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Buyer’s Guide: The must-have downloadable games (for the first half of 2011)

Presented by:

And the top five for the first half of the year are... 1) Portal (page 55) 2) From Dust (page 32) 3) Limbo (page 46) 4) King Arthur: The Roleplaying Wargame Collection (page 42) 5) Groove Coaster (page 38)

And the other top 35 (in alphabetical order): Advanced Tactics: Gold Akane the Kunoichi Avadon HD Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury Battle for Wesnoth HD Cargo Runners Cities in Motion Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy Final Fantasy III Frozen Synapse Game & Watch Gallery Game Dev Story Hard Lines History Great Battles: Medieval The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Mario’s Picross Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes Panzer Corps Pride of Nations Puzzle Dimension Rapid Angel Red Johnson’s Chronicles Runespell: Overture Strategic Command – World War 1 the Great War Supreme Ruler: Cold War Trials HD Under Seige Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together Ticket to Ride White Knight Chronicles: Origins Yakiniku Bugyou Zookeeper DX

Welcome to Digitally Downloaded! Welcome to the first Digitally Downloaded buyers guide! Every six months we’ll collect the reviews from the very best downloadable games we’ve played across all formats, and present them to you in an easy-to-read “top games format.” There’s nothing scientific about our process - the scores on the bottom of the games don’t necessarily matter (though you’ll never see a 1/5 on this list). It’s simply based on the gut feeling that the team has; which games did we enjoy the most? What are we still playing months later? These are the games that make the cut. As you’ll see on the page over, we’ve listed the top five must- have games. The other games are not in any particular order. This is simply because ranking games after the top five becomes problematic; it’s difficult to explain how the iPhone game that came in 35th is one place worse than the PSN download that was 34th, for instance.

Digitally Downloaded team Editor-in-chief Matt Sainsbury ( Contributing writers: Owen Sainsbury Domagoj Saric Aidan Broadbent Clark Anderson Jason Micciche Chris Ingram Nick Jewell Arnar Leví Please direct all correspondence and advertising queries to:

And as a final piece of housekeeping; to qualify for this list, a game has to be newly released in some format this year. Sometimes, such as Limbo or Game Dev Story, it’s an older game that has been made available for the first time on a new platform (PSN and Android respectively). We welcome feedback on what you think of this list, whether it was helpful to you, or anything else you’d like to say - pop on over to our website ( and be sure to say hi. Otherwise, happy gaming!

Matt Sainsbury Editor-in-chief

Digitally Downloaded is © M,MndM Media. Content may not be republished without written permission.

Advanced Tactics: Gold Available on: PC Publisher: Matrix Games

Consider this: Advanced Tactics: Gold is the work of a handful of people. In that context, and for all its unwieldiness, it’s a brilliant, complex, nuanced game that grognards (wargamers) can easily lap up. It’s going to be impossible to explain how Advanced Tactics: Gold plays. It’s a game that comes with a 130-page .pdf rules manual in the download! But, in an attempt to draw comparisons; imagine if the basic idea of Civilization was turned into a board game, and you’ll be more-or-less there. The

goal to the game is to occupy cities, which provide both supplies and victory points, and capture enough of those victory points and you’ll win the game.

(represented as square ‘tiles’ on the map) and research better technologies which allow you to build better weapons in the endlessly scalable nature of war.

Unlike Civilisation, you’re not going to building up those cities, but you will need to dedicate the resources each city generates between military, supplies, transport and political resources. The first three are important for building a strong military force and having it kept fed and mobile, while political resources can be used to commission new military units

There’s a lot to digest in there, with a lot of military units each with their pros and cons, and more technologies to research than you can possibly cover in a single game. On the map itself, the game plays much like any other wargame. Units move around a hexagonal environment, and each unit features a huge number of statistics to track – represented as an approximate total value on the unit tile face. You’ll need to make sure the construction of a unit is well balanced to handle multiple different threats, because it’s entirely possible to lose to a better balanced unit with a smaller total value on its card. You’ll need to make sure supply lines stay open, to save your units from the demoralising effect of lacking necessities, and position your units to take advantage of terrain. Roads and rail has a pronounced effect on the game too, so it might get difficult for the units if they venture too far away from those. There’s also special units to take into account, such as engineers to build and destroy bridges and paratroopers to do drops behind enemy lines. So yes, this is a complex wargame, and will take practice to get the hang of if you’re new to this kind of strategy game.

Unfortunately it’s not a game that is friendly to newcomers. The tutorial is archaic (even going as far as to ask you to print out, from a Webpage, instructions on how to get through the tutorial), and there is no ‘beginner’ level AI. Unless you are a wargame veteran, prepare to be routinely slaughtered as you learn the ropes. But on the other side of the coin, the AI proves inadequate for experienced wargamers. It’s incapable of more complex strategies, so ends up acting like a brute, even on the highest difficulty setting. For this reason the developers recommend the game is played in multiplayer – where there’s hotseat and play by e-mail options. Play by e-mail is entirely appropriate for this kind of game, because the bigger battles can take days to complete, even against the AI, but the same caution applies to newcomers – it’s not going to be easy going if you run up against and experienced opponent, even moreso than other strategy games. (A good place to start looking for a game is Ma-

trix Games’ forums: http://www.

opponents to keep things interesting.

Of the gameplay modes, there are a small handful of pre-made scenarios, and a random map. The former is padded out by the ability to create your own scenarios and share them online. It’s a fiddly system that people who have played other user-generated content games such as Little Big Planet will find difficult to stomach in practice, which is unfortunate, because there’s scope there to create and share literally any kind of wargame you’d like – from fantasy right through to sci-fi.

All I can recommend is that, if you are a fan of strategy games, prepare to have a bit of patience, and take a weekend to read the rules, work through the tutorials, and lose a few initial battles. Once you get the hang of this game, you’ll be hooked.

Meanwhile, the scale of the random map options is staggering – it’s possible to fight for world domination over a mammoth map with 13 other opponents, though to do that against the AI will be a painful experience each time you need to wait for your turn to roll around again. I found playing on a ‘large’ map with three other opponents a comfortable balance between having room to manoeuvre and facing off against enough

And for existing wargamers, I highly recommend this game. It’s had me as hooked as any other wargame I’ve played to date. - Matt Sainsbury


Akane the Kunoichi Available on: XBLA Indie Games Publisher: Haruneko

Whatever stance you take on the great pirate versus ninja debate, it’s tough to deny the overwhelming appeal of these assassins. While both clans have their fair share of video game adaptations, some are more successful than others. Enter Akane, a kunoichi (female ninja) whose skills are second to none. Her platforming game is not only a solid argument for ninja superiority, but proof that independent developers can craft some of the best titles available on download services already full of quality. Akane’s mission is to rescue her master, Goro, from Hiromi’s group of ninjas. However, Akane also happens to have a crush on her master, providing her with further incentive to save the man. If she wants to express her love, she’ll have to tackle hordes of enemy ninjas and dank environments. Can she take back her man, and then take his hand in marriage? As one would expect from a ninja, Akane has an assortment of techniques at her disposal. For physical moves, Akane can jump, cling

to walls, and even scale said walls via timed leaps. In terms of weaponry, she can toss multiple kunai (multifunctional handheld weapons used by martial artists such as ninjas) in a matter of seconds. Our heroine also has ninja scrolls at her disposal, which activate one of three deadly attacks that are interchangeable at the player’s discretion. Power-ups hidden throughout the stages include extra scrolls, multi-directional kunai, and hourglasses that give Akane more time to complete a level. Level designs can be tricky, but they’re always achievable if you take things unhurriedly and don’t hesitate when making jumps. While the typical platforming game promotes dashing and hopping through levels as fast as you can, Akane rewards players for taking their time. While stages have time limits, they’re never an issue unless you simply cannot figure out what tactics to use against a boss. In many ways, the game expects

the player to become a ninja. This also means that the difficulty will ramp up significantly toward the end, so gamers had best be prepared for some demanding trials. Akane’s outfit may be tad skimpy, but one would be hard pressed to say the game skimps on content, as it offers 15 levels and five boss battles. In addition, you’re bound to devote at least two or three hours in an effort to acquire all 45 of the kimonos hidden in the levels to unlock the secret ending. To ice the cake, there are achievements that give the player a few extra challenges to attempt. - Clark Anderson


Combat Mission Battle for Normandy

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Strategic Command World War I Combat Mission Afghanistan More New Releases...

Avadon HD Available on: iPad Publisher: Spiderweb Software

We’ve already reviewed the excellent Avadon: The Black Fortress on Digitally Downloaded, but the promise of an iPad version was just too good to ignore. As a rule of thumb I prefer playing games on consoles and touch screens – sitting in bed with an iPad is a more relaxing experience to me than sitting at a computer or with a laptop on a desk. But for some game experiences,

the iPad has struggled to provide quality content, and the RPG genre is one of those. A couple of Square Enix efforts aside, there hasn’t been any truly gripping RPGs that make good use of the great iPad screen – and the western RPG has been all but forgotten. Avadon: The Black Fortress takes advantage of this gap in a big way, and is an even better experience this time around than it was on PC.

I won’t repeat what I said in my previous review, but in summary: This is an independent project from industry veteran, Jeff Vogel (read a full interview with him in our recent Digitally Downloaded magazine) that is a successful throwback to the days of classic RPGs with top down turn-based battles, basic animated sprites and plenty of dialogue boxes. It’s a big quest (you could be looking at 30 hours to get through it all), with plenty of side missions and secrets to uncover. There are a few concessions to the modern audience –

I would hope that in future Vogel production iPad ports (and I certainly hope there are a few of those), he includes the ability to pinch to zoom in closer to the action for more precise controls. I realise the game’s graphics would look pretty ugly up close, but the playability offset would be worth it.

skill trees and a variable difficulty level that, at the lower settings, makes the game a cakewalk. In almost every other way though, this game is classic RPG dungeon hacking at its finest. And on the iPad’s lovely screen, it looks good. Avadon is not the flashiest game, but it’s aesthetically pleasing in a retro kind of way. Icons are clear and maps are well designed. It’s a genuine pleasure to play through the game, if only to see what each new environment throws up. The iPad also does an admirable job of replaying the mouse and keyboard with the touch screen. Scrolling around the map through swipes is a snap – and tapping on the screen to direct your party of heroes to each location is intuitive and comfortable. The game does seem to be a bit of a memory drain – a couple of times I’ve had the “iPad is running out of memory” message, and that can at times cause the animation and sound effects (there’s almost no music) to stutter, but it’s a minor complaint that doesn’t make the game any

less pleasant to play. A bigger concern is the fact that fingers are less precise than a mouse pointer. In combat, the game plays out over a grid – tap a square and the hero will head over there. Tap a monster and he/ she will attack the critter. But the grid is small, and occasionally you’ll tell the hero to do something by accident. On the higher difficulty levels, this can be lethal.

In the end, Avadon is a fairly expensive game by the iPad’s typical standards, but it’s a must have despite that, with far more content and a far more interesting quest than almost anything else you can find on the App store. It looks like Jeff Vogel is on to something good here, and hopefully it’s just the start.

- Matt Sainsbury


Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury Available on: XBLA Publisher: Treasure

level seems to have a new robot with an attack you’ve never seen.

Everyone loves flying robots, but what happens when you give one a fruit fetish and thousands of missiles? Apparently, you get one of the finest experiences on the Xbox Live Arcade and a thrilling soundtrack. Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury takes the series to new heights in this thrilling 2D shooter from Treasure.

you for difficulty’s sake) and occasionally some of your moves will be disabled. When all is said and done, the highlight of the game is firing literally 1000 missiles to get out of a tight situation, then feeling this bizarre sense of dread since numerous enemies are still alive and their fire is about to hit you.

What is the essence of BangaiO? You pilot a tiny robot fighter through missilecrammed stages, while using an array of weapons to dispose of enemies... and collect fruit. Yes, you read that correctly; fruit increases Bangai-O’s power. Each level in BangaiO is rather unique. Some stages require you to use brute force and reflexes, several necessitate strategy, and a handful are brain-numbing puzzles. You are equipped with two pre-determined weapons that suit the task at hand (or inconvenience

The game ultimately has a hell of a lot of variety, with each stage feeling like the only one of its kind. The diversity of enemies also goes a long way towards keeping things fresh, since each

Right off the bat, you’ll notice that the controls take a considerable amount of time to adjust to, chiefly for fans of the DS and Dreamcast releases. Though some may falsely perceive Bangai-O as just “a 2D shooter with a lot of missiles flying”, the game uses nearly every button on the Xbox 360 controller. Once you finally wrap your head around the button scheme though, you soon discover how versatile and functional it is. Without a doubt, I can say this Missile Fury has the most practical control scheme featured in a modern 2D shooter. The HUD (heads up display) also displays vital information at the top of the screen, so you can tell whether

you have enough power to fire an onslaught of missiles at your foes. In terms of content, you have a three level tutorial mode and over 100 levels to satisfy your urge to annihilate. Due to the high dose

of difficulty present in each level, you’re unlikely to complete them consecutively without dying, making the game last well over 10 hours. It’s worth noting that if you fail a stage three times, you can opt to move onto the next level. If the 100+ levels will not satisfy you, you can create and trade your own brutal levels with your friends to determine who the bigger masochist is. While the interface lacks the ease of use featured in the DS version, it still remains fully-featured. It’s a real shame that there isn’t an online database where people can download levels, but it’s understandable considering the company’s budget. So long as you have your friends added on Xbox Live, you can swap levels to your heart’s content. If you’re still not content with that amount of content, there’s even an online multiplayer mode. That said, it’s not the best. The lobby is

absolutely barren as of the time of this writing, so it’s unlikely you’ll find anyone to play with. Even on the off chance that you do, lag tends to overrun any level of contentment, so it’s highly recommended that you give this mode a pass. As the title implies, the game is featured in high definition and looks downright gorgeous. While the DS would choke and slow to a crawl when there were over 300 missiles on the screen, Missile Fury utilizes the 360’s superior hardware to display over 1000 individually rendered missiles (as well as numerous enemies) with decidedly less lag. This makes the game considerably harder since the DS version allowed players to exploit the slowdown, but Missile Fury gives much less of that luxury. Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury is the antithesis of grandma’s Saturday night Tetris party. Featuring

complex controls, a steep learning curve, high doses of difficulty, and loads of fruit, the game is not for the faint of heart or those with poor reflexes. However, any gamer who enjoys a challenge needs to purchase Treasure’s latest masterpiece. The flaws are utterly forgivable and do nothing to tarnish the game’s arcade-style addictiveness. If you consider yourself hardcore, grab $US10 and suit up for one of 2011’s best titles. - Clark Anderson


Battle for Wesnoth HD Available on: iPad Publisher: Kyle Poole

The Battle for Wesnoth is proof that open source community projects can make awesome games. It’s been around for years, of course, and over that time has developed a very faithful community that has produced an immense range of scenarios and refinements, but the HD iPad version is perhaps the most natural fit of all. If you think of Wesnoth as something akin to Fire Emblem, you’re on the right track. You move units around a hex-grid battlefield, fighting fantasy battles in turnbased fashion and winning experience for your characters. There are a mass of different character types to get a grip of, with some very large maps to traverse. Within that frame is a great deal of depth in effectively managing your force - picking the right units for the situation, making good use of terrain and trying to protect them from death - like in Fire Emblem a dead unit is gone for good, along with the experience is had accursed through the game.

able to play the game anywhere you like, and a mass of multiplayer options, it’s still better value than 99 per cent of other iPad games.

