Tag Archives: Pixel art

Let Them Come review

There’s a scene in Aliens where the marines setup automatic turrets to shoot the approaching horde of aliens. In Let Them Come you essentially recreate that scene but as a gunner controlling a turret. It’s intense, a little scare despite the pixel art aesthetic, fun and challenging. It’s so very similar to that scene from Aliens, yet to my knowledge, this is the first time it’s been translated to a tower defence game, and it works marvellously.

It’s so very simple. A text introduction paints the picture of a lone soldier needing to setup his turret at different locations to figure out the story behind this alien infestation. It’s then a matter of you earning credits by shooting the aliens, buying upgrades for your character and the turret, then conquering multiple waves of aliens, defeating a boss, and moving on to the next location.

Pixel art conveys the action and gore. The narrow corridors with subtle animations in the background, foreground and the sides bringing each scene to life. Silky smooth animations for your character’s movement as well as that of the many different alien species. It looks fantastic. In fact this art style is miraculous, and not just here but practically everywhere I see it. How these pixel artists capture a person, an alien, a location so beautifully and in such detail while shaping it in pixels is miraculous. Here it also works to add a level of nostalgia to the title, to manage your expectations for a simple game of tower defence. Indeed, it wouldn’t have been out of place as an official Aliens game from 1986, if it wasn’t for the exceptionally smooth frame rate, crisp well-defined pixels and copious amounts of alien hostiles and bullets filling the corridor that only modern system can truly handle at this level of quality.

There’s more to it than simply letting loose with your turret against the waves of aliens, though, and soon you’re contemplating precisely what you need to purchase between waves to best fight the horde; what the best tools are for this violent but necessary job of survival. You can only hold limited ammo types and equipment, and choosing the right combination becomes more and more critical as the waves progress.

Four slots can be filled with passive upgrades, these being buffs to health, or armour against projectiles, cooling vents for the turret, and several more which affect your character’s ability to fight off the waves. Meanwhile, two slots are available for personal equipment, these consisting of melee weapons, grenades and other useful offensive of defensive items. Moreover, there’s a wide selection of different types of grenades that perform better against different species or quantities of aliens. Finally, there’s the two slots for ammo type for the turret, these being the standard ammo, of which you have an infinite amount, and the special ammo types, that run the gamut much like the grenades do. Bullets for the special ammo types need to be bought and used wisely to deal with waves. Indeed, there are many factors to consider when it comes to purchasing these weapons and equipment that will affect your survival rate.

As you defeat waves and progress, more is revealed. Boss creatures test your ability to adapt at the end of each location, providing a stiff challenge that requires you to equip yourself smartly. Meanwhile, power-ups are earned that can provide some much needed boosts to ammo, health, score, or even enhances you and your firepower temporarily. Fortunately, defeat isn’t the end, you are free to restart the wave having kept any credits earned so to spend them more wisely and maybe prevail next time. Additionally, much of the purchasable equipment can be upgraded once you’ve moved to a new location, always giving you something to spend your hard earned credits on, and soon proving crucial to keeping you alive as larger waves attack and new alien species throw something unexpected at you. Let Them Comes certainly keeps you on your toes.

Despite the challenge, however, it doesn’t take long to reach the end, and for some the frustration of overcoming the challenge is going to be too much. Afterwards you can play through again at different difficulty levels, as well as compete for high scores, but your mileage will vary depending on your patients and love of the genre and art style. Although, the time you do spend with this exhilarating and delightful tower defence title is certainly well wasted.

Thanks to Xbox and Versus Evil for supporting TiX

Graveyard Keeper announced

In the mood for a humorous, pixel art, medieval cemetery management sim? Then Graveyard Keeper could be for you.

Coming out later this year on Xbox One, Graveyard Keeper lets you build and manage your own graveyard while finding shortcuts to cut costs, expand into entertainment with witch-burning festivals, and scare nearby villagers into attending church. This is a game of capitalism and doing whatever it takes to build a thriving business.

