Saturday, 31 July 2010

Peggle



















PopCap rarely create a bad game. They are masters of simple, addictive fun. And Peggle is no different.

The levels are all very similar, in that they consist in a large number of blue pegs and bricks, and a smaller number of orange ones. The goal is to launch a ball from the top of the screen, hitting as many of each colour as you can, and ultimately hit everything orange. The more blue you hit on the way, the better your score. Firing the ball is one of ten characters. On the initial playthrough of the Adventure mode, you must use a set character, a new one unlocking once you complete five of the fifty five levels. Each character has a special power, activated by hitting a green peg. Some powers are good, some not so much, but all are unique.

That is Peggle, summed up in one short paragraph. Surely a game that can be described in full can not be that good... Wrong!

Peggle is a game that you have to play to have an opinion. It's unlike any other puzzle game available in the XBLA library, offering so much fun and a sense of humour which really sets the game apart from other puzzlers. Completing a level triggers "Extreme Fever", setting off fireworks and playing the classical track, Ode to Joy, making the feat seem so much more dramatic and turning the player into a temporary hero. It is one of the most amusing moments I have experienced in a game, and surely one of the best musical decisions in recent gaming history.

As stated earlier, the entire game is so simple, which is one of the main reasons that the game works. There are no voice overs, just short paragraphs from each character with the ever present sense of humour means that no time is wasted on cut scenes and unnecessary filler, and the gameplay is uninterrupted and consistent. It is so easy to lose hours to the game, with the long adventure mode and equally extensive challenge mode. It really has great value for money and shows that PopCap have not only conquered the PC market, but could easily do the same on XBLA. Their games are perfect for the service and tick all of the boxes that every Arcade game should.

The characters in Peggle are incredibly varied, as are the powers that they possess. The powers range from fireballs to space blasts to multiball, and each one changes the style of play completely. For example, the precision power will be more useful towards the end of the level, where the Zen Ball will be amazing for clearing out lots of pegs at the start. The range of powers and the amount of levels make it very hard for the game to become repetitive. Add to this the fact that the orange pegs are randomly placed each time means that no level will ever be the same time after time.

There are some multiplayer modes for Peggle, and although they add no new gameplay elements, it is enormous amounts of fun to play with friends. There is the standard Duel mode where players take it in turns to take a shot. Whoever scores the most wins, but that's not really why you should play Duel mode. Play with a friend and it's such a fun experience. You get to see their shot in full, the awesome, lucky shots and the badly judged shots, it's so amazing to share this with a friend and will no doubt bring a smile to both players. The other mode is Peg Party. This mode gives each player the same board, and is basically up to four players trying to score as many points as they can, but they each have their own playing board this time. Everyone takes their turn at the same time and after each turn the points are updated for everyone to see. In many ways this is a more competitive mode than Duel, as players can use all the skills they have gained from Adventure mode in a way that they can't really in Duel. In Duel it is harder to plan your next shot because some of the pegs vital to said shot could be taken away in the opposing player's turn. This can't happen in Peg Party though, and this, coupled with the fact that there can be four overall players, makes it a much more interesting and competitive mode.

The thing about Peggle is, anyone can play it, and will almost certainly love it. That fact that it's so simple to pick up and play, and is available on every platform I can think of, means that there is really no excuse for trying it out. Whether you're a hardcore gamer into Call of Duty, or a casual gamer into Family Game Night, Peggle will charm you with colourful characters, sense of humour, and gameplay that suits the gamer's needs.

9/10

Peggle is available now for 800 MSP.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Limbo















The moment you set eyes on the opening screen of the game, you know you're onto something special. A forest devoid of colour and music. You are not told where you are, why you are here, and for that matter, who you are.

Such is Limbo, and the reason that this is one of the best games you'll ever play.

Limbo is a side scrolling platformer, set in a monochrome world, full of puzzles and pitfalls. This game should be on the wish list of any self respecting gamer, so to finally get some real hands on time with the game, start to finish, was an extremely exciting thought. Is Limbo worth the hype, or will it fade out of the collective subconscious by the time Summer of Arcade is over? To say the latter would be sacrilege.

As said before, the game lacks colour and music for the most part. An extremely risky move by the developers, but one that compliments the game in such a way. The howling of the wind, the splashing of the water, the tapping of the boy's feet; the only sounds you will hear for much of the game. It provides such a dark atmosphere, so much more than any typical 'scary' music could. The gamer will feel as lost as the character, unsettled by the absence of things which gamers take for granted and completely expect to find.