The down side to the game is in its presentation - although the HD visuals provide a high resolution, animations are extremely limited, and characters look more like cardboard cutouts than animated miniatures. Maps are likewise lifeless, with simple tree, mountain and water tiles giving the game a personality not dissimilar to the likes of early-era Heroes of Might and Magic games. Music, on the other hand, is quite good, and somewhat surprisingly for community-produced content, the stories are of a high calibre, the text is well-written and largely free of grammatical errors. Wesnoth is a game you have to pay for to play on iPad - which might irritate some, since you can get more scenarios for free on PC, but if you consider the nominal price (and it is less than $10) provides you a ‘best of’ list of 21 scenarios, the convenience of being

Each of those scenarios provides a self-contained story within the world of Wesnoth, and those stories are linked by a series of battles - and that’s only a fraction of the content you’ll be getting when you buy this game. There’s also multiplayer - which works across multiple platforms and also features a hotseat option. There’s a skirmish mode that lets you take on the AI in a deathmatch across a massive range of maps. There’s OpenFeint for achievements. There’s save syncing - allowing you to play on PC at home, and then take the game on the go with your iPad without having to start again. Although it lacks some of the refinement of a properly commercial game, Battle for Wesnoth is a soulful, meaty project that any strategy or RPG buffs will just love. Considering we will never get a Fire Emblem on the iPad, this is a worthy supplement. - Matt Sainsbury


THE role-plaYing WaRgame



Beyond Good & Evil HD Available on: PSN Publisher: Ubisoft

Putting out a HD version of an aging but well loved game is a risk. On the one hand, it’s a chance for a publisher to take advantage of nostalgia, while winning some new fans with the sparkling new coat of paint. On the other hand, you’d better hope the gameplay holds up, because as we know in this industry, it’s entirely possible for a well loved game to age badly. Upsetting nostalgic fans and boring newcomers could easily spell the doom for any chance of a series revival.

ous allies on a quest to defeat an alien menace. Only, rather than go in all guns blazing, Jade’s main tool of the trade is her camera, and her role is to snap pictures of animals and aliens as photographic evidence across various ‘missions’ (dungeons). The combat is still there, but the payoffs for beating someone down with a stick are relatively small – kill an enemy and you’ll get a few credits. Take a photo of an attacking beast and you’ll be rewarded in the thousands.

Luckily, the remake of 2003 cult classic Beyond Good & Evil HD holds up as well as the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D remake has. I choose that comparison deliberately because in many ways, Beyond Good & Evil is a giant homage to Zelda games. It features the same basic gameplay formula – delve into dungeons linked by an overworld hub, solving some light environmental puzzles and earning upgrades and new abilities to access more of the world; it just pulls it off with a panache that is wholly its own.

It’s an interesting twist to basic adventure game formula, and Jade is an interesting character. She’s not sexualised or otherwise stereotyped. She’s not overly heroic, either. Unlike Zelda’s Link, she has a voice, but at no stage is she an irritating protagonist. Jade is one of the most well rounded and original characters that we’ve seen in videogames.

This game stars Jade and her vari-

While the aforementioned puzzles and dungeons are not brainbusters, there’s enough in this game to keep you challenged and playing. As with many games of the Gamecube era, where this

game originated, there’s a whole load of stuff to track down and unlock if you’re looking for a 100 per cent completion. Some of the critters that you’ll be looking to photograph are decidedly difficult to unearth, and the game world, while not huge is filled with nooks and crannies to explore. In HD, it looks good, too. Beyond Good & Evil’s world is one of wonder and colour; a science fiction fantasy universe which will constantly surprise and delight. There are a few slight missteps that we can only assume come part in parcel with renovating such an old game; occasionally the animations are a bit wonky, and some of the environments are a bit flat and empty, but the bigger picture has Beyond Good & Evil as a rich canvas indeed. - Matt Sainsbury


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Cargo Runners Available on: iPad Publisher: Trouble Brothers

There are a number of different ways iPad developers are handling the board games that are proliferating on the device. Some opt to create a robust AI and online multiplayer gaming experience, such as Ticket to Ride. Others try and recreate the experience of playing a board game on

this case, a global map), with a number of paths (shipping lanes) drawn between locations. The resemblance stops there, though. In this game, you’re playing as a cargo ship, travelling from location to location picking up goods to sell back at port. The goal of the game is to pick up the right combination of goods (one per

low. There are dice rolls, but they rarely have a decisive impact on the game. It’s largely a skill based game, but in a very gentle fashion – like the best Eurogames, this is a genuine family-friendly experience. The presentation is also top-notch too. Cargo Runners looks like a classic board game, with chunky models for ships and a colourful map. It’s just a pity that it can be difficult to get a game going. Without AI, and with a fairly barebones online structure, games like Ticket to Ride are far more attractive – you know you’re going to be up and playing quickly.

a table, with games like Small World and Monopoly HD acting as though the players are sitting around a table – which means if you’re playing solo the AI player is essentially upside down.

each coastal city) to complete a ‘contract’ request at each port. The winner is the one who amasses a set amount ($8, $10 or $12 million, depending on how many people are playing).

Cargo Runners goes one step further, and eliminates the AI entirely. This is quite literally a board game, designed around having the iPad set down on a table, and people sitting around it. It means that sometimes it’ll be difficult to get a game going, and eliminates it as a way to pass time on the train commute to work, but for those social gatherings, this is brilliant stuff.

This doesn’t take too long, since the contracts tend to be worth quite a lot of money. On the other hand, there are tactical cards that people can use to help themselves or hinder their opponents – from the basic (additional goods) through to the downright nasty (take a contract from Sydney and drop it somewhere in North America when someone else is about to complete it.

Superficially, Cargo Runners shares some similarities with Ticket to Ride. There is a map (in

Like many modern board games, the element of luck is kept pretty

That said, the developers are promising to build out the game, with robust AI for solo player mode, and Game Center integration for asynchronous multiplayer (i.e, play-by-email) – a brilliant idea for people that only want to play in short bursts, and one that has worked really well with other iPad board games like Reiner Knizia’s Samurai. For a team of just two to come up with a board game that is so well refined and balanced, this is a must have. It’s thin on the play options at the moment, but not for much longer, and either way, board games this well balanced, and this much fun, don’t come by often.

- Matt Sainsbury


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Cities in Motion Available on: PC Publisher: Paradox Interactive

especially whilst sticking to an appropriate budget, regardless of the difficulty setting chosen.

Virtual simulators such as Sim City have eaten away a great deal of time throughout this reviewer’s life, and the recent incarnations/ copycats have, from experience, often failed to match that pink elephant of the simulation room. Cities in Motion is specifically designed towards the transport aspect of city management (removing all others) and provides a wonderfully designed, if slightly repetitive challenge that make its mechanic an ideal for any simulation game. Taking the helm of transport minister from 1920-2020, you are charged with constructing and maintain the transport circuits of any of a set of the lesser known but important European cities (including Berlin, Vienna and Amsterdam, looking ridiculously spiffy). Your roles includes controlling land transport, naval transport and flight with most historical options in each available. Whilst this monotonous

task might sounds boring – most simulation games are a little more multi-focused - the game designers have created a little masterpiece and make it genuinely fun as the ridiculous attention to detail makes the game feel realistic and regular rewards pumps the ego. Indeed, meeting the demands of the seven societal classes including students and tourists is enough to keep you constantly challenged,

The tutorial is conceptually fantastic and executed well. Whilst taking the player through the important gameplay modes with remarkable clarity and offering a constant rewards system for successful completion is ideal, it is the manner of the instruction that deserve plaudits. The player genuinely learns the interesting gameplay through a step by step set of instructions that make what would otherwise be complex processes logical and easy. Further, it is well paced and doesn’t eat away a large part of an afternoon for the transport enthu-

siast to be sufficiently familiar to successfully complete missions. Gameplay is fun, the controls are easy and responsive and the interface is far from cluttered. This is not to say it is uncomplicated but the colour distinction is spot on. It is rather logical that your aim is to create profitable transport routes, and one feels constantly challenged to do so,

lest you face the wrath of the unhappy commuter (in that case, can I suggest CityRail in Sydney play this game? - Ed). However, one drawback is frustration as the unhappy commuters fail to give direction to fix their gripes, but then, this ironically feels more realistic. Micromanagement is required, but is simply achieved through well placed option boxes. Sadly, the game does tend towards the repetitive with its single focus in only dealing with transport, but

the create a map option and the challenges imposed via the commuters and your own goals should capture the imagination. As a result, replayability is not great, but for such a cheap game, the worth far exceeds the price. Music is nothing spectacular but the solid soundtrack does not detract from the experience, whilst the sound effects, when present,

are nothing special. Graphics are excellent, the video files stored in the game highlighting your transport vehicles once on their route through remarkable, curiously clean cities. The game is for all those who enjoy simulation games, new people to the genre or those who enjoy the ideal of creating a functional mass transit system in major European cities. If you’ve been told of the virtues of simulation games

but never had a title to try, this is highly recommended and an easy way to get involved without being overwhelmed. Indeed, the mechanic of games like this should be used as a prototype/yardstick to be incorporated in any future simulations that need transport (so, all of them).

- Owen Sainsbury


Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy Available on: PC Publisher:

It’s safe to say that you need to approach Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy a little differently than you are used to with most modern games. I, in my infinite wisdom, jumped straight in without even a glance at the manual. That was a big mistake. At first, I persisted in trying to learn as I go but after struggling through the tutorial scenarios, after taking way to much time to finish them, I gave up and started reading. I’m not one to shy away from a juicy manual and I kind of miss their presence in most modern games. The fact of the matter is, developers have gotten so much more efficient in relaying all relevant information to gamers, through tutorials, that manuals have become almost extinct. Combat Mission’s tutorial system feels like it was made in the nineties. The manual is essential and the tutorial scenarios are only exercises in frustration without it, especially if you have never played a wargame before. The two tutorial campaigns are essentially split into teaching you how to move around and give out various commands, and how to setup a battle, strategise and overwhelm the opposition. Both deliver their intended purpose adequately, but I feel like the

developers could have done more to inform you in-game rather than making you read the manual for any relevant information. When it comes to helpful hints and tips the UI is a wasteland. There is plenty of information there, but the game requires you to learn its language to make any sense of it all. To its credit, if your knowledge of real world military structure and tactics is good, then everything will make more sense. My own apprehension of such matters was rusty at best, so I began reading up on the basics. It helped a great deal as I began to grasp the intricate details of the game. CM:BN’s greatest strength, and perhaps its most discouraging hurdle, is the amount and quality of the systems included in the simulation. If you want to master the game you need to be able to understand the tactical doctrine that it’s based on. Everything

needs to be taken into consideration when forming a strategy to take on a specific battle. The chain of command, the terrain, the weather, your troops morale, and everything else you could imagine would factor into a real battle. There are two basic ways to play the game. Real time where you can pause at any time to give out orders, and turn based where you give out orders and when you start the turn a minute, real time, passes during which you can’t influence the battlefield. In multiplayer the turn-based system, called We Go, players issue orders simultaneously and then the turn plays out. I’ve been switching between the two modes and I can’t decide which one to choose. Both are very competent ways to play the game, and each offers unique challenges. You can set up your own Quick Battles where you customise your force with a predetermined al-

lowance. Choose the size of your battle field and select from a variety of different map styles. This feature insures a high level of replayability where you can play hundreds of battles without hitting the same scenario again. The AI insures you wont get bored doing this, assuming that you have a general interest in playing endless battles. The ground type can make a big difference. A wet swamp will significantly slow down and tire your troops. It has also plenty to offer in terms of campaigns, my preferred mode

of play, which are both based on real battles and completely fictional. A nice little touch by the designers is recommending reading material, that relates to the battles at hand, in the briefing menu before each battle. The AI, both friendly and enemy, is impressive. The enemy will usually behave in a way that makes sense, tactically, and will move and strike where it’s most inconvenient for your forces. A source of frustration, for sure, but not to the game's detriment. Your units will take their positions in a smart way by taking into consideration their surroundings and

usually never stopping in awkward places in plane sight of the enemy unless you give no choice. I’ve encountered occasional glitches in the way the friendly AI handles obstacles like choosing the correct way around the environment, but nothing that’s too frustrating and I could usually avoid it later in similar situations. The environment plays a big part in choosing your tactical approach, as it should, and the games art style absolutely supports that notion. Every piece of pixel on the battlefield has a purpose and it’s definitely a no frills style. It enhances the play giv

ing you cause to consider every building, wall and bocage, when choosing your approach. The units are beautifully detailed and every single soldier is animated, which really gives you a sense of immersion. I thoroughly enjoyed CM:BN especially because it appeals to my inner history nerd and strategy inclined nature. As an introduction to the tactical wargame genre it’s probably not the most user friendly experience. If I were to endorse it to inexperienced wargamers I would make sure they are willing to overcome the learning curve, but the learning part does in no way make a boring experience if you are so inclined. When you strip it

down to its most basic elements, it’s a great war simulator but it fails at being a great game. That said, it’s still a good game and absolutely worth every penny. The feeling that I get when I fire up a battle is one of anticipation. Every situation is different and I really enjoy plotting out my approach

and deciding upon my tactics. - Arnar Levi


Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy Available on: PSN Publisher: Square Enix

Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy is simultaneously the greatest and worst game I’ve ever played. Somewhere under the whirlwind mash-up of fighting game and hardcore JRPG is an addictive and nearly endless experience, but getting there is like trying to dig through solid granite with a plastic spoon. Part of the problem is a woefully inadequate tutorial system, which tries to introduce you to one element of the gameplay at a time, but in effect streams “advice” at you for the first couple of hours of gameplay. Every menu, every fighting strategy, every little side feature requires explanation to

figure out where it fits into the grand scheme of things, but even with those explanations, you’ll be struggling. I still hadn’t figured out how the Chocobo graphic in the menus worked with the main game until much later after it was introduced. The game features multiple currency systems, multiple ways to unlock items, a hugely complex

skills menu (which is different for each and every character), and an equipment system that is uneven in execution (some forms of armour will actually drop your defence rating, although boost hit points, for instance). Once you break through that surface and understand what you’re doing, it’s a system that provides unprecedented customisation; if you like statistics and maximising your

There’s a great sense of progression, too. Levelling up happens quite quickly, and each battle victory brings a stream of goodies. Of course, unlocking everything is going to take hour upon hour of gaming (this is Square Enix, after all), which balances out the sense of reward somewhat.

Complex. Although the overarching plot is straight forward (two rival Gods summon heroes from across the universe to duke it out), the dialogue is so leaden with false weight and gravitas that it is hard to sympathise with the characters (a big problem for a game that is essentially fan service).

It also means you’ll spend half your life wading through menus (thank god digital downloads minimise loading times). You’ll be tweaking your special attacks, your assist characters, your equipment and buying and selling stuff from the shop all too often – as nice as the customisation is, when the combat in a fighting game starts to feel like an afterthought, there’s a problem.

Worse, the dialogue and character motivations don’t even gel with the games these characters are pulled from. Kefka was a genocidal maniac in Final Fantasy VI. In Dissidia, he’s little more than a clown. Lighting from Final Fantasy XIII has gone from conflicted to just plain cranky. Character motivations are all over the place, which does reduce the game’s value as fan service.

