Juju Review

What a pleasant surprise Juju turned out to be. After a sickeningly cute introduction to the characters and story, Juju reveals itself to be a delightful, well-designed, and visually impressive side-scrolling platformer. There’s a slight lack of character to the leads and the odd complaint here and there, but otherwise Juju is an excellent little adventure.

The story begins as a panda leisurely walks through the forest to a temple, with an artefact in hand, whilst a young panda named Juju and a young lizard named Peyo, sneakily and curiously follow behind. With the artefact placed on the temple pedestal and projecting great power, a distraction gives the young’uns an opening to investigate with a more hands-on approach. Cue tampering and breaking the artefact, spreading pieces of it in four different lands, and leading to the release of a great evil.  It’s now up to the cub and lizard to gather the pieces together and defeat the escaped villain.

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Juju very much feels like the collation of all past platformers, reforming their ideas within a unique shell. There’re obvious influences ranging from Sonic to Rayman, with level design similarities bringing back nostalgic memories of Mickey’s Castle of Illusion and Crash Bandicoot to name but a few. However, concepts from history’s great platformers are merely borrowed rather than copied or stolen outright, maintaining a unique enough feel and look to avoid direct comparisons with its peers.

3D visuals on a strictly 2D plane setup the perspective for the left to right side scrolling, meanwhile simple jumping on and over obstacles and platforms in order to reach the end, whilst collecting butterflies holding gems, is the objective. Enemies are present as well, stylised appropriately to the theme of the four different locations: a forest, a land of toys, an ocean of plastic inflatable islands, and a land of sweets and deserts. Beyond the forest things gets wonderfully weird in terms of setting, and whilst these locations have certainly been seen before, they’re still a treat to witness.

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It’s not just each location’s design and theme that delights, the visuals are so detailed, crisp and bright that each floating plastic ships bobbing on the clear ocean, and every tree and rock protruding from the forest floor looks spectacular in its cartoon-esque splendour.

Defeating enemies is a matter of good old jumping on their heads, or using abilities you gradually unlock as you progress, like the dash move which quickly sees to armoured or spiked enemies. There are also huge boss fights, one for each location, but for each foe you face them twice, once half way through the set of eight levels, and again at the end.

There is, however, a slow pacing to Juju, partly because of lengthy stays within each location due to their eight levels, but also due to the slow gait of our heroes. Juju’s slow stroll feels very restricted initially, and takes some getting used to. However, this does work in favour of local multiplayer: keeping both players close-by as they explore. And exploration is eagerly encouraged with collectables hidden within each stage and tracked on the level-hub, as well as portals to a mini collection game set in an otherworldly venue. Having a second player for these is extremely useful, as failing it will remove the portal unless you restart the level – or kill yourself before a checkpoint, I suppose.

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There’s also a lack of character to the heroes, and even the villain. The narrative is shallow but ultimately doesn’t require any depth, but no dialogue – written or spoken – and minimal cut scenes means Juju and Peyo never carve an identity out for themselves, and beyond being evil, neither does the villain. It’s not a crucial component by any means, and it certainly doesn’t take away from the otherwise fun, family-friendly adventure, but it’s a layer of polish that would help elevate it amongst the greats.

Juju is an excellent platformer that surprised me wonderfully. With little to no promotion leading to such a quiet release, I expected a throwaway adventure that would disappear into the XBLA catalogue, but instead it’s one of the best titles in its genre. Eight levels is a bit long to spend within each location – more location would have been better – and the injection of some character into the cast would have been a nice addition, but exceptionally well designed levels and mechanics makes Juju a terrific platformer for any age.

Thanks to the publisher for supplying TiX with a download code

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Which Kinect Games Will Stand The Test Of Time?

When the motion controlled Kinect technology first came to fruition in 2010 there were high hopes from gamers. Of course the Wii had really made strides in popularity, but with plenty of Microsoft clout behind this one people were expecting a revolution. Originally compatible with Xbox 360, Kinect is now available on Windows and Xbox One. They’ve constantly updated with a string of new versions, leading us to Kinect 2.0 – the second generation which came with the launch of the Xbox One.

