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure I was never a platforming fan, but I had to try that one out because, well, take a look for yourself:

So I gave Super House of Dead Ninjas a try on Steam when it was their Daily Deal and I am so very glad I did.

SHoDN is a retro throwback to 2d platformers full of fast paced ninj-ing where you die a lot A. Lot. It’s a quasi-sequel to the flash game House of Dead Ninjas, so if you liked that this is strictly an improvement.

The premise is simple. There’s a giant tower full of monsters which many people enter in hopes of finding great treasure, but never return from. You play as Ninjette, a female ninja not looking for fame or fortune but instead investigating the disappearance of the legendary One-Armed Ninja who previously entered the tower.

You progress down the 350 floors of the tower, fighting enemies and bosses, collecting powerups and trying not to die. Ninjette is certainly fleet of foot, and she needs to be as you’re on a timer that summons Death should you let it run out. This is where the principle difficulty of the game rears its head. Taken by themselves, the individual enemies and traps are really kinda easy and predictable. But you need to keep moving at high speed, meaning it’s your own damn fault if you forgot that enemy needs two hits, or you didn’t press the down attack in time, or you weren’t patient enough to wait that extra fraction of a second.

Luckily this isn’t a one-hit death sort of game. You get a large life bar and three continues, with no insta-deaths in the game. Though death is frequent, the fact that it stems from your own mistakes instead of some ridiculous challenge makes it that much less frustrating, and when you’re ‘in the zone’ and kicking ass, you’ll feel like an unstoppable badass.

But this alone isn’t enough to give SHoDN enough replay value to justify the purchase. That honour goes to the horde of unlockable weapons. Ninjette has a melee weapon, a ranged weapon, a bomb and a magic spell at her disposal. Each of these has a range of different weapons to unlock and experiment with.  Do you want to use the Katana of Miffed Barbarians for that extra attack power, or will the longer reach and speed of the Taming Whip of Many Nuns win you over?

Trying to unlock all the new toys to play with will give you a good few hours more play time. Some are easy, some very difficult. Combined with the other unlockables like greater ammo capacity and new powerups, SHoDN has a lot to find.

As for the graphics, they’re a kind of pseudo 8-bit that look pretty darn good. They are kinda completely cheating by doing things not possible with 8-bit hardware, but the game looks great and the soundtrack is atmospheric and enjoyable. A free copy of the soundtrack for download is also one of the unlockables, by the way.

The game isn’t really that long. The main tower can be completed in well under half an hour if you’re good at the game, and while there are two difficulty settings and a few bonus areas this game is all about the replay.

The hardware requirements for SHoDN are low enough that you won’t need a powerful machine to run it. Though if your machine is really low end, you may still get some lag. SHoDN is real cheap on Steam, and easily worth the low price for plans of platformers and of hard, retro games.


Should I Buy? – Batman Arkham City DLC – INCLUDING Harley Quinn’s Revenge

This isn’t a review of the Game of the Year edition because I don’t own that, and truth be told I’m also missing the additional Challenge Pack from my purchases so I can’t in all honesty say I’m reviewing the content in the GOTY version.

If you want to see what I thought of the main game, that review’s here. This review is for the Catwoman, Robin, Nightwing, Skins and Harley Quinn’s Revenge packs.

A final note, the prices here are in Microsoft Points. If you want prices for PC or PSN, I’m sorry but you’ll have to track those down yourselves.

Catwoman Bundle Pack

This was launch content included for free with all new copies of the original game and costs 800MS points to buy. It adds the four “Catwoman Episodes” into the main game, as a separate option on the main menu and adds Catwoman as a playable character in the Challenge Mode.

Her episodes are quite short, the first one is just a small fight sandwiched by cutscenes, but flow pretty well as they were obviously designed in tandem with the main game to flow into each other.

Though the rest of her episodes are of a better length, they’re still fairly short and lack any of the big set pieces that Batman has. If you just zip through the story aspects of the episodes, they’ll pass by pretty damn fast and you may start to wonder just where your money’s worth is.

In my opinion, that’s in the post-game content. Just like how you can control Batman after the plot’s over, Catwoman’s fully controllable in the playable epilogue section as well as the aforementioned Challenge Mode and this is where you’ll really get to stretch your feline legs.

Cats plays as a much weaker but faster version of Bats with much fewer tools  to work with. She only has her whip for exploration and there’s only two more gadgets but this works. She’s not a super-rich badass detective, she’s a cat burglar and though she’s competent in a fight, she doesn’t have cash, know-how or need for any of Bats’ trinkets.

Her animations make good use of her lighter frame and sex appeal to give a real sense of character, even when she’s fighting. Learning quite how to handle Cats is a bit of a curve as you can’t tank as many hits as usual, but it’s just as fun as Bats.