And compounding that, the frequent story expositions draw even more of your time away from the actual fighting. They’re long winded in the extreme, and proof that the folks to write the Final Fantasy stories have become afflicted with a Shakespearean

Also – and this is just a pet gripe – the actual range of characters is limited, and while this is the kind of game that would do well to have DLC character downloads, there’s no sign of that on the horizon. One or two characters from each Final Fantasy game is disap-

characters, then you’ll lose yourself completely in this game.

pointing, especially when some series favourites are ignored. There’s no Black Mage, no named character from Final Fantasy III (Rufia?), no Edward, no Rikku or Princess Ashe from the later games. No novelty characters such as Chocobo, Moogle or folks from the Crystal Chronicles spinoff games. While it is of course unreasonable to expect everyone’s favourite character to be represented, the lack of DLC announcement around additional characters is a missed opportunity for Square Enix, and (for the third time in this review) dampens its appeal as fan service. And yet, it’s still awesome After reading all of that, and seeing the score at the end of the review, you’ll probably wonder what the heck’s going on, but the truth is, despite the many flaws in the game, and despite being so bloated, Dissidia is a fighting game with few equals when it comes to depth.

Once you do get into a fight, there are two main forms of attack – one that won’t do damage, but will boost your Bravery Points (BP), and one that will do damage depending on how many BP points you have. So there is an immediate degree of strategy involved in timing, and balancing the non-damaging and damaging attacks, while at the same time dodging your opponent’s. Each of the playable characters are nicely different to one another, too, and while their personalities might have been altered when they were pulled into the world of

Dissidia, their combat styles have largely been unchanged. Lighting, for instance, is able to switch between various “paradigms,” just like she was in Final Fantasy XIII. Kain from Final Fantasy IV, in true dragoon style, is good in the air. Cecil from the same game is able to switch back and forth from Dark Knight to Paladin classes – each with unique abilities. Fighter, from Final Fantasy I, is a relatively straightforward combatant with some deadly melee strikes. The same is true for the evil side – Ultimecia from Final Fantasy VIII is a demon with magic attacks,

and Garland, from Final Fantasy I hits slow… and hard. And it’s just as well there are enough gameplay modes to take advantage of this, too. The main story itself is expansive, but acts like a glorified tutorial. Beyond that there’s arcade modes of various difficulties, and online battles where you’ll really get to test your skills out. For people who haven’t got the time to develop their characters to maximum level and obtain the rarest of the rare equipment, Square Enix has even been thoughtful enough to offer a “stock character” option where the combatants will be evenly weighted. And there’s even more – Dissidia dips its toe into player created content. It’s possible to create scenarios of your own, complete with plot, and share them with friends. Whilst it’s not the most in-depth character generation available, it does add further depth to an already impressive package. In terms of presentation, Dissidia is every bit the Square Enix

production. Character models are as food as anything you’ll see on the PSP, and the arenas you fight on are large, detailed, and strongly reminiscent of some of the more memorable locations through Final Fantasy history. Special props to the music, too. Easily the best part about the whole series, Dissidia’s track list is a “best of” compilation, and with earphones, is of superb quality. Dissidia 012[duodecim] Final Fantasy suffers from bloat. While the ideas are all sound in isolation, putting them together has built a hugely unwieldy game that will put many people off before they

can properly understand how the systems work together. Once you get there, though, it’s also, by far, the most rewarding fighting game out there. The detail and passion for the project are abundantly obvious, and as the systems start to fall into place, it’s hard not to get pulled in completely and find yourself playing the PSP’s battery to death. The next step would be for a PS3 version with DLC characters, and perhaps a rethink on the bloat – there were definitely some systems in this Dissidia we didn’t need. - Matt Sainsbury


Final Fantasy III Available on: Wii Virtual Console Publisher: Square Enix

The opening credits to Final Fantasy III (which is in fact VI, but the Virtual Console release sticks to the original name) are accompanied by a little tune, Terra’s Song. Despite being limited by the SNES’ hardware, the composition by Nobuo Uematsu continues to have a deep impact, resonating with an epic, sweeping majesty that sets the game up in a way no introductory story sequence could ever hope to. This is the game

where the Final Fantasy franchise peaked, and while later games have remained at a very high standard since, III has a unique, magical quality that is a genuine X-factor - it’s intangible, but it catapults this game to the ranks of superstardom. Final Fantasy III remains a character-driven exercise, and like with Terra and the spectacular opening, it’s the unique musi-

cal theme that accompanies each character that is integral to the continued value of the game after all these years. From the mania of Kefka to the heart-wrenching story of Cyan, the wide range of characters and archetypes of this Final Fantasy remain amongst the most fully realised and involving the series has managed. Which is just as well, because after all these years, Final Fantasy III is starting to show its age. Random battles are no longer just an irritant; they’ve been obsoleted. Character portraits and tile graphics, while still charming, are charming in the same way a black and while photo from the 40’s is as an antique, and a memory of good times long gone. Combat itself has

aged too - characters lack customisation and enemies feature distinctly uninteresting weaknesses, attack patterns and personalities. The ATB combat system - an early attempt to find a balance between action and turn-based RPGs has wisely been done away with in favour of more dynamic experiences. The dungeon-bossnew town-new equipment-new dungeon-new boss formula is now a pastiche. Were the core gameplay of this game cut, and then pasted into a modern visual and aural masterpiece, the game would fail horribly. It’s a testament to the relative unimportance of the combat then that the raw gravitas of the characters and story that Final Fantasy III remains a deeply compelling experience. Few will forget the opera scene, even after so many years since the last play through.

Fewer will forget the antics of Kefka, who remains one of the most compelling villains of all time. Final Fantasy III proves that cut scenes don’t need to be half an hour long to be genuinely touching - dialogue is snappy and to the point, but the words are chosen carefully and demands you invest in the characters. The port to Wii Virtual Console is good, too, although where remakes of the various Final Fantasy games have modernised item and character names, this time around the translation is exact. It’s a little strange to see “Fenix Down” where we’re used to “Phoenix Down,” for instance. On the plus side, unlike the woeful PlayStation port of this classic, and the limited-release GBA game

that came too late in that console’s lifespan to attract the attention it deserves, this version is readily available, cheap, and suffers from no loading times. The Wii’s digitally downloadable software hasn’t been stellar at the best of times, and has really lacked of late, but this game is arguably the greatest RPG of all time. Buy it, download it, and fall in love with some truly great characters all over again. - Matt Sainsbury


Frozen Synapse Available on: PC Publisher: Mode 7

Frozen Synapse is one of the most engaging little strategy games I’ve ever played. Its multiplayer-focused, short and sweet battles are intense while also being strategic, and yet this is also a game that almost anyone can pick up and play. In short? It’s got something for everyone, and even casual strategists can get into this one.

your opponent, while (unlike most RTS games), allowing you to lay out some fairly complex strategies.

It starts with a really easy tutorial that lays out the basic foundations of the game. Frozen Synapse does a good job of introducing people to simultaneous turn based strategy games – a genre usually relegated to the most hardcore of strategy wargames. Both yourself and your opponent plot out movements and actions for each of your soliders, and then those actions play out at the same time. It’s a system that works well for many other strategy games, and has the unique ability to both reducing your ability to simply react to

side of this game. The real fun is in taking on friends online, and there this game glows.

After completing the tutorial you’re free to play the campaign, skirmish against AI or engage in multiplayer bouts. To be honest the AI while decent, is the dull

The secret to its success is in its simplicity, meaning anyone can pick up and get into the game. There’s only a handful of unit types, and these are randomly assigned before each battle – there’s the machine gunner, rocket launchers and grenade-toting explosion man, shotgun guy for the close-and-deadly and the long range sniper.

Each of those units only have a few commands, with the main ones being movement, changing facing and toggling whether your unit will fire on the enemy, or drop his guard and move a bit faster. Given there’s only three or four units available to you in each battle, being able to make the most out of those units with

the limited commends is critical, and will take a lot of practice to master – each unit has unique firing ranges and quirks to take into account; Rockets can blow holes in the wall, grenades bounce off those same walls, for instance. And, given the randomly generated levels are small in size, you have to be on your toes. It’s rare for a match to reach the ‘draw’ point – most games are over in just five or so turns – in video form, that’s just half a minute. Moving around the levels are a

skill in itself – units have their unique firing arcs and can be set to stand and fire. It’s a system that opens up the opportunity to lay down ambushes and suppressing fire. It’s possible to “save” battles and come back to them at a later date – the developers have implemented a play-by-email system into the game itself, meaning it’s possible to come back, input your turn, and

then come back a day or two later to see how that turn went and input your next turn. The developers have clearly gone all out to offer a robust online experience. Add in YouTube, Facebook and Twitter support, and this is a very social kind of strategy game. It’s fun and easy to save and upload your favourite matches to YouTube for sharing around, and it’s encouragement to keep playing the game and getting better – you can watch back and see how your strategies and abilities of the game evolve over time. There’s an online leaderboard as well for additional incentive to improve. So, while Frozen Synapse

is a relatively simple and limited strategy game, much like chess or a good board game it’s a great way to while away a rainy weekend. Throw in a huge range of gameplay modes (everything from standard deathmatch to rescue the hostages), and you’re looking at a game that will last a lot of rainy weekends. - Matt Sainsbury


From Dust

Available on: XBLA Publisher: Ubisoft

From Dust is no ordinary game. In some ways, it’s a God game but, as many critics have pointed out, it does not perform as well as other games that belong to that category such as Populous and Black and White. Over at Quarter to Three, Tom Chick went so far to call the game “Black and White Lite, Populous Minus, Fracture Without Guns, or The Part of Spore Where You Lost Interest” and, while a lot of the examples he used are good analogies for what From Dust is, I think some of it (especially the “Fracture Without Guns” part) is quite unfair.

The truth is it’s hard to categorise From Dust as anything but its own type of game. For all intents and purposes the design of the game screams “God game”: you play an entity known as The Breath who the in-game villagers seem to worship and you have the power to alter the landscape around you. Right from the opening cutscene, you are made out to be some sort of powerful spirit that the villagers summoned to aid them in their quest, so you immediately have an obligation to help them. That being said, the execution is so much different from your

typical “God game” it’s hard to group it together with titles like Populous. Where your typical God game focuses almost entirely on the interactions you have with your followers, From Dust instead focuses on the environment and how you can manipulate it to aid the villagers who summoned you. It’s this sort of gameplay that makes From Dust a truly unique experience. Speaking of which, I suppose I should explain what the gameplay is: the mechanics are based around your ability to “breathe in” parts of the landscape, carry them

elsewhere and “breathe them out” again. You do this to build bridges from one island to the next, to create dams and walls to block surges of water, and to channel water and lava flows away from your vulnerable villagers. You can use special trees to blow away rock, evaporate rivers or even extinguish fires. You build mountains and create valleys, all in the span of a few minutes, and create a true sense of personal awe and accomplishment when the world works just the way you want it to. The game is gorgeous, doing a fantastic job of showcasing the amazing and terrible things that nature and the elements can throw at us. I remember reading an old article about how Eric Chahi, the lead developer of From Dust, spent a long time studying exactly how volcanoes act and the research shows through beautifully: every challenge, every natural disaster that you face throughout your time with the game, seems exactly like you’d imagine it would look in real life. The tsunamis are impressive, great walls of water that tower above the landscape, but the volcanoes are a true sight to behold. The first time the entire map shakes and you watch the tip of a mountain collapse in on itself invokes a mixture of awe and terror, all of which is magnified when the ash shoots into the air and the lava starts to flow and you scramble to divert it from engulfing your villagers. From Dust is rich with moments like that and I never found them becoming stale during my time with the game. From Dust has an aesthetic that seems to borrow heavily from Shadow of the Colossus, only on a grander scale: instead of being something small and viewing this

gigantic world from below, you are afforded a birds-eye view of a world that seems small and malleable and ready for you to manipulate. It’s as if you are the god that Wander speaks to in SotC, as opposed to the other way around. The villagers wear masks, much like some of the characters present in Shadow of the Colossus, and a strange tribal dialect is used to convey the small amount of dialogue present in the game. The similarities between From Dust and Colossus were very striking to me and perhaps that’s why From Dust resonated so well with me: I regard Shadow of the Colossus as the greatest game ever made, a perfect balance between action and adventure, story and gameplay, art and game, and I am not alone in this assessment. From Dust seems to conjure many of the same feelings and emotions that I felt during Shadow of the Colossus and, while it is definitely

not a perfect game, it certainly feels like it has a certain undeniable poetry to it*. (* - Sorry, Tom! It’s a good line!) As I mentioned, From Dust is not a perfect game: the 360 controller (or any console controller) is definitely not suited for this sort of game (something which I’m sure will be rectified by keyboardand-mouse controls with the PC release on August 17th); some features, such as vegetation growth and the appearance of animals, seem completely pointless except to make the world prettier and more lived-in; and the pathfinding of the villagers can be frustrating at times. That being said, I had very few problems manipulating the Breath cursor to go where I wanted it to and inhale and exhale what I wanted it to. The vegetation growth serves as an additional

maps, or just interact with environments and try different things. The mechanics are so well executed and the game is so gorgeous, it would be easy to spend hours merely fiddling with a world to create mountains and then destroy them again.

challenge for each map, asking you to cover a percentage of the map in soil to grow plants, letting you know your progress by alerting you when animals have migrated to the terrain. And the pathfinding was only frustrating in one or two places, and I found that largely to be a level design issue and not necessarily the pathfinding. Even then, the level design seems so finely tuned I can’t help but feel that the issues I had were merely purposefully challenging parts of the game. Speaking of which, the game is largely very easy to progress through. A lot of it requires patience and an understanding that, though they are slow to act, nature is the strongest force in the world.

But it is very rarely difficult and even more rarely frustrating. In fact, the entire game has a sense of tranquility about it that puts it on the same level as Flower and the rest of the titles from thatgamecompany, which makes it even better in my books. For those looking for an additional challenge, Chahi included an imaginatively-named “Challenge Mode” that gives you preset challenges to complete, some of which I found suitably cerebral while others require a mere trial-and-error approach. Still, the Challenge Mode is an entertaining diversion when you finish the main campaign. The one thing I really wish they included was a sandbox or editor where you could create your own

I highly recommend From Dust as a downloadable title. At 1200 Microsoft Points (or about $15), it might seem a bit pricey, but I think it’s definitely worth the investment. For a game that conjures emotions similar to that in Shadow of the Colossus and Flower, belongs amongst the company of games like Populous and Black and White, all while being executed as something unlike anything else, I think it’s a bargain. - Nick Jewell


Game & Watch Gallery Available on: 3DS Virtual Console Publisher: Nintendo

Game and Watch Gallery is perhaps the most fascinating release on the 3DS Virtual Console. Why? It is a port of a compilation that features remakes and ports. If that’s too bewildering to wrap your head around, it essentially means you’re playing 30 year old games. Perhaps even more bizarre, though, is that Game and Watch Gallery is arguably the one of the top values on the eShop. Game and Watch Gallery features four games, each with two versions: modern and classic. The modern editions showcase enhanced visuals and use Mario characters, but the concepts are identical. That’s not to downplay them though, as the fluid motion and subtle altercations make the games that much more unique and engaging to play-almost to the point where they’re different games. First on offer is Manhole. Using Yoshi’s head and tongue, you must support four different bridges. Once a denizen of the Mushroom Kingdom strolls past the bridge, it will collapse, meaning Yoshi needs to quickly put it back together. This game will give your eyes a major workout since a lot of the challenge is in seeing which direction the characters are coming from.

