BLACKHOLE – Mind-bending space adventure

Welcome to the year of 2121.

Science has progressed enormously, and mankind is now in possession of technology allowing them to effectively protect Earth from the dangers in space. You find yourself on a spaceship on such a mission – in fact a quite special one set out to close the last remaining black hole. The crew consists of seasoned astronauts and a highly sophisticated, GLaDOS-like AI, Ariel. Why you are here is an entirely different matter. You are not a seasoned astronaut, and the others would rather not have you here. You’ve thus been assigned to the coffee-machine with the noble cause of providing the crew with freshly brewed coffee whenever needed. A task which you miraculously manage to screw up, repeatedly. However, before there’s any time to delve with yet another of your numerous mistakes, the ship’s alarm starts. Something has gone dreadfully wrong, and panic quickly ensues. The crew has accidentally steered the ship onto an inevitable path towards total destruction. What a morning!

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The player must explore the richly detailed planet Entity in an attempt to scavenge parts to repair the spaceship and locate potential survivors.

It would have been naïve to fight the black hole’s immense powers, and the crew must, although reluctantly, accept their faith. And sure enough, the ship crashes into the planet-like world, Entity, seconds later. At first glance, no crew-members appeared to have survived beyond Auriel. Yet, for reasons unknown, you somehow managed to survive the horrendous crash and crawl your way through the remains – much to Auriel’s surprise. After the dust has settled, you and Auriel must now find your way through the alien planet on a mission to scavenge materials for reparations and rescue any fellow crew members whom might have survived the crash.

With the story set, many would find it hard to believe that BLACKHOLE indeed is a platformer. There’s no doubt that the game is  a platformer, but it manages to stand out on several factors. The game features an interesting and unique setting accompanied with a great sense of story-progression. The latter is largely achieved by exquisite voice-acting, which especially shines through from the intriguing AI, Auriel, and her constant chatter. The hand-painted 2D-world is moreover beautifully designed and delightfully accompanied by a great soundtrack.

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The game is full HD and performs at a steady 50 frames per second – even on low-end machines. The smooth gameplay is greatly accompanied by responsive controls.

With the story, world design and voice-over in place, the next step is the actual gameplay. A good gameplay, and especially in a platformer, requires solid and responsive controls as well as a challenging and preferably non-repetitive maps. BLACKHOLE very much manages all of this, and does so in a way which appeals to a surprisingly wide audience. The latter, for instance, is achieved by allowing players to advance through levels with a bare minimum of required objectives and unlimited time. The option to complete things with ease should be put in perspective, though. There’s no mercy and players will die repeatedly and grow increasingly frustrated with several levels, but they can decide to continue without completing everything. This, of course, means that players looking for an extra challenge does not have to look far.

Onto the actual gameplay. BLACKHOLE consists of a range of different puzzles which all requires the player to think creatively. The main aspect of this is altering the gravity in order to avoid obstacles. Inspired by VVVVVV, gravity needs to be altered more than once just to complete one objective. In addition to swapping gravity repeatedly, the player must not only reach the objective(s), but also safely return to the start-portal to complete the level. The beauty if this is that whilst the mechanics are simple, and whilst the player can progress with just a few objectives completed, every single map is a challenge and genuinely enjoyable.

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Entity might be pretty, but is most certainly also dangerous.

The longer you play BLACKHOLE, the more you realize and appreciate the genuine dedication and keen eye to detail throughout the game. It is evident that the developers, artists and musicians wanted to deliver a unique and challenging game. The fact that ongoing support the next six months with additional levels and content for free has been announced already merely stresses the true dedication.

It is your time to become a hero and survive the dangers within the black hole.

Buy BLACKHOLE on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/322680/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

An undead beat ’em-up marathon

I dare you.

I dare you to stand face-to-face with some of the most iconic, obscure and frightening horror monsters in an unforgiving, rouge-like 16-bit environment packed with zombies and no easy escape. I dare you to play a game in which the difficulty only increases until the inevitably and permanent death occurs… unless, of course, you against all odds manage to survive twelve days of horror and complete the game. Welcome to Devil’s Dare by Singaporean developer Secret Base – a beat’em up game heavily inspired by classic and beloved mid-90s arcade games.

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16-bit simplicity and an otherwise minimalistic interface greets the player.

