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Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings review (PS4)

When I was younger my grandad used to take me fishing at our local reservoir. He told me that it would be a relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I was excited to catch a fish and thrilled at the prospect of fighting with the rod before pulling a big fish in that I could then hold up in the air while my grandad snapped one of those cliché ‘big catch’ fishing photos. It turns out that we really just ended up sitting there for most of the day freezing and wet, anticipating that slight yank of the rod that would always turn out to be nothing. We came away with zero catches at the end of the day, and after a few repeat visits, I decided to call it a day.

Honestly, I’m going somewhere with this story. Just bear with me.

What would have made my fishing trips better? Maybe putting fish in the sky and giving me command of a plane to chase them down? It sounds batty and, well, it is, but we play video games because we like to do things we could never do in real life. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where fish swim in the sky, but you’d think that an imaginative world where this is the case would be a thrilling game to play. At least I hoped it would be more thrilling than a wet and windy day at a dull reservoir.

I can’t say that Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings beats fighting with the rod when you finally do get that catch, but it helps that it throws in thousands of bullets, explosions and the fact that you can play it in your warm living room.

Combining the frantic pace of a twin-stick shooter with fishing is a combination I never thought would happen, but for protagonist Amelia, it’s just another daily grind. Journeying up from the sands to make her fortune in the skies, Amelia settled in the floating city of Granaria. Unfortunately, she’s stuck living on the underside of this marvellous floating island, where she must scratch out a living with her trusty plane and its onboard harpoon. She has dreams of catching the mythical Sky Whale that makes its home in the highest level of the sky, but first she must work her way up through layers upon layers of colourful sky fish, layers of sky that also happen to be dominated by murderous sky pirates that will do whatever it takes to send Amelia crashing back into the sands.

After a brief tutorial that teaches you the simple controls of the game, you’re launched into the first layer of the sky and left to your own devices. Pay attention here, because it’s an extremely good idea to remember what you learned in the tutorial. The game won’t remind you again and it won’t really explain any other elements that you come across during your playthrough either. But, for now, you’ll be treated to a vibrant environment dotted with lush floating islands and brightly coloured sky fish.

Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings

It’s a charming looking game, and as you journey through the layers of the sky you’ll be able to look down below and see everything you left behind to see just how far you come, and just how far away the ground is. It’s a great sight until you accidentally smash into a rock and end up plummeting down through everything you’ve worked hard to fight your way through.

The controls sound simple, but you may quickly find they can be quite frustrating. Steering the plane is done with the right stick and control of its turret is handled with the left. Hammering R2 will fire your weapon, while a hit of the L2 button will fire your harpoon to allow you to catch those pesky sky fish. It’s easy enough on paper, but the plane flies awkwardly and firing at the same time can lead you to wildly misfiring. This is especially apparent when trying to fly through tight spots or trying to catch a sky fish by hitting it with your harpoon. It’s worth noting that you can just fly into the fish to catch them, but some of them move so fast that the harpoon is often your only option.

The control of each plane becomes even more frustrating when you realise what you’re up against. The first layer of the sky passes without much incident. All you’ll have to do here is catch as many fish as you can before other sky fishers catch them. The second layer introduces sky pirates, which you can happily gun down before they do the same to you. It’s fun to blaze away at oncoming pirates, but it’s not fun when you accidentally hit one of the other sky fishers and the sky police come flying in firing a gattling gun that will quickly dispatch your wings. In these early levels, it can be easier to just fly away, as it’s highly frustrating when you take a pirate down only for a stray bullet to hit a guy who was just minding his own business, upon which all hell breaks loose. This issue is more sporadic the higher you go, but it’s just replaced by something else even more frustrating.

Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings

I forgot to mention that Airheart is a roguelike. Die in the game and it’s game over for good. Thankfully, the game does give you a few ways out before it gets to that. It starts to warn you when your health falls below 10, reminding you that you can hold down on the d-pad to fly back to base and sell the haul of sky fish you’ve painstakingly collected. Lose all your health and you’ll start to crash land, but you can save yourself by successfully manoeuvring your plane to crash land in Granaria. Unfortunately, you’ll lose some of your cargo and some of the upgrades you’ve worked hard to purchase, but at least you won’t have to start again.

Permadeath is expected in roguelikes, it’s part of their so-called ‘charm’. While death can leave you frustrated, simply returning to the base has the same effect. If you’ve made it through 10 layers and decide to return to base to sell your sky fish haul, recover your health and buy some upgrades, be prepared to do all those 10 layers again. Then again, and again, and again. This rinse and repeat formula quickly gets repetitive, and as the fish population depletes in each layer you’ll be forced to go higher each time, blocking you from easily grinding to better upgrades. I’m not saying that it should be an easy ride – roguelikes never are – but doing the exact same levels over and over again isn’t a great deal of fun. At least a lot of roguelikes mix it up by introducing randomly generated levels.