Instead of a Grapnel like Bats, Cats whips to things and then climbs them. Though annoying at first, I got into quite a groove with it and ended up preferring it to Bats’ grapple. Though it trips me up every time that you can end up exposing yourself to the enemies you’re trying to ambush while you’re swinging across an area.

In Predator situations Cats does come with the added ability to cling to grated ceilings.  This helps to make up for her lack of tricks, and it, along with her “Thief’s Vision” (which doesn’t list the number of enemies or even flag the ones with guns a different colour) force you to think and act more carefully.

All in all the Catwoman Bundle Pack was worth it for me, but if you’re looking for a solid story expansion this probably isn’t the investment for you.

Robin Bundle Pack

Robin was, until Harley Quinn’s Revenge, a Challenge Mode only character. This Robin is Tim Drake, by the way, famed for his use of a staff in combat and currently Red Robin in comic continuity.

In this game we have a Robin wielding a retractable staff, and he makes full use of its properties in a fighting style that makes him rather unpredictable. He’s stronger than Cats and faster than Bats, and several of his Gadgets have interesting properties.

For example, his staff can throw out a frontal Bullet Shield that’s handy for tight spots, and he can instantly zip to an enemy in battle instead of pulling them towards him like Bats does.

In terms of difficulty for Predator Challenges he’s between Cats and Bats. He’s a bit fiddly to get used to, but his unique properties mean that if you want to mix things up, he’s a good candidate for it.

At just 560 MSPoints for him individually or 1200 Points for him, Nightwing and the bonus skins all together which’ll save you several hundred points.

Nightwing Bundle Pack

Now the only one of the four playable characters with no story mode, Nightwing is a lightning fast bruiser who really struggles in Predator challenges. Also, strangely, he doesn’t speak at all. Just kind of scowls. Which is really weird for Dick Grayson.

He makes Batman feel slow as a turtle and Catwoman as weak as a newborn kitten with his Escrima sticks (which are now also stun batons). I also really admire his fighting animations, which really drive home his acrobatic past. Actually, I’m calling it. The fight animations of Batman Arkham City are the finest in gaming history as far as I’m concerned. Every single attack the heroes have feel like a part of the character and what they’re about.

Nightwing is priced the same a Robin and part of the 1200MSPoint The Arkham Bundle as well.

Arkham City Skins Pack

This pack is really just something fun, it doesn’t affect gameplay at all. Batman gets about six different ones, Cats and Robin get two and Nightwing only gets the one. It costs 400MSPoints, so track down pictures of the costumes and if you want them, go buy it. There’s not really any more to say than it’s 400MSPoints alone or part of the 1200MSPoints  The Arkham Bundle.

Harley Quinn’s Revenge

Look at me! I’m topical! This DLC came out at midnight and I stayed up late playing it especially for m-er, you. It’s an additional short story campaign set after Arkham City‘s ending in which you get to take control of both Batman *and* Robin. that’s right, the Dynamic Duo are tackling this caper together.

Basically, Batman went missing investigating Harley Quinn’s base and Robin goes in when he doesn’t pop back for more Bat-mints. Like the Catwoman story, it’s split into four segments, two for the Dark Knight and two for the Boy Wonder.

The thing I noticed first was that the difficulty has been ramped up. Enemies seem to hit harder and faster and a lot more of them are armed now. This was a bit infuriating at first, but I managed to adapt.

Though I like that they introduce sections to explain how Robin’s gadgets can be used to interact with the environments like Bats’, but his sections are so short they never really get used more than once or twice. Robin’s sections feel more like a proof of concept demo at times.

But I’d still call them the highlights. Bats’ sections feel a little padded and less well thought out. Almost like it was meant to be an all-Robin story until someone upstairs pulled the plug on that idea.

There’s been some pretty obvious corners cut. Most of the places you could explore in Joker’s turf has now been forcibly closed off, to the extent that parts of the scenery have been destroyed. Still, there is a new warehouse area where most of the action takes place, including a Predator battle for Robin against Quinn and her goons that provides a fun challenge.

At 800MSPoints I had to put a tenner on my account to get it and I did finish it in one sitting of maybe an hour or two but I still enjoyed it. As to whether it’s worth it? Well…that depends on how much you like the game and whether or not you want more.

And really, that’s my verdict on all the DLC for this game. It’s enjoyable and if you want more out of the game, then this’ll probably see you right. In the end I can’t give it the giant gold stars the main game gets, but it’s by no means bad content.

Should I Buy? – Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon

Oh dear. By the third installment the series was quite clearly in the middle of doing what I call “doing a Matrix”. That is, getting less enjoyable with each subsequent installment.

Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon was an attempt to update the series for a more modern audience. Not by turning it into an action game or a shooter or anything like that, instead it transitioned into full 3D and introduced stealth, sliding blocks puzzles and a strange attempt at platforming to keep things fresh.