Puzzles are obviously a huge aspect of Limbo, and a lateral brain is needed to overcome this game. One puzzle sees you daring a huge creature to attack you, causing a bear trap to fall. Oh, it should also be mentioned that this bear trap is off screen. The trap is so easy to pass and it will almost certainly take you a few tries to figure out what to do. Many puzzles throughout the game pull similar tricks, and on the whole you really have to pull the thinking cap on tight to advance through the beautifully eerie land. Some of the puzzles in the second half of the game involve shifting gravity and, a particularly mind bending example, fitting cogs in place to turn the entire game world ninety degrees. The feeling of satisfaction and pride achieved by completing some of the particularly hard puzzles is immense, and it is impossible not to create a bond with the speechless, nameless, faceless boy, and the need to finish his quest gets more and more overwhelming with each minute.

In fact, you might not even be aware of what the quest is, which sums up a lot of aspects of the game. It doesn't spoonfeed you every little detail. The developers want you to work it out for yourself. You aren't told what to do, what the controls are, how to solve puzzles. The game offers no hints because it wants to draw you into its world completely. Breaking the illusion with a token character or sign with instructions on how to jump would stand completely against what Limbo is. A mature journey for a seasoned gamer, looking for a welcome distraction from most of the crap that fills the shelves.

But is that all Limbo is? A distraction? The game takes 2-4 hours, and this is based on the first playthrough with 100% of the collectibles found. For 1200MSP, many gamers would expect the game to last at least a few more hours. This is the main flaw for Limbo. Despite it's incredible production quality and near perfect execution, a lot of people will miss out on the game because of the hefty price tag.

Still, when all is said and done, it's impossible to say a bad word about Limbo. It's odd to think that the game with very little music, no colour and an incredibly vague story is one of the best games out there at this moment in time. And to be honest, I don't see it changing any time soon.

10/10

Limbo is available from the 21st July 2010, and will cost 1200 MSP.

Monday, 19 July 2010

'Splosion Man


'Splosion Man is a 2.5D platformer, developed by the geniuses over at Twisted Pixel. I was incredibly hyped for this game after being charmed by their previous endeavour, The Maw. Was it worth the anticipation? You bet it was.'Splosion Man sees the titular character 'sploding himself to progress through 50 single player levels (there are also 50 different levels available for online or local multiplayer), collecting cake and turning scientists into various meat based products. The control system is easy to grasp; press A, B, X or Y to explode. Yes, that's right. Other than that you move left and right with the joystick and to restart a level simple hold Right Trigger to make Splosion' Man take his own life in a 'splosive suicide.

'Sploding never appealed to me, until the first time I made that little fella launch himself through the air, making childish, often hilarious noises as he goes. The development team have a sense of humour, which will become apparent as 'Splosion Man sticks his arms out as he runs, imitating a plane, and to top it off, making childlike plane noises. He is a very lovable character, and although he never speaks (other than the occasional "cake" and "cham-ber") he draws you into his world and you cannot help but fall in love with the crazy little freak.

The single player levels are generally short, allowing you to have short burts of 'splosive fun without having to concentrate too much on what you are doing; perfect for XBLA games. The fact that most of them take around 5 minutes to complete though, means that the game is rather short. Saying that, there are collectables and time trial modes to keep you busy for some time. On top of those are the multiplayer levels to keep you busy for twice the time. The multiplayer levels see 2-4 'Splosion Men completing puzzles not possible for a solo player. The players must time their 'splosions right to pull off certain moves, like 'sploding your partner up to a higher level. Here the player will find a switch which will allow the other player to also reach the same place. The multiplayer is worth the 800 Microsoft points alone, and playing it on local multiplayer is one of the must fun gaming experiences I have ever had.

There are a few flaws but they are not so bad that the game should be ignored. The levels are all quite similar, but the puzzles and level layouts vary enough to keep you from getting bored. Some of the puzzles are infuriatingly difficult, often seemingly impossible. This is, again, not a major problem as there are checkpoints often (although it should be said that the checkpoints are disabled in Hardcore mode), meaning you do not have to complete huge sections of the level just to die again and again. Twisted Pixel have noticed that some players may not be able to complete certain puzzles, and have added a feature that allows you to skip the level if you die enough times (use this feature and 'Splosion Man wears a tutu for the next level. I guess it's only fair...). Whilst it is better to see the whole level, this feature is amazing and so, so helpful if you have a short temper.

The Maw was a brilliant debut title, I did not think it could be bested, but 'Splosion Man has done it, leaving a trail of destruction and sausages in his path.




9/10

'Splosion Man is available on XBLA now, for 800 Microsoft Points.