For each layer, you’ll have to remember where the portal was to get to the next layer, but if you’re like me you’ll quickly forget where each one was due to the confusing layout and waypoints that only appear when you get near to the portal. It leaves you aimlessly wandering around before stumbling into a group of pirates that promptly pepper you with bullets. The bullet hell output of a handful of pirates and the almost impossibility of being able to swiftly move to avoid bullets means you’ll often get back to where you were before through gritted teeth, a lot of repetitive shooting and, likely, not very much health. Then it’s back to your hangar to repeat it all again.

You can’t even rely on the narrative to keep you interested in this repetitive formula. The story is drip fed through single scenes every four layers, which is nothing more than a picture and short voiceover. It’s a bare-bones story that won’t have many people yearning to reach the Sky Whale to see the conclusion.

Airheart: Tales of Broken Wings

The game does try and mix it up a bit by including a crafting system. Blow up pirates and you’ll pick up loot such as scrap metal and gunpowder. You can combine these materials to create your own inventions in the workshop. For each recipe, you’ll have to figure out a small puzzle of combining the correct formula of materials to discover a new invention. It’s a neat little system that prompts a bit of head-scratching.

You can also upgrade your plane with new weapons, parts and even a new chassis, improving your plane bit by bit so you can go through the same layers you’ve just spent twenty minutes fighting your way through. The money earned by catching sky fish pays for this, although I did find that catching these fish got harder in the higher layers simply because you spend so much time trying to survive the hundreds of oncoming bullets to worry about catching a flying fish. When I did finally break free to catch some fish, I found that I’d accidentally killed half of them during my firefight with the pirates. Finally, both weapons and parts can be quite pricey, so if you do end up crashing back onto Granaria you need to be prepared to slog through lots of tedious grinding to get them back.

Overall, Airheart starts out more exciting than sitting next to a reservoir fishing for real, at least for me, but it quickly becomes about as repetitive and frustrating to the point where you feel like giving up. Plus, you don’t get the added bonus of being able to cook a juicy catch at the end of the day (although it’s not like that ever happened with real fishing for me anyway). But as I never went back to real fishing, I also doubt I’ll ever go back to fishing in the sky.

If you like a roguelike that gets more brutal the further you go in, Airheart may be for you, but I just don’t think there’s a whole lot of content worth going back for, again and again.

Thanks to Premier for supporting TiX

Insane Robots Review

I’m not really a fan of the online, collectible card games, such as Hearthstone. Personally I don’t enjoy the fantasy styling and the complexity of the majority of them. Fable Fortune was an exception but it was probably more due to my love of the franchise. When I saw Insane Robots at EGX Rezzed earlier this year I was pulled into it’s colourful, energetic styling, but will that be enough to make me enjoy an online card game? Insane Robots is developed and published by Playniac and is available for Xbox One, PS4 and Steam.

For those of you who share my views on this genre of game you’ll be pleased to know that Insane robots completely does away with the card collecting element of these games, and also throws out three-headed dogs and complicated statistics. Instead, it has a simple random deck that is used to create the most intense two-player battles that I have ever played (with cards). These battles can either be online, local, or via the AI in the 15 hour story campaign that must be a first for a game in this genre.

The battles themselves are where this game will succeed or fail and they are relatively simple to learn. Your robot has two attack and two defense slots. Placing attack and defense cards in both these slots will give those circuits a value. The maximum value in these circuits will be ten. If your attack value is greater than your opponents defense value then your attack will be successful, the opponents defense cards will be destroyed and then you’ll start to take down your opponents health. Your attack cards will also be destroyed. If your attack has a value of nine, and the opponents defense value is ten, then your attack cards will be destroyed but the defense cards won’t. If your opponent hasn’t completed his defense circuit then you’ll start taking down health immediately.

The fun comes when the special cards are played. There are glitch, hack and swap cards that can all be used to change and mess with the opponents attack and defense slots, and your own cards, which puts an end to those matches where all circuits have a value of ten. Boost cards can be added which increases the attack and defense values, and there are also damage cards to automatically take health away, along with health cards that give you health. As you proceed through the campaign you will also earn additional cards that will double your defense or swap the circuit values if it will be beneficial. All turns follow the card game standard rules, with action points increasing each round along with additional cards being given.

It’s all very easy to learn, and is quite quick to master as well. The cards given to each player are identical but are given in a random order. This may sound like winning is just a matter of luck, but it never feels that way. Cards can be combined to create other cards, including dual attack/defense cards so you never feel disadvantaged by the cards you are given. I’ve had some battles that have been over in a matter of minutes, but I’ve also experienced epic battles that have gone back and forth for ages, as the two robots have swapped and glitched until one was finally victorious.

As mentioned before there is a campaign mode in Insane Robots that tells the story of Franklin, a robot who awakens to find his memory wiped and he is tasked to defeat the other, titular, robots. These battles take place in a variety of procedurally generated worlds, all laid out as hexagonal play areas with pick-ups and shops scattered around. Franklin moves around the play area, almost like a board game, either avoiding or taking on your enemies. To be honest I wasn’t a huge fan of this part of the game, especially when some of the areas had environmental features that obscured the view of the play area, meaning you couldn’t find your opponents. The campaign is split into different tournaments with increasing difficulty levels, which become quite hard and challenging, and will require visits to the shop to refill your health between battles. Of course, you will find yourself unable to do so on all occasions, so you will find yourself heading into a fight with only half health. Whilst in the shops you can also buy augments that can be added to your robot, which can increase its stats and powers.