Basically, George and Nico and are off doing their thing (Nico trying to interview a guy with an apparent secret about a potentially world ending discovery, which just seems to be how these games start now and George off trying to find a mad scientist in the Congo so he can patent an invention that’ll apparently revolutionise a lot of stuff) but end up investigating different threads of the same mystery.

Said mystery revolves around the Voynich Manuscript, the remnants of the Templars and the supposed powers of ley lines, all tied into the enigmatic Susarro. As usual, it covers quite a wide variety of global locations though the use of the 3D RareWare Engine over the old Virtual Theatre means that  nothing really looks special. The game doesn’t look bad, but it’s all kind of uninspiring, which shouldn’t be my reaction to climbing up a waterfall in the Congo.

On the gameplay side, it’s not exclusively using the old adventure game methods found in point-n-clicks and when it does, it’s all in a going through the motions kinda way. The new elements I mentioned above also fail to really work. Sloppy movement controls make stealth harder than it should be, even though it’s basically a game of grandmother’s footsteps. The sliding block puzzles are…well, sliding block puzzles. Nothing special is done with them. they’re just kind of there. And the platforming is just going up to an interactive background element and pressing the appropriate context sensitive button. There’s no skill in making the jump or swinging on the rope.

And the plot? Eh. The characters? A few stand out. The humour? There’s some. It’s not great or widespread. It’s also a rather short game. I can’t really think of a reason to recommend it unless you *really* want more Broken Sword or you buy it as part of a bundle of the series.

Aside from less than stellar writing, pretty much all the problems with this game can be attributed to the game trying to be modernised and innovating on its formula. But the formula wasn’t broken. A bit dusty and battered yes, but still perfectly serviceable with a bit of spit and polish. But it doesn’t seem to be a genre anybody can quite get the hang of these days.

Should I Buy? – Batman: Arkham City

Unless you’re some kind of DC hating Marvel fanboy that gets violent every time they hear the word “Kryptonite”, then yes. Arkham City is the sequel to Rocksteady’s surprise critical and commercial stunner Arkham Asylum from a few years back, and is a good example of a sequel done right. Instead of coasting by and making no real attempt to improve on things, City is bigger and better, with more stuff to do and more ways to do it.

Basically, Quincy Sharp, head of Arkham Asylum in the last game, took credit for your work stopping Joker and got himself elected Mayor of Gotham. Then he walled off an entire district of Gotham, dumped all criminals (insane or otherwise) inside, hired heavily armed mercenaries to police it and put relatively unknown psychiatrist  Hugo Strange in charge. A bit suspicious, no? Well, Batman thinks so. Unable to do anything as the Dark Knight, he tries to campaign against it as Bruce Wayne, which results in his incarceration as a political prisoner.

Inside the city, Joker, Two-Face and Penguin have carved out their own criminal empires and  there’s a host of other villains running about like Zsasz and Mister Freeze. And you’ll track them down through both the wide open cityscapes and the more familiar claustrophobic building interiors. The cityscape adds a whole new dimension to the game, and I must say is very well designed. See, in the last game you basically guided Bats from one challenge room to another. There were no alternate routes. Even when outside, the enemies were in scripted locations and the spaces too small for more than a handful of viable approaches.

But with the city full of randomly spawning enemies and with no set paths to traverse, the precision artifice of the encounters from the original isn’t present. Not that traversing the cities is a chore, the layout has obviously been carefully designed for both getting around and for you to do your Goddamn Bat-thing when push comes to punch. There’s also a host of new techniques Bats has for getting around in the big wide open, though on foot travel is pretty much irrelevant in the streets.

The interior sections aren’t as tight as the original, nor as long or prominent. With so many new additions to Batman’s arsenal, it’d be difficult to design encounters to compliment this. For example, much is made of the fact that enemies start laying mines. There’s even a short sidequest that gives you a gadget to counter them. But I can only recall one encounter where enemies will actually use them, and even then the explosions are so small and undamaging that *if* you do run over one the most it’ll do is alert the baddies and make you drop a smoke pellet.

Speaking of which! That’s a major change. Now when gun toting enemies see you, you can drop a smoke pellet to instantly become lost and untargetable. Then, you can safely grapple away or use that Bat-Grapple disarm move on all of them and be in a better position than you started in. Relying on it will make most encounters with gun thugs laughably easy.

Of course, you can choose whether or not to use these balance…unbalancers and  it’s handy to have them when things turn Bat-shaped. The only real problem with Bat’s expanded arsenal of tricks and little things that go buzz and hurt bad men is that there’s so many you’ll often forget you have them. When you’re up on that ledge, do you do an inverted takedown, Sonic Shock Batarang, sneak up on them, rig some explosive gel, attack through a crumbling wall, shock him by charging the surprisingly prevalent electromagnets, glide kick him, Batarang him, Remote Batarang him, Reverse Remote Batarang him,  use a cryo grenade, use a cluster cryo grenade, disable his gun, remote detonate his mine, remote electric shock him, use a Sonic Shockwave, Glide Boost or throw a smoke grenade at him? Your choice.  Yeah.