Fire is the least complicated game of them all, using only the A and B (or left and right on the D-Pad) buttons for movement. Toads, Yoshis, and Donkey Kong Juniors descend from a window in Princess Peach’s castle, and Mario and Luigi need to bounce them to safety. Different characters fall

at different speeds, so it’s much easier when you set your priorities straight regarding who to bounce first. Despite being the simplest offering in the collection, this is arguably the most addictive. Set under the sea, Octopus has a decent amount of depth (no pun intended [yeah right - ed]). Mario journeys through the waters, attempting to steal treasure from an octopus. You can grab a few pieces of gold and return to the surface, or you can greedily fill up your bag. Filling up the bag will make Mario move slower though, so you’ll have to evaluate things rather quickly – lest you get caught by a tentacle. This game is the easiest of the bunch, but it preys on your greed. The last and most tantalizingly intricate title is Oil Panic. While

the three previous games heavily focus on timing, this one requires major multitasking and your undivided attention rather than mere reflexes. As oil drips down, Mario must catch the drips in one of his two cups. On the screen below, Yoshi patrols, waiting for some delicious toxins to consume. This could very well be the best in the collection, as it improves greatly over the basic original. Game and Watch Gallery is nearly unparalleled in terms of content you can download from the eShop right now. The fact that a single Game and Watch title costs $US2 on its own with no enhancements is proof that a bundle of eight with boatloads of enrichments is worth $US2.99. Subsequent entries add improved graphics, more games, and other features, but this collection is worth purchasing now. - Clark Anderson


Game Dev Story Available on: iOS/ Android Publisher: Kairosoft

Game Dev Story is a simplified management sim with cute art style. It was developed by the Japanese Kairosoft, which seems to be the definitive management sim studio out there right now. The game is very reminiscent of the old-school Tycoon games as well as the Theme games from (now sadly defunct) Bullfrog except the choices and customisation features are somewhat limited. Most of the gameplay manifests itself through layers of menu options and fiddling with numbers — and I love it! It lends itself well to portable play because it’s not so deep, that you have problems figuring out what you were doing the last time you set it aside. It balances quite well between being deep enough to be engaging and not too complex so that you would want to play it on other platforms. You are the head of a game studio and as such you need to recruit talent, buy licenses from platform holders, and make games. The ultimate goal is to make money

so that you can invest is more popular platforms and make a hit. Eventually you will get to make your own console if you are successful enough. There are a number of options to consider when making a game like what genre, type, and which direction to take it. Will it be a budget game or a grand masterpiece you sink all of your budget into? You can choose from a huge list of genres and types and make combinations that don’t really seem possible. The way you produce games is a combination of procuring resources, finance and research, and the staff you are able to hire. There are several job positions you need to fill to make a good game. You will need a coder, designer etc. Each game is split into three different phases, designing, art and music, and each phase requires a specialist to get it off the ground. You can outsource these parts if you feel like you don’t have right talent and the better the freelancer is the better results you possibly get. Gameplay-wise, it’s not a great game. It’s decent enough to be interesting but it certainly could be deeper and more interesting. I think the reason I got hooked on it has more to do with the silliness of it all and the fact that making nonsense games with cheesy names successful is a lot of fun. The way game is set up is sort of

a parody of the video game industry. All the little winks and nudges that take a stab at how things work. You can hire booth babes to attract more people to your booth at the trade show and the more money you put into a game, then the reviews are better. The humour is fairly competent, all though never laughout-loud funny it’s amusing and earns a smile here and there. The game seems to hit home for those who follow the industry closely. Whether it’s because of hidden ambitions of running their own studio or possibly just the fact that it subtly makes light of the many issues that many take seriously, I can’t say. But it’s certainly fun to make up names for my sim-robot games or my incredibly successful franchise that deals with the emotional journey of a space cowboy in the hit life game, Space Cowboy. Yes, I make up stories about the games I produce and that’s the really fun part of the game. If you like that stuff and have an affection for management sims, then this is the game for you. - Arnar Levi


Groove Coaster Available on: iPad Publisher: Taito

line the avatar is moving along) to increase your combo rating and score.

Square Enix-owned Taito is one of the very best app store developers. It’s not the most prolific, but the studio that invented the humble Space Invaders all those years ago has already produced the incredible Mikado Defenders and Space Invaders: Infinity Gene for the Apple App store. The genius behind that Space Invaders reinvention, Reisuke Ishida, is on the path to serious fame with his new effort, Groove Coaster, completely blowing any other rhythm game out of the water. Groove Coaster has flown in under the radar, but the combination of brilliant music and stylish visuals sets it out as something wholly unique and invigorating. The gameplay itself is nothing new. Your avatar (selected from a range of retro-cool icons) moves on a single line in time with the music. At various points, you’ll need to tap the iPad or iPhone screen in time with the throbbing music beat (represented on screen by a coloured circle sitting on the

Sometimes you’ll need to hold your finger on the screen, but that’s all the interactivity this game demands. It might not sound like much, but it gets difficult. The higher difficulty levels can be downright brutal in the musicality they require of the player, and much like Nintendo’s popular Rhythm Tengoku/ Rhythm Heaven games, it is the musicality that is being tested here and not a mastery over tricky controls or buttons; it’s almost possible to play the game without looking at the screen.

Challenge aside (and for less hardcore players, the low level difficulties are very accessible - a problem the Rhythm Tengoku games have never managed to effectively control), the real appeal of this game is the visuals, and the soundtrack itself. Anyone who played Space Invaders: Infinity Gene will instantly recognise Ishida’s work; the man manages

to combine retro-cool style with modern effects and colour like none other. This is the kind of game that would suit an art gallery and an interactive art exhibition. The music also suits perfectly, with humming, charming beats that you’ll quite happily play at full volume and make your ears bleed over. Additional tracks are also available to purchase as DLC, adding even more value to an already impressive package. The only disappointment would be the lack of a “use your own music” mode. This was such a great feature in Space Invaders: Infinity Gene that it’s a pity not to see it return here. The range of music is impressive, too. Across the dozen plus tracks in the initial download is everything from club beats to R & B and more gentle, lyrical and even romantic tracks. This is the kind of game you want the CD soundtrack for. The game features great Game Center integration too, adding more value to the game as more of your friends make the purchase. A company founded in 1953, Taito is really coming into its own under Square Enix. Where other publishers and developers struggle to mix in retro with the modern, Taito and Ishida have mastered it and turned it into a pure art form. There is nothing on the iPad or iPhone with a stronger visual aesthetic and mastery of music. - Matt Sainsbury


Hard Lines Available on: iPhone Publisher: Spilt Milk Studios

If you’ve played a video game, chances are you’ve played a version of the classic game Snake at some point. You know the one I’m talking about, where you have a little line that you navigate around an enclosed area while trying to eat pixels that make the line grow. Yeah, that one: it’s a game that’s been around since the ‘70’s and is one of those classic video games that are grouped with the likes of Pong and Asteroids. The really interesting thing about Snake, however, is that there have been so many different variations on the basic formula. I mean, heck, Wikipedia lists well over fifty different variants of the game Snake that have been released over the decades. That’s a lot of Snake! At first glance, Hard Lines seems little more than an updated version of Snake: the graphics are updated to be more Tron-esque, with electric colors and grids and the whole gamut of futuristic-type stylings. But once you’ve spent some time playing the game you start to realise that developers, Spilt Milk Studios, have done a really great job with the artistic design of this game: every bit of the art seems streamlined and intentional, as if every bit has been thought through and designed to the greatest effect. I keep mentioning that Hard Lines is Snake for the modern age but that’s not entirely fair: Hard Lines is actually so much more than just Snake. For starters, there are six different gameplay modes in Hard

Lines, all based on the original concept but each with their own unique differences. One of them, titled simply Snake, plays identically to the classic game but actually manages to be more entertaining than its predecessor because your line is given a personality. As soon as the line you controls enters the screen, it

will continually offer advice or tell you jokes as you maneuver it around the map. (One of the best ones the line has told me is “A man walks into a doctor’s office. He has a celery up his nose and a carrot in his ear. The doctor takes one look at him and says: ‘You’re not eating right!’” Genius.) This is something that reoccurs in every game mode, though sometimes your line isn’t alone. All of the other game modes take the original concept and put a spin on it by adding other, AI-controlled lines. In the game mode Survival, which serves as the basic game mode, you are tasked with guiding your line throughout the map to collect the most pips as possible while avoiding the other lines which are trying to cut you off and kill you, Tron lightcyclestyle.

It’s quite an entertaining variant to play with and definitely adds a good sense of conflict in such a simple game. This is made even better when the other lines start harassing you as they enter the field, calling you out or commenting on something that just happened. “That was my father!” a blue line cries as it enters the field mere moments after I’ve cut off a purple line. It’s this sort of personality that Hard Lines has in spades, and what makes it so much different from other Snake games. The other game modes are derivations on Survival: Dead Line gives you a three-minute time limit with which to gain as many points possible; Time Attack has a clock that counts down but is boosted by you picking up pips; Pinata tasks you with killing other lines and then picking up the pips that they leave as remains; and Gauntlet pits you against endless waves of other lines, tasking you with killing as many other lines as possible before you are killed. Each of them is entertaining in its own right and each offers such different challenges it’s very difficult to ever get bored with the game. - Nick Jewell


History Great Battles: Medieval Available on: PC Publisher: Slitherine

History Great Battles Medieval (PC), as the name suggests, takes you on a journey back to medieval times. Specifically back in time to the 100 Years War. The premise, that you take control of the armies of either the English or French and attempt to recreate history has been attempted many times before although nothing memorable for this particular period. Until now.

make it real time allows for, arguably, smoother gameplay. From battle to battle, your units

Downloadable content promises new campaigns, missions and updates, something that whilst not useful now has a great deal of potential to add life to the game and a multiplayer mode adds the enticing possibility of destroying friends and family members.

It’s a real time strategy game where you take the helm as commander in chief over all units from your faction (including Henry for the English or Joan of Arc for the French) in battle as they attempt to defeat opposition forces. You have direct control over the speed of the game and can pause at any moment to relay further orders before witnessing units from both sides move. It’s a game well designed, simple clicks allow you to orchestrate the battle and out manoeuvring your foes and the game rewards intelligent tactical nous. One feels that, with movement over a grid formation and pause mode intended to be used constantly (in order to change movements) the game may have been better as a turn based strategy but the decision to

major influence over the battle. As well, there’s a detailed battle card system that allows further tinkering of the battlefield, granting advantages to your troops when they need them most.

gain experience and money. This is valuable, as it grants the ability to gain extra skills (in attack, defence, range), upgrade weapons and armour as well as recruitment. Played right, your units and armies become formidable. In addition to this, and a feature that adds something most other titles in the genre don’t, your generals can wield artefacts which can have a

This is a great title for those who want to try strategy for the first time, those who enjoy history or those that like a good old fashioned scrap. It is well designed, clear and easy to understand, with excellent graphics, a smooth control interface, a great range of missions and an enjoyable if slightly bland soundtrack. The missions range from short (these missions are done in 5-10 minutes), to medium and long in both campaign mode and for those short of time, there’s the option to skirmish a single battle instead. A great and almost

unique feature of this game is in the partnership with the History Channel. A lot of games pretending to be based in history sacrifice authenticity for ease in design but such corners have not been cut in this rather interesting title. The historical accuracy has been intelligently incorporated as the sources providing Intel prior to your missions are cut scenes played as an amalgamation of animation and (low resolution) documentaries. This proves successful, generating the feel that you are genuinely recreating the past with rather realistic armies. However, this great strength also happens to be a weakness. The game does feel fateful, with missions designed merely as an easy method to move onto to the next cut scene. To its credit, the game does attempt to divert you from a linear path

with tactical choices of scenarios on campaign maps but the preordained feel is difficult to shake. Indeed, for a series of wars battled over a period of 100 years, you as a general suffer from remarkably few losses. Self affirming – yes, but perplexing nonetheless. It is a game that is easy to play and relatively hard to master. I place the relative, as the hard core strategists may find the title a little easy, even on the very hard mode. These people can always set restrictions on themselves to artificially up the difficulty level, though – such as attempt the modes with no healing between battles. Long story short: It has something for just about everyone. Overall, this game is rightfully recommended. It does attempt to step out of the shadows from other

games in the genre and has real credibility due to obvious research made into the plotline. The gameplay is fun, if a little simple and it is an excellent title to introduce - and hook - people in the strategy genre. - Owen Sainsbury


King Arthur: The Roleplaying Wargame Collection Available on: PC Publisher: Paradox Interactive

King Arthur: The Roleplaying Wargame might be light on the roleplaying elements, but as a strategy game, it’s an enormously addictive experience, and for anyone who hasn’t experienced what it can offer yet, the upcoming release of the complete collection, that includes the various expansions and DLC really is a must have for fantasy and strategy buffs. On the surface, it’s a standard conquest game. You take on the role of the legendary King Arthur himself, and are given the objective of becoming the dominant force in ancient England. It’s not necessarily an easy job. In addition to dealing with the conventional obnoxious tyrants and evil geniuses, you’ll also need to deal with friendly and unfriendly creatures from the faerie realms. It’s a busy job to be king. Luckily, this England is worth dominating. Though the game has been clearly designed for some pretty powerful hardware, it looks

good on most settings (if you’re only able to run the minimum settings though you might want to look elsewhere, as the lowest resolutions are an absolute mess). Military units look splendid and animate cleanly. When they clash with the enemy, the melee itself is dynamic, and enjoyable enough to zoom right down into, though unfortunately in most cases that visual splendour is a luxury you won’t be able to afford – there is likely to be stuff happening elsewhere on the battlefield that requires your attention. See, while England itself is quite a small country, and the overworld map feels at times claustrophobic, the actual battle grounds are quite large, and filled with varied terrain. It’s great news, because it means strategists can really get

into moving units around to take advantage of victory locations, positioning archers to create killing fields on the plains, or hiding melee units in forests. Armies are led by hero units, too, and those heroes have unique special abilities that provide additional tactical depth. The overall flow of battlefields is nicely balanced – a far cry from plodding, but not so chaotic as to become confusing. Which is just as well, because the only hitch in this supremely sheened product is a camera that is just slightly too twitchy. Getting the right camera angle is everso-slighty too difficult, but at the same time, you’re not going to lose battles to this, either. The RPG elements come through in the levelling and moral sys-

tems. As units fight successful skirmishes they’ll gain experience points and levels. Those levels provide skill points which you can distribute to the unit as you like. It essentially turns each unit on the battlefield into an RPG-lite character, and allows for a reasonable (and importantly, accessible) level of micromanagement, though it’s going to be a touch too limited for the really hardcore. The moral system is the really great touch in this game, though. At certain points, you’ll get the option of allying with different foreign factions. Depending on those choices, the game’s direction will shift direction. The ‘moral wheel,’ broken into a 2-way quadrant system (Old Religion vs Christianity, Justice vs Tyranny) has a marked impact on your game as you progress further down a direction – deciding what units you have access to, and determining how the story unfolds. It also offers plenty of replay value, as there’s a couple of different ways this game can be experienced. And it’s a big game – especially

with the expansion packs, which do a good job of adding additional and varied content to the core game. King Arthur is a story that remains popular for a reason: it’s at turns whimsical and playful, dramatic and dark. Paradox Interactive have done a great job in capturing this fantasy, and boiling it down into a strategy game that really does deserve to hold its head high against the likes of the Total War games.

ow of the Horned Rat, and Dark Omen), in that, although it’s a strategy game, it gives the various units personality. As they develop, you develop an attachment to them, and you slowly mould them into specialist roles to tackle specific objectives. It’s a much more engaging approach to the strategy genre, which typically treats units as handy cannon fodder, and it’s an approach that we just don’t see often enough.