Another great feature of Insane Robots is the music and sound, and you know its good when you find yourself humming the main tune when you’re not playing! The robots all have digitised dialogue in the form of insults to their opposition, and these never feel boring or annoying. The different campaign worlds also have their own themes that all feel just perfect. The main thing that first attracted me to the game were the visuals and these are colourful and vibrant and definitely add to the games appeal.

There is a huge variety of game types to play in Insane Robots, but it all comes down to the way the battles are designed that will give it the longevity it needs. Personally I love them as they are simple to learn  but incredibly addictive. Whether you are working your way through the story or having quick multiplayer battles with your friends or complete strangers you’ll find thrill, enjoyment and challenge with Insane Robots. Personally I would like to experience the game on a mobile device as well as a console, as the game type and style would fit perfectly to those devices. A Nintendo Switch version would be lovely!

Many thanks to Playniac and One PR Studio for supporting TiX!

All-Star Fruit Racing Review

All-Star Fruit Racing is a new arcade kart racing game from developer 3DClouds, published by PQube, and is available for Xbox One, PS4, Switch and PC. It’s quite obviously inspired by a certain moustachioed Italian plumber, but will I go bananas over it or will it leave me s-peach-less. And no more fruit puns, honest.

All-Star Fruit Racing has all the elements that you would expect from a game in this genre. There are single player options for quick race, different options for creating your own competitions and of course, eleven championships to win in the career mode. Of course there is an online mode as well, but unfortunately I have been unable to test this due to a lack of player base before release. I plan to check this out more thoroughly after the game has officially released and plan to update this review. Also available is a split-screen couch multiplayer option, which is nice to have when other developers are moving away from this mode. There are also lots of customisation options in order to change the look of your kart, with new items to earn during your racing adventures.

All-Star Fruit Racing has 21 tracks which are themed around the four seasons and also has some additional Special Island tracks. There are also 22 characters to choose from, each with a fruit based special power, such as Anny with her Pineazooka (pineapple bazooka) and Faith with a Sharkmelon (yes, a melon that acts like a Shark). All the characters at the start are female, with more characters unlockable with progress. The lack of a male choice does feel a bit odd, and could give the impression that the game is squarely aimed at a young female demographic, which I don’t think is the case.

It’s when the racing starts you’ll see the obvious similarities to that other Kart game. There are a wide variety of races to compete in, ranging from five lap marathons to elimination races, and surprisingly there are short sprint races. I say surprisingly as I had no idea that the final race in a championship was that short and was busily admiring the track design, so before I knew what was happening I’d already lost! Some tweaking is needed here to clearly highlight the criteria of the upcoming race. Power-ups are obviously present and act in two different ways. The first is the familiar random pickups which we are so used to seeing. The second is where All-Star Fruit Racing tries something original. Collecting the fruit as you race around will fill four different reservoirs, represented by the four coloured face buttons. Filling all four will activate your special power, however you can choose to turn off some of the reservoirs in order to fire off different powers instead, meaning you could fire a defensive power if you find yourself out in the lead. It is an original idea, however it is somewhat confusing to start with as there is no on-screen indication as to which buttons activate which powers.

The special powers in Mario Kart do a great job in keeping the pack together, as a racer in last place will get the boost drops, whilst the racer out in front will get a defensive power. This is where All-Star Fruit Racing just doesn’t get it right. I’ve been in first place, half a lap in front of everybody else, but still get boost power ups. I’ve also been at the rear, with no chance of catching up to the leader and only get the defensive drops. So, this power-up system just appears to be completely random and is quite frustrating.

The best thing about All-Star Fruit Racing is it’s design. All the tracks look amazing, full of colour and detail and also have small hidden features that you could miss, such as the dinosaurs that sit beside the Dino-Juice track. There doesn’t feel to be as much love and care put into the drivers or cars, as there is no real distinction between the character models. The music and sound effects are also fine, although some of the dialogue does become repetitive after a while, but I never found myself reaching for the option to turn it off.

Gameplay wise it’s fine. It doesn’t do anything special, but it’s also not awful either. The first hour or two felt like a struggle, but it does have a certain amount of charm to it that shines through the longer you keep playing. Mastering the drift mechanic is the key to success, although some of the tracks are not designed in a way where it can be used effectively. There are some major issues that do affect the overall experience. Hitting the scenery or the sides of the track doesn’t really slow you down, instead you just kind of bounce off them and carry on your race. However, sometimes getting hit with a power-up can nearly cause you to stop completely, and the time it takes to get going again is frustrating, especially when your opponents all fly past. I know this is a feature of these types of games, but it does feel like it needs some tweaking. There are frame rate issues, most noticeable at the very start of each race, and when there are a lot of racers on-screen at one time. I’ve also witnessed some really strange sound issues, with a loud repetitive clicking noise occurring through a certain area of track.

