Particle Mace – Review

Platform: PC/iOS Coming Soon
Developer: Andy Wallace
Genre: Arcade/Twitch
Price: £3.99/$4.99
Release Date: 19th September 2014 (Steam)

With faux-retro vertices and a synth-cool “Drive”-esque soundtrack, Particle Mace is possibly the epitome of style. Monolithic decagons lazily drift through the inky blackness, neon driftwood caught in an interminable current. Crimson interlopers pulse rhythmically, painting a fading trail of fumes in their wake. There’s a calming serenity yet every game needs a balance. The knife appears to teeter so far to the side of order that it would take a heavy dose of chaos to reestablish the equilibrium; in Particle Mace, that source of discord is you. Space debris is tethered to your ship like fibre optics, oscillating maniacally with your own movements. Anything caught in its wild thrash is instantly obliterated, though your own fragility should always be considered as it is your only defence; an unpredictable apparatus that must be reined in before it can be mastered.

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That seemingly whimsical offence is possibly the greatest videogame element to have been programmed. Meticulously refined, the number of ways you can utilise its destructive properties are astonishing. It mirrors your early thrusts before developing a course of its own, inertia driving it to frantic orbits of your craft. Early on it feels unpredictable, a clumsy tool for accidental demolitions at best but soon it grows to an extension of player movement. Eventually you master the eponymous Mace effect, hurling it with sheer brute force into clusters of enemies and asteroids. This will suffice for the first few sessions before necessity fosters invention and you master self-made techniques such as Fencing whereby you lightly lance outwards using the trail as a foil or Shielding that draws the particles round you in a bubble, protecting you from all angles.

Mastery of this minutiae is a game of itself, but there’s much more to Particle Mace than a unique play style. The traditional Arcade mode is best compared to Tilt to Live meets Asteroids in a physics playground; using the aforementioned weapon you must survive an endless torrent of vicious polygons whilst deftly avoiding the meteorites. Smashing through the asteroids awards a paltry sum of points yet defeating one of the invaders homing in on your position provides a temporary multiplier that increases with each quick kill. Distilled to perfection, that’s the meat of the gameplay succinctly summed up but you’re wildly underestimating the game if you believe it to be simple.

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Mission mode offers by far the greatest longevity in Particle Mace, with 150 different challenges offered up to you three at a time. Many of them require simple adjustments to your scoring methods, such as reaching a multiplier of 3 or destroying a certain number of enemies without damaging an asteroid. Occasionally though, an objective will change the entire balance of the game and due to the nature of tackling three of them at once, you can find yourself in very challenging circumstances. It will differ for every player but finding myself restricted to a much smaller play area whilst being assaulted by a relentless invincible opponent was both terrifying and exhilarating at once. There will be some you never want to experience again but they’re nothing if not memorable.

The Steam store page lists the game as being in Early Access, but refreshingly you wouldn’t know it to play it. With special achievements awarding multiple craft with radically different properties, you’ll have plenty of incentive to exhaust all the options provided. With Mission and Arcade covered, you also have Co-op Arcade and Deathmatch. Both offer local multiplayer experiences with people gathering round the screen, controller in hand and jostling for first place. There’s certainly hope that further development will introduce online elements but Particle Mace offers more gameplay on the first day of Early Access than most others in the genre ever provide upon full release.

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All interaction within the game is handled purely through one movement input, there are no buttons to contend with outside of the menu. Whether you’re using the mouse, controller or even a laptop’s touchpad, you are given complete and perfect manipulation of your avatar. The upcoming iOS version is hugely promising given the accuracy touch controls can provide. It even feels reminiscent of the very best radiangames have provided on the platform; those with access to an iOS device would be wise to keep an eye on its progress.

Upon startup, one of the messages that can be displayed randomly is “I just know you’ll enjoy this game”.  A little cocksure perhaps, but I can’t deny the truth in the statement.

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Roundabout – Review

Platform: PC
Developer: No Goblin
Genre: Casual/Arcade
Price: £10.99/$14.99
Release Date: 18th September 2014 (Steam)

http://store.steampowered.com/app/303430/

Roundabout is a game all about defying expectations. Many have assumed it to be a Crazy Taxi knock-off, others see it as a top-down racing game. Admittedly, these are obviously the kind of people that skim over press releases but even I went into it envisioning a vastly different experience than the one I received. At best, I was hoping for an entertaining distraction, adequate visuals and a virtually non-existent plot stringing some simple levels together. Never once did I expect I’d be playing one of my favourite games of the year.

My first correction came with the introductory cut-scene, one so funny I genuinely laughed out loud. It wasn’t a one off either, the laughs kept coming with brilliantly shot live-action videos set in the 70s with a pure B-Movie sense of humour. It’s cheesy, sarcastic and ridiculous in every way you’d expect with some great characters emerging from the story. I would dearly love to detail the oddballs that grace the backseat of your limo and their bizarre requests but it would detract hugely from their comedic effect. It’s a certain thing that the adventures of the beautiful and taciturn Georgio Manos will remain ingrained for years to come.
It should come as no surprise really, with the development team made up of some of those responsible for Destroy All Humans, Rock Band and The Gunslinger. It’s the gaming version of watching Mighty Boosh with all the irreverence, silliness and kooky characters.

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The second misconception is deconstructed sometime during the first level; the gameplay is anything but derivative or fleeting. If you’ve played either Kuru Kuru Kururin or Cyro (and let’s face it, most people haven’t) then you’ll know roughly what to expect. In all three games, your avatar is an ever-rotating object that you must guide through devious courses, trying to avoid touching the sides. In Roundabout’s case, your avatar is a luxury limo and the course is a sprawling city that’s free to be explored at your leisure between missions. You have no control over your rotation so all the weaving between obstacles is nowhere near as simple as it sounds on paper.

