Digitally Downloaded Issue 6; Retro Reflections

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The Digitally Downloaded team talk about the games that got them into games. Also... A Game of Thrones Arkedo Series Shin Megami Tensei And... Dark Souls

A Strategy Game from the makers of Europa Universalis & Hearts of Iron


Welcome to Digitally Downloaded! We all have stories on how we got into games. For some, it was right back in the days of Atari. For others, later to the party, Mario 64 might have been the game that got them going. For me, it was the original Game and Watch games. My father did a lot of travel for business when I was little. The tradition was, he would bring me back a little handheld game. That naturally led to the Game Boy, and handhelds have been a major part of my gaming life ever since. Even now I spend far more time playing games on the iPad than anything else. But for all those years and for all the games I’ve played, I’ve never seen the games industry resolve itself with my other major passion - table top games. There’s been attempts, sure, but no game has come close to the freedom of the ‘real’ Dungeons and Dragons or other pen-and-paper RPGs.

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 Zane Metcaff Please direct all correspondence and advertising queries to:

And the attempt to bring tabletop strategy gaming to the videogame world? The niche guys give it a go, sure, but it’s long gone from the board discussions of the major players. And it’s looking like it never will happen. The RPG, the strategy game, even the puzzler; those games of careful consideration thought and reflection have over time been replaced by a desire to appease the action-hungry Call of Duty fanatics. Careful plotting, turn based strategising and watching your back and supply lines has been replaced by button mashing, single character control (remember when you’d control a party of heroes in Final Fantasy, rather than one at a time?) and hyperspeed Tetris clones. I’m getting nostalgic here, but that’s the purpose of this issue. The whole Digitally Downloaded team has very fond memories of their early gaming years, and as awesome as some modern games are, those nostalgic rose-tinted glasses will never be bettered.

Matt Sainsbury Editor-in-chief

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

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Lollypop Chainsaw

Of Orcs and Men

Games to look forward to...

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes

Warriors Orochi 3

Retro Reflections

e h t th i w d e t r a t s It e c n Digitally Downloaded’s newest recruit, Zane, talks Pri about how he got into games.

I think when dealing with nostalgia it is best to start at the beginning. So in order to avoid a non sequitur by starting anywhere else, I’ll begin there. The Super Nintendo has this almost religious status within my head. It was my first console and my first videogame experience. The first game I ever played was Prince of Persia. It was this cruddy, oddly stained cartridge that began my gaming life (or destroyed my social life... ) It was bought from a pawn shop, along with our Super Nintendo in about ’97. It was indeed so cruddy that the label for the game was gone, all that was left was the fibrous white paper caused by some little bastard trying, and succeeding, to pull the sticker off. I never actually knew the game was Prince of Persia until some years later when I realised via the Internet: “Holy crap! My first game was the original Prince of Persia! Achievement unlocked!” Nerdgasm ensued.

Mind you, being four at the time meant I was pretty bad at it. My comprehensive theory to get through the game was at that point was “Push harder on the controller. He will go faster and clear the gap if I just push harder!” Looking back, I realise that my gaming library at the time was what could be considered a list

of classics. Super Mario Bros., Star Fox, F-Zero, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Yoshi’s Island, Dr. Mario, Tetris, Bubsy, Claymates, Mario Kart, Mortal Kombat II... Unfortunately, as consoles upgrade these all were lost, and I mourn them to this day. The only thing we kept was our SNES console; broken, it lay in the linen cupboard for years. I recently unearthed it, fixed it and restored it to near mint condition. I’m still trying to get my old games back and mostly succeeding; thank you eBay! I think it was roughly at this time my household got a PC. This creaky Pentium 2, painted bright green for reasons that elude me, and a monitor stolen from a Commodore 64 (which is something else that confuses me- we never had a Commodore). It was on this that my dad found this cheap, unheard of game called Warcraft, installed it, and started my love affair with RTS that to this day

refuses to die. I could ramble on for hours about Warcraft... I spent hours spent making pure archer armies, because there’s no kill like overkill; and even more time on the map editor. It might just be me, but I’ve found that games from the ‘90s had the best map editors ever. The simple reason being that even a seven year old such as myself could handle it, and as I grew older I found myself using more advanced functions, like inserting AI strings for making character X destroy Orc Y. It was as in depth as you wanted it to be. Time passed, and with Warcraft I and II thoroughly exhausted, I found yet another future classic. I am of course speaking of

Age of Empires. Age of Empires was to be the basis of an obsession for seven full years. Three hours a day. No exceptions. Teachers whine about how video games destroy education, and I couldn’t disagree more at least for a certain type of gamer. You see,

one of my specialities is in history, and I began that interest from reading the civilisation and hero biographies on the sidebars of Age of Empires. I couldn’t get enough. Even now, despite (or because of) getting 95 per cent in most of my tests, my history teacher refuses to believe that Age of Empires got me started.

Age of Empires was my bread and butter, but other games did get a look in during that time. Populous: The Beginning was another favourite; there was something awfully attractive about playing god with legions of followers willing to fight and die for you. In real life this would be terrible situation that somebody should really look into, but for the purpose of wasting the time of a prepubescent boy it was perfect. I’m rather annoyed my current graphics card doesn’t like it. And many hours were also spent in Doom, trying to find the blue key. Always the blue key... The Nintendo 64 came around at this time and wowed all of us with its new dimension. And there is one game that I desperately love that’s probably being covered by my contemporaries extensively elsewhere, so I’ll just mention the name to avoid repeating them;

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. You may take a moment to bathe in nostalgia. Done? Cool. The 90’s, widely held as the golden age of gaming, ended. The era we now call retro was over as developers grew larger and the art of making videogames suffered terribly as a result of chasing a profit and realising the potential for mass marketing crapola. A large part of myself has never left the 90’s. I discovered abandonware and DOSbox in 2001 and it meant I didn’t have to leave the retro park, ever. I grew older and learned what the canon games were in each genre, and went back and played them all. I didn’t discover Civilization until 2004! Nor had I played Red Alert, Zork, Railroad Tycoon, Quake, Master of Orion, Thief, Lode Runner, Half Life... the pile of shame went on.

As a result of my terrible ignorance, there’s still a few out there I haven’t come around to. I still haven’t played Baldur’s Gate through till the end, and I bought a copy of Planescape: Torment but haven’t even opened it yet. So much shame... Well, with all these numerous titles, what is still on the top of my pile? Master of Orion II I’m addicted to right now; as well as the aforementioned Sim City 2000 and Sim City 4. I’m into Adventure games now as well with Broken Sword 2 getting a workout; and with a text based counterpart Thomas M. Disch’s Amnesia being one of the most interesting and different games I’ve ever played. I think I have to count myself lucky growing up in such an amazing era. Now if you’ll excuse me, my Mario Kart auction on eBay is ending!

Pu zz pi li xe ng ls , st ra te gi si ng It’s Owen’s turn now. The games that turned him into a raving gaming fanatic? You’ll just have to read on.....

King Arthur’s World Lemmings games have always had, despite their ridiculous premise, an appeal somewhat akin to a cow looking at an oncoming train. It is something you just can’t take your eyes from. Puzzle games at the genre’s most innovative, the goal is to lead cute little rodents (based on the real life animal, but not really) who mindlessly follow your every order as you combine their abilities to reach seemingly unattainable goals. The greatest clone of that concept to date was an arcade take available on the Super Nintendo: King Arthur’s World. Adding a medieval flavour and supported through wonderful music and cute animations, the real difference this game offered was the diversification, where (unlike the typical Lemmings games of the time) a wide variety of era-specific units

(swordsmen, archers, catapults, magicians, engineers, etc) with different abilities that needed to be utilised to reach your varied goals. Taking advantage of the strong personalities, those unique abilities are intelligently utilised to create hugely entertaining challenges. Magicians in particular were devastating, often to both sides. In addition, the ability to halt your 'units' when required makes the gameplay far less frustrating than Lemmings, and the lack of saving was circumvented

through a password system that added to the arcade mood. King Arthur’s World is a well balanced puzzle and strategy game with excellent, cute animations for the time, offering true innovation with a compelling challenge in gameplay, it was everything the past me wanted in a video game.

Super Smash Brothers: Melee Growing up with two older brothers (yes, eight minutes counts as older) and my best mate literally next door, there was a great deal of roughhousing. As a result, outlets that involved little chance of being physically bruised were gratefully welcomed. The one I owe the most gratitude to was Super Smash Brothers: Melee; with inches of skin and blood cells gleefully spared over the years due to its brilliance. Whilst honourable mention games like Bloody Roar, Street Fighter, and in particular Mace: the Dark Ages deserve their place here, it is hard to go past Smash Brothers, a game that revolutionised fighters in making them manic four player marathon-worthy. Like all fighters, the goal is to pummel the opponent into submission, achieved through doing enough damage to kick an opponent out of the map before they can reciprocate. To this day, there are few feelings that compare to the incredulous expression from the others that results when Jigglypuff, a giant pink puffball whose doughy physique is akin to a marshmallow, performs its one hit kill.

Ahh, satisfaction. The randomness of both the game and its ridiculously large selection of well-thought out maps means that everybody has the chance of winning, further through years of heavy training and that is perhaps its greatest value – it has something for everyone. Few gaming challenges compare to the 24 hour duel that was once embarked upon. Whilst the puffball ended this remarkable endeavour in a position that was not first, second or third, it was not by much and a great deal of respect had been earned.