Some improvements are also needed around the career mode. When starting a career there is no indication of how many races there are, and when finishing the championship you have to click the “return to main menu” option to get the winning animation. It is possible to replay every race straight away if you don’t get enough points as well, meaning there’s never any jeopardy in not doing well, apart from the time it takes to try again.

All-Star Fruit Racing is an OK racing game, but I feel like it’s been made for a young female audience. Fans of the casual racing genre will not find anything new to draw them in, apart from the great visuals.  However, it does have some charm, and managed to entertain this 44 year old male for a good six or so hours, but it’s probably not a game that I’ll continue playing.

Thanks to PQube Games for supporting TiX!

Shift Quantum review

I always believe that a really great puzzle game is the type that slowly reels you in, gently teaching you the mechanics whilst making you believe that you’re actually quite clever. Then, before you know it you’re hooked, and then at that point the game hits you with all it has, making you feel like the stupidest person alive. Shift Quantum is one of those games, but it does a sterling job of never quite over-testing your ability and patience. Developed by Fishing Cactus, Shift Quantum is the spiritual successor to the Shift series of flash games from the late 2000s. The game is available on Xbox One, PS4, PC and Nintendo Switch, and this review is from the Xbox One version.

It all starts off relatively simply. The premise of Shift Quantum is your character’s ability to shift between dimensions, namely the black and white areas of the level. If your character is in the black dimension a shift will cause the level to flip vertically around you, leaving you in the White dimension. The aim is to navigate your way through to reach the exit. As you shift, previously unreachable areas open up to you. Each level also has glitches to collect, which of course means more shifting to reach those areas.

As you progress further, the difficulty increases and introduces spikes, moveable blocks and switches. And this is where Shift Quantum opens up to be a lot deeper and more interesting than it first looks. You see, the black and white moveable blocks are not just a means to reach higher ledges. When they are used correctly they can also bridge gaps in the environment when you shift, opening up that path to the exit. The switches turn fixed platforms on and off which can drop blocks, which again, opens up new areas. You will find yourself being mentally challenged but very rarely will you find  yourself becoming completely stuck.

Shift Quantum also has a narrative running alongside the puzzles, with a mysterious girl making an appearance and intriguing you to push forward. The game is monochromatic by design, with only a few splashes of colour accompanying the sequences with the girl. It also has a Futuristic vibe as the levels are set against a Blade Runner-esque cityscape, complete with flying cars. The music runs alongside the game constantly and I did have to search through the menus in order to turn it off, as I found it distracted me.

Once you reach about 50% completion the difficulty really ramps up, and this is where you will find yourself really being tested. Added to what you have already learned are switches that turn the level through ninety degrees, and tractor beams that pull you towards spikes. There are also blocks that gravitate in certain directions and you will need to rotate the level, navigate the switches in order to get the block into the tractor beam, all in order to avoid the spikes. And the weird (but great) thing is that all this feels very natural. Not once have I felt the need to scour the internet for assistance.

The developers have also included a level designer to the game, meaning once you’ve finished the main story there will hopefully be lots of user generated content to plough through, and design yourself if you are the creative kind. If you like puzzle games I would highly recommend Shift Quantum. It’s a very likeable and well designed game which both myself and my thirteen year old son have really enjoyed. It’s difficult to really pick any major faults. My only criticism (apart from the music) is that after playing and completing a few levels I felt like I needed a break, as it can be mentally draining. I also would have liked more levels that included the mysterious girl, as this would have added a bit more variety and interest to the levels.

Thanks to Kinetic Atom for supporting TiX

Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn review

The original Shaq Fu received mostly positive reviews at launch, but as time passed it gained the notoriety of being terrible, one of the worst games ever made in fact. Certainly, a sequel or reimagining didn’t seem likely, but after a successful Indiegogo campaign here we have Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn, and what a pleasant surprise it is.

Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn ditches the original Mortal Kombat style tournament fighting setup for a side-scrolling beat ‘em up one instead, and it’s a great fit. Playing as Shaquille O’Neil (Shaq) you fight your way through six locations beating the life out of the many anthropomorphised demons that mean to stop you, before engaging a more varied and grotesque demon boss at the end of each one.

Combat is wonderfully simple and smooth, with a normal attack doing the majority of the work, a heavier shield-breaking attack, a dodge, a dash, and a powerful limited use attack rounding off the compliment of moves. Each one is gradually taught to you as they become necessary; it’s an intuitive move-set that proves fast, effective and fun.

Enemies are varied enough to encourage you to think about what move best suits a situation and which threats are best taken out first, but it’s still a fairly mindless brawler, to its credit that is. Instead you can focus on just how satisfying it is to beat up these enemies, seeing the occasional goon fly towards the screen and crack it, and watch bemused when Shaq randomly unleashes an exaggerated attack involving high kicks and body slamming. It’s silly, over-the-top fun.

The over-the-top-ness continues with the presentation, with crisp, bright cartoon visuals bringing the levels and characters to life, and some excellent caricature design for the enemies. The is especially shown off during the animated storytelling sequences between levels, where the characterisation is brought to life with excellent animation and wonderful transformations as the demons turn from human to demon form. Furthermore, a funny script that’s well acted does its part to make this reimagining feel thoroughly modern.