In many ways it reminds me of the old Warhammer games (Shad-

If you haven’t yet experienced this game, then remember, the complete pack is on its way, and really, if you’ve ever enjoyed a RTS ever, that pack is a musthave (though beware, at over 10GB in size, the download is going to take you a fair time unless you have a really fast connection). - Matt Sainsbury


The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Available on: 3DS Virtual Console Publisher: Nintendo

I’ve said in the past that I consider The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to be the high point for the series. Since then, we’ve seen a slow degration of quality and soul in the series, and it’s now a shadow of its former self, relying on silly gimmicks to keep it afloat. So it brings great joy to be able to download and play the second best Zelda game of all time. Link’s Awakening is a true highlight for the series, cramming a hell of a lot of invention, dungeon hacking and an entire new world to explore into a single Game Boy Color cartridge (or in this case, tiny download file). This is the game that kicks off the 3DS Virtual Console experience, and actually manages to be the closest to an ‘everyone must have this’ title on the console to date. The quest starts off with Link in bed. That’s not unusual for this series of course, but this bed is in a different world entirely. There’s no Zelda. There’s no Hyrule. This is an inescapable island, and rather than take on Ganon, here Link needs to find some musical

instruments and wake the Wind Fish. The story is told through very simple sequences, and dialogue doesn’t do much more than direct you to the next location, but the overarching mystery is compelling, even after you’ve experienced the ending. It’s helped by some very cheerful remixes of Zelda music and vibrant visuals. As a Game Boy Color game, Link’s Awakening pushed the console to its limits. Sprites are chunky and well animated. Colours and aesthetics are pleasant. It’s a good thing Nintendo decided to release this version on to the Virtual Console, rather than the original black and white Game Boy version, because the visuals do help make the game engaging. There’s nothing in the game that a Zelda fan hasn’t already experienced – this one follows the same formula: go to a dungeon, get a new item, use said item to defeat the boss, move to the next dungeon. There’s a little in the way of side quests and hidden bonuses to track down, but for the most part this is a very linear game. Most of the puzzles are straightforward and similar in style to other Zelda games, but there’s enough in there to get you thinking as well. What’s astounding though is the sheer quantity of content. There are no fewer than

eight dungeons in the main game. There are multiple environments, two towns to visit and a host of friendly and angry characters to meet. Though the game can fly by (the story pacing is a bit off for a series that is renouned for being epic), it’s immensely enjoyable to fly through it. This is one of the few games that is still worth the premium price Nintendo asks for its virtual console games. You’re going to get a lot of play out of it, and you’ll probably want to come back again every once in a while to remember the good times when a Zelda game didn’t need trains, boats or other gimmicks to offer a good time. - Matt Sainsbury


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Limbo Available on: PSN/ XBLA Publisher: Playdead

Somewhere between the balance of life and death lies Limbo. A frightening realm where there is only light and darkness tangled together fighting for dominance, completely devoid of any true colour. Here is where we meet our unnamed character – a dark silhouette of a gentle young boy that’s easily distinguished by his glowing white eyes. But, why is he here in Limbo? Where this place and what lies in wait before him? There is only one way to find out and that it is to take the first step forward – deeper into uncertainty; Limbo. A 2D platform/npuzzle hybrid isn’t anything new in the indie gaming world, but Limbo sets itself apart with a fantastic art style and creative gameplay. Instantly noticeable is that the game is designed in nothing but black and white colours, but don’t be weary of this unique art style because Limbo features some of the best lighting effects we’ve yet seen in a videogame. There are

times where the game is dark and creepy, and at other times bright streams of sunlight fill the screen and push away the darkness, drastically changing the mood of the

game in extraordinary ways that a game featuring a full colour palate likely couldn’t. Lamp lights tear through the darkness with stunning visual effects, colourless water still somehow reacts like water, and the silhouettes of the varied environments all react all react in a lifelike manner when interacted with, and these are but a few examples how this unique visual style astonishingly brings the world of Limbo to life. With Limbo being the games title, it’s quite obvious that our young nameless friend will encounter many dangers, but upon taking the first few steps that just isn’t

the case at all. Superb character animations like the boys hair flowing upon each step, and his limited jump ability seem lifelike to his size, and the word ‘cute’ came rushing to the forefront of our minds, but the rapid encounter of a bear trap lying in wait on the ground and a mistimed jump resulted in one of the most shocking deaths we’ve experienced yet in a game. The trap sprung onto the boy and instantly dismembered the fragile boy into several pieces, sending black blood flying from his many pieces, and what we had just witnessed had us gasping for air in pure shock. While the gore can be turned off is so desired, it instantly became clear that this isn’t a child’s game; this game is one of survival. While there are only a few limited abilities that the nameless boy can perform, the many environmental puzzles are perfectly designed to fit these abilities without ever becoming frustrating – also thanks to frequent save points – but, re-

quires the job of thinking outside of the box to figure most of them out. The lighting allows only what needs to be seen visible, and where pushing boxes to climb ledges starts things off easy, puzzles eventually become intensely though provoking. In one particular instance, a switch activated an object that we needed to get past, but when the switch was activated by a rolling a cart down a hill to activate it, we still didn’t have enough time to

get where we needed. We eventually figured out that pushing the cart uphill would allow for a few more seconds for the cart to lose momentum, stop and then start its downhill travel to the switch, and would allow enough time for us to accomplish what we needed to do. It’s this thinking outside of the box that makes Limbo so much fun. Sitting at around 4-5 hours for the first play through, the game brings fresh ideas and puzzles constantly and the only complaint we can find with the game is this; we want more! There is only one way we can recommend playing Limbo, and that

is in the dark with the sound way up. This brings the lighting to life in full effect as the minimal ambient sounds and dark tones fill the room as the games moves from is freakishly dark settings to its brief lighter moods. One memorable moment had a giant spider in deadly pursuit, and with no weapons available to attack, all you can do is run for your life. The long silhouette legs of the spider tear through the bright white backgrounds appearing onscreen brilliantly, and a frightening sense

of urgency kicks into play as survival becomes paramount. Most of the time the only sounds that can be heard are the boys footsteps and minimal environmental sounds, but once something like the giant spider comes onscreen, dark tones fill the speakers and knowing that instant death is lurking merely seconds behind becomes an instantaneous realization, as it should because if the spider does indeed catch our fleeing boy, his untimely death from impalement through his entire body, starting with his head, will have many gamers sitting wide-eyed, jaws dropped in

shock, but as with every in-game death, it only becomes one step closer to finding out what lies in wait at journeys end; into Limbo. Limbo not only sits in the top tier of games on XBLA, but in our opinion, Limbo is a top-tier game regardless of the platform. The unique art-style and gameplay alone would make the game a success, but the games ability to alter gamers’ mood, amazing lighting effects and superb use of minimal sounds set this game above and beyond other 2D platform/puzzle hybrids we’ve played before. It would be easy to write another 800 words on this game, but there isn’t a reason because if you own an Xbox 360 and haven’t downloaded Limbo yet, then go do so now. Limbo is one of the most creative games of our time. - Chris Ingram


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Mario’s Picross Available on: 3DS Virtual Console Publisher: Nintendo

For anyone who hasn’t played a Picross game before (shame on you!) it’s a simple, but hugely addictive formula. There’s a grid with numbers corresponding to each row and column. Those numbers represent spaces that need to be filled in the column or row, with the catch being that there the numbers on the side are typically less than the number of squares in a grid. So, for instance, in a 10x10 grid, one row might say ‘5,’ which would mean that you need to fill in five consecutive squares across that row or 10 somewhere. Another row might say “3,2” which means you need to fill in two sets of numbers – one with three, and another with two, on that row, with at least one square separating the two sets. It’s up to you to use deduction to fill in the correct spaces, by crossreferencing numbers and using what you’ve already filled in to leverage the more challenging columns and rows. It’s a system that can be a little baffling on paper, but an in-game tutorial has you going in about five minutes. Picross uses the same part of the brain that crosswords and sudoku use, and your ability to think with that part of the brain will largely determine how easy the puzzles are, but the game does a good job of providing an enjoyable challenge to just about everyone. Some of the later levels (and there and a lot of levels; it’s worth noting this is probably the largest game on the 3DS virtual console right now, eclipsing even Donkey Kong), are comprised of very large grids, and obscure number

sequences. For less serious puzzle fans though, there is a hint system in place, so no one should feel like an idiot on the more challenging puzzles. Artificially upping the challenge though, is a 30 minute time limit for puzzles. I am not a fan of this. Crosswords and sudoku are not time trials by nature. They’re designed to be engaging rather than stressful on the brain. A time limit introduces an unwelcome level of stress to the formula. Further, Picross punishes mistakes by giving time penalties. This would be fine, if there was an option to turn the timer off, but there isn’t. It’s like telling you that you can’t make changes or erase words you input into a crossword puzzle. Worse, though, the sense of achievement for completing puz-

zles with this version of the game is slight at best now – the ravages of time have not been kind to this game. A low resolution 2D black and white image that isn’t even saved to a gallery is not a great reward for hard work – especially with the more difficult puzzles. The original cartridge version of this game was Super Game Boy enabled to allow you to play the game in bright colours on TV, which made it a more rewarding process, but even that option is not available here. - Matt Sainsbury


Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes Available on: PSN Publisher: Ubisoft

Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is the best game on the PlayStation Network. It’s a big game with an entertaining story, some killer puzzle/ RPG combat, awesome multiplayer content, and gorgeous high definition visuals. It’s not pretentious, but it’s the kind of addictive experience that you’ll be coming back to long after you’ve forgotten more throwaway fare. It’s a game that started life as a humble Nintendo DS release and was largely ignored, despite wowing everyone that gave it a shot. On the PlayStation Network, it is a more natural fit. It’s cheaper and

more instantly accessible - unlike a limited release title, you’re not going to have to hunt through multiple game shops to track down a copy. On the surface it’s a classical RPG, with a nice anime art style and a traditional, but entertaining plot. If you’ve ever played a Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy game you’ll be quite comfortable with what you’re given here. It’s not a game that’s open for exploration though, the characters move around a game world comprised of spaces - kind of like a great big board game. Occasionally they’ll encounter a random battle, but

for the most part it’s possible to pick and chose your way through battles at your leisure. There’s some side quests to complete if you really get into the game, but as enjoyable as it is, all of this is just there to funnel you into the puzzle-based combat. The easiest way to think of that part of the game is as a match three puzzler on steroids. For each “battle” the game throws at you, you’ll face off against a grid of enemy units. The goal is to break through the defencive line and damage the enemy hero calling the shots. You do this by lining up three units of the same kind in a vertical

things grind to a temporary halt as the AI considers a difficult situation, but they’re few and far between.

row. Lining them up horizontally turns them into a wall that can help deflect enemy attacks. There’s a variety of units that are available to take into battle, and can be broken into traditional archetypes - there’s the speedybut-weaks, the burly-and-strongs, the magic users and the special utilities. You’ll be limited to three basic unit types per battle, and with each victory, the units you use gain experience and levels - strengthening them up substantially. It’s a system that caters for any number of different strategies, and one of the great joys of the game is tweaking the team to find

an ideal balance. Throw in special units that pack extra punch, but are expensive to replace and difficult to execute in-battle, and the combat gets an extra layer of depth. Throw in battles with special conditions (such as having to avoid damaging a special unit, or target one specific square to damage the enemy her), and the system shows just how genuinely deep it is. The AI puts up a reasonable challenge given the number of computations it needs to make, and thinks pretty quickly to boot - there’s the rare moment when

Even better than computer AI, though, is human intelligence, and for the first time, Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes features online multiplayer and leaderboards. 1v1 and 2v2 battles are supported, and this is the kind of skill based game that will have armchair strategist face off against friends for weeks to come. With bright, charming visuals, classy soundtrack, and a huge number of units and armies to master, Might and Magic is the true successor for Puzzle Quest to be kind of this fascinating hybrid genre, and an absolutely essential PlayStation Network game. We really can’t recommend it enough. - Matt Sainsbury



Panzer Corps Available on: PC Publisher: Matrix Games

Panzer Corps is a big release for Matrix Games – with a longer development and marketing cycle, following its progress has been an interesting experience. The team behind it at Lordz Game Studios has endeavoured to recreate the hex-based light strategic experience found in the old turn-based SSI Panzer General games, and this loving devotion to the traditions that series set up is admirable. It’s not an entirely old school game – there’s 400 unit types, 19 unit classes, 17 terrain types and 26 scenarios with branching paths depending on the player's performance. As such, the variety and interplay between units can become quite complex, which is a nice, modern touch. With the ability to recruit new units to the army at times, as well as an experience system that goes beyond “survive one battle, level up,” there is some strategic com-

plexity here, but one that doesn’t compromise the accessibility that this formula is famous for.

of those – even small mistakes can cut the Achilles tendon from under your war machine.

That accessibility is especially evident on the lower difficulty levels, where the AI is a cakewalk and you’ll still win, even if you make a few thousand strategic mistakes (I may or may not have exaggerated there). On the higher difficulty levels – and Matrix has been good enough to supply a lot

It’s not the most balanced difficulty scale, however, as it would be unreasonable to suggest the AI gets ‘smarter’ on the higher difficulty levels. Tougher, yes, but not smarter. That’s part and parcel with the modern wargame though as they tend to be put together by small teams of developers and creating convincing AI for 400 units across 26 scenarios is a big ask, even for the major studios. A robust play by email (PBEM) multiplayer option helps resolve the disappointment some might feel over the AI. After all, wargames are by nature designed for the multiplayer experience and given that scenarios can last for a while, a good PBEM game will have you planning strategy for weeks. If you are up for a game, do let us know on our forums we're always up for some strategy.

For the most part the scenarios are balanced enough in multiplayer that no side is at a decisive advantage, but at the same time I know some of the scenarios won’t be popular online, as the historical authenticity would challenge Napoleon Bonaparte to dream up a solution to. Another positive step by Matrix in this game is a tutorial mode that doesn’t require flicking through a 100+ page manual to make sense of; a wargame finally does a good job of introducing the player to the game in the game itself. As much as I like manuals (thanks to the likes of Matrix and, my iPad is filling quickly with the things), I do feel it’s important that games have a more effective way of getting new players in the thick of the action without confusing them. Panzer Corps does this, so for genre newbies, this is a great place to start.

