The leak earlier today may have spoilt the surprise a little, with an ESRB listing for Unravel 2 suggesting we were in for a sequel, but fortunately the real meat of the reveal was saved until the EA’s E3 2018 conference. Indeed, Yarny is back in Unravel 2 but not alone, another yarn character joins the fun.
This time around Yarny’s thread is cut during a boating disaster, but after washing up ashore, another, this time blue yarn character, appears and connects the broken thread to their own. Now, you and a friend in co-op, or you alone switching between the two fabric friends, must perform platforming through what appears to be the same kind of gorgeously rendered natural locations at the previous title. The emphasise now is on cooperativeness, solving physics and platforming puzzles together to get to places you couldn’t get alone. Additionally, it was announced that their will be more instances of danger than the first game, with more chase sequences and exciting moments driving the experience, and with a new wall jump ability and the ability to use each other as anchor points to swing around, we can’t wait to try it.
And most excitingly of all we won’t have to wait, Unravel Two is available now, right now! In fact, yours truly and Senior Editor Richard Berry will be playing it on Mixer tonight from 2045 (Saturday 9th June) if you fancy taking a look.
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?
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.
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.
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.
FreezeME is very good at tugging on those nostalgia heart strings. Indeed, this 3D platformer looks and feels like the classic N64 platformers of yore. However, some of the nostalgia comes from its lack of polish, and the constant battle between its flaws and its strengths threatens to undo the fun.
You play as R, a young girl with a magic camera capable of freezing objects and enemies. Your dog M has been dog-napped by the evil Fat the Cat, who has a dream of a dog-free world. It’s up to you to adventure through multiple magical worlds, defeating bosses and overcoming all manner of platforming challenges, to acquire magic cubes before finally facing off against Fat the Cat.
It’s a fairly original but uninspired story, and one that proves little more than a flimsy framing device to give you an excuse to explore multiple locations through 3D platforming. However, FreezeME’s originality ends there, from there on out it’s almost a clone of Super Mario 64.
From the protagonist’s moveset and animations, to the level design and sound effects, every inch of FreezeME is in homage to Super Mario 64. And it’s unashamed of this, with graffiti occasionally hinting at the Nintendo mascot’s disapproval at such blatant copying. This does however, mean that behind the bright, saturated colours, plinky plonky music, amusing pig NPCs and simple monster enemies, is the potential for a well-built 3D platformer, and indeed FreezeME is well-built.
Each location is full to the brim with things to see and do, with multiple objectives for each location dished out to facilitate your collection of magic cubes – along with short cut scenes pointing you in the right direction after each one. It’s cleverly and meticulously designed to provide a lot of distracting and fun platforming amongst the primary challenge of securing these cubes.
Floating platforms that require some precision and well timed jumps to conquer, as well as moving platforms that your freeze ability allows you to traverse, provide some casual jumping puzzles that are challenging enough to engage your grey matter without becoming too frustrating. Meanwhile, the pig citizens of the world have some objectives for you, such as racing through checkpoints, fetching items, or talking to other pigs. There’s plenty to do in each location and it’s fun to tackle them.
However, FreezeME is plagued by the same issues that the early 3D platformers suffered. The camera likes to fight, which hurts your accuracy when moving around and platforming. Additionally, R’s movement isn’t the most responsive, further hurting precision. Largely these issues can be overcome with some patience but the same can’t be said for the following. The detection boxes around platforms and objects is a little hit or miss, meaning sometimes you’ll fall through, fail to grab and pull yourself up, or get temporarily stuck. Furthermore, an on-screen text manual is your only tutorial and it takes some trial and error to figure it all out.
One of the few original ideas here, the magic camera for freezing things, is unfortunately underutilised. Meanwhile, the boss fights for each world are boring, unimaginative and easy, with many of them only featuring small variations on the same design. Certainly FreezeME’s strengths lie in its complex and intriguing level design, and that is a joy to explore, when the mechanics work as intended.
Indeed, FreezeME’s mimicry of Super Mario 64 is a bit on the nose, but it does at least share that title’s impressive level design and sense of wonder. The rest of the pack is a little inconsistent, and that can make what would otherwise be an enjoyable platformer feel a little too loose and under baked. However, this genre is a rare sight these days and FreezeME is a good attempt to bringing it back.
Thanks to Xbox and Rainy Night Creations for supporting TiX
Prepare for battle against Flesh Hounds, werewolves and other monstrosities with the upcoming console launch of Slain: Back from Hell, from the collaboration of independent game publisher Digerati Distribution & Marketing and indie game developers Andrew Gilmour & 22nd Century Toys.
Releasing October 5th on Xbox One, Slain will features brutal arcade style combat with bloody, intense platforming gameplay that puts a strategic twist on the classic hack-and-slash games of the 80s and 90s.
Set in a dark, archaic world, Slain has players take control of a grizzled warrior as they seek to liberate the kingdom from deadly overlords. Using elemental weapons, lethal mana attacks and cunning skill, players will battle and exploit the weaknesses of enemies to either save the doomed land or face being slain themselves.
A brooding heavy metal soundtrack from former Celtic Frost member Curt Victor Bryant adds to the ferocity and gothic aura of the game, serving to heighten the intensity throughout the myriad battles.
Since launching on PC Slain has undergone a complete overhaul that has made the game a strong mixture of gory combat, platforming and strategy,
said Nick Alfieri, Director at Digerati.
These changes have earned high praise from the community and soon enough console gamers will get to experience the ultimate metal game.