Indeed, there’s a story to follow as well, and while it begins only as a means to drive you forwards, it soon becomes intriguing, amusing and immersive. Demons hiding as celebrities, Shaq’s peculiar mentor and friends, all help to create a funny adventure and include the occasional fourth-wall breaking jokes. It all feels a bit Deadpool starring Shaq.

Unfortunately, despite the adventure only taking a few hours to complete, the combat scenarios do get repetitive. The odd special transformation for Shaq, a cactus suit and a mech suit, help with variety, as do the occasional environmental hazard, but the majority of play is spent fighting waves of enemies and gradually moving to the right. Additionally, we did run in to a couple of bugs during one boss fight, which was frustrating.

Once the short story is concluded there’s very little to entice you back. A lack of multiplayer is a crying shame and feels like it might have been the silver bullet to keep Shaq Fu interesting after completion, but alas. Instead there’s a Shaq-o-pedia to look up information on enemies and the like, as well as additional difficulty levels, but otherwise nothing to temp you.

Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn certainly provides a fun and amusing single player beat ‘em up experience. The lack of multiplayer, lack of variety, and overall shortness hurt it a little but there’s no denying how enjoyable it is the first time playing through.

Thanks to Wired Productions for supporting TiX

Zamb! Redux Review

Zamb! Redux is a co-op action tower defence game from Xbox newcomers Nano Games, a Polish developer who have previously released the Steam games Reef Shot and Cityconomy. I must admit I have previously never heard of this studio so I approach Zamb! Redux with some excitement but also some trepidation.

As I have just mentioned, Zamb! Redux is a top down/isometric mash-up of a tower defence game and a twin-stick shooter. It is designed to be played in co-op, however it is possible to play as a single player with the second character being controlled by the AI, and allows you to switch between them with the left bumper. The premise of the game is relatively simple. There are 29 levels, full of mutant bugs created by the evil Dr Hundertwasser, who is hell-bent on taking over the galaxy. You take control of two special operatives, Cye and Chrome, who are sent to stop him (naturally).

Cye is a melee based character, with his power gauntlets and special power attacks, whilst Chrome wields a gun and has the ability to place turrets. Each level contains Reactors that you need to activate, and then defend from the mutant bugs. Turrets can be placed anywhere on the level, or on special bases which boost the turrets by increasing their range or power. Some turrets act as health regeneration points should you need a boost mid level, whilst there are also turrets that release poisonous gas. Cye has special attacks such as a freeze attack, and the combination of the turrets and special attacks can unleash even more powerful combos. The level is completed when all reactors are activated and all bugs are squashed.

Each level also has an element of replayability, as Zamb! Redux takes the approach of a mobile game with stars awarded for completing the level in a different way, such as completing in a certain time, or completing without using a turret. All turrets and skills can also be upgraded between levels, increasing their range, health and power.

All sounds fun and promising so far, but unfortunately the end product doesn’t match up to the idea. Whilst the initial few levels were fun and interesting, I reached level seven and I was bored. Although I had unlocked different turrets and skills there was nothing there to make me want to carry on playing. It just wasn’t fun. And there were two main reasons. Although Zamb! Redux feels like a twin stick shooter it doesn’t control like one. Usually in this genre of game the RS controls your direction and also fires but instead of this you still change your direction with the RS but have to use the right trigger to fire, and have to continuously press for each shot, rather than holding down. Which is a royal pain in the bum.

Whilst Chrome is a fun character to play, especially with his turret placement skill, Cye is not fun at all. His special attacks are aimed with the RS, and this is fiddly and has a set range, so useless if enemies are close, and I found myself having to run away before you can use it effectively. I found myself switching to Chrome and using him almost exclusively, whilst Cye ran headlong into battle and died in every single level whilst being controlled by the AI.

I did quite like the comic-book styling of Zamb! Redux, and it had a really nice introduction video complete with comic panel features. The graphics and animations were fine, although when there are a lot of enemies on screen it was sometimes difficult to work out where your character is, so again this meant a lot of running away. Zamb! Redux may be more suited to a younger gamer, as unfortunately there are better, more interesting and challenging (and cheaper) tower defence games out there to spend your money on.

Thanks to Nano Games for supporting TiX!

ONRUSH review

There is a classic saying that states “When one door closes another one opens”. UK based Evolution studios know this only too well, as a few years back they were owned by Sony and were responsible for the Motorstorm series and Driveclub on the PS4, but when Sony closed the studio down in 2016 the talented team all faced an uncertain future. However, just one month later, the team joined Codemasters in order for the two racing game developers to pool their “shared DNA, passion and talents”. Codemasters has also allowed the previous employees of Evolution Studios to retain their own unique style in the short, two year development cycle of their new project.

That move created the team now known as Codemasters Evo, and that trust and faith given to that development team has created the amazing ONRUSH in that two year cycle. Yes, I am getting that verdict out there at the start of this review. ONRUSH is a really great game. Their stablemates at Codemasters created the fantastic racing simulator that is F1 2017, and ONRUSH is probably the polar opposite of that game with it’s obvious arcade styling, but made with the same passion and love to create a world class driving game.