Four years on, has it made the dent on the market it wanted and will the output stand the test of time as video game greats? Of course this is mostly a matter of opinion, but some critics praised it and the units flew off the shelves. So there is some justification to say it will have its spot in the Hall of Fame. With that said, it looks like it may have had its time in the sun and is on its way out. We must have had some good times, though, right?

As with the launch of the Wii, motion-sensored consoles and add-ons were routinely seen as entertaining folly for gatherings and social time, hence the popularity of broad-based sports games. Because of this, if you were planning a bet with one of the US’ best online casinos it would be easier to wager the single most played game on the platform would be Kinect Sports. Not flashy, easy to use, and easy to get everyone involved; definitely one of the staples that the Kinect user can’t go without.

The Just Dance series is another hit and again that’s because of the ability to have fun, share and get involved. Kinect deals particularly well with this due to its advanced full-body motion tracking, but it’s not too complex and strikes a good balance between recreation and skill.

Of course Kinect is more than just party games, though, and especially since the release of Xbox One, there has been a surge on the output to satiate hardcore gamers. Child of Eden looks, sounds and plays great, as you blast your way through computer viruses.

Gunstringer has been a fundamental Kinect favourite since its inception, particularly when guys have had too much of being forced to dance around for hours on end. Hell, sometimes they just want to shoot stuff. Point your gun and blast away, just like you did in the playground.

There was more for the young male to get his teeth into, too, as Microsoft teamed up with the ever-growing UFC for the UFC Personal Trainer – killing two birds with one stone by promoting fun and fitness. It was a legitimately tough workout that went beyond what many had offered before, pushing new boundaries and becoming a somewhat realistic tool for real high-intensity training.

Admittedly looking back the quality of games hasn’t been coming thick and fast. There are glaring gaps and many duds. There should be some that are remembered fondly, though. But only history can be the judge of that.

Forza Horizon 2 Storm Island review

Forza Horizon 2: Storm Island is the first piece of DLC that expands upon the content of the main game. The action takes place on the fictional tropical island of Isola Della Tempesta (Island Storm), its terrain is harsh and its weather is devilish. With 90 events that include new modes and cars to race, Bucket lists to dominate and discount boards to find and smash, you won’t be left feeling short-changed after dropping £15.99 (£7.99 for VIP members) on this great piece of DLC.

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There are six tiers you need to progress through if you are to reach the island finale, although you won’t have to complete them all to unlock it. Each tier has four championships that span across the different car classes, you can use your current cars that you have stored in your garage but be warned, if you don’t install the Storm Island mods your ride will have trouble clinging to the terrain. Each tier has its own mini finale – Gauntlet. This extreme offroad event takes place on floodlit courses in the dead of night. They are particularly tricky to navigate, not least because of the tight turns and high jumps but because of the harsh storm rolling around in the background attempting to distract your attention from the road. As if that wasn’t enough to contend with, you are forced to use a pre-selected vehicle with no option to tweak the parts.

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The weather effects in Storm Island are really impressive; sheets of rain swirl across the track, trees almost double over in the wind and fog hangs over the track to conceal hidden dangers. Your windscreen wipers fight in vain to try to keep your view clear from the elements but is it all just for show? I never really felt like the weather played too much of an active role in manipulating the track or my vehicle, instead it merely served as a backdrop to the events while trying its hardest to distract you from focusing on the road ahead.

Courses are bumpy with extreme jumps, they twist and snake-like a roller coaster and often you will lose sight of the next checkpoint particularly during night races or in a storm – it’s great fun and while racing from the cockpit view I felt glad to be inside – it’s nasty out there! While the rough terrain is a joy to wrestle with the island lacks character, I didn’t find much in the way of points of reference for navigating around the 50 island roads – everything looks the same and hardly my idea of ‘tropical’. There is a Roman Temple overlooking the action and of course there’s the Forza festival hub where you sign up for each race, but that is pretty much it save for the odd collection of buildings but we didn’t come here to sight see, we came for the thrills of offroading and to see the spectacle of the new storm effects – both of which I’m happy to say didn’t disappoint.

