EARLY ACCESS: Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power

The newest addition to the iconic Trine-series has recently been released as early-access and is, once again, a visually engrossing masterpiece with beautiful graphics, luminous lighting and stunning bloom effects. Unlike the rather subtle transition between the two prequels, Trine 3: Artifacts of Power has advanced significantly and developer Frozenbyte now invites the player to a fully interactive 3D-world within the Trine-universe.

The player must once more lead the three delightfully unique and charming characters through a fairy-tale world of mysteries and cleverly designed puzzles packed with dangerous traps and monsters. Each character, a wizard, a knight and thief, have their own identities with unique abilities, movement and controls. All of which must be mastered and used correctly to complete the levels. The player may switch freely between the three characters depending on the task at hand – something which proves an interesting game mechanic.

Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power

Trine’s visuals are truly unique and extremely appealing. It was hard to find the best screenshots (yes, these are actual gameplay screenshots), so if you are interested I’d recommend to check the trailer.

It is important to stress that this preview is done in a relatively early stage of the early-access process. This means that the player is more likely to encounter a few bugs (none entirely game breaking, however) and that there’s room for tweaks and changes as the development is ongoing. Despite being in early-access, the overall experience of the current content does feel rather complete. The three characters still maintain the same abilities, movements and controls remain, for the most part, the same as well. This makes players of the previous games feel at home immediately – almost as if your game session is merely a continuation from the previous two.

Players unfamiliar with the series will, too, soon feel at home. The controls and game mechanics are relatively easy to learn, but does introduce a few challenging puzzles. It is too early to firmly conclude the overall difficulty as there’s only three levels available, but much indicates it’ll be similar to the previous ones and thus be a fine balance between challenging and easy puzzles. The soundtrack by Ari Pulkkinen (the guy who created the soundtrack for the prequels as well) moreover never cease to amaze, and does a great job accompanying the atmospheric levels.

The three characters are wonderfully portrayed and invites to a giggle or two through great voice-acting. The characters moreover each play a vital part in completing any level due to their unique abilities.

Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power is without a doubt looking very promising, and with a dedicated developer it’s only a matter of time before the game is fully released. Those looking for a platformer or simply a game with stunning visuals will thus undeniably enjoy Trine 3 immensely.

Buy Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/319910/

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

Please note that this is an early-access game and that everything thus remains subject to change depending on the feedback provided by the community – if you wish to submit feedback please check the dedicated forums

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!

sdfsdf

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.

sdf

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.

sdafas

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.

Oscura: Lost Light review – an atmospheric and innovative platformer

The young apprentice of the Lighthouse of Lambent, Oscura, has accidentally destroyed the mysterious and abstruse Aurora Stone in a desperate moment of boredom, and has left the entire country in complete and utter darkness as a result. Moreover, touching the stone and becoming entranced with its powers also released the former and evil lighthouse-apprentice, Marvo. The player must now take the role of Oscura and restore the Aurora Stone by overcoming the ominous darkness and challenging puzzles within the Driftlands.

Oscura: Lost Light, by Australia-based developer Chocolate Liberation Front, is the third game (but story-wise the first; think Star Wars) in a trilogy set in the Driftlands and is the first game to also be released on the PC. The game is thus created by an experienced and seasoned developer of puzzle- and platformer games – something which becomes very evident within just a few minutes of gameplay.

Fortunately the storyline isn't important when it comes to platformers, and Oscura: Lost Light very much makes up for its stereotypical rather dull story with brilliant and challenging gameplay.

Fortunately the storyline isn’t important when it comes to platformers, and Oscura: Lost Light very much makes up for its stereotypical and rather dull story with beautiful and challenging gameplay. Please note that the above is a screenshot from the intro cinematic, and not actual gameplay.

The platformer genre has been around for ages, and whilst the gameplay does draw heavy inspiration from other platformers, developer Chocolate Liberation Front has introduced a range of delightfully and innovative game mechanics which ultimately makes the game both look and feel unique. This means that Oscura: Lost Light offers more beyond the essential and solid jump-, dash- and run-mechanics.

An example hereby is the power or ability system which significantly changes the gameplay. The player may hold up to two powers at once which must be utilized correctly in order to complete the stage. It is in other words impossible to complete the stages without both mastering the standard controls and the unique abilities. To pass deadly laser beams, the player may temporarily spawn strategically placed islands for cover, or to avoid poisonous water and traps the player can alter gravity; to name a few. This works, thanks to the very solid basic controls, surprisingly well and is crafted masterfully to suit the old-school controls and beautiful graphics.

Utilizing the unique abilities correctly is an essential requirement to complete any stage.

Utilizing the unique abilities correctly is an essential requirement to complete any stage.

