Save The Ninja Clan (SWITCH)

stnclcovI should’ve written this review a while now. But it was so hard to get up from the floor, where I was curled up in fetal position. Crying over my failed trillionth attempt at a level. And when I ded get up, I had to look allover for the Switch, which I’d foolishly thrown away. And when I finally found it, I had to get help to dislodge it from the wall it was embedded in.
Yes. Save The Ninja Clan is that frustratingly difficult.
And no, apparently I can’t handle that.

I’m in control of a cute little ninja, and, in order to have his clan survive, I need to guide him through a plethora of levels, each bursting with deadly enemies and boobytraps. Piece of cake I can hear you think, but nothing is farther from the truth. Save the Ninja Clan is a platformer of the kind where every jump has to be extremely precise, and where every millisecond counts.

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Ninja-ing on one’s own is never fun, so players can switch between three types of cute ninjas. Each of these have their own special abilities, that should help overcome certain obstacles. But frankly, I didn’t see the use of them. Just keep trying over and over with one type of ninja works just as well.

Underneath all that frustratingly difficult leveldesign, there’s a nice layer of humor hidden. Ninja’s tend to venture into places where they shouldn’t come, and when they do, the game tries to dissuade them with a funny error message, warning them away. Should they continue and stumble into the obvious trap, the game is quick in laughing at them via the same error-popup.

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With it’s nice 8-bit look, cool soundtrack and extremely hard difficulty level, the game should be enticing enough forplayers to come back to and give it one more try. If not, there’s always collectibles to be found.

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Save The Ninja Clan is one heck of a nice little platformer. Its difficulty level means it’s not for the easily giving up type of gamer though.

Jan

Shantae Half Genie Hero Deluxe Edition (PS4)

shantae half genie heroShantae, half-genie half-human girl, is having a bad day. The calm coastal town she’s the assigned guardian of, is under attack from a menacing pirate fleet. Assigned guardians are not supposed to sit idly around when danger looms, so she jumps in her best skimpy outfit. Armed only with her hair and her best bellydancing moves, she marches into battle.

I’ve been a fan of Shantae for a while now. Not just because every game guarantees a great platforming experience, but also because developer WayForward always has a way of finding the perfect balance between humour, looks and playvalue. With this installment they’ve once again hit the mark.

‘Cause have a look for yourself: those graphics, that cartoonish drawing style… It’s as if I’m in control of an animated feature! I sometimes catch myself forgetting to play, staring at the wonderful backgrounds.

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And that script! Hilarious and well-written. The fine line between gags and the seriousness (if one can call it that) of platforming is never crossed. Not even when subtle references to other games are made, or when characters gently break the fourth wall.

Fans of platformers are in for a treat with Shantae: Half Genie Hero. The game is pure feast. Shantae fights through 5 levels and one endboss, using only her hair. She’s also a mean bellydancer, with new moves to be discovered throughout the levels.  Each move transforms her into some creature. As that creature, Shantae can explore more of the levels and find more secrets, upgrades and unlockables.

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Tons of unlockables are waiting to be found, by the way. The deluxe edition already has more content and some DLC, but zealous players, wanting to complete Shantae 100 percent will have to put in some effort. Fortunately, the map screen shows where and how many extra’s are still to be found.

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Yep, Shantae is back! And because I’m overly enthousiastic, I’ve already had my hair dyed purple, and I’ve enrolled in a bellydancing class.
Damn my enthousiasm.

Jan

Super Daryl Deluxe (SWITCH)

super daryl deluxeDespite this game’s title, Daryl is far from super. Or deluxe. He’s an ordinary, somewhat nerdy teenager. The only things that make him stick out from the crowd are his bell bottom jeans, sweet cowboy boots, sweatband and that little bit of fuzz on his lip some might call a moustache. Other than that: average cakes. Daryl floats carelessly through life, and judging by the look on his face, also mostly thoughtlessly. He’s recently transferred to an interdimensionary high school where nothing is as it seems…

And we’re off! I’m left with Daryl, and it’s up to me to explore the school hallways and to try and make friends. The making-friends bit is harder than it seems, though, as everyone needs something done. It’s your standard “get me this and I’ll get you that” RPG routine, but weirder.

