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.

Velocibox – Review

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Platform: PC
Developer: Shawn Beck
Genre: Twitch
Price: £3.99/$4.99
Release Date: 8th September 2014 (Steam)

http://store.steampowered.com/app/317710/

It’s surprisingly difficult to review an ultra-hard twitch game without it sounding like you’re reviewing any random pick from the genre. I’ve experienced the problem before with numerous other releases on many platforms; no matter how much you enjoy them, when the experience boils down to a rinse and repeat of exhilaration and frustration in a high-speed wash cycle then it becomes difficult to differentiate and ends up feeling like a copy/paste of other reviews. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule – WaveWave delighted in such abstract and plentiful ways that it leaves an indelible mark that burns enthusiastically. I’d also easily place Velocibox into that category of wonder that makes describing it an utter joy, taking any work out of reviewing it.

Any veteran of the genre knows the dark truth going in, you will be punished. Whether the genre is tapping into latent sadomasochistic fetishes is best left unexplored but it’s hard to deny that there’s a perverse pleasure from the sheer agony of constant defeat. That euphoric elation when you slip into a level of consciousness that feels automated and out of body only to be jarred from your trance is one of the most addictive, adrenaline fed moments in gaming. Normally you’d become close acquaintances with the Game Over screen but in this case you’re hammering the retry button so few milliseconds after death that you’ll never see it. In a genre renowned for it’s “one more go” inspiring mentality, it’s almost dangerous how very difficult it is to stop yourself from taking a second/third/thirtieth plunge.

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You guide your cube through a supersonic gauntlet of monolithic columns that span both the vertical and horizontal. It’s fortuitous then that your cube can manipulate gravity to allow it to switch planes and also flip instantly, inverting the screen in a fraction of a second. Your avatar is not as light as others in the genre which creates a satisfying and tactile motion system that puts you in full control of every millimetre you traverse; you might be hammering the retry button with malicious intent and a foul-mouthed retort but you always feel responsible for your failings. Generally, you’ll be playing one movement ahead of yourself, trying to predict the flow but all too often you’re winging it; wide-eyed and with breath held, you’re flitting between directions and instinctively inverting, hoping pure reactions can carry you through.

Picking up hazardously placed point cubes will fill your level meter. Though you’d be forgiven initially for thinking its existence a myth, capping it will progress you, instantly warp the environment to a more dangerous second level and so on. It takes a fair number of retries to even glimpse the beast and whilst you want to celebrate the accomplishment, it’s both unnerving and exciting at the same time. Given the amount of experience it can take to triumph over the first world, being thrust unto unfamiliar surroundings offering all new obstacles is a guaranteed path to instant failure. It sounds incredibly demoralising but it’s a steady learning curve that offers excitement even on the hundredth restart.

I could write for days on my romance with Velocibox, a love/hate relationship that’s most definitely unreciprocated, but it doesn’t need it. It’s the crown on the head of the genre and it sparkles as incandescently as the greats beside it: Super Hexagon, WaveWave and Duet for example. It channels Civilisation in providing something that hooks you unforgivably and continues to fester in the recesses of your mind vault until you feed it a morsel that steadily grows until the sessions are grand banquets for your cravings. I’d have finished this review over half an hour earlier than I did if I hadn’t found myself slipping back to get my fix. A better man would advise you to avoid such a destructive addiction, luckily that’s not me – I implore you to try Velocibox, it’s an absolute steal.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/317710/

Wave Wave – Review

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Platform: iOS, Android
Developer: Thomas Janson
Genre: Twitch
Price: £1.99/$2.99 on iOS. £1.09/$1.99 on Android
Release Date: 3rd May 2014

2014 is the year brutal difficulty levels hit mainstream entertainment. Sure we had Super Hexagon, Demon Souls and I Wanna Be The Guy but they were largely one-offs and niche titles, using their difficulty as a means to differentiate themselves. Now, thanks largely to the meteoric surge in popularity of Flappy Bird, being punished with end game screens mere seconds in has become a common sight. Whether it’s down to the masochistic streak in us all being teased out or the adrenaline burst of beating your highscore hooking us like junkies, the ultra-hard twitch genre is here to stay.

Wave Wave shares a lot with Flappy Bird. It’s an unavoidable statement. Even though the beta-testing had begun long before Dong Nguyen’s hapless avian first careened into a Mario Bros-esque pipe, it will forever be compared to it. It might sound like a dark cloud hanging over Wave Wave but, if anything, it’s been a massive boon; introducing a huge audience to a game they wouldn’t look twice at. A game that would have lived on only in the halls of YouTube, fodder for Let’s Play recorders to bemuse their viewers.

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Another undeniable detail of Wave Wave is the sheer artistic beauty of the visuals. Much like Monument Valley, you could screen-capture any single moment and have a background for you computer with no effort. Crisp and bold jagged edges erupt like vicious mountains into a surreal geometric landscape, coloured in by a madman with a Crayola collection. In motion, it’s almost to the point of being distracting. Distorting flares ripple across the screen whilst it spins fast enough to make Terry Cavanagh dizzy. It’s not for those prone to motion sickness but it’s impossible to be unimpressed.

As with Super Hexagon, the soundtrack goes a long way to making the game an audiovisual delight. Grinding chiptunes merge dubstep with metal and everything in between while a soothing feminine AI will all-too-happily announce your failure. Every. Time.

The sheer amount of content included by Thomas Janson does a great job of elevating it above its ephemeral competition. Sure you can infuriate yourself with the standard mode (available in six difficulties, no less) or you can try the two variations, the Galaxy mode that introduces a whole new way to play or take on the scripted levels, which are by no means easier.

Wave Wave stands out as easily the greatest Twitch game on any platform and arguably one of the greatest mobile games of all time for me.

Wave Wave can be purchased for iOS from here:
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/wave-wave/id717990207?mt=8
and for Android here:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.noodlecake.wavewave