The gameplay can be challenging, but is in reality extremely forgiven due to unlimited deaths and the ability to always re-spawn at the most recent checkpoint. The game does encourage the player to complete each map within a set amount of minutes and total deaths however, but as there’s no consequence or missed achievements of not doing so, many players will oftentimes feel inclined to simply proceed despite several deaths. Having the aforementioned statistics at the end of every map can do the trick, but it would be have been nice with an actual, hardcore game-mode or various difficulty settings for players appreciating a challenging gameplay. Do not get fooled however, many players will find the gameplay very challenging, but puzzle-enthusiasts may find themselves looking for more.

In addition to the very smooth and extremely responsive controls, the game is also visually stunning. One would be inclined to deem the monochrome landscape boring at first glance, but as you start the game you’ll notice all the richly detailed design accompanied with the intriguing lights and beautiful background art. The 2D-design mixed with the firm focus on light and darkness results in some great shadows and ultimately creates a very atmospheric game. Unfortunately the character design seem to lack some anti-aliasing settings as it can appear somewhat pixelated at times. This is merely a small detail, but it would be one of the few things which needs polishing for the game to reach perfection.

The responsive controls delivers a stellar gameplay experience due to the freedom it gives.

The responsive controls delivers a stellar gameplay experience due to the freedom it gives.

If you are the least bit interested in platformers or puzzle games, Oscura: Lost Light is a truly amazing game offering solid, old-school like controls mixed with new innovative game mechanics in a beautifully designed world. The story-line remains mostly irrelevant to the actual gameplay, but that does not matter as the main purpose of a platformer is solid gameplay – something which Oscura: Lost Light undeniably delivers to perfection.

Buy Oscura: Lost Light on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/320520/

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

A gorgeous platformer, patented by Tesla

Heavily inspired by the War of Currents in the late 1880’s, platformer Tesla Breaks the World by developer Archetype Global introduces the player to a gorgeous hand-drawn world with an impressive story covering the extreme rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

An interesting story with an even more interesting and impressive visual presentation. Welcomed by hand-drawn artwork – referring simply to graphics is not justified – inspired by classic cartoons, abstract and modern art and the works of Eyvind Earle, the player is instantly engrossed in the colourful world. Our protagonist and enemies are moreover animated very well and accommodate the overall design nicely – some players might even draw parallels to some of Disney’s newer character-designs.

The artwork is absolutely stunning and very well made. Animations moreover suits the environment very well.

What can possibly go wrong…

Tesla Breaks the World is a traditional 2-D-platformer with the standard controls (jump, double-jump, left and right), but a few elements greatly sets this game apart. In particular the map design which, more or less, is randomly generated. This is great for replayability and ensures that no stage is too alike whilst utilizing a very interesting and innovative approach to the otherwise stagnated 2-D platformer-genre. Furthermore, Tesla’s latest invention, the Micro-Portable Magnifying Transmitter Device (a very fancy name for an equally fancy teleportation-gun) allows players to absorb various elements and enemies and place (or throw) them at desired locations allowing for some interesting gameplay options.

In addition to the above, zombies will spawn depending on how fast (or slow) the player solves puzzles and how often they use their Transmitter Device. This encourages players to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles efficiently as not doing so causes more enemies to spawn. Similar, as the player progresses through the stages, more items are being unlocked – for instance an electric-powered hover-platform which allows Tesla to overcome larger jumps and heights. A narrator is furthermore accompanying the player through the stages; constantly having a witty tone which together with the art exudes the passion the game has been developed with.

…definitely not Thomas Edison going mad and stealing your blueprints! The artwork throughout the entire game is very charming and very well made. Animations moreover suit the environment nicely.

Unfortunately Tesla Breaks the World faces some serious issues when it comes to the actual controls. Whilst the initial design is flawless, the game unfortunately executes all commands poorly causing them to feel slow and unresponsive. Tesla almost floats when jumping, and gravity seems to be slightly too low. The main issue overall is the poor framerate – which also appears to be the main reason why the controls feel floaty.

The framerate issues are especially bad when VSync is activated – causing the game to constantly perform under 30 fps despite being capped at 100+. VSync is in general an awesome feature as it synchronizes your frames per second with your monitor’s refresh rate and – if performing correctly – delivers a much smoother experience. Disabling VSync does increase the framerate significantly, but it is still struggles to deliver a smooth gameplay. This is a huge shame, because everything else is really well-made – all from the voiceovers, artwork and story.

Several elements, including weapons and randomly generated maps together with the artwork, makes the game very appealing.

Tesla Breaks the World is the product of both a successful Kickstarter campaign, a successful GreenLit and fourteen months of hard work from the part-time indie developer, Archetype Global. It offers an engrossing story in very appealing and charming visuals utilizing hand-drawn elements and dark silhouettes, but fails at its technical performance. The game is, unfortunately, at current state facing serious issues performing to a bare acceptable level, but this is no doubt something which the developer intends to fix. This review will be updated accordingly to give a very warm recommendation, should a patch arrive.

Buy Tesla Breaks the World on Steam here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/314210/

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.