Leo’s Fortune is a fairly predictable physics platformer but one that’s made the transition from mobile platforms to console splendidly thanks to a charming protagonist and aesthetic and well designed levels. Furthermore, Leo’s Fortune has a slightly more involved story than you usually find from the genre, which all comes together to offer an unspectacular but still highly enjoyable little adventure.
You take control of an adorable, moustached ball of fluff called Leopold, who’s amassed a fortune and suddenly lost it to thieves. He suspects members of his family, who have fallen on hard times of late and eyed Leopard’s fortune with envy. So Leo sets out, following a trail of coins left by the thief, visiting his family members in their unique locations and uncovering the truth behind the lost fortune. It’s a compelling enough tale to set the scene and explore morals around thievery, envy and suspicion, all tied together in five acts across a nice variety of locales, such as Cousin Victor’s rain-soaked port, and the desert ruins of Aunt Olga’s cities.
Each level is a cleverly designed set of physics and platforming puzzles for Leo to manoeuvre through. By flattening himself Leo can squeeze through gaps and add weight to his form to push on physics objects, meanwhile the ability to inflate allows him to jump, float over chasms and otherwise interact with the world. Deadly traps and hazardous environments pose a threat at every turn and gradually challenge you to better use Leo’s morphing abilities to pass through unscathed, truly testing your mastery towards the end. Fortunately generous checkpoints and bite-sized levels makes the challenge fun and keeps location variety to a nice even pace.
Wonderfully detailed levels with terrific lighting make the adventure a visual treat, meanwhile the cute ball of fluff that is Leopold looks equally detailed and sports a surprisingly large amount of character thanks to great voice acting between levels and endearing mutterings during play, such as the delightful squeal he makes as he flies through the air after a dead-defying jump. The controls are also superbly responsive, making the platforming natural and fast paced.
As with many titles of this ilk, a three star rating is achieved at the end of each level based on completion time, damage taken and coins collected, encouraging replay from completionists and unlocking special bonus levels that prove to be fun asides. Fortunately there’s no criteria for unlocking the next level beyond completing the previous, so the rating is more an extra challenge than a requirement.
Leo’s Fortune’s manipulation of physics objects, dashing through tunnels and floating past hazards is fast paced, cleverly designed and visually attractive, bringing back nostalgic memories of the best Sonic games whilst clearly defining itself as an original title. It is, however, over a bit too quickly, but if wanting more of a title is the worst it can do then it’s obvious the core experience is a winning one; bring on a sequel.
Black Forest Games’ upcoming multiplayer focused Giana Sisters: Dream Runners get the First Impressions treatment. As such, expect a mixture of funny and informative narration as our Video Editor, Greg Giddens, plays the Beta for the first time. Also expect some pretty strong language from the inevitable fails.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams offered a superbly designed, and strikingly detailed platformer with thrilling acuity. The unique environment switching abilities of Giana produced visually stunning and fascinating vistas, and offered an immersive and challenging platforming adventure. Giana Sisters: Dream Runners means to take the series on a tangent, a four player foot racing competition across multiple maps inspired by Twisted Dreams. We were lucky enough to play the Beta for Dream Runner and see how things are shaping up.
Fortunately things are indeed looking good for this multiplayer project. It’s a little rough around the edges still, with the odd glitch and oddity, but it’s an otherwise stable and enjoyable platforming racer.
It’s of the same ilk as Xbox 360 indie game – and currently early access PC game – SpeedRunners, where up to four players take to a level and race around it over multiple laps, with racers who fall off the edge of the screen being eliminated. Power-ups are strewn across the levels, offering temporary boosts to your character or a weapon to launch against your opponents, meanwhile, a refillable sprint can be charged by passing through certain sections.
It’s multiplayer focused and inherits a lot of fun simply because of it. Playing with others and competing for that precious first place and avoid elimination is intense and exciting, and Dream Runners captures that thrill brilliantly.
The strategy comes in the form of choosing when to use collected power-ups and your sprint, and choosing which path to take as you’re dashing through the level. Weighing up the risk/reward factors of longer routes for potential power-ups and staying out-of-the-way of your opponents who may launch weapons at you requires quick thinking, making a run through a level a desperate and mistake heavy affair that helps intensify the competition even more so. Dream Runners adds its own additional unique challenge in the form of shifting environments.
Much like in Twisted Dreams, the environments can be altered dramatically, but instead of being able to change your surroundings at will, you need to run through specific switches scattered amongst the levels to change it. Doing so not only makes for a visually different aesthetic to the location, but also adds new hazards and obstacles. It’s terrific, and essentially turns the 9 maps into 18.
Currently, however, on respawning after a character wins first place, the characters are pointed the wrong way, you’re also frequently respawned elsewhere to where the last point was won, adding to the confusion over direction. Helpful arrows are littered around each level to help you stay on course, but it’s so visually busy and fast paced it’s easy to miss them. These are almost certainly things that will be ironed out before release, however, so no need to fret just yet.
Giana Sisters: Dream Runners is looking like it’s going to be a terrific multiplayer title when it releases later this year. The level design for the 12 maps is superb, offering a challenging and diverse set of locations and obstacles that are enhanced even further by the environment switching mechanic. Meanwhile, playing with others is a blast. Solo play can get repetitive, the bane of all titles of this ilk, but an aggressively competitive AI makes for a more than worthy challenge to hone your skill for the next human opponent.
Giana Sisters: Dream Runners is due for release on Xbox One this Summer.