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Your progress through Storm Island is tracked through a separate tab in the pause menu, handy for checking which Bucket Lists you have left to complete without them getting mixed up with the mainland events. Drivatars return and seem more determined than ever to push you off the track and leave you choking on dust as you scramble across the countryside. The events try to reinvent themselves with new names but really there’s nothing new here save for a few obstacles strewn across the tracks in Rampage and Brawl events. What’s ‘new’ is the focus of extreme environments and weather.

For those that like to take the action online there are several multiplayer championships to master but be warned, if you thought it was rough against the Drivatars then wait until you get online versus real people – you can try to play nice but the rough terrain makes it almost impossible to complete a clean race.

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Forza Horizon 2 breaks the modern confines of racers by allowing you to go anywhere and do anything but the mainland doesn’t quite tick the hardcore box when it comes to offroad racing – this is where Storm Island steps up to the plate. You’d be forgiven in forgetting that you’re playing Forza Horizon 2 because the events are so heavily weighted towards a rally style, which gives the game that DiRT feel.

If rally games aren’t your thing then I’d save your pennies, even though there’s plenty of content and some superb weather effects to experience, Storm Island is heavily centred on offroad events. Hopefully Playground Games will look to do another new area that is a little less on the DiRT(y) side. For me though, this first piece of content for Forza Horizon 2 is ‘The Perfect Storm’.

THANKS TO XBOX FOR SUPPLYING TIX WITH A DOWNLOAD CODE

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Countdown to 2015 – Dragons and Telltale Games Collection

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Two more sleeps until Christmas! We hope you’ve all been good?

Microsoft are certainly being good to us as they step up their Countdown to 2015 with a cracking daily deal –Dragon Age Inquisition is 35% off making the digital version a very tempting £35.74.

The new weekly deal is equally as tempting, my choice pick being the newly released Telltale Game Collection 50% off, bringing it down to £35.

Anything float your boat so far in the promotion?

 

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – Exo Zombies Teaser Trailer

Untrained and unprepared, four Atlas employees must survive a horror unlike any other. John Malkovich, Bill Paxton, Rose McGowan, and Jon Bernthal star in Exo Zombies, coming to Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare DLC in 2015.

The first chapter of Exo Zombies is included with the Havoc DLC pack or as part of the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Season Pass. Get the Season Pass for access to four exciting DLC packs at one great price, each delivering a collection of new, thrilling multiplayer content, bonus weapons, and more.

Zombies have long been a popular part of the Call of Duty franchise since Treyarch introduced the survival based mode in Call of Duty: World at War, way back in 2008. Now almost six and a half years later the Zombies get all mod-cons and futuristic…

…some may say DEADLY!

Halo 3 ODST coming to Xbox One

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In a thank you blog post to fans who picked up The Master Chief Collection, Bonnie Ross has revealed that if you played the game between November 11 and December 19 you will receive the following tokens of gratitude:

  • 1 Month of Xbox Live Gold
  • Exclusive In-Game Nameplate
  • Exclusive In-Game Avatar

More interestingly, Bonnie has revealed that fans have voiced a certain love for Halo 3: ODST and as a further thanks for the support, 343 Industries will bring ODST’s campaign to The Master Chief Collection for free to fans who played the game in the same period as detailed above.

The campaign will be lovingly updated to 1080p running at 60fps and for those of us yet to buy the collection, I’m sure ODST will be made available to purchase through the Xbox Store. 343 will also remaster the classic Halo 2 map Relic, which will be made available as a free update.

I realise The Master Chief Collection has had its fair share of problems but surely this should go some way to appease those angered by its problems!