ONRUSH is a racing game with a twist, and the in-game narrator points it out very early on. Theres not one chequered flag to be found on any of the courses. Theres no tracks, pit-lanes or spectators. Instead what you have are four distinctive game modes, eight vehicles, a ton of AI controlled fodder vehicles and as much mayhem and fun that you could wish for.

There is a single player campaign, which acts as a tutorial for the different game modes and vehicles. Multiplayer is handled at the moment by Quick Play, which gets you into a match as quickly as possible and then continues on by cycling through a random playlist of game modes and tracks, so you never feel too far away from some action. There is a menu option for ranked matches, which will become active a few weeks after launch. Whichever mode you jump into you’ll find the basic gameplay is quite similar. Your car earns boost by taking out the fodder vehicles, jumping or doing tricks. Boost is then spent in order fill your Rush meter. Get this Rush meter full and you can activate your vehicle’s special power.

Taking down the opposition also helps fill your Rush meter, and obviously when the opponents are out of the game they are not earning their team any points. This is where ONRUSH differs from other racing games and takes a huge dollop of inspiration from shooters. To win in any of the game modes will require a certain amount of team co-operation. For example, the Dynamo vehicle earns Rush by driving near teammates, and when the Rush meter is full and activated it gives extra boost to those nearby teammates, whereas the Titan gives a shield to nearby teammates, so you can see how working together will be beneficial.

The four game modes are uniquely different as well. Overdrive is the most basic and requires you to purely earn and spend your boost which earns your team points. Switch makes you start off on a motorbike but then requires you to switch vehicles after each crash or takedown with the loser being the team that runs out of switches. Countdown is a race through gates against a decreasing clock. Hitting the gates will add precious seconds to your teams time, keeping you in the game, with the loser running out of time, and finally (my favourite) Lockdown, which really shows off the shooter inspiration by implementing a moving “Capture the Flag” area. Each of these modes require differing tactics and I am sure that I have just scratched the surface of working out just what tactics to use. Winning teams and players who earn the MVP status will be rewarded with XP and Gear Crates but it doesn’t really feel like you are playing for rewards or progression, but instead just for the fun of it.

There is a huge amount of customisation possible with the vehicles and characters. Levelling up in ONRUSH will earn you a Gear Crate, and these are opened in the most apt and fun way possible, earning you skins, celebrations and motorcycle tricks. Before the Internet gets mad I will point out that these crates can’t be purchased with real money and the items you win are purely cosmetic. ONRUSH has an over the top punk/rock styling, with a equally insane pounding soundtrack, and playing with headphones turned up loud feels the way to go, especially when you add in the amazing sound effects of the cars smashing to the ground and crashing into each other. The tracks are all well designed and individual with my particular favourite consisting of a huge circular dam that you race through, an experience I don’t think I have ever witnessed in a racing game. On the Xbox One X ONRUSH runs at a solid 60fps or at 4K, with the option to switch between the two, which I believe to also be the case with the PS4 Pro. I have also tested the game on the Xbox One S, which runs at 30fps and is still a very satisfactory experience. I have not seen any frame rate drop at all on any console, so it appears to be a very solid performer.

ONRUSH is not a subtle racing experience. It’s mad, insane, energetic and exhausting all at the same time. A real assault on the senses. And I mean that in a really good way. There’s never a break in the action, with the racing continuing between match rounds, so you are never taken out of the world. I do have a few niggles, but these are very minor. The respawn time feels too long, as it shows a killcam, and then a five second delay before you re-enter the race. Driving in the snow, whilst looking amazing, is a harrowing experience just like real life, and is too difficult to see where you are going. The biggest problem I can see, especially on release, are the number of game modes as four doesn’t quite feel enough. However, Codemasters Evo have confirmed that there are plans to support ONRUSH with new game modes and online events on a ongoing basis, details of which will be released over the next few weeks, but they need time to ensure that the player base is acclimatised to the game and that it is as balanced as can be before they add new features.

ONRUSH takes clear inspiration from Motorstorm and Burnout Paradise, however where it improves on those is in it’s track design. Burnout Paradise was too fast for its setting, and I spent an awful amount of time crashing. ONRUSH takes that speed and places it in wide open tracks and adds a huge amount of verticality, making it much more enjoyable. If you do crash and find yourself at the back of the pack the game will transport you back into the action almost immediately so you’re never too far from the chaos.

Hey, guess what? I love ONRUSH, and I can’t remember having this much fun in a driving game ever. Its Bold, Brash, Chaotic, Loud, Colourful and FUN and I cannot wait to see how the game is supported going forward!

Raging Justice Review

Older gamers like me have fond memories of games like Streets of Rage and Double Dragon, side-scrolling beat-em ups that were incredibly difficult, and that used to gobble up our 10p pieces in the arcades as we desperately tried to beat that end-of-level boss for the first time. The recent retro revival has piqued interest in these types of games and developer MakinGames has updated the genre for the current generation of consoles with Raging Justice.