You’re allowed a few bumps between checkpoints before your vehicle is a flaming wreck but a single ding can prove fatal when it ricochets you between object. You need precision at all times but there’s always that nagging temptation to rush when you can see the end ahead. There are also several collectibles off the beaten track that are used to purchase bizarre accessories for your limo. You know deep down that they’re purely cosmetic, but you’ll rarely resist the allure of the occasional detour so you can drive around with waffles and ice cream on your roof.

It’s surprisingly difficult, though rarely frustrating. Navigating could have been a nightmare if not for the very fair checkpointing and bitesize nature of the missions. It almost feels unfair to dub it a casual game, if you want to 100% the game then you’ll need patience akin to that needed for a Super Meat Boy playthrough. You’ll also be best off utilising a gamepad; keyboard controls are certainly adequate but having tried both saw me never returning to the latter option. There’s a slight delay in movement with keys which proves sometimes fatal, an annoyance that can convince you the game is unfair – fortunately not the case in this instance.

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The third and final misunderstanding I approached the game with was believing it would possess simplistic visuals. There’s an impressive fidelity to the artwork; crisp and colourful surroundings really relay the 70s setting overlaid with a celluloid fuzz. Even when you’re mowing down pedestrians and reliving Carmageddon, it’s all cheery and comical. I had to double check the requirements at one point which only confirmed the graphically intensive nature far outweighed my expectations. You’re not going to need a heavily-modified rig to run it but it’s attractive enough to sate even the more graphic-frenzied gamers.

Putting all the factors together you get a near perfect package; there’s a lot of hilarious content that’s both addictive and unique. I’d be very surprised for Roundabout to not have a place on my top 10 games of the year, which is a bold statement I wouldn’t make lightly. It’s also one of the few times I’d say the deluxe edition provides far better value than standard – offering early builds, videos, screenplays and the incredible first person Georgio Cam mode all on top of the traditional soundtrack. Any doubts you could possibly have evaporate within the first minute of play and by the end you’ll be enamoured.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/303430/

Great Permutator – Review

Platform: PC
Developer: Ripatti Software
Genre: Puzzle
Price: £4.99/$6.99
Release Date: 15th September 2014 (Steam)
http://store.steampowered.com/app/319270/

I have traumatic memories of sorting boxes in videogames. Repeating nightmares of endlessly forklifting warehouse crates into place to get pocket change that would inevitably be frittered away on capsule toys. Ryo Hazuki’s odyssey throughout the Shenmue series taught me one lasting lesson: the ergonomics of crate management is a soul-crushing affair. Despite this experience making me apprehensive of Ripatti Software’s latest creation Great Permutator, it still didn’t prepare me for the braincell destruction contained within.

You are tasked with getting coloured boxes from one end of a vast storeroom to the goal. It sounds so incredibly simple and frankly rather uninteresting, having played numerous Sokoban games that have never particularly entertained me. This is so very far off the mark though; to say that Great Permutator is a difficult game would be akin to saying the Katamari series is mildly odd. It’s also rarely dull. Your thought process can’t afford a moment of disturbance to consider such distractions anyway – if you want to complete anything past the second level then you’ll need your full focus.

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The traditional formula of slowly ramping up the difficulty so players can be eased into mechanics is wisely side-stepped. By the third puzzle, you’re introduced to mechanical inputs that affect the flow dramatically; what seemed like predictable direction planning became a course in master circuitry not unlike SpaceChem. The fourth level removes the kid gloves before slapping you with them, demanding a duel. Suddenly, you’re spending over fifteen minutes on each puzzle, trial and error edging you further down the path of madness until that euphoric eureka moment sees you finally finding the solution.

If only it were that simple though. There’s a ranking system whereby you are judged for the number of conveyors used and the length of time the solution takes to reach the goal. It’s here that the true deviousness is revealed, just solving the puzzles is rewarding enough but seeing an A+ for your hard work is doubly satisfying. It’s all too easy to find yourself revisiting levels, trying to shave off seconds or shifting splitters closer to the goals to minimize grid usage. 65 total levels may sound brief but it’s misleading; for the budget price, you actually get one of the lengthiest campaigns I’ve seen in the genre. Mix in a level creator/sharer with some devious achievements and you clearly have good value for money.

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I feel it’s missing the point somewhat to judge a puzzler based on its visuals and audio. Developers tend to acquire tunnel vision when fine-tuning every detail of the gameplay to the point that the other aspects becomes an after-thought. It’s clear the developer put a lot more care into these facets then usual but it’s not quite as perfected as the gameplay. It looks like an authentic DOS game, from the main menu to the crunchy sprites during gameplay. It’s a divisive style though definitely one I enjoy yet the palette is a little muted at times; for a game focusing on coloured blocks it draws upon browns and greys a little too often. The sound, however, is surprisingly pleasing. Sombre chiptunes grow in scale and grandeur almost as a fanfare for your thinking process. It may not be hugely memorable but it’s more than adequate.

As a complex circuit-builder, it’s certainly an example of the finest. Judged simply as a puzzle game, it’s still one of the best choices you can make on Steam. It’s priced very reasonably and offers some of the most challenging experiences on the platform so if you enjoyed the hair-pulling nature of SpaceChem then this is a purchase you owe to yourself.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/319270/