Civilization 2 A true great of PC strategy games, the little version of me had the great and intense pleasure of growing up with Civilization 2. Whilst my best mate to this day extols the virtues of Civilisation 1, it is the second instalment that fostered and developed a deep love of the strategy genre in me. Even from these early days, the game is renowned for its highly logical and intuitive multiple army choices, an excellent 7 tier challenge level, gameplay that lasted days but could be picked up for minutes or hours at a time and a combination of excellent map design and animation to ensure the game ticks all the right boxes. Indeed, it is the option of building an empire to stand the test of time that draws me like a moth to light, an X factor that marks a game as truly excellent. The level of addiction to this game cannot be understated. Music genres grew around it, seasons changed, exams, Easter bunnies and Christmases hopped by. Whilst the modern take on

the genre offer more options and better graphics, they have not matched the soul found in these wonderful predecessors. Regardless, it is this franchise which makes strategy accessible and should warrant further investigation for years to come. It has managed to leave games who deserve honourable mentions such as Age of Empires and Command and Conquer in its dust and set up a truly enviable legacy. Fire Emblem Fire Emblem is a proud member of a very special franchise and represents some of the first eastern style tactical role playing games. A series that dates to 1990 in Japan, its first forays into the western world was through the Game Boy Advance.

It is a series marked by its ability to create believable and charismatic main characters who fit into a remarkably compelling storyline. Indeed, you’d be hard pressed to find a Fireemblite (real word. I just made it up but it’s a real word) who doesn’t develop a certain degree of attachment towards their characters. From the individually named

swordsmen, spearmen, axemen (following a typical rock-paperscissor mechanic) to those who wear heavy armour, archers, magicians, half-beasts and wyvern/ pegasus riders there is a character and army fighting style for just about everyone. This fact is all the more pertinent as it offers an almost unique challenge where most battles only use a handful of your troops and characters that die are not magically resurrected for the next battle. In addition to rotating your force, keeping them alive also depends on your intelligent utilisation of your treasury, as each weapon has a limitation to its use, where it will eventually become exhausted and break. You’ll be hard pressed to find a game with engrossing and enjoyable gameplay. Further, its wonderful orchestral soundtrack is something that has deserved a CD soundtrack release and finds itself permanently in my iPod. Its appeal is such that after playing the first, I have subsequently been one of the first names on the pre-orders for the Gamecube and recent Wii game. I don’t envision this arrangement will alter in the future.

Yoshi, yo u addicti ve little de vil!

Clark’s gaming story started with none other than Nintendo’s classic dinosaur, Yoshi

When I think of retro gaming, I think not of classic 8-bit sprites or iconic chip-tunes, but of my outings on the Super Nintendo. One faithful day, my grandparents brought their Super Nintendo over to play a game of tennis with us. Since they were frequent visitors, they lent the console to our family. It wasn’t too much later that my older brother picked up a copy of Super Mario World from a local shop.

“the Yoshi dude”. I even threw a birthday party for the green fellow, though this was not one of my finest hours to say the least. With this in mind, picking up the My brother was quite intrigued sequel, Super Mario World 2: by the level design, yet his jourYoshi’s Island, was a no-brainer. ney came to a crashing halt at The idea of Yoshi starring in his the first big “challenge” in the game: “My least favourite memory would easily be own game sounded more than enticing enough to Iggy Koopa’s playing the game while staying home from warrant spending my Castle. There was a school sick, eventually vomiting into my fa- report card money on it. door, yet we could ther’s hands while refusing to put down the Having played the selfnot figure out how titled game Yoshi for the controller.” to open it. As he Game Boy, I was just went off to school, expecting a modest little I stayed home and discovering new tricks and secrets sequel or prequel. Little did I attempted to get past that pesky know of the glorious worlds I was door. It was nothing more com- through discussion with a famabout to explore. plex than pushing the up button ily friend. My personal favourite Super Mario World moment was on the D-Pad, but I pompously Yoshi’s Island hit home hard, with prefer to think of it as a discov- encountering the 99 lives trick in the sunken ship that leads to its seemingly pure and innocent ery, perhaps a gateway to the demeanour. Never before had I unknown. It was certainly worth The Valley of Bowser. My least seen such vibrant and colourful shouting over and exclaiming to favourite memory would easily be playing the game while staying graphics combined with unprecmy audience of none, at least. home from school sick, eventually edented level design and a strikvomiting into my father’s ing soundtrack. I went adventurhands while refusing to put ing with Yoshi at every possible down the controller. moment after school, wanting to The chief thing Super Mario see the next challenge or perfect World left me with was a my scores. Aiming and shootfondness for Yoshi. I puring eggs was a breeze, no matter chased a Yoshi doll and what control scheme I was using. carted him around with me The music left a huge impact on everywhere in my armpit. I me as well. It has been nearly 10 grew a reputation at school years since I last played Yoshi’s for being a Yoshi fan, as Island, yet these tunes are firmly many just referred to me as ingrained in my skull and I conAfter thwarting the villainous turtle, I became infatuated with Super Mario World, seizing every opportunity I could get to play it (despite my brother’s waning interest and the fact that it was his game). I was constantly

stantly hear them played back in my head. I don’t think they’re ever going to leave, short of a lobotomy. Put simply, Yoshi’s Island changed me from a guy who occasionally plays some games for fun to a genuine collector and hobbyist. Most of the titles I play today are new experiences, but I’m always up for replaying ones from my childhood or those I’ve never experienced. Yoshi is no longer quite as relevant to me as he once was, but he’s always my first choice in a multiplayer game like Mario Party. I’m playing just as many Nintendo games as in the days of yore, but I’ve also expanded to the Xbox, PlayStation, and iOS brands. I’ve got a certain affinity for 2D games, whether they are actually retro or simply emulating the style (ala 3D Dot Game Heroes). I’ve also grown a particular fondness for the Mega Man series, which was not at all relevant to my childhood (but really should have

been in retrospect). As far as RPGs go, the SNES still offers me plenty of new experiences that I missed out on. Terranigma, Chrono Trigger (don’t kill me), Breath of Fire, and a handful of Final Fantasy games still await me. I have sought out most of the consoles that I missed back in the day, since retro gaming ironically never gets old. I still need to pick up a Sega Saturn, but I’m quite content with the library I’ve built. My shelves, however, are not. This is why my favourite tool for retro gaming would have to be the Wii’s Virtual Console, which is loaded with nearly 400 classic games available for download. With all the renowned SNES

gems I played like Super Castlevania IV, Super Street Fighter II: Turbo, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Secret of Mana, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, it’s got all the bases covered nicely. It also has many greats that people have never heard of, which

can be both a blessing and a curse depending on the game. I’ve fallen victim to lesser titles such as Milon’s Secret Castle in an attempt to expand my horizons. The PlayStation Network deserves a shout-out as well for the ability to take retro games on the go and on the big screen. Really, it’s tough to beat Xenosaga, Final Fantasy, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Kyuuin on the go, complete with transferrable save data. To top it all off, you can customize your control schemes and sometimes take screenshots with certain titles. The catalogue isn’t as diverse as the Virtual Console since there are fewer games and less supported systems obviously, but the actual quality with regards to how the emulation is handled is far superior. I’m waiting eagerly for Klonoa: Door to Phantomille. With the 3DS Virtual Console, I’m able to play Game Boy and

Game Boy Colour games on the go. Lesser-known greats like Gargoyle’s Quest and Avenging Spirit make it more interesting to me than simply a bunch of Mario games. It’s currently a fairly limited service, but it brings top-tier titles like the jam-packed Donkey Kong ’94. I’m not fond of the pricing for several of the games, but the nostalgia factor can justify some of the more questionable purchases like Kirby’s Dreamland.

As an early adopter of the 3DS, I am eligible to receive 20 free retro games. In all honesty, though, I don’t particularly care about 18 of the games on offer right now. Yes, there are some terrific titles to pick, but the only ones I’m going to be playing for the next few months are Yoshi and Yoshi’s Island. I’ve only ever played the Game Boy version of Yoshi, but this puzzle game entertained me for several multihour car rides. I’m hoping it will do the same here. Will Yoshi’s Island hold up to the seemingly infinite amount of nostalgia I have for it? I don’t think that’s possible since my expectations are in the clouds, but I’ll be giving it a shot. Either way, I have as much fun with retro games as I do with brand new experiences.

he t h t i w n a m n u e G Th den Gol

Next up for our retro reflections, Aidan shares with us his memories of Goldeneye, and the most annoying RPG character of all time.

Civilization Civilization was the game that kick started my love of computer games. It was a simple concept, you create a civilization of your choosing and have them progress through the ages in what ever way you see fit. Growing up in the 90’s I tinkered around with heaps of PC games (Duke Nukem, Jazz Jackrabbit, Commander Keen, as well as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D when my parents weren’t looking) and that is just naming a few. None of these games had the ability to allow hours to go by without even noticing because you were so immersed in the game. Civilization had this in spades, I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how long I spent playing this game over the years.

The game seemed to have such a rich blend of strategic options that it was endlessly re-playable. Modern incarnations of this game haven’t really added much more to this as far as gameplay is concerned, they have really just expanded on the concepts that the original game laid out. It goes to show just how good this game is that its concept is still widely popular today.