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Because everything in Super Daryl Deluxe is off the rails. I mentioned the interdimensionary school, right? Well, it looks like a regular place of learning, but behind classroom doors lurk portals to other dimensions and beings. The chemistry lab, for instance, is crowded with hostile antropomorphic beakers and flasks. And don’t even get me started on the Arts room. It’s rare enough to find Beethoven and Mozart in the same room, let alone having Andy Warhol and Frida Kahlo joining them. Deliciously absurd and funny!

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Daryl is left to his own devices for combat. He has a basic couple of moves that can be upgraded or expanded, and when he’s earned enough, new, more powerful moves can be bought. Every move can be mapped to a button of the player’s choice, leading to a very short learning curve. Battling is in the style of good old fashion beat-em-ups, but some moves have a bit of a lead-in, which makes combat cumbersome at times.

While the combatstyle would lead you to think that Super Daryl Deluxe is a mere beat-em-up, there’s so much more to the game. Often, players will find themselves exploring the hallways, looking for items much in the style of a point-and-click adventure. The upgrading of abilities, equipping of items and clothing and questing are very much like traditional RPG’s and the exploration sometimes handles like a platformer. To label Daryl with a single genre, would be like using mustard as ice cream topping: you just don’t.

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Next to the off the wall humour and overall odballness, the art is what made Super Daryl Deluxe stand out for me. It has this wonderful hand drawn style of animation I just can’t get enough of. And the amount of hours I’ve sunk into the game while I should’ve been reviewing it, just proves my point.

Jan

Death Road To canada (SWITCH)

drtccovHow long would you hold up against a horde of zombies? In Death Road to Canada you get the chance to prove yourself. All the way from Florida to -you guessed it- Canada, the only zombie proof place in the ’hood. On the road you get to deal with robbers, food shortage, wild mooses, heartbreaking choices, cranky allies… Oh, and zombies. Let’s not forget about the zombies!

Death Road to Canada is a randomly generated road trip action-RPG. Every time you play, everything’s randomized: the places you get to choose or are forced to visit, the people you meet on the road, events… The challenge is to try and get your hands on weapons, food and other stuff while keeping yourself and your allies alive. The only thing that all of those gaming sessions have in common? Canada is hard to reach. Very hard.

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After a short and sweet tutorial, you’re off on your own. Or not. That’s up to you after you have chosen your lead character: a randomly generated avatar or a custom built persona. Opting for the latter gives you a plethora of possibilities. From the usual suspects like name, eye colour and clothing to perks and (personality) traits. Only these perks and traits have any influence on how the game plays out. A character with medical skills doesn’t need that many medkits to heal others, while one with an athletic build is prone to deal more damage. Personality, on the other hand, influences group dynamics and how party members get along with one another.

You get to choose a buddy from the start of your game. On the road you’ll meet other people (and dogs!) who would like to join your quest to Canada. It’s up to you to fool them into the lulling embrace of safety by numbers or to leave them to die as zombie bait. But, please: be picky! A good perk is hard to justify with a nasty trait. You’ll soon discover that the opposite holds truth too. If tough choices need to be made or if group morale declines to a point beyond salvation, then these are things to go by.

After you have chosen team members, you’ll hit the road. Driving around in your car, stopping to stock up on fuel, food, medkits, weapons and ammunition. Or not… The game is peculiarly unpredictable. Even though most of the choices are made by you. Opting to skip a place to scavenge? You’ll lose the fuel and food you would have consumed anyways, but save on medkits because there was no risk on getting bite marks. Did the car break down? Nothing a good mechanic can’t easily take care of. No such person or skills in your team? Then you need to continue on foot. Quite a hassle, but the game will soon throw you a car to use. Car keys? Sorry, you’ll need to find these by yourself.

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The fun part of this road trip is sitting behind the wheel. It’s up to you to choose where to go and how to solve problems. Even between two scavenger hunts. After all, your party often argues and looks up to you to decide on matters. Will you raise morale by singing songs by a camp fire (with the risk of luring zombies) or by throwing out a team member (so there’s more food for the rest of you)? Have you even thought about the toll-demanding robbers on the bridge? Or the wounded moose? Choices a plenty, but you will need to make the right ones. You’d almost forget there are zombies shambling about.