The game looks and sounds good too, without being overly flashy. Colours are muted and gritty – Advance Wars this game is not, but the soundscape of explosions and bullets is appropriate and does grant the game a sense of scale. It's also worth noting just how well this game's interface works. Many other wargames get bogged down in archaic systems, with important statistics hidden deep within layers of menus, awkward camera controls and obscure rules/ restrictions that are not explained well in-game. Panzer Corps gets all of that right, and while the interface isn't as streamlined as a big budget game like R.U.S.E, it's also neither confusing nor frustrating to play with. As a labour of love, it’s good to be able to say “Panzer General is back!” It might just be a spiritual sequel, but the developers have

done a stellar job in retaining the hex-based strategic thrill of SSI’s legacy, while doing just enough to modernise it. Of all Matrix Games’ titles, this is the one with the broadest appeal and so, if you’re looking for a light strategy game, here’s a good place to start. - Matt Sainsbury


Portal 2 Available on: PC Publisher: Valve

Portal 2 is proof of how important story and character can be to a game. Without the brilliant scripting and cinematic approach to plot, it would actually be quite a forgettable experience. See, the gameplay of Portal 2 is in itself quite bland. Anyone who has played the original Portal will know what to expect – this is a puzzle based first person adventure game. By creating portals to “jump” through the levels, you’ll be solving a range of puzzles by strategically placing those portals to reach previously inaccessible areas, beaming lasers at switches and dropping blocks on pressure plates. It’s challenging in places to be sure, and supremely balanced. Each new puzzle room presents an incrementally-greater challenge, engaging the brain without frustrating the player. Each puzzle is a selfcontained little

confident in the direction that it has taken.

world - making it through one takes you on to a lift to the next room. There’s no purpose to backtracking, there’s no hidden extras to unlock as you move through the game. Portal 2 is a refreshingly straightforward approach to game design that, while limited compared to other games, is also far more refined, focused and

Thanks to this design direction, there’s no need to be cohesive in terms of level design, and Valve takes full advantage of this: rooms constantly introduce new tricks and wildly different environments, and eventually you’ll get stumped and need to apply different thought processes to get through to the next level. It’s challenging without being torturous, mentally simulating and relaxing rather than stressful and tiring. The gameplay of Portal 2 itself is quite throwaway, and levels fly by in the blink of an eye and while there is not a hint of a flaw in level de-

sign, it’s not the levels that you’ll be recalling a year from now. Even now, so soon after taking a break from the game to put virtual ink to virtual paper, I struggle to remember a single puzzle in the game. I remember the experience, the story, and the supreme production values, but I believe in the hands of a lesser developer, this exact game structure would make for a very poor game indeed. The appeal of this game, then, is in its humour, its psychopathic robots, and the same lonely ambiance that makes a film like 2001: A Space Odyssey such a classic. GLaDOS has returned and is as nasty as ever, sniping cynical, rude comments at you even as she tries to kill you. She’s not alone,

as a masculine robot chimes in with some very Monty Pythonlike wordplay. Like 2001 is memorable for HAL, this game is memorable for the performances of the robots, and the clinical approach to displaying just how wrong they can go. The game is also amazingly selfreferential, and makes as strong of a case for “games can be art” as I’ve ever seen. Indeed, the opening tutorial, which asks you to look up, then down, then claims that “completes” your aerobic exercise for the day, is a wonderful introduction to the self-referential style of Portal 2; It constantly pokes fun at itself, the first person genre, and the games industry as a whole. With Valve’s expert direction, not a moment of that feels

forced, overbearing, or anything less than entertaining. And for that, Portal 2 is a compelling, artistic game. It’s amazing that such a game could be so high profile, because not a moment of it goes with the current grain for the industry – it’s low on action, relatively short in length and lacks a real multiplayer mode (one feels the co-op was put in there as much as a joke at the game’s industry’s expense than a real attempt to bring multiplayer to the franchise). With the original held up to be the greatest game of all time by many, it was always going to be a difficult task for Valve to recapture the magic, or even improve on it further. Portal 2 isn’t Portal’s better, but more of the same genius is indeed still genius. - Matt Sainsbury


Pride of Nations Available on: PC Publisher: Paradox Interactive

In Pride of Nations, Paradox Interactive has released an admirable addition to the strategy games. It’s a turn based approach to the genre, and offers a realistic, historically accurate, all-encompassing game. This game is definitely on the complicated side, attempting to be a realistic modulator of the times. For the most part, it achieves its aim and thus should be a welcome addition into the strategists library. The premise of the game is that you take the helm of any of the eight powerhouse nations during the turbulent times between 1850 and 1920. In taking control, the player dictates from the position of prime minister all aspects that any influential government needs to be aware of, from military, economic (you have control in public and private in an excellently modulated economy), colonial, diplomatic, religious, power projection, education level and many, many other aspects of society. The primary objective is earning prestige points, garnered through superiority in all areas, shifting focus away from the military-only games. It is a complicated endeav-

our and preparing yourself, especially if you’re a perfectionist, can take a while. Its a good thing you have as much time as you need as it is quite enjoyable to see the plans come to life. Sadly, there is no easy introduction as this tutorial is quite difficult – it is clear but not very practical and fails to cover the vast majority of what will be required.

Whilst within are wry attempts at humour which add levity, the tutorial is heavy going and is blighted by a great deal of information over a few small boxes. The tutorial does serve to equip you for four aspects of the game – economy, military, colonies and decisions but the game requires a great deal more than that. Reading through the 100+ page manual provides just enough to grasp the complexity and point of the game. Many hours of painstaking mistakes later and you’ll start enjoy this rather excellent title. I implore that this perseverance is

entirely worth the effort. Missions do take a while, so be prepared to give your hours away with a blissful smile on your face. Gameplay is smooth and concise, important in such an massive game, with 24 filters providing an avenue to keep track of the many decisions required whilst keeping the interface from becoming cluttered (and most not really required if your diving in). Considering the turn based style, drag and drop moves allow appropriate planning. The 15 days movement structure progresses comfortably but allows enough pacing to warrant alternating strategies when required. In addition, the game ticks all the major boxes, with an excellent battle mechanic that provides for fascinating strategy (including influence of weather on troops shows the detail), intelligent markets, the economy is based on an extremely thorough number of resources (in excess of 20 with six main taxable categories) with each important in their own right and a rather intricate political model. The latter is especially fantastic, as it provides a very

realistic take of diplomacy meaning war is not entered readily. Indeed, it is not possible to simply declare, you have to position your nation in the right way. Further, the excellent high tech economy and infrastructure development ensures trade is dependent on national circumstances. Both a public and a private sector are affected by market pressures such as trade routes, availability and political state. Additional layers result in each nation possessing their own individual touches, England as a progressive nation, while Russia is somewhat sparse and agriculturally strong. Multiplayer is excellent. An added bonus includes the intelligent utilisation of the turn based strategy medium. It is possible to play via e-mail and thus you can battle your friends over time without having to organise a dedicated time to meet online. Should a heavy gaming session be desired, or your friends are not available, the AI is extremely well done and provides an excellent and forward thinking chal-

lenge; complex strategy is a must although there are very few hints in obtaining your goals. Indeed, a major fault of the genre has been counteracted. Whilst it is possible to master the controls to enact sophisticated plans, each rule has a realistic negative exploitation of loopholes in the game design. A perfect example of this is maneuverability, which comes with a downside relating to supplies and fatigue, resulting in flanking sometimes being more hazardous then good if it leaves your troops cut off. Commendable detail indeed. The historical accuracy deserves respect. Military uniforms, regiments and unit commanders names (not just of the 3 star generals but also the 2 and 1) indicate just how much went into researching and designing the game, whilst the NATO terminology generates a feeling of authenticity. Realism in terms of simulating major aspects of society and its influences on your military, public and private sectors, including the names of the companies add to the credibility. Music is

themed according to stereotypical military music played as a shuffle. This music does not attempt to break new ground and due to the random nature does not add much specifically to the gameplay greater then slightly setting the mood. Whilst the game is designed for hardcore strategists and military buffs, the casual modern history fan should not be discouraged from enjoying the wonders of this all encompassing strategy game. It takes dedication to learn the rules and the influence each of the many buttons have, but it is well worth the effort. The game’s intelligence is commendable and the economic mode, especially the resources market, is fun. - Owen Sainsbury


Puzzle Dimension Available on: PSN Publisher: Doctor Entertainment

Back in the days of the PlayStation One, a little puzzler by the name of Kula World was an underrated classic. It featured a beachball that you needed to manoeuvre around a platform that was suspended in the air, Monkey Ball style. In the game you need to collect various treasures while avoiding spikes and other nasty traps.

exit goal. There’s no time limit – a marked improvement over Kula World, where the arbitrary countdown made some levels too tense. This is a more relaxing puzzler on the surface, though scores are also tied to how quickly you complete levels, so getting those top scores still requires fast thinking.

To help draw people in, it starts easily enough with stages existPuzzle Dimension is a spiritual ing on a single plane with solusequel to that game. With heaps tions that might as well be lit up of levels, a vibrant aesthetic and with neon signs. You’ll be feeling some truly nasty challenges, this pretty good about yourself for that is a game that just like Kula World first hour or so as you fly through before it, manages to be both the initial stages. That good feelfrighteningly addictive and ining doesn’t last long after that credibly frustrating. though. The main aim of this game is to roll the ball over to collect a series of flowers around the level (flowers rendered in that gorgeous 3D miniature block style that makes the likes of 3D Dot Game Heroes so compelling) and then reach the

Soon enough you need to start dealing with icy floors that you can’t slide over the edge, rock platforms that disappear after you use them once, and winding passages in three dimensions that can make basic orientation a puzzle

in itself. There’s a huge range of levels split by visual theme, and the difficulty makes a habit of spiking at some strange moments, and spiking regularly enough that if you’re not a committed puzzler fan, you’re probably not going to finish this one. But it does look and sound good. There’s a strong, faux retro vibe in this game. The aforementioned 3D dot flowers are a nice touch, but everything from the psychedelic backgrounds to the elegantly animated ball itself is smooth and classy stuff. The music is a little too much like elevator soundscapes, but it’s not offensive in the slightest either. - Matt Sainsbury


Rapid Angel Available on: PSN Publisher: MonkeyPaw Games

MonkeyPaw Games has been releasing numerous PlayStation One import games onto the PlayStation Network, allowing new audiences to experience some of the foreign greats of yore. One such title is Rapid Angel, an action game with a lot of heart. With its many hidden intricacies and terrific cutscenes, Rapid Angel is one of the finest action games the PSN library has to offer. Rapid Angel is an interesting blend of genres, where platformer meets beat-‘em-up. As you saun-

ter through each of the areas, you’ll encounter a variety of foes with equally diverse weaponry. Your character has numerous moves to work with: standard attack, special attack, block, double jump, dash, and dash attack. The screen only halts when combating a mini-boss, as opposed to stopping every time a group of baddies appear in similar games, which equals a lot more freedom. Freedom is a necessity since the platforming sections tend to span several screens or, in some cases, dominate the level.

If you would prefer a more fastpaced experience, I’ve noticed that you can speed through the levels and avoid the enemies as you focus on platforming. While some may feel that frantically running through levels would ruin the pace, it is surprisingly entertaining to attempt fast times in some of the earlier stages. Some may also consider the game to be a now-typical action title, but the real ingenuity in Rapid Angel is established after adapting to its style. Many beat-‘em-ups omit the ability to block or deter you from

using special moves, but this title seems to be more reasonable than some of the classics. The number of minor details to be found in the characters is truly astounding, with one character in particular, Haruna, being notably intricate. Also on offer is a two player mode that deviates from standard beat-‘em-ups. Instead of simply playing with two characters on the screen in usual co-op fashion, the second player plays a more unique role. As an invincible “angel”, the second player aids the primary player by shooting enemies and shielding. This is a more commonplace style of cooperative play in 2011, with variations of this system being featured in major titles like Super Mario Galaxy, but this was impressive for 1998. One thing to note is that you are not healed after completing an area, meaning that dying will inevitably result in a “Game Over”. However, this isn’t nearly as daunting is it sounds for several reasons. You are revived (complete with three special attacks) somewhere relatively close to where you died, so boss fights can become simpler through suicide prior to attempting them. In addition, falling into a bottomless pit does not kill your character, instead dealing some minimal damage. Rapid Angel is almost too lenient, but the low difficulty unquestionably makes it more alluring to those who are less competent at 2D sidescrollers. The 14 stages on offer in Rapid Angel can be easily thwarted in around an hour, but this is one you’ll want to replay. There are three characters to pick from the get-go, each with their own unique attacks and special moves. Two more are unlockable after

viewing the game’s “good ending”, so there’s definitely an incentive to keep playing beyond scores. When not bashing foes, the player is treated to 2D anime-styled scenes featuring the game’s females. Anime humour is instantly apparent, complete with sweat drops. Despite the game’s age, the visuals still look clean, polished, and generally up to snuff. During certain segments before battles, there are occasionally contextsensitive options to select. Depending on your choices, scenes will play out differently. As your understanding and enjoyment of the story hinges upon your grasp of the Japanese language, those who are fluent will get the most out these scenes. It would have been pleasant to see subtitles, but this is an unaltered port as opposed to an enhanced edition. The sound department is a mixed bag. The tunes are fairly mellow and unremarkable, but the real thrill comes from the voice acting. The anime-styled voices and cutscenes help accentuate the personalities of each character, in addition to better portraying their emotions.

While Rapid Angel is 100 per cent playable for foreigners, the ideal audience would be one that can speak the game’s native language. Without knowledge of Japanese, the context-sensitive choice segments are a bit useless to English purists. In addition, the game’s storyline and the character personalities would be somewhat difficult to decipher. If you are unfamiliar with Japanese menus, you can read a translation here. Rapid Angel is no longer quite as inventive as it was in its halcyon days, but it still remains a solid PlayStation sidescroller and offers a ton of fun. Only players fluent in Japanese will truly be able to appreciate the cinematic sequences, but at $US5.99, Rapid Angel definitely warrants a look. - Clark Anderson


Red Johnson’s Chronicles Available on: PSN Publisher: Lexis Numérique

With the return of the PSN and the PS Store, the Sony faithful have been rewarded for their patience with some awesome deals, like 50 per cent off the wonderfully strategic gameplay of Under Siege that we reviewed here earlier this week. Personally, of course, I prefer to keep my RTS gameplay strictly to PC, but some

throughout the game just because, this is a game that oozes coolness from its very pores.

point-click adventuring on the PS3? That I can get behind.

pretty much everything. This time around Red is hired to solve a murder case, but the only information he is given to start the case is where the murder took place. I think that’s a pretty good example of how incompetent the cops in Metropolis are, wouldn’t you say?

Helping round out the deals being offered is a cool new game called Red Johnson’s Chronicles. And when I say cool I mean cool; from the smooth jazz fusion and sharp artwork of the menu screen to the faux-Communist font utilised

The concept is pretty simple: you play Red Johnson, a private investigator in Metropolis. Red gets hired on by the local police force to work cases that they can’t be bothered with, which includes

One of the first things I noticed

with Red Johnson’s Chronicles is how gorgeous it is. The character art is amazing and the location artwork is even better. Because the game is a point-click adventure, it’s important - nay, necessary - to pay attention to every little detail in the artwork, and developers, Lexis Numérique, did everything justice. Each locale

that you visit is completely unique while still retaining a similar tone. Metropolis is made out to be a dark and seedy place, but you always get the sense that there’s something else just beyond the surface. Whether that’s something even darker or not is up for you to decipher in the game.

to go to the writers as well, because some of the dialogue is its own breed of genius and that isn’t something I’ve said about video games for some time.