Raging Justice takes place in Big Smoke City, a city held to ransom by a mysterious crime lord, where you must take control of one of the three playable mavericks, Nikki Rage, Rick Justice or Ashley King, all with different characteristics, as you battle your way through x levels. It’s available on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC, and this review is of the Xbox One version. Raging Justice is published by Team17.

Raging Justice has some added new features to update the genre. Instead of just beating all the bad guys (and girls) you have the option to arrest them instead. Being a good cop has its benefits as it gives you more health but you get more points if you play nasty. There are also vehicles in the form of lawnmowers and tractors that can be used to mow down your enemies, along with weapons that can be used by both sides, such as hammers, dustbins and knives. Raging Justice also features co-op and leaderboards so you can both compete with and against your friends.

Raging Justice is as difficult as some of its predecessors were, and sometimes it feels unfair. One end-of-level boss has a special move that can be avoided by jumping. However, if you mistime one jump then the subsequent attacks will all hit you as the animation won’t allow you to get to your feet in time. There are three difficulty levels, the easiest being “Wimp” and I did drop down to this in order to get through some of the later levels. There are plenty of enemy types to fight against and all have different fighting styles to learn how to counter, from the tall dude who throws explosives – that can be picked up and thrown back – to the horrible taser wielding females. The end-of-level bosses are also very unique, with the twin threat of the fat guys in the bar who just run at you, to the purple pimp who has a spin attack with his cane. All of these have to approached in a different way in order to defeat them.

The art style is really nice, and the graphics do a great job in making Raging Justice feel and play like a old-school game whilst at the same time looking modern and flashy. However one of my main gripes is that the animations and player control does feel a bit clunky, and it takes a lot of time to get used to chaining your attacks together in a fluid way. Too often you’ll get outnumbered and a sneaky taser attack from what seems like too far away will stunt your progress. The animation to pick up a thrown weapon or explosive is also a bit hit and miss, which will result in you getting blown up. There does seem to be an infinite supply of lives though, so you can just power through. The arrest system also doesn’t really work, as the amount of enemies on screen will attack you during the animation, and sometimes I will finish the level failing on the arrests when I wasn’t sure who I had to arrest.

Each level also has a number of challenges to be completed, such as finishing in a certain time or throwing explosives back at enemies a number of times. These do add some re-playability to levels and will boost your score in order to climb those leaderboards. However, I have my concerns about the re-playability factor for casual gamers, as after about ten hours I don’t feel that it has a lot more for me to see. Despite its flaws Raging Justice is a fun game to play, and there is a lot of enjoyment to be had in just plowing through and beating up your enemies. It’s quite a cathartic exercise at the end of a stressful day at work!

Overall Raging Justice is a competent side scrolling 2D fighting game and taking into consideration that its launch price is £10 it has to be a recommended purchase. Fans of the genre will probably love it, and newcomers will get enough entertainment from it to justify the price, though it might be a frustrating experience for some due to the difficulty. It’s a difficult game to score, but based on the low price it deserves a seven.

Thanks to MakinGames and Team 17 for supporting TiX!

Super Mega Baseball 2 review

Here in the good old United Kingdom we are brought up on Football, Cricket and Rugby, but certain American sports have become popular over the years with amateur and semi-pro Basketball and American Football teams being created in our major cities. However, Baseball has yet to hit those heights, so it’s safe to say that Baseball games are a pretty hard sell on this side of the pond.

But Super Mega Baseball 2 has launched as a free game on Xbox Games With Gold for May, and is also available on the PS4 and PC, currently with an RRP of £30. Developed and Published by Metalhead Software it is quite obviously the sequel to the 2015 title ‘Super Mega Baseball’.

Super Mega Baseball 2 takes the more cartoony approach to Baseball with it’s artistic style, and lacks the official license to the MLB teams. The devs however have designed a new group of sixteen teams specifically for this game, from the Beewolves to the Wild Pigs, and they are all as professionally designed as any official teams could be. Each of the teams has a playing style with stats to match. For example the Sirloins are classed as Extreme Power Hitters so their power level is completely maxed out, but gives a deficit in their Contact stat. Eight new stadiums have also been created, and the New York styled ‘Apple Field’ has a brilliant background featuring the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and Brooklyn Bridge. I really loved the visuals of this game, and there are a raft of customisation options available so you can create all the official teams if you so wish.

You will also find all the usual game modes here, with the options of Exhibition (against CPU or a friend), and Season mode all present. There are also two other modes called Pennant Race – which is an online only multiplayer mode – and Elimination, which is a single player or co-op tournament against the CPU. All the standard customisation settings are here as well, with the ability to set game length, season length, etc. The games difficulty level is set via the ‘Ego’ level, which is a scale from 0 to 100. A high Ego level will mean you’re in for a tough game as your opponents will try harder to beat you! This can be changed at any time and the game will give you the option mid-match should you be thrashing your opposition.