Slain: Back from Hell review

Slain: Back from Hell is essentially a modern take on Ghosts ‘n Goblins. You wander from left to right, platforming and killing spooky enemies, and dying a copious amount of times. Enemies will often follow you, encouraging you to thoroughly kill everything before attempting to move on, and there are cheap deaths aplenty. But with some excellent heavy metal tunes and highly intricate pixel art, does Slain offer enough to make the frustrations worth it?

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Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Despite strong presentation, mechanically it’s simple and dull and the difficulty feels harsh and unfair.

An intriguing start to Slain’s story sees you awaken from a deep slumber in order to battle the forces of darkness, with some dialogue pertaining to some character background and lore to the world. Moments later you’ll be platforming through a Hell-scape, slicing up a selection of undead and monstrous foes, and occasionally firing off a magical ball of energy. Later you gain a couple of new melee weapons and magical abilities but the gameplay-loop remains unchanged, with a focus on some tricky platforming courtesy of the abundance of beasties knocking you back, that frequently respawn, and a severe lack of checkpoints.

Enemies can really pack a punch and many have attack and defence stances that you’ll need to study in order to efficiently defeat them. And indeed efficiency is critical. The longer you dilly dally with an enemy, the more likely their friends will turn up, and once there’s a crowd it gets very difficult to manage them. This is partially due to the knockbacks that can push you into environmental hazards or straight into the path of another enemy’s attack or view, but also your limited health bar and lack of checkpoints or opportunities to refill it.

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On your travels you’ll occasionally come across health and mana pillars that restore you completely, and less often you’ll hit a checkpoint. Unfortunately, the two are uncommon enough to mean large sections of a level will need repeating over and over again each time you die. And you’ll die a lot; there’s Dark Souls level difficulty going on here. Additionally, much like Dark Souls, you’ll learn something different after each death, better preparing you for that particular foe, or that platforming section, or precisely what that object on the ground does when you walk into it. Unfortunately though, where Dark Souls taught you repeated behaviours of enemies and repeated aspects of its level design, Slain’s lessons are more specific, with enemy traits and level design changing quite drastically throughout the game and never referring to any set rules.

This, inevitably, starts to feel unfair. It does however, help with its nostalgic charm. The enemy and level design is reminiscent of Ghosts ’n Goblins and the original, linear Castlevania titles. Meanwhile, the gory, grotesque theme also draws a comparison with those classics, with its harsh difficulty taking it further into the 8-bit and 16-bit realm. However, whilst the visuals are indeed pixels, Slain sports some of the most impressive, intricate and detailed pixel art on the market. Environments are multi-layered to give a faux-3D effect that’s very effective, meanwhile, every aspects of the game is full of gory detail. Meeting a new enemy for the first time is quite the spectacle, killing them for the first time is equally a visual treat as their death animation delights with blood oozing out of them as they collapse, this is especially so for the end of level bosses. Furthermore, a heavy metal rock soundtrack takes the presentation to new heights. It’s terrific.

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However, the frustration of it all is brought home but just how basic the mechanics are. There’s no skill or finesse to combat. Despite five different attacks it all comes down to simply as whaling on an enemy with until they die. There is a defence mechanic but you’ll take damage regardless, albeit less damage, and whilst a well-timed press of the defence button allows you to counter, it’s so narrow a window it feels more like luck than skill to hit. Additionally, enemies are damage sponges and a chore to keep fighting.

Indeed, Slain: Back from Hell’s terrific presentation is a strong draw but it’s frustrating lack of checkpoints, harsh challenge, and simple mechanics largely undo the good. It can certainly trade a little on nostalgia for those in the mood for such a title, but it heavily features the worst parts of those games of yore.

Thanks to Xbox and Digerati for supporting TiX

Kingdom: New Lands review

Kingdom: New Lands is purposely obtuse, providing a mere slither of context in the beginning and nothing more. As such, it can get frustrating figuring out what you need to do and how to go about doing it. Moreover, this often turns into a trial and error learning curve, inevitably ending in your character’s death. However, this is part of Kingdom: New Land’s narrative: the struggle to keep the crown and conquer each island.