The other thing worth noting before we get to the gameplay is the spot-on character design. Putting aside the gorgeous artwork and how awesome each character looks, the demeanour, personality and mannerisms of each character are so true-to-form that it convinces you of the world you’re now part of. Red Johnson is made out to be a cool and collected individual who knows what’s what but Officer Rob (your police contact) is little more than a bumbling blowhard. The opening scene between Don and Red does a good job of setting up the position the PI has in the city while also making Red appear even cooler by comparing him to Officer Rob. It’s a well directed scene that delivers exactly what it needs to. As a point-and-click adventure game, I imagine most people would expect it to be nothing more than a pixel hunt. Not so in Red Johnson’s Chronicles! Instead, the gameplay mostly consists of puzzles that, once solved, yield evidence to be used in the case. For instance, one puzzle involves you having to slide transistor pieces around a circuit board to create a complete circuit, while another puzzle involves you using a

combination of riddles and Tarot cards to find the combination to a locked box. Quite a few of the puzzles are a bit abstract but none are too hard to understand (even if some are noticeably difficult to actually solve). Beyond the puzzles, a portion of the gameplay is devoted to interrogations where Red questions suspects and witnesses to attempt to glean information. It’s here that another great part of the game is allowed to shine: the voice acting. Though the acting for Red himself is a little bit hit-and-miss, the rest of the cast is voiced perfectly and really bring the characters to life. Part of this praise definitely needs

Now, as most people who have played a point-andclick adventure game know, it’s often fairly easy to get stuck on particular puzzles. Sometimes your brain slips up and you can’t see the forest for the trees, or sometimes the puzzles are just that little bit too difficult to handle. We’ve all been there! I know how alluring the internet can be: it’s just so easy to give up trying and look up the answers online. Of course, once you’ve done it once it’s hard not to continue. Before you know it, you’ve reached the end of the game and you can’t even remember the puzzles you encountered to get there. Luckily, Red Johnson’s Chronicles has a great tip system in the form of Saul. Saul is introduced as a cool cat right near the beginning of the game; you meet him shortly after

beginning the case, and you are told that Saul is Red Johnson’s informer. Saul’s a slick guy who knows everything on the street, including how to solve puzzles and who to talk to next. Of course, his tips don’t come free: every time you want a tip, you have to give up some of the hard-earned cash you acquire by successfully completing puzzles. There isn’t much worry of running out of money, though: Red starts with a sizable amount of savings and, though there are always multiple tips for each puzzle, you’re almost assured to make back more than is possible to spend on tips. It’s a pretty slick mechanic that allows the game to keep moving without breaking the sense of disbelief that living in Metropolis gives you. The other core mechanic of the game is some classy quick-time events. Whenever Red gets himself into a dangerous situation (and, believe me, that happens

more often than you’d think), the screen cuts all the vibrant colours and leaves us with a monochrome fight scene in the form of a QTE. It’s really quite classy and the sequences are pretty simple, but it’s a fairly unforgiving system. If you miss even one part of the QTE, you fail and have to repeat the entire thing over again. Luckily, none of the events are very long, but its still a pain to fail a handshake because you didn’t move the thumbstick the right direction. Even still, it works well as a medium for action in this genré and I don’t think it’s out of place.

really hoping there were multiple cases to solve but, sadly, there’s just the one. I hope Lexis Numérique decides to continue with the exploits of Red Johnson. After all, the game is called “Chronicles”; that kind of implies more than one.

My only real complaint about this game is that it’s a fairly short title and there isn’t much replay value. I mean, once you’ve solved every puzzle, interrogated every witness and solved the case, there’s not much point to go back and see everything again. It’s a real crying shame because Red is such an awesome character and the world is so beautifully created. I was

Because, really, who doesn’t want to be a private eye?

If you’re looking for a new-age adventure game to wile away the hours while making you feel like a cool cat in a dirty world, look no further than Red Johnson’s Chronicles. At just under $10, it’s definitely worth the time and money it would take to give it a play.

- Nick Jewell


Runespell: Overture Available on: PC Download Publisher: Mystic Box

battle. Another feature of this game I found intriguing was the alternative medieval Europe based history that was interwoven into the storyline. It kept me much more involved in the plot than I might otherwise be with a similar game.

Runespell Overture is a blend of RPG, collectable card game and poker. It seems like a bit of an odd combination but it has proven to be a successful amalgamation of game mechanics. The first thing you will notice about Runespell Overture is the gorgeous hand painted backdrops. The visuals on this game are really top quality, you can tell that a lot of time and attention has gone into making this game look amazing. The next thing you will notice is the background music. It sounds great, at first. You soon find out that it is rather limited and all battles end up sounding the same which is a bit of a shame when you have all these lovely different backdrops and the same music for each one. But as for the game mechanics themselves, the closest I can come up with of explaining it is some sort of two player spider solitaire and poker hybrid. You have three

actions in a turn to gather cards into ‘sets’ and create poker hands; the better the hand, the more damage it will do to your enemy. For every bit of damage you do and for every two bits of damage you have done to you you receive RP ‘points’ which is the mana pool from which you use your abilities. The abilities you can use depends on the cards that you have. These can vary from outright damage spells to shielding spells or spells which give you extra turns and many others. The better the ability, the more it costs to cast – simple system, great execution. Your abilities come from cards that you collect through your quest which you purchase ‘uses’ of. If the card is out of ‘uses’ then you obviously won’t be able to activate it. Your alternative is to use your allie’s abilities. Those abilities don’t always come with a limited number of uses; some unlimited use cards have a cooldown period instead. This means you don’t have to worry about running out of uses over the course of a

It would be great if this game was later expanded to have a longer storyline than it has currently. I feel this was a slight let down and I am hoping there are plans in place to expand the game further as I think the developers have a great product on their hands. The ‘Overture’ in the title suggests this is the case. If you are looking for a beautifully made game with an interesting card based game mechanic you really can’t go past this game, particularly if you have enjoyed a game like Puzzle Quest. Aidan Broadbent


Strategic Command - World War 1 the Great War Available on: PC Publisher:

This turn-based strategy game provides a platform from which you can replay some great encounters from the first world war. You have the option to play as either the German led “Central Powers” or the allied forces “Entente”, led by the United Kingdom, France and Russia. These battles include the ANZAC’s famous assault on Gallipoli, as well as Lawrence of Arabia and his battle for Palestine, and provides a realistic view of both the odds facing both sides and the terrain through which they had to battle. The scale of battle ranges from two or three countries to all of Europe which will provide even the most strategical enthusiast with a logistical challenge. There are also decisions which can make or break your campaign, which the game will prompt at the end of rounds of some campaigns. For example, “Do you send General von BohmErmolli to support your invasion of Serbia or do you send him to reinforce your troops against the Russians?” This game appears to be targeted primarily at people who have enjoyed previous Strategic Command titles and are familiar with unit capabilities and general game-play since it lacks a tutorial. The user manual however is extensive and quite useful. I found that as a first timer it was best to play with fog of war disabled

so that you can get a feel for the game by how the computer acts and also by trial and error. A great feature is the fact that you can play a good variety of different campaigns without having to unlock them first. It plays a lot like a chess game with its grid set up rather than the hexagonal set up that many other strategy games use. As with previous titles the battles include ground, air and sea forces for a wide range of combat capabilities. The graphics are on par with Strategic Command 2 titles. Also included with the game is an editor so you can create your own fictional wars or re-create other battles from history. This is one feature that really surprised me, the attention to detail provided here was quite astonishing. The amount of different looking terrain tiles available to you is exceptional this truly allows you to recreate land masses with amazing

accuracy. Even the buildings have different options available to you so that you don’t end up with a generic looking coastline covered in identical ports. Overall this is a great title for anyone in the market for a historically accurate turn based strategy with a particular interest in reliving the battles of WWI. I would definitely recommend you make use of the excellent editor for extra longevity. - Aidan Broadbent


Supreme Ruler: Cold War Available on: PC Publisher: Paradox Interactive

In all of the multitude of conflicts that marred the 21st century, perhaps the most difficult to adequately model in a video game is that of the Cold War. A turbulent time marred by large amounts of intrigue, great posturing and the passiveaggressiveness of proxybattles, it is a time of politics, espionage and the great public fear of nuclearinduced Armageddon. Perhaps unsurprisingly considering the many features needed above and beyond that of WWII games, Supreme Ruler: Cold War is the most intricate game that has emerged in recent months. In an already-ridiculously complicated genre, that does say a lot. What is surprising is the lack of adequate tutorials for getting to grips with that gameplay. A nice in-game tutorial would have been really appreciated for this game, although manual junkies will appreciate the clear and well written attempt at putting the complex systems in paper form. As a result, this is a game to stay clear of unless you are a veteran of the genre, but offers a great deal for those who are. One of the greatest problems that newcomers to the wargame

genre suffer from is information overload. Suddenly thrust into the dictator hotseat, most players initially struggle to begin making intelligent decisions that will steer them, and their nation through the long years, and as a result,

the games are rarely accessible. Information is not in short supply in Supreme Ruler. Indeed, all the usual suspects in terms of complicated modes are present; Research (five impressively detailed trees with era and geographical location appropriate emphasis on the space race and arms race), economic models featuring 11 commodities amongst other markets and large scale social responsibilities (education, medication, etc), diplomacy, an extremely advanced covert operations system and many more besides. A somewhat useful filter mode does makes these systems accessible, giving important feedback through a panel of icons, but it is understandable how players can feel overwhelmed as they attempt to master the multiple systems; and then frustrated at an inability

to access minor but seemingly hidden features. Essentially, there is a large learning curve in most grand strategy games and Supreme Ruler’s natural complexity, with its adequate but unspectacular interface, makes it no exception. A remarkable feature I would like to draw attention to, and sadly underutilised in the game is the introduction of intelligent cabinet ministers which can be activated to automate their various roles, and tweaked to fit your own political inclinations. Whilst taking control of nations such as Zimbabwe, Australia or Andorra in the game’s sandbox mode might not require as much help, their utility in campaigns where you control the massive industrial development required in USSR and the USA’s remarkable economy is greatly appreciated. Want somebody else to look after your economic tradings? It’s done. Want a minister to make the most out of your various methods of troop production? Done. Want them to only have a little influence on that area, but instead take care of the menial stuff? Done. It’s like having competent henchmen in a FPSer. The concept is brilliant, although the developers

may have been served well had they started every game asking which ministers would be preferred, or simply turning them all on by default (otherwise, this option is one of the thing that can be difficult to find amongst the interface). As for the military aspect of the game. it is performed in real time and offers decent strategic fare. Because it is the Cold War, warfare is tough. The campaign mode, in which proxy wars predominate, means you’re fighting in somebody else’s backyard, and therefore every battle is an invasion. For example, in Korea, the North’s invasion of South results in no real home ground advantage regardless of your choice of player in USSR or USA. The individual units have a great deal of flavour and technological advancements brings with them impressively detailed toys to play with, which are hopefully bigger and shinier then your opponents. There are many fantastic troop options for each force including units in land, water, air and those packing some missile/ explosive fun. The AI is intelligent and does attempt to counter your own plans with precision, achieving an admirable level of sophistication. Further, the grouping of various forces into spheres of influence

and theatres of battles is very intuitive and adds a lot to tactical nous to the experience. Keeping true to the times, the DEFCON status (essentially referring how close USA and USSR are to war) builds a level of tension in the player and whilst it is possible to have nuclear-free war, the threat is always hanging over your head. Not many of the units feel overpowered, either, except when historical accuracy is at stake. What does detract from the gaming experience, and is always difficult to get right in the wargame genre is the progression of time, which is very tedious outside of battles. Indeed, in your downtime between wars you can make yourself coffee, get some food, read a book, solve global warming and run a marathon in the real world. All whilst the game is running in fast mode. This time control is ideal for wartime situations and is perfect to enable micromanagement. But, with a pause function so readily available and indeed necessary at time, you have to wonder why turn-based gameplay was not considered instead to speed up those down periods. Now for the reason why you are playing a game set during the Cold War: Espionage. I found this the most fun aspect of Supreme Ruler. From sending them on important missions to just blowing

up stuff or funding insurgencies amongst your opponent’s allies, the spy has many uses. With up to 16 players available in multiplayer, this feature could prove masterful in obtaining the game a loyal following, even if it does test the threads of friendships. Its features like these, and providing a big red button to initiate thermonuclear war, that generates soul and personality in the game and thus become an absorbing experience. Wargames are not renowned for their graphics and this is no exception. The game hardly extends itself and offers a routine map with zoom options and is aesthetically very standard. The trade off is, however, that the game is not crippled with loading times. It’s worth it. Music is appropriate and helps set the mood nicely, with sound effects providing a great deal of explosions and gunfire, alerting you to your next battle. This game is a very decent simulation of the Cold War but is not for the faint of heart. It’s complicated nature offers a great deal to wargame veterans and the intelligent AI does provide a robust challenge. It is a little different from the norm, and, if you are considering this, its relatively cheap starting price makes it worth picking up. - Owen Sainsbury


Trials HD Available on: XBLA Publisher: RedLynx

The Trials series has been going strong on the PC for years, but the best entry in the series has blasted itself on the XBOX Live Marketplace. Trials HD takes the winning formula of the previous titles and refines everything to near perfection and the end result lands Trials HD as one of the best downloadable titles on the Marketplace. So what exactly is Trials? It’s a 2D physics based motorcycle game that instead of offering racing, it offers a unique style of platforming. Climbing insanely steep hills, jumping gaps and navigating the multitude of obstacles the game throws at you is just the beginning of where the fun starts. A simplistic control scheme where the triggers brake and accelerate and the joystick leans the rider might seem they would fit a simplistic type of game, but don’t be fooled here. Trials HD is tough as nails, and that is just how we like it too. While navigating the levels the riders weight must be kept in check at all times, and while at first it’s just leaning forward/back to keep balance on hills, soon afterwards perfect landings from jumps become a must to retain speed to clear the next jump immediately afterwards, and explosives are placed in hard to miss areas. The obstacles become harder to overcome and strategizing the next obstacle ahead becomes a key factor. The tracks a perfectly

designed with different variables, such as fast action oriented tracks with massive jumps, while others are much slower paced and far more technical. While the tracks

are tough the precise controls are spot-on and deliver on every front, and make navigating these difficult tracks possible. While the tracks start out nice and simple at first, but the latter of the 50+ tracks will test the patience of even the most skilled gamers. Thankfully frequent checkpoints and instantaneous checkpoint loads keep the gameplay constantly moving. What may seem like an easy jump across a gap to an inclined ledge, actually takes precise shifting of the rider’s weight and throttle control. It takes practice and skill to complete the latter courses of the game and the sense of ones skills improving throughout the game is one of the biggest draws to the series – especially when returning to previous courses and

breezing through parts of tracks that once seems impossible. Some will find the steep learning curve and even steeper difficulty spike frustrating, and we only recommend Trials HD to those of you who are looking for a challenge. What makes the game so much fun is its replay value, and there is loads of it here. Simply crossing the finish line of a track will gain a bronze medal, but going for the silver, gold or platinum medals takes extreme precision and a quick pace while navigating the treacherous courses. If the 50+ tracks aren’t enough then there is a deep level editor and two large DLC packs to keep the fun coming for hours on end. Top it off with a multitude of minigames and online leader boards, and Trials HD offers a lot of game, but for much less than the cost of a full retail title. - Chris Ingram


Under Seige Available on: PSN Publisher: Seed Studios

So as we all know now, the mighty PSN Store was down for nearly a month. The good news is that when it came back we were greeted with a gem of a new game on the service that satisfies a previously unscratched itch. That game is Under Siege and it marks a fine start to the PSN’s library of RTS games.