Thoughts on Halo 5 Guardians beta Early Access

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We all have that one special game that got us hooked. Halo 2 hooked me into multiplayer gaming – and as much as I enjoyed Halo 3 and 4, nothing compared to the fun I had back on my original Xbox. 343 Industries have been at the helm of the franchise for some time now but Halo 5: Guardians is their first step into new-gen. OK, so there is Halo: The Master Chief Collection… but Halo 5: Guardians is truly our first real glimpse at 343i’s vision for the series on Xbox One.

From December 19th to the 21st, Xbox One Preview Program members, select gamers, and members of the press have been given a special treat – early access to the beta’s first week content, which goes live for everyone else on December 29th. This includes two maps: Truth (a remake of Halo 2’s Midship) and Empire; both playable in 4v4 Slayer.

The first thing I was happy to see was the removal of Spartan abilities. For me, these took away the essence of Halo and frustrated me more than empowering my gameplay. You can still sprint (which may still bother some purists) but it certainly helps to speed up the pace of the game. Spartans also have jet packs that can be used to boost in any direction (think Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare). The only real ‘ability’ is the ground punch but I found this rather tricky to pull off – and even when I did, I found it nigh impossible to take someone out.

It can be said that Call of Duty took a lot of inspiration from Halo. Titanfall took inspiration from Call of Duty, and Destiny tried to make a niche for itself and establish a foothold Bungie once commanded in the competitive multiplayer scene. With this in mind, it has to be said that Halo 5: Guardians owes its inspiration to all of the above – and their influence is evident right from the presentation of the game and team introductions, all the way through to the combat. The classic Halo weapons make a return and instantly feel familiar, yet somehow strangely alien.

Halo 5: Guardians feels much like meeting up with an old friend you used to know really well but haven’t seen in 10 years – they’re still the same person but ever so slightly different. They talk and act with more maturity – and for their age they look great. This pretty much sums up how I feel about Halo 5: Guardians. It looks brilliant, plays with more maturity – but underneath it all, the same old friend is still there.

Communication has been an issue in gaming ever since party chat killed off in-game chat. Halo 5 helps with this problem to some extent. Your team’s Spartans call out when weapons spawn, what they’ve picked up, when they’re reloading, and the locations of enemies. They even thank you for your assistance and call out the names of map areas, which certainly helps with teamwork and coordinating an attack when nobody is actually communicating!

The only real niggles I had were that the shields seem to take a while to recharge and grenades aren’t as easy to get kills with. Timing is everything, so grenade spammers need not apply.

Overall, I feel that Halo 5: Guardians retains the essence of why I loved Halo 2’s multiplayer – and although it may come loaded with all the mod cons of many other shooters on the market: zoomable weapons, kill cams, jet pack boosts and the ability to mantle objects, it still feels distinctively Halo – tea bagging included!

Thanks to Xbox for supplying TiX with a download code

 

Something for the weekend: Christmas gaming Jumpers

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The Christmas jumper, something of a tradition that seems to have become cool in the last few years. It’s no surprise then that your favourite films, TV series  and even games have got in on the action (and charging a pretty penny too). Check out TiX’s favourite Christmas jumpers below – Christmas is just around the corner but it’s not too late to secure your Christmas gamer jumper!

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Ok ok so we cheated a bit with one or two Christmas t-shirts! Did we miss your favourite jumper? Let us know in the comments below

Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo announced for Xbox One

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Italian developers, Milestone, makers of WRC Powerdrift, have announced a link up with Rally legend Sebastien Loeb.

Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo has been comfirmed for an autumn 2015 release on Xbox One.

The press release begins:

A name. A legend. One of the most exciting rally challenges in the world. Four wheels.

This new foray into the world of rally simulators will feature a Career Mode and full Online and Offline modes for you to drift, slide and probably crash through.

Milestone VP Luisa Bixio stated,

Building on the expertise accumulated over recent years, with the development of four titles dedicated to the world of rally, we have decided to push the envbelope with a title that goes beyond the canon of licensed games.

Look out for more news and hopefully some gameplay footage from Milestone soon.