The essential mechanics of beat’em up and side-scrolling games are very simple, and whilst Devil’s Dare delightfully maintains that simplicity, it also introduces a range of new elements through six playable classes and plenty of weapon upgrades. The game initially offers four playable characters and two unlock-able characters; all four main characters being strongly inspired by games and comics such as Legend of Zelda, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Golden Axe to a degree where they may be considered as tributes. Unfortunately the otherwise well-polished characters feel much alike due to utilizing the same attack techniques and controls. This ultimately means that when the player has mastered one class, they have, with the exception of the different movement speed, mastered the rest.

A very interesting aspect to Devil’s Dare, and quite unique from other beat’em up games, is the implementation of the rouge-like permanent death. Similar to how old arcade games ended upon death, and required you to throw another coin in the slot, Devil’s Dare requires the player to either purchase a new life with the collected cash, or, if they can’t pay, wipe the save and restart. This strongly encourages and motivates the player to play more strategically than they usually would in similar beat’em up games; it’s highly rewarding to lure multiple enemies together for a good blow, for instance. Though, doing so is not entirely without risk, and with the steep and constantly increasing difficulty dying becomes both inevitably and very expensive. However, with every attempt the player refines their skills slightly and discovers new tactics and thus gradually progress further and further in the otherwise lethal maps.

All levels features an iconic and, if you have watched any cult horror movies, recognizable horror character.

All levels features an iconic and, if you have watched any cult horror movies, recognizable horror character.

The aforementioned simplicity is especially present in the combat system where only two buttons are utilized during the actual combat – Z and X. This would under normal circumstances appear very limiting and restricting for a game solely about combat, but Devil’s Dare has greatly improved the traditional beat’em up gameplay beyond just implementing the permanent death. By placing blows and hits correctly whilst mastering the movement, players can rack up fatalities (somewhat similar to the classic K.O’s) and achieve mana-, food- and large(r) cash drops. The more fatalities the player perform, albeit at a higher risk, the more mana and thus special attacks become accessible.

Furthermore, the more money the player collects, the bigger chance they stand to complete the game as money unlocks weapon- and character upgrades (i.e. attack speed, defence, health..) and, most importantly, more lives. The significant role of cash can in other words be simplified to a matter of either living or dying – an importance which the permanent-death feature simply stresses even further. The above elements are unfortunately only applicable for single-player sessions as playing the local (no option for online matchmaking) two-four player co-up significantly changes the game. The enemies are not particularly stronger, faster nor more frequent – something which ultimately makes the game significantly easier with just two players playing locally. Devil’s Dare should thus not be bought for its co-op-option, but rather for single-player gamers interested in a truly hardcore challenge.

Devil's Dare

Oh dear… again.

Devil’s Dare is in many ways a nostalgic trip to the 90s arcade games, on drugs. The game introduces the player to a highly challenging world dominated by unforgiving zombies and iconic horror monsters. It features simple gameplay and combat mechanics, but by borrowing rouge-like elements and implementing character- and weapon progression, Devil’s Dare manages to deliver an interesting and fun beat’em up experience which both newcomers and veterans alike can enjoy.

So.. do you dare?

Purchase Devil’s Dare on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/279580

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Refined Tower Defense

Greetings, Commander!

The Awakening happened roughly six years ago and introduced a stunning replayability accompanied with an impressive simplicity and challenging gameplay – ultimately setting the scene for a very solid game in an otherwise seemingly stagnated Tower Defense-genre. Today, after more than half a decade, a humble Kickstarter-campaign and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, developer Hidden Path Entertainment is once again ready to unleash the endless and lethal waves of aliens unforgivably. The only thing left to ask is whether or not the sequel manages to deliver the same way the original did.

Welcome, or rather, welcome back to Defense Grid 2.

Simplicity is often the road to success, and Hidden Path Entertainment seems to have found their very own path. Separated defense grid systems on the verge of invasion welcomes the player.

Simplicity is often the road to success, and developer Hidden Path Entertainment has undeniably found their very own path as separated and isolated defense grid systems on the verge of invasion welcomes the player.

By the above statement and screenshot it is likely obvious for returning fans that Defense Grid 2 hasn’t advanced noticeably from The Awakening; nor reinvented the genre by any means. Aliens are indeed still trying to steal your treasured and life-depending energy cores, and you are once again required (and rewarded accordingly) to defend them best possible. However, whilst the core game mechanics and graphics hasn’t changed significantly, Hidden Path Entertainment has managed to refine their product even further through a range of small tweaks and fixes solely focused on creating and improving a smooth, challenging and entertaining gameplay. They have moreover added a humorous and fully voiced (though, and lets face it, very frivolous to the actual campaign) story as well as twelve (!) different game modes to encourage a whole new level of replayability.