The main story is longer, and doesn’t get tired. It won’t (and indeed, hasn’t) win any awards but it’s solid fare for a Batman tale. It mostly takes leads from Knightfall and No Man’s Land, though isn’t afraid to mix up established continuity points when it wants to. The villains are integrated well, and the attention to detail with the Batman mythos is fantastic. The boss battles are particularly intense, especially given how lacklustre they were in the last game. Mister Freeze might qualify for both cleverest and most frustrating for years. In the best possible way.

Riddler’s challenges are back. There’s obviously a lot more of them, and now getting a lot of the trophies is a matter of solving a small puzzle. These also tie into a bigger sidequest that involves saving people from Saw-style rooms and tracking down Riddler’s goons to interrogate. It’d take ages to track it all down and complete. Even longer if for some weird reason you don’t Google the solutions.

Adding into ways to extend your playtime are New Game Plus, the additional Challenge Maps & campaigns, not to mention there’s DLC that makes Catwoman, Robin and Nightwing. I haven’t played any of it, so I can’t vouch for it.

But yes, this game is bigger and, in most ways, better than the original. Go buy it. Get hunting for those tantalising hints for a sequel.

Should I Buy? – LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga

Who doesn’t love LEGO or Star Wars? If you don’t, you might not be human. Not judging. Just saying. When I first heard the news about the first game being in development, I was really excited. The Complete Saga is actually two games stitched together into one, one based on the Prequel Trilogy and the second based on the Original Trilogy.

Thankfully, these interpretations of the Prequels are much more fun to sit through than the films. For those of you without a soul and ergo have not played the LEGO games yet, you (and a friend if you wish) control little LEGO versions of the characters as you play through the events of the films with all that plot and dialogue removed and replaced with funny cutscenes and puzzles.

And it’s really fun. It’s got a tangible affection for the source material and a light, breezy style. See, each character has a variety of skills which have simple applications in puzzle solving. Force users can build stuff, robots can use panels, guys with blasters can shoot targets etc. The levels don’t outstay their welcome but if you want something really deep and meaty you’re better off looking elsewhere.

There’s a few kinks, the partner AI is terrible and can’t kill any enemies, blaster characters from the Prequels can’t dodge at all (and Chewie, for some reason) and there’s vehicle sections which are…well, vehicle sections.

Where a lot of the replay value for this game comes in the option to replay levels with any available characters to find more secrets or to see Yoda kick Vader’s ass. There’s also a lot of fun to be had playing with friends, and the simple gameplay means that anyone from kids to adults can enjoy it together. Seriously, if you’re looking for something you can play with a young child like a daughter or a nephew or a little sibling for some ‘quality bonding time’, the LEGO games are great. And it means you don’t have to fall off Rainbow Road all the time.

So yeah, it’s fun, colourful, charming, family friendly and great for pick up and play sessions. Seriously consider investing in this. Just don’t get the one based on the Clone Wars TV series. That’s supposed to be terrible.

Price: (CEX) £15 – PS3
(CEX) £20 – XBOX 360
(CEX) £15 – Nintendo Wii
(Steam) £14.99 – PC

Should I Buy? – Poker Night at the Inventory

Do you like Texas Hold ‘Em but don’t get enough chances to play it in your everyday life? Do you like internet humour? Well then Poker Night at the Inventory is for you. This is literally Texas Hold ‘Em with a bunch of internet characters as the players.

You’ve got Tycho from Penny Arcade, Max from Sam and Max, Strongbad fromHomestar Runner and The Heavy from Team Fortress 2. How many of those guys you’re familiar with can be used as a litmus test for whether or not you spend too much time on the internet.

The main draw is being able to play Poker while listening to the interactions of the comically sociopathic players seated with you. The conversations are characterful and amusing, but there’s a fairly limited amount of them. After a dozen games or so, you’ll have heard every line the game has to offer twice at the very least.

It’s not too bad, but certainly noticeable. As for the rest of it, you get varying difficulty levels and every player has tells that you have to learn to read. The only problem is that Max and Strongbad aren’t exactly recognisably human, so it’s a lot harder to read them.

Occasionally you’ll get the opportunity to win an item from one of the other contestants that yo ucan then put to use in Team Fortress 2. It’s a clever incentive but I don’t really play Team Fortress 2 so I can’t tell you if they’re worth it.

I suppose I should also mention that there’s different table designs and decks to unlock as well, but that’s hardly important. I’m no expert of Poker sims, but this one is perfectly serviceable with some good humour added in but sadly lacking in multiplayer.

Price: (Steam) £3.25

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

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