Obviously the blocky graphics were pretty run-of-the-mill at the time and now seem VERY dated but somehow I can’t seem to get as much enjoyment out of the sequels with their much improved graphics. Somehow I need those dodgy tiles with pictures on them to really get full enjoyment out of the game. If you haven’t ever played this game then you would probably enjoy the modern versions of the game much more. The music, graphics and game mechanics are much improved. If you feel like a bit of cheesy old school graphics with surprisingly rich gameplay then you really should have a go at the original version of this game. Goldeneye I really enjoyed this game’s single player but hands down the best feature of the game was its multiplayer mode. Growing up with my best mates living next door to me

was very convenient for Goldeneye multi-player sessions. Single player in this game was great fun, replaying the scenes from the movie is always a fun experience for the player and completing objectives that were more than “Kill X” made the game more complex than your traditional shooter. The level of difficulty could be quite high on some of the levels but I think the cheat mode unlocks on offer were a great encouragement to persevere. By finishing various levels on the hardest setting you unlock different cheats like unlimited ammo or paintball rounds or rocket launcher. I think that is the most intelligent cheat system I have ever seen, I am sure there are plenty of other games which used a similar unlocking cheats system but this was my first experience of it. Anything which encourages the player to keep playing the game is a win for the developer in my opinion and this system definitely did this. The multi-player game had some great map layouts and a great range of weapons available. Even the cheat codes could add some real character to the games. The character choices really made no difference apart from Oddjob who was extra short and Jaws who was extra tall.

The game became really unique for us when we started inventing our own scenarios in the game. For example, one we came up with was Assassinate the President. The president had two bodyguards and the last player was tasked with killing the president in order to win the game. On the surface this was an easy win for the president and his bodyguards

with 3 on 1. We made it so that it only really took one well placed shot for the assassin to kill the president by lowering his damage threshold. This game was the first shooter game that I ever enjoyed and ever shooter I ever play is compared back to it. The game won numerous awards and critical acclaim and after enjoying it for a significant portion of my childhood I know exactly why.

NBA Hangtime Let me start this off by saying that I am not a fan of traditional sports games. I have spent most of the time on Fifa ‘09 in the manager mode and have only really touched Wii Sports apart from that. The difference with NBA Hangtime was that it had a really goofy and yet fun character creation option available. I remember playing as a viking ape with a guy in a chicken suit on my team against a teen wolf and an alien. What can I say, sometimes a bit of cheese can go a long way, so it was with this game. You could do ridiculous “Double Dunks” with your team mate and manage to nail full court shots on the odd occasion. The game played very blandly apart from the cheesy additions and if I played it now I would probably get sick of it after half an hour. That is the fun thing about games from your childhood though, you have some that you just don’t understand why you wasted so much time on it whereas others you would gladly waste days playing even now. In a genre that tends to take itself quite seriously NBA Hangtime managed to break out of the shell of generic sports game with flying colours. If you want a bit of a laugh then try and track down this game and give it a go.

Baldur’s Gate So I have spoken about a strategy game, a shooter, a sports game and lastly we come to my favourite genre. The RPG. Every RPG is going to have a hard time competing with Dungeons & Dragons based games due to the volume of resources

from which it can draw information. There has been others that have been quite successful at it like Diablo and World of Warcraft but they seem to lack the natural depth of mythology and history that the D&D based games have. Baldur’s Gate presents one of the most character rich environments that you could hope to game in. The burly Minsc with his miniature giant space hamster or Xan with his perpetually pessimistic outlook and we can’t forget Noober, has there ever in the history of video games been a more annoying character than Noober? I doubt it. He would track to down and force you

to initiate a conversation with him. Such memorable characters have really put Baldur’s Gate into the cult classic category. This was the first game I ever played where you were truly free to choose to be good or evil. You could surround yourself with a party of evil companions and go marauding the countryside or you could pick and choose a group that were more neutral who didn’t mind the occasional mugging and murder so long as there was a smattering of saving damsels in distress in there. Of all the games here this is the only one that I still play to this day. I guess I am a bit of a sucker for a rich group of characters to go along with a reasonably openended gameplay.



Your first game was what?!?

All the way from Iceland, Arnar shares what is possibly the weirdest first game ever

When I think of retro, I think of PC. I was never a huge console gamer until I got the PlayStation in 96’ or 97’. I enjoyed some of the classic hits of the 8 bit and 16 bit era through my friends but I was always first and foremost a PC gamer. Kid Icarus, Super Mario Bros, Sonic, Golden Axe, these games just didn’t have the same pull for me as the Lucas Arts adventure games, Civilization, X-Com or Doom. Later I when I got my PlayStation I turned into a console gamer but I’ve come almost a full circle now and you might say I’m a bi-platform kind of guy today. The fact that I live in Iceland had its impact on my early gaming career. When it comes to console games there just wasn’t that much selection to choose from. It’s less likely that more obscure and niche titles find their way to the shores of a small island of 300,000 inhabitants in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Anyone who was fortunate enough to own a NES was most likely playing Super Mario Bros and maybe a couple of other mainstream titles. My uncle had a an Internet connection from since I can remember. People who had the Internet

were rare in my younger days and he used to bring us stacks of games. I never knew anything about the games I was playing because we didn’t get game magazines until later. I just played the games he brought. Lucky for me he had a good taste. I played all of the classic old school PC games and a lot more obscure titles and even homebrew PC ports of

console and arcade games. In a way you might say I was an early adopter of the whole digital delivery thing, though of course I don’t condone piracy and these days I pay for my games with my own hard earned cash. I clearly remember the exact moment I got into gaming. There is a story there that ties into why I’m writing in English for an English speaking audience. I think was about six old when I was first introduced to computers and video games. I remember, that whenever we visited my grandfather all the grown-ups sometimes gathered around a mysterious machine in my grandfather’s study. I was always curious about what was going on back there but they

always told me: “It’s not for kids. Go and play with your toys”. Eventually I was able to sneak in there when nobody was looking and what I saw was my grandfather’s IBM PC. On the screen was an interesting image to a curious mind, the greenish monochrome display showed a pixelated guy in a white suit standing in front of a seedy bar called Lefty’s. Yes, the first game I ever played was Leisure Suit Larry: Land of the Lounge Lizards. My dad saw my interest in this game and sat down with me to play. Off course I didn’t get to play or see all of the game. We would usually just walk Larry around and type “open door” or “call taxi” and that was fun enough for me. Besides the obvious effect this moment had on me (over twenty years later I’m still gaming). It spurred my interest in learning a foreign language. English was definitely foreign to me — as foreign as the interactive medium. I had to learn English to experience games properly because localisation for games has never even been attempted here. Off course I played some NES games that really needed no language skill at all, but I wanted more. I wanted to play Civilization, SimCity and X-Com. I never

owned a NES but a PC was brought into my childhood home early on and in the DOS era it was even more important to know some English. By the time I started to study English at school, I already knew how to read and write. If I remember correctly, English was introduced to the curriculum in fith grade. Being ten at the time I was definitely way ahead of the curve. And I stayed ahead. When the teacher asked us to learn the basic verbs, I was reading game manuals. When the teacher asked us to write simple sentences, I was writing down notes about the inners workings of a Doom 2 level editor. When the teacher asked us to read children’s books, I was reading novels.

My dad actually introduced me to Doom and even Grand Theft Auto too. Talk about a dis-functional household. But in all seriousness my father believed in introducing me to things himself that he knew I would discover for myself anyway. It worked out great, I

think. At least I believe I don’t suffer from any serious mental illnesses, sociopathy or anti-social personality disorders that can be attributed to me playing violent videogames at an early age. I could be wrong though -- what’s that -- kill all humans? So, gaming has had an impact on me in all kinds of ways. I still have special affinity for those classics like X-Com which I play, almost ritually, every two years or so. These games were a part of me when I was growing up and are a part of who I am today.

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i N e Th

Finally, it’s Nick’s turn. And for him, it was all about the N64 in those early days...

This month, Matt (our Editorin-Chief) told us that the theme for the issue was going to be retro gaming. Specifically, he asked us all to talk about how we started gaming, what sort of memories we have from our previous generations of gaming, and what sort of retro games we’re digging right now. As soon as I heard that, my mind was immediately spinning. I had so many different stories of gaming from over the years, it was hard to pin down exactly where to start; should I talk about how I used to watch my older cousin play Resident Evil 2 on his PlayStation when I was eight? Should I maybe mention how the first video game I ever played was Duck Hunt, on the SNES, complete with light gun? Should I instead tell the tale of buying my first game – The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – by saving money from delivering flyers for months? The theme seems like such a daunting one, it was hard to just start such a blurb. Ultimately, I figured I would regale you with a small anecdote: when I was a kid, probably

about seven or eight, I managed to talk my parents into buying me a video game console. As I mentioned above, I had played games over the years, ranging from Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Saturn to Duck Hunt and

ing with excitement, right until we walked into the Sony Store.