The game is so chock-full of humour, memes and pretty little details that you’d almost forget that there’s a zombie horde out there. Luckily, you’ve got quite an arsenal at your disposal: nearly anything you can get your hands on. Throw furniture at the undead, hit them with umbrella’s or behead them with an electric hedge trimmer. The possibilities are as surprising as they are endless. And funny without getting into the gore of most zombie games. This game is all about tongue in cheek comedy anyway and strays from the cheap scary tricks most other zombies games divulge on.

The pixels in this game are huge. It’s a retro-looking game after all, as are more games nowadays. But the animation is anything but old-looking. Count on fluent animation without being too graphic or gory. Rather funny. You wouldn’t say by the graphical choice of the developers, but the game sports rather contemporary tunes. Not the stuff that will stick in your ears for days. Just your good old non-intrusive background music.

 

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Let’s not mince meat, brains or words… The game ain’t easy. The difficulty curve peaks fast. To get through the game, you’ll need three things: skills, luck and upgrades. The latter one can be bought with so-called zombiepoints which can be earned in-game. No exaggerated luxury, even for veteran players.

Are we there yet? Death Road to Canada will make you think, say and repeat that question more than once. The game feels unfair and overwhelming at times. And still, it’s too good to give it a rest. Every death is just a reason to start over again. Because it’s different and surprising every time you play. Which brings lots of replay value. Did I mention the unlockables once you reach Canada safe and sound? What are you waiting for? Get in that car! Death Road to Canada is no doubt and hands down the only zombie-apocalyps game in history where zombies are the least of your troubles.

Marco

Octahedron (XBOXONE)

octahedron_logo_trailer_soft_edges (1)When platforming gets though, it turns neon. Brightly coloured neon.

No, I’m not stuck in a fancy discothèque, dancing my legs off on trippy rave music (perish the thought), I just played through a bunch of levels in Octahedron. This visually odd little platformer starts off with an equally bizarre plot. Our protagonist is sitting in a desolate cabin in the woods, a sound outside catches his attention. He steps outside and finds the sound emanating from a weird shape. Against better judgement he touches the shape and is instantly transformed into a neon man with an octagon for a head. He drops in another dimension and from there on it’s all us. Platforming our way through odd levels, without so much of a hint what’s going on.

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Neon dude has one power though: he can summon levitating platforms for a brief time. He can use these to reach higher areas, or to bridge gaps surfing on them. There’s a catch though. The platforms last for a couple of seconds only, and only two can be summoned at the same time. Every step taken needs careful planning and thought, or neon dude will perish bumping into an even brighter neon obstacle or enemy.

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To call the levels ingenious and devious and slightly irritating would be an understatement. I could tell that each level took as much planning to make as it took to cross. And only after failing one for the umpteenth time does one know the true meaning of irritating.

But for all the brightness and the fun platforming and the novel concept scored with an ubercool synth soundtrack, there’s also a darker side. Octahedron might seem fun the first time, but the longer I played, the more bored I got. There’s just something about forever trying to get to an exit, only to be dropped in another level to find the exit again. Repetition is just as dull when it’s brightly lit by neon lights… And there’s no amount of collectibles and medals that’s going to convince me to do another playthrough.

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While the concept is novel and fun, underneath there’s a core of repetitiveness that puts a huge, red neon stop sign all over the game.

Jan

Spartan (SWITCH)

Spartan – Afbeelding 1This… is… Spartan! A platformer in the truest sense. 500 B.C. is where it’s at, in ye olde country of Greece. You are king Leo. Royally pissed because all weapons, armour and gold have mysteriously vanished. At the same time Greece is riddled with magical portals, which suddenly appeared. It’s up to you to find out who’s behind all of this and to get back the stolen goods. No one messes with a Spartan!

King Leo looks like a chibi God of War. Any further comparisons end here: they both are from Sparta and that’s about it. Spartan is a platformer after all. You’ll run, jump and climb your way through 24 levels spread over 4 worlds with some bosses added to the mix. Meanwhile you collect coins and use your sword to slice and dice enemies before they can make minced meat out of you. Attacks and obstacles can be blocked with your shield or by avoiding them altogether. You’ve got some fancy moves after all. Like the double jump which seems to be a given in platformers.