It’s a compelling experience; however many times you die you’ll find yourself quickly yearning to try again, fresh with the knowledge you gleaned from your last attempt. A single mistake, such as building the wrong kind of unit or expanding your kingdom too early, can be extremely difficult and often impossible to come back from, but there’s joy in the discovery and challenge that keeps you playing. Despite the lack of clarity and punishing difficulty, Kingdom: New Lands is also hugely satisfying and fun.

You are tasked, as the new king or queen, in building a kingdom. On each of the islands of the world you must build a settlement, repair your ship, then sail to another land to do it all over again. It’s a cross between a management title and a tower defence game; you recruit citizens to your settlement by giving nomads a gold coin, then you can turn them into engineers to build things, archers to shoot things, farmers to farm things, or knights to lead armies of archers against the things that come out at night. Once the sun has set you’ll be beset by demons, coming from a portal – or set of portals – deep in the forest. These foal things mean to take gold from your citizens, as well as their weapons and tools, and most importantly your crown. It’s imperative that you defend against these raids whilst you complete repairs to your ship.

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Turning your citizens into useful members of your kingdom requires you to purchase their tools or weapons. In the early game this is limited to engineers and archers, with you buying hammers and bows respectively, however, as the game progresses, farmers require scythes and knights require shields. Your settlement adds these new features and stalls as your upgrade the centre, and things get expensive fast. Fortunately, your archers can hunt rabbits and deer to provide cash, a trader visits town daily and generates more gold, and farmers bring in a healthy income after a few days of tending to their crops. Your engineers can get you a little bit of extra spending money from cutting down trees, and deep in the forest lies a couple of chests full of gold, but managing your income and your settlement’s growth is a tricky challenge.

The Nomads for recruiting into your kingdom are found in campsites in the forest. Cut down the trees surrounding them and that campsite disappears. The same goes for the traders hut. And whilst the raiding demons never kill your people, when they do attack them they strip them of their gold, turning them back into nomads. Furthermore, upgrading your settlement costs a pretty penny, as do the walls and archer towers needed to defend your settlement. Controlling your expenditure whilst maintaining a well defended and prosperous settlement proves very difficult.

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With every passing night, the raiding demons become more numerous and introduce variants, putting a strain on your defences, so ensuring you upgrade your defences swiftly is important. However, in order to efficiently and effectively upgrade and manage your settlement you need to understand the layout of the island you’re on, encouraging you to explore from end to end. Here is where Kingdom: New Lands aesthetic really impresses.

The whole game is on a 2D plain, with tremendously detailed and animated pixel art bringing the people of your kingdom and you, upon your trusty steed, to life. What starts off as a set of lush green forests and plains becomes dull and lifeless in autumn, snow covered in winter, before being reborn in spring and back to glory in summer. It’s wonderfully complex and beautiful. Furthermore, the canopy of trees in the forest blocks the light from the sun and forces you to light a torch as you explore. The torches are once again branded at night by characters and buildings. Meanwhile, the action from the middle of the screen is superbly reflected in the flowing water of the bottom third of the screen. It’s a remarkably well-designed and thought-out, showing a level of visual complexity and beauty seldom seen in pixel art. It’s outstanding.

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Despite the stiff challenge, Kingdom: New Lands can easily get its hooks into you, and this is largely because the challenge is fair. The procedural generation is limited to certain features to prevent unwinnable scenarios, and once you crack the mechanics, it’s a matter of planning the most efficient repair of your ship and/or defence of your settlement to claim victory. However, The AI can occasionally make things a little more difficult than they should be. Even when the demons only attack from one side, your forces will split themselves to defend each side of your settlement evenly. Moreover, occasionally a citizen will run off into the wild for no reason at all, only to return a little while later – assuming they aren’t attacked – empty handed and looking foolish. Additionally, archers sometimes won’t mount empty defence towers, hurting your defensive strategy somewhat, and your engineers have a nasty habit of wandering outside your walls and getting ganked by demons.