Super Mario Bros. on the SNES, but I desired the ease and comfort of being able to play from home. I had taken to buying (or, rather, getting my parents to buy) Nintendo Power magazines, so I was all up-to-date with the newest Nintendo news; because of this, I was really excited about how amazing the N64 was supposed to be and how gorgeous and innovative all the games were supposed to be.

filled with all sorts of magical devices that depicted gorgeous moving pictures and even fancier gadgets to control them all. But I was an indoctrinated Nintendo fanboy and would settle for nothing less. So, when my dad got to talking with one of the sales reps, I felt this pit open up in my stomach. The pit widened when the sales rep convinced my dad to buy a PlayStation, and it felt like my stomach had been replaced with a black hole by the time we walked out of the store, PlayStation in hand.

Managing to convince my dad to take me to get an N64, I was extremely excited. He took me to the nearest mall and walked me through, holding my hand as we wandered along the main causeway of the mall. I was wide-eyed and bounc-

I had never been into a Sony Store before and, don’t get me wrong, the place looked impressive. To a seven-year-old, this place was

Not five minutes later, I was in tears, scared to tell my dad that I really wanted an N64 and not a PlayStation, especially because we had already left the store (though luckily not the mall). When my dad asked what was wrong, I told him I didn’t want

a PlayStation and he immediately got mad that I didn’t tell him sooner. We wandered back to the Sony Store and returned the PlayStation before marching across the mall to the other electronics shop and buying an N64. I loved that console to pieces. I played Super Mario 64, Goldeneye 64 and Ocarina of Time to death, memorizing every part of both games, and even saved up enough money on my own to buy Majora’s Mask and the bigger memory chip all in one go! It wasn’t until years later, after my dad had long forgotten the fiasco with the PlayStation and I had gotten a more regular job, that I saved up my money and bought myself a PS1, fearing he might have some comment about suddenly wanting the console he originally bought me. These days, I’m no longer the Nintendo fanboy I once was. In fact, if anything,

I’m more a Sony fanboy (don’t tell my dad), though I count myself among the ranks of the PC gamer master race before all else. I like to keep up to date with the newest trends in technology (especially graphics) so I don’t often find myself delving back into the depths of my retro collection. That being said, some games will always hold a special place in my heart, The Legend of Zelda games high among them. I still have original copies of Final Fantasy VIII and IX, as well as the muchfabled Legend of Dragoon game – something I inadvertently stole from a friend of mine in junior high. I only have a handful of PS2 games, all of them critical classics, though most have been

released as HD remasters anyway, and I even broke down and bought Final Fantasy VII, even though I regard it as the most overrated game of the series. I guess you could say my retro gaming isn’t very retro at all. If anything, I’m a sucker for new games and new technology – but I’ll never forget where my gaming roots are or what sort of journey through the realms of gaming I took to get where I am now. After all, if I hadn’t taken a chance and tried Shadow of the Colossus some four years after it was released, I never would’ve discovered my favourite game of all time. The same goes for classic titles like System Shock 2, the original Half-Life, the amazing Evil Genius, the incredible Chrono Trigger, or even the exceedingly brilliant Psychonauts; all games that are stellar, and all games that I sampled far after their original release dates. So I guess there’s something to be said about retro gaming after all.

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The month’s reviews

IN REVIEW Welcome to the reviews section! Each month we’ll present some of the most exciting, newest, and classic games available on various download services. We’ll also score them out of five. By nature, games scores are highly subjective but as a rule of thumb, 1 star is unplayable, 2-3 stars is very niche, poor value or highly flawed in some way, 4 stars is a game anyone should enjoy, and 5 stars is a must have. We’ll be building out our reviews section in the coming months, so if you have any ideas how we could improve it further, please do email us at Matt Sainsbury Editor-in-chief

Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2: Innocent Sin Available on: PSP Publisher: Atlus

Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2: Innocent Sin is a remake of a PlayStation title of the same name. Never originally seeing a release outside of Japan, we all knew it was destined for a translation someday. That day is finally upon us, but the best part of Persona 2: Innocent Sin is that the game lends itself to the PSP hardware and offers more than the “fresh coat of paint, same game” approach many developers are taking today. Japan has seen better days. You follow the silent protagonist Tatsuya Suou, a high school student who soon finds out rumours are literally altering the landscape of the country for the worse. On top of this, students are contacting a being known as Joker via their

phones. This mystifying character will either grant the dreams of a student or sap their souls, condemning them to a life of obscurity in the shadows. Things start to get interesting when Tatsuya's friend, Lisa Silverman, wants him to rescue a student from a gang run by Eikichi Mishina. One thing leads to another and the three characters learn they have the powers of Persona – a spirit within that yields great power. Can the group stop Joker and save the innocent students? It’s worth noting that the plot takes some time before it picks up the pace. The first few hours seem somewhat dull and trivial, centring around initially uninteresting characters. Once the groundwork has been established though,

things start to get a heck of a lot more exciting and characters begin to showcase their real depth. In essence, Persona 2 can be split into three parts: exploration, battles, and rumour mongering. The real highlight is the former and discovering of the game’s world. Instead of clichéd dungeons, you’ll explore high schools, music shops, and other settings that certainly provide a different setting to what we usually see in the world of JRPGs. Traversing these areas gives off a deceptively pleasing vibe, since you don’t “feel” like your characters are in any danger – even though they are. The objectives aren’t necessarily traditional either – the first dungeon has you exploring your high

school, Seven Sisters, to destroy all the emblems in the school. The game also packs a variety of side-quests at the theatre, which you can play at your own leisure. Many of the locations are as vast as standard real-life locations and tons have accessible rooms, so it’s enjoyable to simply traverse the areas - though you will be bombarded by demons. These fiends play a vital role inPersona 2. The turn-based battles against said creatures can play out as amusing conversations, or as hostile fights to the death. Each demon has different personality traits and interacting with them in a friendly way can yield rewards – specifically Tarot Cards. Cards help you obtain new Personas – an invaluable asset when combating demons. Fights can be lengthy and

tactical affairs or swift automatic sequences for those who need to grind levels. Demon encounters can be rather frequent, but the auto-battle and skip functions should make any irritations people have with random encounters minimal. Aside from this, the core battle system is the standard stuff we’ve seen for years, albeit more challenging in this game than many other JRPGs. You’ll level up your characters, use items in battle, and equip weapons and armour to your heart’s content. The demon conversations and Personas go a

long way towards making conventional combat something worth writing home about. Rumour mongering is a rather unique mechanic that allows you to control the flow of events in your favour. Early in the game you’ll encounter absurdities like walking statues and face-disfiguring emblems. The power of gossip is undeniably immense, but that’s when you discover you can use it to your benefit. Once you hear a rumour from one of the game’s many denizens, you can hire a detective agency to make it known. It costs a certain amount of yen to start churning the mill, but doing so can cause shops to open, items to appear, or even experiencebloated toilets to show up in your school.

The graphics are observably reminiscent of the original PlayStation game, yet more refined. You’ll occasionally see some attractive anime scenes in between all the action, which helps break up the gameplay a bit. Aside from a few quirks like the peculiar walking animation in contrast to the character’s moving speed, it’s a fairly typical-looking isometric game. Textures can be somewhat muddy and uninteresting, but for the most part, it conveys the game’s world sufficiently without any hitches. It would’ve been a treat to see this title redone in full 3D, but doing so would probably be pushing the PSP’s limitations (particularly

because a digital copy of the game can take up to nearly 1.2GB). The camera can be changed as you wander, which aids visibility and makes wall objects simpler to identify. Despite the meaty size of the game, loading times are remarkably rapid when playing off a memory stick. If you find it to be troubling, you can install extra data for the game, thus decreasing the waiting time. I cannot vouch for the load times of the UMD version, but it goes without saying that the installation option would significantly reduce them.

The soundtrack is rather varied, ranging from low-key background noise to infectiously catchy rock tunes. There’s an option to choose from the original and new tracks, though I am rather partial to the remixes. There is some voice acting, but it’s largely inconsistent and applies only to specific story sequences. The game’s voices are in English, with no option for Japanese, but it’s not an issue when you take the infrequency and quality of the voices into account. Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2: Innocent Sin is worth your time and money. Aside from minor quibbles with the visuals, it delivers admirably on all fronts. Simply put, an essential buy for fans of the Persona series and any RPG fan willing to demonstrate a bit of patience, because again, this is a difficult game at times. - Clark Anderson




O1 - Jump! Available on: PSN Publisher: Sanuk Games

There’s a point where retro becomes too retro for its own good. The good “modern retro” games, such as Dot Game Heroes or Spelunker HD, understand what makes retro fun, while also understanding that retro games were not perfect and some modern conventions are a positive development in the name of playability. Arkedo Series – 01 Jump is a retro game through and through, but it doesn’t necessarily understand what was, and wasn’t good about the frontier days of the industry. It has flashes of utter brilliance, but the experience is just not consistent enough to elevate the game to the upper echelons. The game itself is wonderfully simple in design. There’s a little man that needs to save the world from evil robot crabs or something – the plot, such that it is, is

utterly random and retro-style amusing. He does this by collecting a certain number of bombs in each level, with just a jump button and very limited number of throwing knives as a last resort. The bombs tick down slowly, but for most of the levels, there’s plenty of time to collect them all. While collecting them, the little pixelated hero also needs to dodge environmental hazards such as rocks and falling spikes, bats, crabs and skeletons. Once they’re all collected, it’s time to head to the door exit to the next level.

