Platform: PC (Version Reviewed), PS4, Vita
Developer: Laughing Jackal
Genre: Roguelike / Action / Twin-stick Shooter
Price: £8.99 / $11.99 (Pre-order Sale Still Available!)
Release Date: 28th May 2015
Platform: PC/iOS Coming Soon
Developer: Andy Wallace
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.
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.
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.
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.
Developer: No Goblin
Release Date: 18th September 2014 (Steam)
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.
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.
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.
It says a lot for Vine’s partially Kickstarter-funded latest project that I actually believed it was a new Vlambeer production for a while. Cavern Kings cites the aforementioned developer’s Super Crate Box as a major influence and it really shows. If you take a single screen out of context, you’d be hard pushed to convince anyone that it wasn’t a sequel; I mean this with the utmost respect of course – Vlambeer are renowned for fidelity in controls, concepts squeezed down to core perfection and highly polished indie visuals. It’s no surprise that many developers want to emulate their style, succeeding at that is something I’ve only seen Vine pull off.
Taking the arena-based, pixel perfect action of SCB and combining the wanton destruction and over the top aesthetic of Nuclear Throne, Cavern Kings manages to feel unique despite obvious parallels. You move from screen to screen populated by fantastical minions armed with two randomised weapons that change between sessions, one melee and the other a more traditional firearm. Traditional really needs to be taken with a pinch of salt; one visit saw me armed with a pneumatic drill and a harpoon gun that’s inertia upon firing would propel me across the screen. A second attempt provided me with an extending boxing glove reminiscent of Tom & Jerry cartoons and a sawblade-launcher. Every life feels unique with procedurally generated layouts and enemy encounters, so that even familiar weapon combinations don’t leave you feeling over-confident.
The environment is almost entirely destructible, fluidity being a major factor of gameplay. Linger too long in one arena and the omnipresent ceiling will begin it’s crushing descent, preventing you from grinding through the easier encounters to power level. While breaking through screen boundaries is a necessary maneuver to survive, the fragility of order is a major double-edged sword. A stray shot can create a shortcut for advancing hordes or send treasure out of reach, but it can also create trenches for defence and pitfalls for your foes. At least, that is, until the bosses find you. Reminiscent of Castlevania’s screen estate devouring elites, they’ll force you to adapt to new tactics with their sheer appearance. Being a game epitomising the joy of discovery though, some things are best left to first-hand experience.
Cavern Kings is penciled in to release in December 2014 but the Beta demo is available here to whet your appetite: