Downwell – Review

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Platform: iOS / PC / Android
Developer: Moppin
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Genre: Twitch / Platformer
Price: £1.99 / $2.99 (iOS/PC) £2.39 (Android)
Release Date: 15th October 2015

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Magicmaker – Review

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Platform: PC
Developer: Tasty Stewdios
Genre: Platformer/RPG
Price: TBC
Release Date: 22nd September 2014

In my mind, one of the greatest game modes ever created is Burnout’s Crash. Sending your vehicle careering over a bypass to collide with a juggernaut that jackknifes forming a roadblock which then catches several passing vehicles is the epitome of organised chaos. Whilst we like to feel in control when we game, there is a sense of beauty in watching the unexpected unfold. Taking Peggle as another example, my most memorable shots were never the ones I planned meticulously but the accidental Extreme Slides that ricocheted between orange pegs to erupt into a euphoric Ode to Joy. Tasty Stewdios first game, Magicmaker, spawns similar nostalgic moments with an emphasis on the juxtaposition between order and chaos.

Visually, Magicmaker is a little deceptive. It looks like a felted pop-up book brought to life; all colour, bold shapes and sweetness. It might look like a family-friendly platformer but that would be a great misrepresentation as the core of the game is a rather hardcore stat-heavy RPG. Taking the over-the-top loot generation system popularised by Borderlands and expanding on it to make it a truly customisable experience produces one of the most memorable and unique games I’ve played in this generation.

You are the new security guard at Dörwall Community College, unwittingly chosen by a sort of magical guidance counselor. From there, you’re tasked with all sorts of incredibly dangerous yet allegedly menial tasks that will see you raiding ancient temples and checking spooky cemeteries for mysterious occurrences. Whilst the questing is suitably epic for the genre, it’s all handled with a wicked sense of humour that will have you questioning why you’re helping out the ungrateful patrons. It’s reminiscent of the Fable series, where the NPCs express their feelings in a rather Britishly humourous and frank way, soon growing to appreciate your efforts as the journey expands.

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Whilst it plays largely as a platformer, the combat is more twin-stick shooter with the player using the mouse to aim your spells. It works flawlessly though sometimes the cursor does have a habit of disappearing into the action when the screen fills up, it’s a very small complaint for working in a control scheme that provides 360 degrees of superb accuracy. There’s a low gravity floatiness to the jumping that takes some getting used to but it provides a great means to offer bite-size Castlevania-esque levels. In fact, the bosses also draw a lot of inspiration from the Konami series where each encounter features a lumbering behemoth that fills the screen and requires some strategising and serious concentration. Breaking down an enormous armoured knight piece by piece until he’s left in his boxers ala Ghosts n Goblins is a great experience.

It’s indicative of a great game when it’s easy to write how it would make a quality purchase without mentioning it’s key selling point. The loot system is possibly the most intricate and intriguing I’ve seen in a long time, far outweighing the one used in Borderlands that would be an obvious comparison. Enemies drop alchemical ingredients that can be placed into sockets in one of several inventory items. These components have unique properties that have wildly varying effects, depending on where they are placed and what they are combined with. If you’re the kind of gamer that likes to create spreadsheets for their favourite games, listing the various fusions involved in crafting systems then Magicmaker could keep you entertained for innumerable hours.

The extent to which you can customise every factor of your spells and equipment is almost overwhelming. Those that shy away from micro-managing statistics would be forgiven for finding something that works for them and simply upgrade it slowly but the more intrepid will discover a huge amount to experiment with. Combining a rubber bullet and a fire crystal in your wand grants you a flaming projectile that deflects on impact, seeking additional targets. A ninja’s sword fused with a monocle in an offensive slot produces a short range beam sword that decimates oncoming foes. One simple adjustment gives hugely varied results and a massive amount of time will be spent in the hub world swapping out items to see what happens. It’s very easy to develop a childlike obsession with trying to break the system, making things that shouldn’t work only to be amazed when you create something unimaginable.

The menus can be a little unintuitive but it’s a small price to pay for one of the most ambitious features I’ve seen successfully implemented and whilst the fairytale aesthetic may not appeal to all I’d advise not to judge it as such. Magicmaker is a stunning experience; memorable, challenging, lengthy and creative. If channeling your inner alchemist sounds appealing then Magicmaker is the best decision you could make this year.

Probability 0 – Review

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Platform: PC
Developer: Droqen
Genre: Platformer/Roguelike
Price: £4.99
Release Date: 12th June 2014 (Steam)

When you’ve played over 4000 different games in your lifetime, finding something that leaves a lasting imprint on is a rare outcome. Of the recent years, I’d count Hoplite and Super House of the Dead Ninja firmly among those standout titles. SHotDN is possibly the fastest paced game I’ve ever experienced, controlling a whirling dervish spinning violently through a procedurally generated tower. Hoplite’s slow-paced strategy exemplifies a strict rule set condensed to perfection, punishing a single step out of line. The games have almost nothing in common, so surely combining the two would have no chance of a successful offspring.