Levels are designed in a very traditional fashion, with some pixel-perfect precision required on some of the more difficult stages. Indeed, it’s the level design that is the game’s highlight, with some very clever nods to some of the classic platformers of the day. The first experience of the level based on the underground warp pipes of

Super Mario Brothers is a guaranteed smile, for instance. Golden pigs turn into bombs once enough coins are collected The music, too, is a perfect interpretation of the kind of upbeat, cheerful chiptunes that made classic platformers fun. So in terms of looking and sounding the part Arkedo Series – 01 Jump has it down pat. Where it struggles is in the difficulty. Overall, the levels are quite challenging, as can be expected from a retro throwback. However, lives are limited and there is no way to save the game, nor are there save points along the way. In other words, the game has to be finished in one go. This would be prohibitively difficult for most gamers, so a concession has been thrown in – extra lives are liberally scattered through the more difficult levels. As a result, most reasonable gamers are under no real risk of the “game over” screen. But they might find themselves having to replay some levels multiple, multiple times. For instance, I personally got hung up on a level in which a horde of skeletons were throwing deadly bones up through the floor.

Because the direction those bones travelled was somewhat random, and the size of the bones was quite glad, weaving through the airborne sticks of death was more a matter of luck than skill. That level took some 30 tries before I passed through it – but there was an extra life heart at the start of

the level, so I finished the level in much the same state as I started. It makes the difficulty arbitrary, and arbitrary difficulty is truly frustrating. What has made other, recent, difficult games enjoyable is the sense of fair challenge. De-

mon’s Souls was difficult, but that difficulty was never offset by free lives and equipment every time you set out. 01 Jump is just cheap. It’s a good value package, with plenty of levels to play through, then some challenge levels to boot, but this is a game that has been floating around since 2009 on the Xbox 360. The PS3 release really should have been an opportunity to rebalance the game. As it stands, it’s still a whole lot of fun, especially for those who remember the “good old days,” but it doesn’t quite hit that magic formula that makes it a must-have. - Matt Sainsbury


O2 - Swap! Available on: PSN Publisher: Sanuk Games

Arkedo Series – 02 Swap is less obviously retro than its predecessor, Arkedo Series – 01 Jump, which we reviewed not so long ago. But this is more rounded, better realised package, and as such it’s an easy recommend. It’s worth noting from the outset though, that this isn’t a new game. It’s been available on the Xbox 360 since 2009, but at least PlayStation owners can experience what is actually a really fun game. Of course, the developers were working with an even more basic concept this time around than the 2D retro platformer that formed the basis of 01 Jump. 02 Swap is a match-4 puzzle game in the vein of Nintendo’s Puzzle League games. A grid of coloured cubes slowly makes its way up a screen, and by pulling four in a row, vertically or horizontally, the player can keep the grid from hitting the top (game over) of the field. Really high scores are won in the game in the same way that just about everyone should be familiar

with by now. Creating combos by lining up blocks in just the right way remains as fundamentally challenging as it’s ever been in the history of puzzle games, and as it was way back in the early days of Tetris and Mario & Yoshi, getting high scores in action puzzle games remains fun. More on that in a bit.

There’s also a couple of power ups that are introduced to the game slowly as the score escalates, though this is incredibly limited, even by match-4 puzzle standards. There’s a lightning bolt to remove large sections of the grid in one go, a clock to temporarially stop time, and some points powerups. As the points get higher, the ante is upped as anyone who has played a puzzle game would be familiar with by now. The game throws in a couple of new coloured blocks to deal with, along with the traditional increase of speed, and this ups the difficulty the longer you play. For the most part it’s all very balanced, although the lightning bolt powerup is a touch too powerful in the player’s benefit for the frequency in which it ap-

pears, and keeps games going on perhaps a little too long. There’s an easy, medium, and difficult difficulty mode for the main score attack arcade game, as well as a simple and largely uninteresting story mode. Finish that and a handful of challenges open up, and these can be quite tricky. Unfortunately for this game, that’s about all there is in the package… but perhaps that’s appropriate for the retro flavour that the game carries itself on. Where 02 Swap excels is in providing a control scheme that works on a conventional PS3 controller to the point where it’s almost as intuitive as the Puzzle Leagues and clones that use touch and stylus controls on iPhone, iPad and Nintendo handhelds.

That’s some feat that in virtually no time, using the PS3’ left stick to move the cursor around, and the right to move the highlighted block in the desired direction feels easily intuitive. The game is both accurate and speedy in recognising inputs, and as a result, despite using a control input that is no longer ideal for this kind of game, 02 Swap gets away with it. The game’s visual style is vibrant and colourful, though basic as you’d expect from a basic puzzle game, and while it’s a push to call it “retro,” it is retroish and charming. The soundtrack is genuinely annoying though with some very short, looped tracks that become annoying quickly. The big other thing worth mentioning is the online leaderboards.

An absolute necessity in a game like this, but we’ve seen it obmitted from plenty of other games of this style before. Overall, it’s really hard to criticise this game, so I won’t. Though 02 Swap is a limited and basic game, it plays really well and has near endless incentives to keep playing, to see your score run up the leaderboard. In other words, as a cheap downloadable game, it’s just perfect. - Matt Sainsbury


O3 - Pixel! Available on: PSN Publisher: Sanuk Games

Third time lucky, as the saying goes. It applies to the Arkedo series of retro-style games, too, because while Jump and Swap were good games in their own right, Pixel is just awesome. See, it stars a little cat. But not just any cat. A cat made of pixels. In fact, everything in the 2D platform world the cat inhabits is made of pixels. It’s a striking visual design that right off the bat gives the game an innocent and cheery charm, a mood that is reinforced by the adorable animations of the cat and his enemies, and a cheery retro-style tune that runs in the background.

It’s the kind of game that will get you smiling. That’s backed up by simple but elegant platforming. The cat has the standard running and jumping moves, and as any retro-themed platformer worth its salt, features tight controls and tiny platforms to land on. None of this floating physics of modern platformers, Pixel is old school Mario platform philosophy. Enemies can be dispatched by jumping on them. Landing on five without taking any damage provides the cat with a screenclearing meow attack, but that’s fairly superfluous, as it’s possible to finish the game without ever using it. Of course, some enemies

have spears or spiked helmets, and you’re going to need to avoid them; jumping on them isn’t a pleasant experience. Unlike most real retro platformers, Pixel’s cat has a life bar, represented by hearts on the side of the screen. If he takes damage, these hearts are depleted, but it’s the getting them back that’s the interesting twist on this formula. Every so often you’ll come across an ! block. Instead of breaking it by jumping underneath it, though, to access the goodies you’ll need to pull up a magnifying glass (a simple button press), and then hover it over the block. This takes you to a minigame, where you

need to navigate a block maze to reach a treasure. That minigame has a strict time limit, though, so you’ll need to think quickly. It’s a more complicated process than just bashing a block, but it’s a nice diversion that does a good job of breaking up the standard platforming. As well designed as the levels in Pixel are, that variety is a welcome one. As retro platformers go, the difficulty of this one is quite low, though younger players might get frustrated by the very long distances between respawn points if the pixel cat does happen to fall to the hands of an enemy or trap. The levels are entirely linear, with little room to explore or get lost, but running through them still manages to be a varied and entertaining experience. Is it possible to criticise the game? Sure, it leans far too heavily on the short side of things, and because the difficulty level does land on the easier side, this isn’t

a game you’ll likely replay regularly. But for being short, it’s very sweet, and it’s one of the most enjoyable 2D platformers I’ve played in a very long time. And it’s not that expensive anyway. Though this game could almost have been a PlayStation Mini (and indeed, Arkedo’s cat has made an appearance on that platform before), Pixel! is a fine PSN release, and one of those

rare retro-themed games that is also very attractive to gamers who have come later to the party. - Matt Sainsbury








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A Game of Thrones: Genesis Available on: PC Publisher: Focus Home Interactive

I was very excited to get my hands on A Game of Thrones: Genesis when I heard that it was marrying George R.R. Martin’s universe to the RTS genre. I’m a huge fan of A Song of Ice and Fire series and strategy, so what could go wrong? Granted, we are talking about a licensed game so I shouldn’t have let my hopes get too high, but I really wanted it to be good. After I started playing it I really wanted to like it and I did to an extent. A couple of hours in I was thinking that this game has some interesting stuff going for it and maybe it will fully realize as I play it further in. In short, it didn’t. This is an RTS based on the history behind the books, not the HBO TV series so if you’re expecting nudity and Sean Bean, I’m afraid the game will leave you a bit confused (wait, what? The books were filled with nudity. Disappointed panda - ed). The campaign touches on events that happen during roughly a thousand years of history and follows the great legends of Westeros through their conquests and failures. The first few story missions were

fun while you were uncovering the mechanics of how to lie, cheat and steal. Using under-hand methods to undermine your opponent was fun for a while but that aspect of the game is not realised very well. You use your spy to create secret agreements, your noble lady to seduce the opposing units and hire an assassin to kill the noble lady. Sounds great, but in practise it makes for a very frantic peacetime battlefield. You have a lot of option when it comes to making and maintaining alliances with towns, castles and goldmines (that is how you increase your income to buy more units), but you have no way to effectively manage your alliances. The units are so small and lacking distinctive labeling, so you are constantly clicking on every unit to see if it’s your own or an enemy

unit out to do some mischief. Tracking your units on the map usually results in hopping between places on the mini-map every five seconds and by time you get your units in place you realise that the enemy has a bunch of units in your territory and is snatching your towns or making secret agreements. No notifications and the mini-map is so poorly designed that you have put your face on the screen to see those red dots moving into position. The UI as a whole is horribly implemented and not very intuitive. It does a poor job of communicating what’s going on in the game to you and makes it hard for you to plan ahead and execute strategies. The result is you trying to react to everything that’s going on and not enjoying the backstabbing nearly as much as you should. When you are doing all of your under-handing and backstabbing the game is in a state of peace. There are two distinctive states, war or peace. In the campaign it’s usually pre-determined depending on the mission but in the skirmish mode you start out in peace and

place, but the game instead opts to skip the larger battles and simply describes what went on. There is a clear effort to give it a flavour that’s in keeping with the novels. The mechanics encourage you to essentially play the game of thrones (as in, the political interplay that forms the core narrative concept of The Game of Thrones novels) where nobody can be trusted and everything isn’t as it appears. The problem is that it just doesn’t hold up through out the game and you soon become weary of the whole experience. there is a bar that fills up as the houses engage in violent actions and general war-mongering. When the bar fills up all of the factions are at war. All secret agreements are now on the table and the only way to gain territory is to lay sieges to towns or castles. That’s when everything really goes downhill. The combat is completely uninteresting and often downright boring. You have in this game a very simple system of rock-paper-scissors and some situational bonuses which makes for a very shallow tactical game. The game also completely lacks combat animations (except for the bowmen shooting) which makes the combat also very hideous to look at. When two mounted units meet in battle, they engage in a dance of running around and clipping through each other until one of them is left standing. That’s when they actually engage. I’ve seen,

on multiple occasions, units go through each other without fighting. The campaign is about as light on the story as possible with barely enough to whet your appetite. Still, they do give you something and it’s fun to unify Dorne as Nymeria and conquer Westeros as Aegon the Conqueror, but epic scope of such affairs is poorly represented. Even though the game is clearly designed to focus on the smaller skirmishes I would have liked to participate in some of the larger battles that we know took

I’m making it sound like it’s a horrible game, which it’s not. It can be fun for a limited amount time but sooner or later the faults just start to scream at you and become hard to ignore. - Arnar Levi


Mercury Hg Available on: PSN Publisher: UTV Ignition

Mercury Hg: Fun AND educational. Except not really. Why the developers and publishers decided to use their media releases to tout the “periodic table” structure that serves as Mercury’s branching level it was a very strange marketing decision indeed, as the only thing high school chemistry manages to teach many of us is that the periodic table is a pretty dry subject. The plus side from going into Mercury expecting a lesson in chemistry is that once you get into the game it utterly blows you away. Dry? Hells no, this is one of the best puzzle games this side of Lumines when it comes to raw energy and excitement. And like Lumines, the secret behind that energy is in the music. The difference is, where Lumines relies on its own pulsating sound-

track Mercury invites you to use your own music that you’ve got stored on the PlayStation 3 as a custom soundtrack. With each song the background and environment vibrates with musical energy and -assuming you are using music you actually enjoy listening to - the interplay between music and

visuals creates a vibrant, rhythmic audio visual experience filled with electric colours, and the game quickly builds a visceral urge to match your own movements to the custom soundtrack. Another game on the PlayStation

Network did something similar, to equally great effect. Space Invaders Infinity Gene’s most entertaining game mode was the custom soundtrack part of the game even though that acted only as an added bonus in that game. In Mercury Hg, it’s core to the whole experience. That experience is backed up by a game that is, ultimately, fun to play. For an idea on how the gameplay itself works, imagine SEGA’s Monkey Ball series if the monkeys and balls we’re melted down into a semisolid liquid, and you’re more or less at Mercury. For an even more appropriate analogy (though perhaps one that only older readers will understand); if you remember the old wooden Labyrinth games then this is exactly the same concept only instead of a metal ball bearing the goal is to navigate a fluid

through the winding maze. This isn’t the first game in the series of course – it’s been a PSP mainstay for years - and the gameplay will be familiar to people who have played the previous titles but the core remains compelling and easy to get into as a newcomer to the franchise; take a blob of mercury and by tilting the environment get the blob to an end goal. A handful of introductory levels walk players through the more complex ideas that give the game its challenge; sometimes you’ll need to roll the mercury through gates which will ‘colour’ the blob of metal, allowing you to enter paths restricted to those corresponding colours. Then there’s magnets which naturally attract liquid metal such as mercury, as well as repulsion devices that just love to hurl the blob off the level. The last trick to learn is the occasional need to use an edge of a wall to split the mercury blob in half, send both halves through

different colour gates, and then rejoin them, with the two colours mixing to become an entirely new colour. The puzzles become devious quickly after the tutorial, especially considering that you’ll need to think quick; at heart this is an action puzzle game and time matters when shooting for the high scores. A leaderboard pops up at the end of each and every level to remind you how good (or bad) you are at this game and then it’s quickly on to the next level. The developers clearly wanted people to be spending time playing this game, rather than wading through menus and options. Thankfully the difficulty is not the kind that generates frustration. The controls are tight and the physics are spot on. Thankfully mercury, as a liquid, is not as fluid as water, and the more “sticky” nature of the metal means that it’s easier to keep everything under precise control than other games that use water as a muse.

There’s even the ability to use the PlayStation 3 controller’s Sixaxis option to bring some motion control into the game, though the conventional dual stick controls are comfortable enough. And there’s not a whole lot more to Mercury than this. That said, given it’s such a budget priced game, there’s still a lot of content for the money. There’s a lot of levels to play through, and though they’re all individually quite short, anyone who can fly through them without a few retries is a true gaming God. - Matt Sainsbury


Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon Available on: Nintendo WiiWare Publisher: Nnooo

Besides the not-so-humble FPS, the RPG is the most ‘done’ genre out of all the schools of videogaming. As a result of this, we’ve all become used to the same characters, plots, villains, mechanics and twists- they’ve been used over and over again to the point of which we can spot exactly where we’re going from the opening title screen. Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon realises this and takes every available opportunity to poke fun at it.

soon find it presents no problem and you get straight into some turn based combat. You’ll be spending a fair lot of time in front of a combat screen here, and it gets pretty challenging even early on. To help you with this, the games’ unique drawcards come in. First is a neat little thing

Interested? You should be. You guide the band of adventurers known as the Frayed Knights, (given the title for constantly being the worst of all heroes) and you set out to do some adventure-y things. Dungeon crawl, fight monsters, find treasure, appease your guild head and overthrow a band of intelligent rats planning world domination. The usual stuff. The group has no real goal to begin with except to be slightly competent in their chosen field of expertise. You try and accomplish these tasks in a satisfactory manner from a first person point of view, which to be honest is a little bit awkward at first. However, once you’ve taken the ten minutes to accustom yourself to this, you’ll

called “drama points” and I find the concept in itself hilarious. Basically, you gain points that fill up three stars at the top of your screen whenever you do anything dramatic; anything that would be accompanied in a movie by the DRR DRR DRR sound of melodrama. This ranges from dialogue, to encounters to disarming traps - all sorts of things. These are vitally important because of the next drawcard. The endurance bar is interesting. This bar is THE most important

thing in combat, second only to health, and then, only slightly. Whenever you do an action in battle, your stamina in your endurance bar goes down. The less stamina you have, the more easily you are hurt, the less damage you deal, the more you miss. Where the game really shines, though, is the writing. It got to a point that even though the gameplay itself was excellent; I kept playing into the wee hours of the morning for the dialogue. So much fun is had here with not only the characters interacting in the most hilarious, fascinating and memorable ways. My only real complaints are made because I have to. This ain’t a pretty game. It looks like it’s been developed during the late 90’s, the trees are by far the most hideous I’ve ever seen and the neutral NPCs do not move. At all. They’re essentially fleshy talkative statues. - Zane Metcalf


escapeVektor: Chapter 1 Available on: Nintendo WiiWare Publisher: Nnooo

like a very professional production indeed. Levels are laid out in a very similar fashion to modern Mario games – as in a grid of nodes that you can move between within a series of distinct game “worlds.” These paths also branch in a very limited fashion – some levels have alternative finishes that, once achieved open up bonus levels. With escapeVector: Chapter 1, Nnooo has returned to WiiWare, a service in a very different position to how it was back when Pop was a launch title for the platform. Back then WiiWare was the promise of a whole new way to access Nintendo content. Now it’s on its last, gasping breaths, and the chance we get anything that even comes close to the quality of escapeVektor is slim indeed. So as a last hoorah, then, what are the WiiWare faithful going to be playing? To get the superficial out of the way from the outset, the music and visuals within this game are superb. Minimalist, but you get the feeling that Nnooo and Nintendo should have branded this as an Art Style game. It’s as clean and classy as anything Spike has produced, which makes it a very easy experience to work though. In terms of gameplay, escapeVektor is a very modern, and very abstract take on the basic ideas that run Qix. In this game, you play as a little arrow sign, that needs to navigate around a variety

of wireframe levels, filling them in by tracing all the way around the edge to form “boxes.” Colour in enough boxes, and the exit will open, leading to the next level. Of course, it’s not that easy, because there are a variety of enemies in these levels that are there for no other reason than to make your life hell. From the basic line enemies that travel in a preset path, to the more aggressive circles and triangles that are capable of changing direction and even following you. The little arrow is not completely defenceless, and has bomb and boost abilities to destroy enemies and accelerate faster, respectively. Nnooo does a good job in introducing these new tricks and traps at a quick clip, and even more impressively, does a great job of introducing them in an organic way that requires little reading or tutorials. That you can ease into the game without a dedicated tutorial or instruction is a glowing reflection on the developer’s understanding of how games are played, and makes the game look