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Indeed, Kingdom: New Lands is a challenging game that withholds the information you need to survive and prosper, forcing you to explore and experiment to figure it all out. And as frustrating as this can be, it’s also a big part of the fun and works to keep you engaged, and the satisfaction you receive for conquering one of the six islands is rewarding enough to keep you coming back for more time and time again.

Thanks to Xbox and The Fun Pimps and Iron Galaxy for supporting TiX

The Final Station review

An intriguing beginning, superb ending, but highly repetitive and simplistic middle makes The Final Station a swing and a near miss as a survival horror gem. There’s some great ideas here, with its pixel art and colour palette proving some wonderful atmosphere, but its flaws outweigh a lot of the good in end.

You are a lone train conductor transporting equipment for the military, as well as survivors you find along the way, after an apocalyptic event begins. This is the second occurrence of this event, all told, with it originally occurring over a century ago. They call is the Visitation, suggesting some kind of alien menace; it results in possessed, zombie like humans lurking in buildings and on streets that mean to do the uninfected harm.

The experience is split between two sets of mechanics. On the train it’s your job to keep the bucket of bolts running, maintaining both the train itself and the equipment you’re carrying as well as keeping your passengers healthy and fed, otherwise they’ll die during the journey. When you arrive at each stop you must venture out into the world in order to find provisions to re-stock your health packs and food for the passengers, scavenge for materials to craft more bullets for your weapons, find any survivors and send them to the train, and primarily find a security code to allow you to carry on to the next station.

The Final Station

As you’re exploring these stops you’ll find NPCs with titbits of information to share about the world, as well as notes that paint a larger picture of the Visitation as well as shine a light on some of your personal concerns. But these stops are also full of the infected, coloured entirely in black, apart from their eyes, making them look like extras from Limbo. These foes come in a variety of predictable classes: the ordinary shambling sort, the faster scuttling sort, stronger and finally armoured. You can try to avoid them, shoot them with a small collection of weapons – although ammo is scarce – or punch them, either with your fists of the butt of your gun.

However, what seems like a threat to begin with is soon revealed to be a mere nuisance. The lack of information The Final Station gives you at the beginning builds a false sense of difficulty that lessens significant with a few trial and error mishaps. The enemies can largely be dealt with through melee attacks, with a couple merely needing finishing off with carefully aimed bullets to the head. Meanwhile, the locations are so linear it makes exploration routine; you’re unlikely to miss anything.

The Final Station

The med packs you collect can be used to heal yourself as well as your passengers, potentially providing an interesting shared resource to manage. However, once you’ve sussed out the combat you’ll find you won’t need very many at all for yourself. Food is purely for the passengers but it’s rare enough to put your patrons at risk of starvation, so managing it to keep everyone barely alive is a bit tricky and the most likely cause of any passenger deaths.

It’s an unfortunate discovery that the challenge is predicated entirely on the lack of a tutorial, however, the setting and story are still intriguing mysteries to be explored. Underground tunnels and structures have been built that give The Final Station a War of the Worlds feel. Meanwhile, the reveal of how the equipment you’re transporting will be used is exciting and cool. However, repetition does hurt the pacing a great deal. Stations begin to mostly look the same and you’ll find yourself willing each train journey to be the end of the current act in the story. It becomes dull and predictable; any fear the infected stirred originally is completely lost in the mid-game and exploring each station becomes a chore.

The Final Station

Then things spring to life in the final act. Mysteries thicken, twists and turns trigger your fascination, questions are answered and the ending itself is brilliant. It makes the whole journey worth it.

The Final Station is an interesting survival horror that starts strong with an intriguing, mysterious and frightening force to overcome, and some clever survival mechanics during the train journeys. The middle threatens to ruin the whole adventure, stripping the fear from the enemies, revealing exploration to be linear and overstaying its welcome to make it feel repetitious. But that ending is a return to form, capitalising on the narrative superbly. It’s worth the ticket price, but only barely.

Thanks to Xbox, tinyBuild and Iron Galaxy for supporting TiX