It is evident that Defense Grid 2 utilizes a ton of content originally created in The Awakening. However, it is important to stress that re-using and drawing inspiration from previous games when creating a sequel is not necessarily a bad thing – in fact it can be a very appealing and useful approach. By welcoming veteran players with known and well-loved elements of nostalgia, a developer is able to jump-start the community by having the veterans foster it. Defense Grid 2 is a great example of this, and new players will thus be welcomed by a lively Steam Community Hub, thousands of veteran players and an active developer.

The difficulty drastically increases and will prove a challenge to many veteran players as well.

However, despite the strong parallels to the original game and guaranteed nostalgia trips for veterans, Defense Grid 2 depends on attracting new players to whom all the aforementioned changes means nothing as they haven’t played the original. This ultimately means that if you haven’t played The Awakening, you will experience the game as it is. What new players will find is a game which graphically appears slightly outdated, but nonetheless feels very solid.

A natural question would then be what a solid game is? The gameplay in Defense Grid 2 is arguably very straightforward and seemingly quite simple – but do not get fooled! Whilst the player indeed is required to defend best possible by utilizing up to ten different and unique towers from several waves of aliens, the difficulty increases significantly and almost exponentially. The drastic increase in difficulty is both very motivating and infuriating, but nonetheless greatly improves the replayability as just one wrong tower, a mistimed upgrade or a missed special-attack effectively can result in the game being lost. Furthermore, the towers, aliens and map design seem to have accomplished some sort of harmony with the gameplay and controls as it all works really well together.

Five planets with four missions on each in increasing difficulty welcomes the player. Each map may furthermore be played in 12 different game modes - beyond the story mode!

Five planets with four missions on each in increasing difficulty welcomes the player. Each map may furthermore be played in 12 different game modes – beyond the story mode!

Developing and funding Defense Grid 2 proved quite a journey, but it is evident that the passion towards the series through all these years was kept intact. Developer Hidden Path Entertainment manages to take the best bits from the original and refine them even further to both please and welcome old as new fans. Whilst the game graphically doesn’t meet today’s standards, its challenging and simple gameplay compensates and ultimately provides a very solid game unlike any other in the genre. Defense Grid 2 is currently the game to get if you are looking for a Tower Defense game as everything about the game screams tower defense.

Buy Defense Grid 2, and go kill aliens, on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/221540

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

 

A brilliant love-hate relationship

Playing a game usually means having and following a comprehensive and at times complicated recipe; but Fenix Rage by Green Lava Studios shows that the recipe may be as simple as making cookies. Unfortunately I cannot make cookies. Instead, I must accept fate and cope with a slowly boiling rage and frustration as I enter the inevitably lead to death the thousandth time.

Fenix Rage appears relatively simple at first glance with easy and very responsive core-mechanics. The player is given the ability to use infinite double-jumps and a special quick-dashing technique – each action may be cancelled by moving differently, should the player wish to do so. However, with the intriguing and highly challenging map design the controls are very hard to master accordingly.

Fenix Rage

The charming graphics are merely a cover for the inevitable death and perilous environment.

Surprisingly, the gameplay itself is even simpler than the controls as the charming platforms are loaded. The game offers two approaches on each map – the player may either choose to go for speed and thus optimize their run flawlessly and compete on the leaderboards, or they may attempt to collect all cookies at the cost of time. I say two approaches because attempting to do both successfully simultaneously is, more or less, impossible – something which undeniably teases you to complete each map more than once to obtain both things. Naturally, the maps furthermore get increasingly more complicated as more hazardous puzzles are introduced as well as unforgiving bosses being unleashed.

The different puzzles moreover introduces some very interesting and unique gameplay as coordination and positioning suddenly becomes a crucial part of completion. Similar, each boss (and there are many!) is unique and forces the player to develop different strategies to defeat them. Failing to do any of the above means death and a complete restart of the map – there is no health bar, start-from-where-you-died or anything slightly forgiving.

Fenix Rage

A range of new puzzles are being introduced as the player slowly progresses through the maps and worlds. All maps are furthermore unique and requires their own, specific approach.

The maliciously designed obstacles unavoidably means that the player is going to die. A lot. This aspect requires Fenix Rage to find the perfect balance between frustration, rage and a slight humiliation of the player’s self esteem. There are no excuses whilst playing Fenix Rage – you either understand the map, obstacles and control the movement flawlessly, or you die. Moreover, understanding the map becomes increasingly more relevant as the player advances from the ten-second maps – something which brutally bumps up the difficulty promptly and significantly. Completing a map thus requires either an incredible lucky run or full control of the movement – and rewards both relief and a feel of accomplishment.