Which brings me to the only flaw in the game: there’s little reward to unlocking and completing these bonus levels. You don’t earn anything in-game rewards from those levels, and though the game keeps track of your high scores, there’s no online leaderboards to get the perfectionists going. Coupled with an abstract and highly minimal plot, the only purpose for completing this game is to complete this game. It’s also a short game, but it’s only 500 points and that very entry level price, it’s very good quality, entertaining and often challenging short game. Nnooo has more games planned for this little series, I just hope that they also consider some of the other platforms for the next so that their game can get the exposure it deserves. And sitting on a dying platform is just not going to provide that. - Matt Sainsbury


The Dark Meadow Available on: iPad/ iPhone Publisher: Phosphor Games

It was inevitable that the first ultra-hit iPad/ iPhone exclusive game, Infinity Blade, would attract clones. The Dark Meadow is the first. It looks the same (same Unreal engine, in fact), plays the same, and is very nearly the same game. Except spooky. Or, at least, it tries to be spooky. Dark Meadow takes place in an abandoned hospital. So yes, it’s one of those games; disturbing experiments, disease-coloured walls, crazy doctors, the works. The game itself plays out in the first person but like Infinity Blade, you’re not free to move about. There’s a series of glowing nodes on the floor showing you the spots you can move to. From those locations you’re free to look around, so the game ends up with a strong point-and-click adventure vibe. Every so often a monster will pop up that needs killing. This too plays out in first person, and there’s two different ways to do the killing. The beastie will start the encounter out from quite a distance away, and your character will pull out a trusty crossbow. Pulling back on the string using the touch screen loads the crossbow up, and then it’s just a matter of aiming and releasing. If the

bolt hits the enemy it does some damage, with bonus points for hitting him in the face.

Of course, he’s shooting back at you, too, so you’ll need to dodge out of the way when you see a projectile coming your way. The only real problem here is that aiming is a fairly clumsy affair, especially against the faster moving enemies. Not broken, just not as smooth as I’d have liked, and far too easy to pull the aim high and send the bolt over the monster’s head. Eventually, though, the monster will close to melee range, and then it’s time to replace crossbow with sword. This part of the game plays out much like Infinity Blade, minus the ability to deflect your opponents attacks. Here the objective is to read the direction in which an attack is coming, and then dodge left or right, or alternatively use the shield icon at the bottom of the screen to avoid

taking damage. The enemy monster will be temporarily stunned after an effective dodge, and that’s when its time to do some slicing of your own. Without the ability to parry the enemy attack, Dark Meadow’s combat immediately comes off as inferior to Infinity Blade. There’s less skill involved in getting through this game, and while the monsters have different attack animations, it’s far easier to avoid taking damage when there’s only three possible responses on your own part. Enemies get harder, but only because they have more hit points, do more damage and act faster, not because they develop any particularly frightening special abilities. It’s still compelling enough, though, since killing enemies rewards experience and the game has a full levelling-up structure. It’s heavy on the grinding (especially since the game’s environment is actually quite small, and each time you load up the save file, you find yourself starting in the same room), but rewards come fast enough that it’s hard to notice. time. - Matt Sainsbury


Orcs Must Die! Available on: PC Publisher: Robot Entertainment

The humble Orc and his position in the world of fantasy is an unenviable one. Whether it is in Dungeons & Dragons where they are a low-intelligence, low level brute sent to provide a barrier between you and a chest of treasure, low-intelligence servants of Sauron and Saruman in Lord of the Rings, or low-intelligence MMO grinding fodder, their role is clear. They are simple pawns in the game of life; there to allow the hero to get tougher. And thus is born Orcs Must Die!; a game all about killing Orcs. And how is the best way to kill legions of Orcs? Tower defence. For those uninitiated to Tower Defense games; there’s this nice, well trodden, pleasant little path. It travels right to what you deem precious. And then there’s a horde of unfriendlies trying to move through this path. You have to defend said treasure and to do that, it’s simple; all you have to do is put up fortifications and defences (or, in this case, traps). Cue confrontation. Your defences work, the horde is killed and the day is saved. And then a tougher

wave of enemies shows up, and soon you’re using more powerful tools to defend many different paths from all sorts of unfriendlies. Good thing they all fight in single file. To an extent this is what to expect from Orcs Must Die! It has achieved all the basic benchmarks of a tower defence. However, the canny developers over at Robot have offered a great deal more. They offer RPG. The game is not played from the eagle eyed perspective from the basic tower defence games. Here, the player’s role is not only the place the towers, but also personally fight on the front line (with your choice of ranged or melee weaponry). Immediately that makes for a more personal experience. The all important challenge factor is present, too; skill is rewarded (headshots kill in one go) and the higher levels (and difficulty settings) are definitely not for the faint hearted. Given the camera perspective, the game allows character to only focus on one horde at a time. Whilst this is rather simple when a single horde is attacking, the addition of multiple hordes quickly builds some truly challenging stages. Another feature that truly deserves plaudits is that the brilliant

writing. Light hearted humour abounds. Opening cut scenes reveal how you are an apprentice to a great mage who, due to cracking his head on steps after slipping on kobold blood, finds himself about to undergo rigor mortis, with the worlds fortunes left onto the none-too-trusty hands of his rather unashamedly incompetent apprentice. Even if the wizard may have had a point, it is fantastic writing, immediately providing the ‘screw you, I can so do this’ mentality. In other words; I was hooked. Further, most aspects of the game have benefited from some careful level planning, reflected in an impressive depth. So which boxes does it tick? Variety of enemies and capabilities of such? Tick. There is a mix of fast, slow and powerful, as well as the more exotic flying enemies, and those that can destroy the traps you lay down - everything you could ask for. Variety in traps and tools at your disposal? Tick. RPG related character growth? Tick (when he player advances enough, they gain access to full development trees). Are you sick of checking boxes now? tick. So go play the game. - Owen Sainsbury


Astralia Available on: XBLA Indie Gamees Publisher: Astroboid

Mining in space always seems to set off a whole heap of trouble (see: Dead Space, Red Faction) and things are no different in this Indie offering from developers Astroboid. Although you might be tempted to look at the screens and think this is a twin-stick shooter, you might want to think again. Astralia will, in fact, actually tell you it’s no twin job itself as the game starts! Well, your ship-board AI will. So what is Astralia if not a Geometry Wars style blaster? Well actually, it’s kind of a strategy/shooter hybrid with a lil’ RTS thrown in for good measure. When things start up, you join your character as he/she has been sent for pilot training at a mining colony. A new smart building material, dubbed ‘materia’, has changed the landscape of just about everything the galaxy overand it’s being mined here. The second stick, in case you’re wondering, does not fire your weapons. Like I said, this is no twin-stick shooter. Your ship does

have weaponry though, make no mistake- you’re outfitted with a standard gun that never runs out of ammo (but isn’t all that effective), a laser (my fave), missiles, and mines. The trick is that all the weapons other than the gun take up materia- meaning that you’ll have to mine more to shoot more. Thankfully, there are no boggy gimmicks set up for the actual mining - just shoot the asteroids and fly over to get your materia. Easy-peasy. And it’s a good thing that it is since you’ll also need materia to construct drone ships. These little guys can fly in formation around you (there are several different flight patterns to choose from as well) and blast away at anything in front of them with any of the shooters that you can use yourself. At different times over the course of play, you’ll also have new choices open up to like constructing battle platforms and such. Now doing all this building while fighting can be a little confusing at times, since the action around you never stops.

That means that when you’re in a menu selecting which item you want to make, or setting up repairs on your craft; you’re still being assaulted by the legions of monsters you’ve yet to dispatch. All the options are hot-keyed to make things easier when navigating, but it doesn’t help all that much when you really need to make some more drones and you’re seriously hurting and under a hail of fire. (what exactly are those monsters shooting at me anyway... maybe I don’t want to know) The graphics are fairly basic, you won’t be wowed, but if you were under the impression that an Indie title would bowl you over, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. What you will find though is that everything is nice and clean looking with crisp designs that more than get the job done. That’s really all you can ask for. Overall, I really liked Astralia and if it sounds like Astroboid put a lot of thought and work into it, I’m pretty sure it’s because they did. It’s a well made, addictive, and surprisingly deep game that will have you playing ‘one more level’ for quite some time. Well done guys. - Jason Micciche


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Pocket War HD Available on: iPad Publisher: Prolific Games

What do you get when you turn Flight Control into a wargame? Well, Pocket War HD. It’s amazing how it works, but it does work well; Pocket War is set during World War 2, and tasks you with directing some arrows that represent your army to attack and drive off, or destroy, the enemy’s arrows. Each arrow represents a battalion in the army, and there’s a small range of them, each with unique special abilities. The tanks are fast, the big arrows represent larger forces. Just like in Flight Control, where the goal is to direct little planes all over the place by tapping on them

and then dragging your finger to the end point, so too is the basic gameplay of Pocket War and its arrows. The difference is that, rather than targeting static runways, the targets for your units are enemy arrows.

inferior position, they’re likely to break. Units that attack from the side or the rear find themselves fighting in a very superior position. Dotted around the game’s otherwise featureless maps are towns. Occupying those as infantry allows them to entrench themselves, earning a defensive bonus in the process. It’s not much deeper than that, but it’s a fun diversion to have on the iPad.