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You will wonder about the use of the life meter, though. Most close encounters with spears, circular saws and enemies will throw you back to the previous save point. Which will happen a lot. The difficulty curve gradually builds up during the first levels and then suddenly decides to stop holding your hands. You can change the difficulty (Wimp or Spartan) but there’s no reason to do so. Unless you’re keen on easily refilling your life energy. But since the meter immediately runs out once you stumble into a trap… Oh well.

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Bosses are what you can expect from a game like this. Yes, the cyclops and Medusa are both there. Boss encounters seem overwhelming at first but are quite manageable once you get to know their moves.

King Leo controls a bit floaty. You wouldn’t say, going by his bulking chibi build, but he is. Especially during (double) jumps and those often crucial wall jumps. It takes time to get used to. Even after an hour of intense gaming you find yourself wondering how you could have missed that jump or why that enemy got to you. Controls could have been a tad tighter.

Level design leaves a bit to be desired. Levels often look bland or overly complicated. It’s one or the other with nothing in between. Especially during later levels it’s quite noticeable that the difficulty curve doesn’t grow proportionally to your experience. You’ll find yourself dying on things you shouldn’t.

Graphics are rather plain. The game was built using the Unreal Engine, which guarantees a smooth framerate. Not an overly exaggerated advantage since the game depends on your flawless button input for avoiding those pixel perfect hit boxes.

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Spartan is not a bad game. It’s not a good game either. There are other titles on the Nintendo Switch with the same gameplay premise, executing things on a better level. But, the game does what it needs to do when it comes to returning to the roots of old platformers. Spartan promises AND delivers a hard game for die hard gamers.

Marco

Clarence New Season!

You all remember I love Clarence. (In case you don’t, that’s a super handy hyperlink right here…)

Anyway, Cartoon Networks fun-loving, overly enthousiastic kid is back! Starting next week, a new season will air. And leading up to it, there’s non-stop Clarency goodness being aired all month. All episodes are little tidbits of childlike glee. Like this one:

See? That made you smile, didn’t it? I knew it.
Clarence rules.

Jan

Neurovoider (PSVITA)

neurocoverI’m a brain. One of the last intact human brains left, after the total annihilation of mankind by robotkind. Since then, I’ve been floating around in my a tube. Preserved by the droids to experiment on. A hairline crack in the glass seems to be my salvation. The tube breaks, and I hop to my escape. I manage to board my grey matter into a battlebot, and take over its functions. It’s on!

Neurovoider’s plot sounds like that of a cheesy scifi movie I’d gladly watch. Combined with the retro-look and equally retro and cheesy synth-soundtrack, it makes me feel as if I’m back into the eighties. The only thing preventing me from actually believing it, is seeing the PSVita in my hands.

Neurovoider is a twin-stick shooter, with RPG elements. The robot is controlled by moving one stick, aiming is done with the other. At the start of the game, I get to choose from three different types of droid. The defensive type which is more about armor and shields, the offensive type which is all about guns and a third middleground kind of type which favours evasion and guns. Using loot dropped by enemies, robots can be upgraded and adapted.

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This upgrading and modding proves to be critical. As I advance in the twenty or so levels, it becomes clear I won’t make it using the same tactic over and over again. Enemies seem to get better and the occasional bossfight forces me to think and analyse. Finding a pattern in a series of attacks is key in surviving here.

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Levels are randomly generated, so replay value is high up there in the clouds. It’s just a shame that this conversion for Vita lacks the one thing that made other versions so damn enjoyable: 4 player coop.

A nice shooter that I can keep playing. On my own unfortunately…

Jan

Slayaway Camp: Butcher’s Cut (SWITCH)

saccovA bunch of teenagers sets up camp right next to an eerie lake. They settle in for what should be a carefree summercamp, but Skullface is lurking from the bushes. The deranged serial killer vows not to rest until each one of the teenage nuisances is brutally murdered…
It reads like a plot for a good old slashermovie, but it’s actually the plot of a puzzle game. No action-, shooter-, survival horror- or adventuregame, but a simple puzzler.