Maybe, then, it’s appropriate that you could also be left with Probability 0.

Everything in P0 is broken down to core basics. The visuals are painted from a palette consisting almost entirely of black, a somber chiptune plays quietly in the background interspersed with a crunching midi thunder roll. Your aim is equally blunt; descend into the depths using all the limited means presented to you. 

For the most part, you’re forced to utilise guerrilla tactics; your melee attack’s range is woefully inadequate and throwing stars in such short supply that every encounter is a life or death situation. Avoidance is by no means simple either, with balls of spiky death awaiting missteps and only a certain distance you can fall before suffering major damage. Risk versus reward is a major factor in every action, as such devising your movements is a luxury that has its cost; with the screen on a constant rise, panicking can override all well made plans. Even the hardiest gamer will throw caution to the wind at times and attempt a rapid descent that ends terribly.

Should you manage to defeat the prerequisite number of foes, a task that starts off as just manageable before quickly growing out of hand, you’ll max your experience. Much like Hoplite’s temples, leveling lets you pick from a set selection of temporary perks that prove invaluable for beating your previous best. They may appear basic initially, with simple choices like horizontal shuriken throwing and increased melee strength but in further stages the ability to punch through solid walls or negate fall damage are integral to highscore runs.

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Probability 0 is an incredibly tough game, something it likes to remind you of via background messages relaying your slim chances of surviving. Ingeniously, these gloomy phrases represent your health bar; always fluctuating, you’ll never have an exact idea of how much punishment you can still take. The tension is overwhelming at times and a real cool mind is necessary to master the depths, something that won’t be done even with hours of gameplay under your belt. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of game modes included, most noteworthy being Karma mode that uses points earned during normal gameplay as currency to purchase perks at the beginning of the game.

It’s a unique experience with a huge draw to have just one more dive. Whilst it’s easy to place the influences, there’s absolutely nothing like it and the dark, brooding cavern reveals itself to be a very tempting place to spend your hours.

Stunt Gal – Review

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Platform: iOS
Developer: Kempt
Genre: Platformer
Price: 69p/99c
Release Date: 14th August 2014

You could very easily write a succinct review for this game. It would be a disservice to do so but for those that like to skip to the rating at the bottom of reviews it wouldn’t be unreasonable to simply ask if you enjoyed the Rayman series of runners. If that elicits a response anywhere in the spectrum of positivity over a “not really” then I’d say this game needs a spot on your iDevice.

Whilst I use the Rayman comparison as a lazy simile, it’s slightly misleading. The main meat of gameplay certainly involves a heavy dose of auto-runner platforming with an emphasis on repeating levels to perfect the collectible gathering, the handling feels remarkably different. Whilst I’d never say it to her face, the titular Stunt Gal is a lot heavier than Rayman. There’s a weight to the running and leaping that’s surprisingly satisfying; especially once you encounter some of the physics of the levels. Wooden planks will tip as you cross them and crates stacked in your path can cost you valuable seconds if you mistime a jump. It seems a small detail but it’s one that makes it feel refreshing.

The levels have a more freeform feel than Rayman’s, the ideal path is not always so obvious so perfecting a level takes multiple attempts. It’s not at all frustrating but the difficulty is definitely something that makes it stand out from the crowded genre. Each level has multiple tasks, ranging from a simple completion to achieving the fastest time with all collectibles. Even the first level feels much tougher than any of Jungle Run’s first dozen. If you’re a completionist then the sheer value for money you’ll get from this is very impressive.

As with all Kempt’s games, the visuals are a great, crisp cartoon-style with fluid animation while the music rocks, literally, with thrashing guitar riffs thoughout. The encompassing theme of ’70s US cop shows bonds all the games together nicely but this is a massive departure for them and one that I’m very glad to see – it’s a much more substantial experience than we’ve had from them.

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It’s also good to see new features added as you progress, utilising tilt in a non-obtrusive manner. Once you string together a combo of jumps, bounces, slides and attacks it starts to feel like you’re playing Shadow Blade, another “King” of the genre. In fact, it slots in nicely between those two very respectfully, once you unlock the attack ability in the second world it really comes into its own.

My only real complaint being that it’s all over earlier than I would have liked. Thankfully, there are already slots for two more worlds to be added and the aforementioned replay value adds greatly. There’s also something to be said about a game leaving you wanting more rather than outstaying its welcome; I’d never turn down more content but it speaks volumes about the quality of the game.

Stunt Gal can be purchased exclusively for iOS here:
https://itunes.apple.com/nz/app/stunt-gal/id720086754?mt=8