Basic military strategy comes into play. Units have morale and should they sustain too many losses or appear to be in a vastly

- Matt Sainsbury


Streetball Available on: Android Publisher: Battery Acid

Most people either love sports games or hate them. Here is a fun arcade basketball game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This may put off some hardcore sports gamers but I think it opens the market up nicely for casual gamers and that is exactly the kind of game I love on a mobile phone. It won’t break any new ground but it will provide sports fans with a fun option for gaming on the go. You can choose between Two-onTwo, H-O-R-S-E or First to 21. Two-on-Two provides you with a 4 minute long match where it is obviously highest points wins. First to 21 is pretty much self explanatory, two teams play until someone reaches 21 points. H-O-

R-S-E provides a different style of game though. Two opposing players take shots at goal, if one player gets it and the other misses then they get a letter. The first one to spell out horse loses. The gameplay is simple, one button passes the other shoots on novelty the longer you play it but offense, on defense the buttons that is true of most phone games become steal and block. When so don’t be put off. you shoot you must time your shot - Aidan Broadbent to gain accuracy. The closer to the mark the more accurate your shot. In H-O-R-S-E it works a little differently, you must trace a shape on the screen. The more accurate you trace the more likely you will nail the shot.


This is s fun game for android that will fill idle time nicely. It loses its

Tiny Defense Available on: iPhone Publisher: Picsoft

The iOS market is saturated with tower defence games and, as such, they are all fairly derivative of each other. What separates one game apart from another though, is the execution of the gameplay and any variations or original concepts on show. Tiny Defense offers both good execution and an occasional gem of inspiration that sets it apart from majority of the other tower defence games out there. The gam pits your “Minirobots” against the onslaught of “The Machines” who have come to take over the world. Minirobots are your defensive elements and, with 40 unique units to choose from, picking the right

combination for the stage and the enemies is vital to success. The game design itself is a lit-

as against aerial units and underground attackers. The graphics are cartoonish and cute, each unit is easily identifiable and the controls are perfectly responsive to the touch screen. Added to this is the fact you get 150 levels, minigames, Game Center integration and a star-rating system for each stage as well as a load of unlockable content, achievements and upgrades, all on one purchase. - Dom Saric

tle different to most other tower defence games, in that the screen is a 2D stack (stages reminiscent of classic side-scrollers like Super Mario) and this means that units must defend straight ahead as well


Blast Monkeys Available on: Android Publisher: Indie project

Far and away one of the best games I have played on a phone, Blast Monkeys provides you with such an extensive range of levels to complete that you will be kept busy for hours and hours. In this puzzle game you shoot a monkey’s head out of a cannon and bounce it off walls in such a way that he collects all three bananas and reaches the goal. It starts out with a static level with solid walls but later levels introduce more challenging obstacles such as spike traps, lifts, air vents, bubbles and cogs. At present there is 30 levels per world and seven worlds to choose from. Updates are common though, adding additional world

choices and new challenges. Unlocking the next world requires monkey coins which are earned by completing levels and collecting bananas. The game plays very well with tap to fire controls on the cannon. It can occasionally frustrate when bubbles don’t pop when you want them to but that is more to do with how precise you have to be with the controls than a control fault. What the game lacks in graphics it makes up for in content and fun challenge. If you don’t have this game already then do yourself a favour and pick it up, it’s free and it’s awesome. - Aidan Broadbent


Dark Souls is the game of the year. It’s an utterly brilliant RPG with a finely tuned difficulty curve, a massive, organic world and visceral combat. It’s the unofficial sequel to Demon’s Souls, inself a brilliant RPG that gained infamy for its old-school difficulty. That was a game that would punish players for taking one wrong step, or failing to quickly figure out an boss demon’s weaknesses. Dark Souls continues in that tradition, though it is a far more accessible game this time around. The secret is in the campfires. With Demon’s Souls, to rest and recover you’d need to teleport your avatar to the “Nexus,” a centralised hub which linked to the various hostile game environments. This was a system that worked, but has been replaced

with a far less abstract system this time. With Dark Souls, players are plonked in the middle of an open world (after a short tutorial dungeon), and left to explore for themselves. Salvation and safety can be found in the camp fires dotted about the place, where players can recover health, repair weapons and level up. Now, the challenge comes not so much from the substantial distance between those camp

fires (they’re actually fairly close together) as what’s between those camp fires. Often you’ll fight a boss, and then have to navigate some nasty traps and monsters to reach the next campfire. A normal game would have a save point immediately before or after the boss. For anyone who has played Demon’s Souls, though, this will be a far more accessible game. The traps are much the same in Dark Souls, the enemies fall to roughly the same strategies, and with enemies often placed closely to these campfires, it’s relatively easy to grind up a few levels if you feel the need for a power boost. For new players, however, Dark Souls will occasionally feel cruel. If you were hit by the old “heavy object down the stairs,” trap in Demon’s Souls, you’ll find it easy to avoid this time with a bit of caution. It’ll hit you by surprise if you haven’t played the predecessor. But not to fear, death in Dark Souls has meaning, but it’s a mistake that players can recover for. When you character dies, he respawns at the last camp fire he/ she rested at, minus all

and awareness the longer you play can play dividends. As tough as the bosses are, this is still ‘easier’ than a Monster Hunter game. And, for long time From Software players (those who have enjoyed the unofficial series from its genesis as King’s Field all the way through six titles to Dark Souls), this is the easiest game to date.

the souls (gathered from killing enemies, and which acts as the currency for levelling up, buying items and repairing damaged equipment). On the plus side, he/ she leaves behind a bloodstain with a glowing blue mist that represents those lost souls. Getting back to the same point and touching the mist recovers all the lost ghostly loot to you. Of course,

depending where you were killed, reaching that blue mist is a challenge in itself, and if you die again, the souls are gone for good. And yet, whether you’ve played Demon’s Souls beforehand, or jumped into this fresh, Dark Souls is a game where a bit of grinding, a bit of patience, and the capacity to improve your skills

It’s still fun, thanks in part to the spectacular level design. It never quite reaches the heights of King’s Field IV, but wandering around the catacombs, castles and secret passages of Dark Souls’ world is immensely fulfilling. Uncovering long forgotten treasure from hidden vaults hearkens back to the classic Dungeons and Dragons dungeon crawl, and inching around a corner for fear of running into something you’re not prepared for is an experience few games can match, let alone beat.

Then there’s the sheer variety and menace in the monsters you’ll face. From the pinpoint glowing red eyes of the regular zombies, to the nimble skeletons and the great rotting hulks of demons, and then right through to the savage beauty of the dragon, the creatures of Dark Souls have been lovingly crafted to be both ugly, and yet a joy to fight. The combat is visceral, too, with the game engine allowing a startling variety of combat styles, from the heavily armoured, classic knight, replete with sword and shield through to the nimble rogue, and lightly armoured barbarian that hits stuff hard with double handed weapons. It’s possible to cycle through weapons on the fly, too, so you can change your equipment setup based on what you’re facing in front of you. The game does preference martial might, but there’s room for the mages too. The magic system does impose strict limits on how many times you can cast the powerful spells though, so being clever about when to use them is important. On the aesthetics, Dark Souls is a beautiful game, with lush environments populated with high-detail monsters and backdrops. That there’s a great draw distance is important, as the flicker of light way off in the distance is often a clue to a valuable treasure, the

only problem then is figuring out how to get there. Music and story are both sparse, and when they’re used, they’re used with real impact and stellar production values. Brought together, they form a game that is beautiful, and yet, not nearly as dark as previous games in this ‘series’ of From Software’s. Light plays a central role in this game. Symbolically

it gives players a sense of hope through the gloom that Demon’s Souls and King’s Field didn’t offer. And for that it’s somewhat of a less intense experience. Indeed there was points where the experience bordered on becoming a generic RPG for me. But not quite. Dark Souls is, realistically, the furthest From Software can take this series. Artistically and in terms of gameplay, it strikes the best possible balance between accessibility and staying true to the same vision that powered Demon Soul’s and King’s Field. I remain concerned that the next game in this series will take one step too far and push a little too hard to be accessible enough to sell the kind of copies that the budget will demand.

But that’s a concern for another time. Dark Souls itself is as close to art as any other game out there, and is, simply, a must have game. As a post script, the online multiplayer is a component of both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls that is celebrated by many gamers, though there are plenty of reports out there that Dark Souls has an inferior online experience. I wouldn’t know. One of the things that attracts me to From Software’s game series is a throwback to the strictly single-play King’s Field games and that is the sense of isolation. Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls drip atmosphere when played alone. While the online component is restrictive enough that you won’t have the experience disrupted by 12 year old children questioning your sexuality, it’s still a break from the fantasy that I prefer to draw out of these games, and as such I’m assessing this game as a solo player experience only. Be sure to check out our other reviews at - Matt Sainsbury


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