And as if completing the levels normally wasn’t enough, the game offers two extra options (Challenge and God). The challenge-mode requires the player to complete the map on limited jumps / dashes – something which often results in having to time each jump perfectly to not waste a single pixel. The god-mode offers a whole new way of playing as the player now is required to touch all obstacles in a seemingly impossible amount of time.

Approaching the levels as an explorer and observer will help generate an understanding of the obstacles.

Approaching the levels as an explorer and observer will help generate an understanding of the obstacles.

If you aren’t prepared, Fenix Rage will tear apart and humiliate your self-esteem and everything you thought you knew about mastering platformers. Fenix Rage is truly testing your skill (and at times what feels like your sanity), but Green Lava Studios understands how to balance the ocean of infuriating moments with the rewarding sense of accomplishment when completing a level. If you are up for a challenge and master anger management as well as platformers, Fenix Rage is a must-have.

Buy Fenix Rage on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/294460/

A press copy for reviewing purposes was kindly provided by the developer.

Reforming the endless-running genre with Velocibox

As a seasoned gamer, I usually approach games with a clear assumption and expectation that I can complete them somewhat straightforward. This illusion was completely shattered and humiliated after just one minute in the fast-paced and unforgiving world of Velocibox. The amount of deaths was nearly proportional with the amount of seconds played, and after just ten minutes I seriously questioned my abilities to even reach level two, let alone complete the game in level eight.

Introducing and completely reforming the endless-running genre, Velocibox invites the player to a very high-paced game with a constant momentum where dodging and twitching once again becomes crucial for survival. Minimalistic and very bright colours welcomes the player upon loading the game, but after a quick tutorial, the aforementioned bright and welcoming colours show their real face together with the controls and game speed.

All four walls may be utilized in the hunt for boxes and never ending struggle of survival.

All four walls may be utilized in the hunt for boxes and never ending struggle of survival.

The endless-running genre has been around for ages, but recently experienced its renaissance through iOS and Android games such as Temple Run and Subway Surfers in the previous years. Though, while they may share the same rouge-like elements (no pausing or resetting), then Velocibox is very unique due to the controls and graphics. Unlike most other endless-runners, you are allowed to utilize the ceiling and walls (in fact, you are more or less required to do so). This means that all obstacles may be completed in different ways – all depending on the next obstacle, certain approaches may be preferred. And with 70 different patterns there are a lot of options – and a lot of frustration when your plan fails miserably.

Additionally, the cubes needed to advance to the next level are rarely placed in line; thus forcing the player to hunt these while spinning and dodging obstacles. The player is required to collect six cubes to advance to the next level, though these may be collected when the player see fit – the level will continue to run until the player catches six cubes or dies. Your score, however, is depending on how fast and how many boxes are collected – the more cubes as fast as possible, the more points. The player is thus encouraged to take chances for a higher score – and with integrated Steam Leaderboards, this becomes very relevant.

The different colours add a very interesting - and challenging - level design.

The different colours add a very interesting – and challenging – level design.

Mastering the controls while comprehending the camera movement and constant speed is a strong indicator that Velocibox indeed is a skill-based game – somewhat similar to games like Super Hexagon. It requires fast reflexes and a seemingly impossible overview – though, with enough tries the player learns how to approach the individual obstacles and master the controls properly. However, once the player finally advances to the next level, the aforementioned colours turn out to be a real enemy; because while the controls are essentially the same, the drastic change in colours means a loss of the vague overview. Similar, each new level introduces new obstacles – something which ultimately means the player is forced to slowly progress as they master each level better and better. The better they master the first level, the easier they may approach the second, and so forth.

Each new level introduces new - and at times unforgiving - obstacles.

Each new level introduces new – and at times unforgiving – obstacles.

Velocibox is an extremely challenging and fast-paced game with minimalistic graphics and a very intriguing gameplay. Advancing through the levels requires patience and a great amount of concentration – and despite the thousands of tries, the game still remains fun, entertaining and extremely challenging. The key is undeniably to master your reflexes and understanding the art of re-orientation, and doing so successfully is highly rewarding. Don’t be put off by the first many failed attempts, but rather try and experience the satisfaction by reaching level two (and three, and four, and…) . Good luck!

Buy Velocibox on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/317710/

A press copy was kindly provided by the developer for reviewing purposes.