Players get to play as one of many serial killers. The killer is then set loose in a small environment, littered with obstacles, but also with potential victims. The goal? Simply move the killer towards a victim, without hitting any traps, and kill without mercy.

There’s a catch though: the killer can only move in straight lines, horizontally or vertically, and runs from side to side only stopping when hitting an object. So there’s a lot of logical thinking involved in planning out a route to the next victim. Luckily enough, there’s a handy rewind button. One simple press and the game rewinds one step, so a stupid mistake can be undone without having to restart from scratch.

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And believe me when I say stupid mistakes are made aplenty. Our intrepid serial killer is far from invincible. Traps that can be used to drive victims into, are just as harmful to players. Some levels are riddled with cops who shoot on sight, and there’s even levels that have to be completed within a set number of moves before SWAT arrives and (you’ve guessed it) shoots on sight.

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There’s tons of content in Slayaway Camp. There’s a number of ‘movies’, each with their own killer star and dozen or so levels. There’s even more killers and bloody finishing moves which can be bought with coins earned by playing. It all adds up to a very high replay value.

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Never thought I’d have this much fun with a ‘basic’ sliding puzzle. I’m sure the setting, content and ingenious levels have to do something with it but still.
Me.
Enjoying sliding puzzles.
Who would’ve thunk it?

Jan

Alteric (SWITCH/PSVITA)

altericnxgThe world is square. Especially if you’re a rectangular thingy.

Alteric offers a challenging platformer with hardcore gameplay. Are you up to the challenge? Great! You’re playing as a white square moving throughout levels while avoiding obstacles. Your goal is to reach a giant triangle so you can advance to the next levels where you can. Well, you know… Wash, rinse, repeat. But of course it gets harder every time, as there are even more bottomless pits, circular saws, deadly spikes and laser beams awaiting you after every corne… uhm, triangle.

The game holds you by the hand for the very first levels and then mercilessly drops you into the frying pan. To the point where reaching the goal is either because you’re getting better every time or just got lucky.

The game uses crispy clear minimalistic graphics. Lame? Not at all! You wouldn’t want to get distracted while you’re focusing on an incoming projectile while trying to avoid a circular saw that’s coming from behind you. Just to reach a series of moving laser beams. And you can forget about that pause button: the action just continues. Are you standing on a slope? Keep moving as not to glide from it. Something coming your way? Keep running! The game doesn’t cut you any slack. It keeps you on your toes the whole time. Whether because you’re being hunted by a mob of angry little squares or because the floor is giving away while you’re trying to reach the end of a room.

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One of the key mechanisms of the gameplay is the ability to switch between worlds. Stumped by a wall? In the other world it’s just a passage way. Can’t double jump your way over a pit? Warp back and find a very temporary safe platform. The difficulty ramps up quickly. You’ll soon find yourself switching between two worlds while trying to double jump from one danger to another.

You would almost forget there’s a story to this game. You’re the soul of someone who died. A piece of light energy trapped in the alien space between two worlds. But forget about the story. You don’t play Alteric for its plot twists.

You won’t play this game for fun either. Actually, you will… At least, as long as you don’t get discouraged easily, just because you tried some level for the umpteenth time before you finally reach the goal or just give up. There are some save points but they are meagerly spread around the deadly rooms. Most levels don’t even have any save points at all and require you to finish them in one go.

The end level bosses are a welcome addition. Call them ingenious, frustrating, murderous or anything you like. After their defeat, they’ll give you lots of satisfaction. And bragging rights!

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The controls demand precision, just like the game expects precision from you. That makes things fair. Except for that one button that changes the environment. That one got mapped unfairly. You move with the control stick or with the buttons below it. You jump with the A button. But why, oh why did they have map the button to change worlds to the Y button? Nothing as frustrating and cramp inducing than trying to coordinate and push four buttons at the same time. But, hey, maybe there will be an update? In that case, I do hope that the shoulder buttons are used too. It would make the game just that slightly easier. And so much better to handle.

Care for a challenge? Can’t go wrong with Alteric if that’s up your alley. Be prepared for a world of hurt, cursing and frustration though! But, after all, that’s why you’re a gamer, isn’t it?

Marco