Not that this is a game that you will spend hours pouring over battle maps, micromanaging units and building massive armies. Under Siege has been designed around the short and brutal skirmish, in the process streamlining the controls to work well with the PlayStation Dual Shock (and even better with the Move motion con-

troller), and keeping the strategy down to a minimum. It’s accessible, but it still feels like you have a great deal of control over your units. They gain levels in an RPG manner, and different units have different special abilities. The key to success in this game is recruiting a force of complementary units, so that their individual skills synergise and support one another. The most addictive part of management comes at the start of each level. In this ‘set up’ phase, you’re provided with a number of spaces on the map that you can put down units. What units you put down is largely up to you and how large the warchest that you’re carrying around is. Units carry on from battle to battle, and losses are permanent, but provided you retain at least one soldier from a unit at the end of the battle, it’s possible to reinforce that unit back to full strength before the next battle. It’s an addictive system because it ensures you look after your

veteran units – lose one, and later battles in the campaign start to become very difficult with all that experience down the toilet. On the harder difficulty levels successfully managing your army and keeping everyone alive is absolutely critical. Whilst the story of Under Siege is naff, it’s thankfully kept to brief snippets. What’s more impressive is the sheer amount of content you get in this game – five chapters of a campaign, a reasonably robust online setup (though at time of press there had been no opportunity to play online), and there’s a surprisingly deep map creation mode for the LittleBigPlanetophiles to make their own little scenarios. I say scenario, because this mode includes the ability to direct cut scenes. It’s more than enough to compensate for the weak in-game story; just write your own instead. It’s a pretty game too, although the screen can get a bit busy at times on smaller TVs to spot hidden treasures or the occasional unit. Character models are well animated, the environment is nice-

ly detailed, and the game flows at a reasonable pace. It’s a bit slower than a PC RTS to be sure but it’s a notch or two faster than the likes of RUSE. Much faster and the controls would become unmanageable for larger skirmishes. There is some fine tuning that the game could have used, however. Difficulty is spotty at best – even on the easiest levels it’s all too easy to accidentally wander into a massive enemy swarm because the fog of war is, frankly, too close to your units. And although the best effort has been done to get the controls down, it’ll never manage to be as intuitive as mouse and keyboard for the strategy genre. But it’s an impressive effort

nonetheless, and a warm welcome back for the PSN. Given that everyone gets free PlayStation Plus subscriptions, take advantage of the fact this game is heavily discounted; it’s well worth the budget asking price. - Matt Sainsbury


Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together Available on: PSN Publisher: Square Enix

In 1988, a little development company, called Quest Corporation, was formed in Japan. In 1993 it released Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen on the Super Nintendo, and one of the greatest tactical RPG series’ was born. Ogre Battle is a real time strategy game with some RPG elements, and is still loved today for the incredible depth and epic scope that was crammed within the relatively primitive visuals. In 1995 came Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. Same game world, but this time around it was a turn based strategy game, where you move characters around a grid, rather than direct them over giant maps. It was a very different style, but it too was magic.

there, since the publishing giant had already poached Quest’s finest talent). It’s been a long time since the last new release in the Ogre franchise – 2002’s GBA gem Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis, so it’s nice to see the series return with such style with the PSP remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together.

In 2002 Square Enix purchased the Ogre franchise (no surprises

The first thing you’ll realise on booting the game up is that it is a

mammoth endeavour. The story itself is incredibly long (and offers alternate paths depending on the decisions you make), but length aside, there is an intimidating number of things you need to do to even get to the end. There is a mass of character classes and types available, from the mundane to the monstrous. Given that there can be up to 12 characters on the battlefield at any one time, coming up with a winning combination of characters whose skills match one another’s is a long process of trial and error and deep thinking. There’s a definite sense of reward for coming up with a strong force, though, because Tactics Ogre can be a very difficult game, so each win – especially if it’s an easy win – is a pleasant experience. Part of the difficulty is alleviated by the ability to “rewind” turns – if

you don’t like the result of one of your actions, you can just jump back to an earlier turn and try something different. The downside to this is it can make battles a very protracted affair. Many people will be coming into this game with a working knowledge of the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem, and perhaps less experience with Tactics Ogre. Both those other tactics RPGs are far speedier experiences. Tactics Ogre boasts large maps with lots of terrain effects to work around and some enemies that can soak up serious damage before falling. Throw in the rewind effects and the sheer depth of customisation required outside of battle, and the plot advances at a very slow pace indeed. It’s an enjoyable plot to play through, if somewhat clichéd and forgettable. There’s the usual political strife working behind the scenes (a hallmark of the Tactics Ogre series), and epic overtunes that somehow also manage to give the characters some genuine, if

basic personality. It’s not the kind of plot that’s going to win any ‘best of’ awards (and remember, this is a remake of a SNES game), but it’s also not going to bore you to sleep. The game’s only real Achilles heel comes from its visuals. The art direction within the game engine is typical Square Enix quality, with stunning character portraits, varied landscapes and beautifully presented menus. The music sets an incredible atmosphere, and does indeed feature the classic Ogre Battle theme that will hit series faithful with a solid dose of nostalgia. In battle, however, the character sprites themselves have a fuzzy quality that looks strangely out of place with the crisp backdrops and those lovely menus. They’re still charming, and anyone who has played an earlier Tactics Ogre game will get a kick out of those sprites, but newcomers will perhaps find things a little basic – especially in the early stages where there’s not a lot going on

and special effects and character variety are minimal. It’s a tiny chik in an otherwise solid suit of armour, however. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is the first PSP title in a while that is worth buying a PSP for. Such a deep, lengthy quest is going to have you going for a long, long time to come. - Matt Sainsbury



Ticket to Ride Available on: iPad Publisher: Days of Wonder

Ticket to Ride is a game from the same folks behind Small World, which means to me it is a fresh new board game to play on the iPad. It also happens to be the best, bar none, board game on the iPad in terms of presentation and quality. For one thing – this game builds in video tutorials. They’re comprehensive and in five minutes you’re ready to play the game. And, if you don’t want to use bandwidth, there’s a conventional tutorial as well. The visual design of the game, from the menus through to the board itself is considered, classy and features stellar production values. It’s rare that a massive studio like EA is upstaged, but that’s exactly what’s happened here. Risk and Monopoly are not a scratch on the presentation quality of Ticket to Ride, and as a result, this is a game that’s really, really easy to lose yourself in. Of course, presentation would mean nothing if the game itself was boring, but Ticket to Ride is a best seller for a reason. The game is broken down into three actions you can take each turn – you can pick up a few action cards

(‘trains’ of various colours) or you can use those trains to claim ‘train routes’ on the map. These routes are colour coded, and claiming them is how you score points – you get points for having the longest continuous route, and for completing specific routes that are randomly assigned to you from a deck of cards. Sometime’s you’ll be asked to claim a route from

but challenging game of balance and strategy. With no dice to roll, there is no random element to the game, so luck doesn’t play a role. It’s a trait of the modern board game that elevates them beyond classics such as Monopoly, which are simply not fun when you’re having a bad day with the dice. Here, a win or loss is entirely on your own head.

Seattle to LA… and other times the ‘mission’ cards feature more challenging, but more lucrative distances to travel.

It’s possible to play nasty in this game by blocking your opponent’s routes, but ultimately Ticket to Ride is a casual, social game. And thankfully, the multiplayer options are comprehensive and work really, really well. Game Center integration makes organising a game with friends a snap, and if you’re in the mood to play random people – it’s a well populated game right now.

Which brings us to the third action – you can choose to draw a few more of these mission cards. Just beware that any cards you haven’t completed when the game ends means you’ll be losing points. Given you can only take one of those three actions each turn, Ticket to Ride is a very simple,

Yet another example of just how good the iPad is at board games. - Matt Sainsbury


White Knight Chonicles: Origins Available on: PSN Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

On the PlayStation 3, White Knight Chronicles was a poorly received mix between MMO and JRPG. The reception was unfair – the game featured a large traditional RPG world and a fairly standard (but enjoyable) battle system that looked much like something from a World of Warcraft clone. It was pretty, but many felt soulless, and its robust online play was largely overlooked. White Knight Chronicles: Origins is a wholly new game with an entirely different development team. Handheld RPG specialists, Matrix Games, have this one in collaboration with Sony’s Japan Studio. And despite being a very, very limited RPG, Origins is an addictive little game that owes as much to Monster Hunter as traditional JRPGs. While you’re not going to be hunting down massive beasts and engaging them in epic half hour battles, like in Monster Hunter here you will be playing from a centralised ‘hub’; a train, as the threadbare story introduces you

to. From that train you accept missions, and then traverse a handful of standard dungeon types looking to kill a certain number of a type of enemy, explore a certain number of areas, and complete a small number of other mission types. It’s a not-so-subtle development trick to conceal the fact that this game doesn’t feature a great deal of scale. There’s no overworld to traverse, and the number of environments to explore is surprisingly limited given this game’s heritage. The story is equally direct, rarely rising above “hey, this is evil. You are good. Kill it.” Thanks to this system Matrix Games didn’t need to develop towns sweeping vistas, or even many NPCs to interact with. This probably kept development

costs down, but be warned that the game will feel limited and alienating for people coming in expecting something more traditional. The dungeons are random in design, and split into ‘rooms’ – so think about Monster Hunter’s areas, just smaller in scope. Moving from one room to another will trigger a new battle, but you can go back to previous rooms

once cleared out safely. Those rooms, though random, are largely bland and empty. Exploring them is not very interesting as a result. So if White Knight Chronicles: Origins relied on the tropes of a traditional RPG, it would fail miserably. Like Monster Hunter games, though, the fun is more to be found in developing a hero and grinding his/ her way to the top. The hero is completely customisable, and it’s fluid. One level you’ll be improving his bow skills, the next he’ll learn a nasty fire attack. Like the PlayStation 3 original you’ve got a MMO-style bar down the bottom where you can assign skills to act like ‘hot keys’ in battle. There’s no menu system, just that bar of skills, so picking the right balance of skills to ac-

cess in battle is the key to success. The Monster Hunter influences run even deeper than all of this – it’s possible to upgrade equipment with raw materials and other resources earned from defeating enemies and finding gathering points in the dungeons. This ‘loot’ accumulates quickly, meaning it’s easy to customise equipment to the heart’s content. It’s also possible to upgrade the train itself to offer additional support while you’re away visiting the dungeons. So White Knight Chronicles: Origins is not the most epic RPG, but in being more limited in scope, the game is actually more addictive than the PlayStation 3 original. Uninhibited by superfluous features like plot and exploration,

the game focuses on developing, piece by piece, a character you can be proud of, and in doing so, this is something of a pure JRPG experience. The Monster Hunter inspiration runs deep, but Origins is its own game, and a worthy addition to a very well-supported genre on the PSP.

- Matt Sainsbury


Yakiniku Bugyou Available on: PSN Publisher: MonkeyPaw Games

I love eating at yakiniku restaurants (a Japanese form of barbecue were the restaurant visitors cook for themselves). It is one of the most pleasant memories from the last time I went over in Japan. There’s something warm about sitting around a table with a small barbecue, eating small portions of meat and vegetables and drinking large quantities of beer. Yakiniku is a casual experience – meals can easily span over three or four hours. Yakiniku Bugyou is too frenetic to be a casual experience, but it is very effective in making me want to head on down to get some of the real deal. The way the virtual meat sizzles and smokes is enough to make the mouth water. The game itself is a fairly standard, albeit entertaining, time management game. There are a handful of customers all salivating for some yakiniku. You need to dish it up for them, taking into account the various likes and dislikes of each customer, and making sure you don’t dish up poorly cooked food, while also understanding that no one likes to sit around for ever waiting for some scraps to be flipped their way. There’s some combos to gain for successfully feeding a customer a succession of tasty morsels, and the game demands further time

management as each piece of food needs to be flipped over mid-way through to cook properly, and timing is something you’ll want to get right, as the effort to remove overcooked (charred) meat is almost worse than the lack of points you’ll earn from that chunk of cow.

perfectly. The sound effects are spot on, the food looks flavourful enough, and the lack of an English translation actually assists the game’s authenticity.

Do it well, and there’s a high score to reward yourself with. Being an old game now (though the game is available in America courtesy of MonkeyPaw Games, it’s a PlayStation One game), it’s a little thin on the gameplay modes, with the main game and a survival mode being the extent of the solo play options, and a two player mode for cooking with friends, but that high score is such an addictive challenge.

How much you get out of this game will probably depend on whether Japanese food gets you salivating, but as a celebration of how awesome yakiniku is, this game is held together by a simple but addictive gameplay formula and as such, is easy to recommend for anyone who want something distinctly Japanese, but still accessible.

It’s the presentation that makes the game appealing though, as well as it does play – even as old as it is, the game captures the atmosphere of a yakiniku restaurant

Because this is a straight import of an old PlayStation game, it would be remiss not to mention that unless you speak Japanese, you’re not going to understand what the text is telling you. But it won’t really matter, either – the visual tutorials explain what the game is about well enough, and there’s no real story mode to speak off. You don’t need to understand Japanese to appreciate the visual presentation and sound effects, so this is one of the friendlier imports you’ll come across.

- Matt Sainsbury


Zookeeper DX Available on: iPhone Publisher: Kiteretsu

Zookeeper is a special game for me personally. It was one of the first Nintendo DS games I owned, way back when the console was new and there wasn’t much more, besides Mario and Polarium to play.

with a strong emphasis on the word ‘cute,’ – but it also lacked any kind of pretentious. It just worked, and earning better high scores across the various different gameplay modes was incredibly addictive stuff.

The difference between those other launch titles and this game was that this one was intensely social. The multiplayer, despite being a simple competitive match three game, was addictive. I’m talking two hour straight game play sessions addictive. Regular nights gaming until 2am was a great bonding experience with my various family members, and then again when I met my better half.

So when Zookeeper popped up on the App store for the iPad, I was always going to buy it. And at $AU2.50, it’s a genuine competitor for the best game the iPad has seen. Touch and swipe with the finger manages to work even better than stylus controls – helped greatly by the very big icons you’re working with this time. It’s literally impossible not to be accurate playing this game.

And then the single player game got me through many long trips and shorter commutes. I lent the game to my parents when they flew to the other side of the world, and it helped them greatly as well. I still own the cartridge – it’s the only launch title I’ve kept.

The difficulty curve remains steady, but challenging. Anyone who has played a Bejewelled or other match-3 game (and I’m going to assume that this is everyone who has ever played a game) knows exactly what to expect here – there’s not a single unique feature to the game, other than the fact the icons are cute zoo animals this time. There’s two game modes, but both involve the same goal – remove an even supply of each type of zoo animal – there’s no point in removing a thousand lions while you ignore the giraffes.

There was nothing outwardly special in the game. It was little more than a cute reskin of Bejewelled –

The early levels give you plenty of time to plan your strategy and line up combos. A few levels later and the timer bar drops far too quickly to give you time to think. You have a limited supply of hint icons to use, and you can unlock more by reaching certain score

targets. And that’s it. There are no difficulty options in this version of the game, and there is a three panel “story” introduction that is told in the kind of broken English that is charming enough that it almost looks different. That means that this is version of the game features far fewer features than the Nintendo DS, or even Nintendo GBA versions of the game, and it hurts that multiplayer is one of the features that has been lost (Bluetooth should have been an option), but at $2.50 there’s only so much you can expect. And to be fair, the online leaderboards are a nice addition that wasn’t present in the DS game. In the end, this remains a hugely charming and addictive game. - Matt Sainsbury


See You Next Month!

2011 Downloadable Games Buyer's Guide presents reviews for all the must-have downloadable games for the first half of 2011.

2011 Downloadable Games Buyer's Guide presents reviews for all the must-have downloadable games for the first half of 2011.