So far so good then, but the real test is how Super Mega Baseball 2 plays. I am no expert in baseball games but I was really satisfied with it. For a sport that is quite complex, the controls and player switching during play is simple enough not to be boring, but not as complicated as you might imagine. Fielding is the best example of this. The CPU does most of the work for you in controlling your fielders. A simple catch will be done for you but the rest relies on some pretty straightforward controls. Diving and jumping for a ball is handled via RT/RB. Once a fielder has the ball they throw to one of the four bases represented by the A,B,X,Y buttons, which perfectly match to the diamond shaped layout of a Baseball field, so it’s perfectly intuitive! Pressing and holding to get the right amount of power will result in a perfect throw to the base. That’s just how simple it is, but it’s very satisfying when you get it right.

Your Pitchers (Bowlers for us Brits) have a number of different pitch types set by the RS. As these different types have a start and end position (right to left, etc) these are managed by setting the start position in an on-screen box and then moving the cursor to the designated end point when the pitch is in progress. The more skilled your pitcher is the more accurate your cursor control is. Batting follows that same principle as you have to line up a cursor to make sure your swing is on target, along with timing that swing to get the best hit on the ball. The most complicated thing I found was the control of your team on the bases, as by default they only run to the next base, unless you intervene and tell them to keep going. You can select individuals and tell just them to run, and this took a while to get used to.

In my last few reviews I have been quite critical of the lack of tutorials in those games, but this is where Super Mega Baseball really shines. The in-game tutorial on your first few games is brilliant and sets you up for a fun experience, especially in a sport that you don’t understand! At any point you can return to this from the main menu to refresh your knowledge. This was helpful to me in the more advanced controls, such as the intricacies around base stealing.

There is also an element of team management within the season and tournament modes. If you are playing well the players get an increased ‘Mojo’ level, and you get an on-screen indication of this during matches. This increases (or decreases) a form statistic. Players can also get tired and injured so you can choose to rest them for a match. Your pitchers can also get tired, and as they have different pitch types you can substitute them during matches to try a different approach against your opponent. There are lots of other stats to your players and teams that I don’t personally understand, but will mean a lot more to fans of the sport. I did learn that the familiar acronym ‘RBI’ means ‘Runs Batted In’ and is a vital statistic in Baseball, so every day is a school day!

I do have some niggles, but these are quite minor. It does take some time to get used to timing your swing when batting, and when a ball is pitched to the opposite side of your batter it seems impossible to hit it. The animation on throwing to a base feels quite slow and on a few occasions I have failed to get the required ‘Out’ because of this. But, one of the most impressive things about the game is the physics, as the ball seems to move where you would expect it to. Mistakes are also made, with occasional dropped catches from the AI controlled fielders, but it rarely feels unfair.

A a complete novice to the sport, and games based on the sport, I am having a blast with Super Mega Baseball 2. It is easy to pick up and learn, and as long as you treat it as an arcade representation of the sport, and not take it too seriously then hopefully you will enjoy it as much I have!

Many Thanks to Xbox and Metalhead Software for supporting Tix!



Surviving Mars review

Last year I was lucky to be able to review the fantastic Aven Colony, and Surviving Mars is a very similar experience, although first impressions lead you to believe that this new Space Sim-City game is not up to the same quality as last year’s attempt. But first impressions can sometimes be wrong!

Surviving Mars is a simulation video game developed by Bulgarian Haemimont Games and published by Paradox Interactive. It is a sci-fi settlement builder all about colonizing Mars and surviving the process. You will need to choose a space agency for resources and financial support before determining a location for your colony. Build domes and infrastructure, research new possibilities and utilize drones to unlock more elaborate ways to shape and expand your settlement. So, very similar to the aforementioned Aven Colony, but has major differences that I think makes this a poorer game.

Those first impressions then. Unfortunately Surviving Mars has a near vertical learning curve, as there is a lack of any kind of tutorial except for on-screen prompts. But even before the game starts there are a myriad of options available to change which affects how your mission will play out. For example, you can change the Mission sponsor, which essentially changes the difficulty level, and you can also change the Commander Profile which will alter the technology perk available to you at the start, which would normally be unlocked via research. None of this is explained in any way, and does require you to do your own research in order to work things out.

Once you have picked your starting area, you are thrown into the world of building your colony and again, this is not explained at all. There are on-screen messages and prompts, which somewhat lead you in the right direction, but my first attempt and building a successful colony failed, leaving me feeling disheartened at my failure and unsure whether I wanted to restart and try again. Enter the wonderful world of the internet, especially some “lets-play” videos on Youtube. In ten minutes I had learnt more than the on-screen prompts ever revealed. Reading the Surviving Mars Wiki was also a huge help and I came away feeling ready to take on Mars once again. The fact that the game doesn’t provide this service is a huge mistake, and although it is something the developers have planned for a future update, it may be too late for casual players who may have already walked away.

Once this initial hurdle has been overcome, Surviving Mars really shows you what a good game it is. Building a successful colony on Mars is obviously not easy and there are a lot of essential tasks to get right in order to send those first inhabitants to the red planet. When your first rocket lands on Mars, in a location of your choosing, it is equipped with the essentials to get started. You get three RC vehicles, one to analyse anomalies on the planet’s surface, one to collect materials, and one that is in control of a number of drones that will happily carry out the monotonous duties without the player needing to worry. The drones and the materials collected are what you need to start building, and as you would expect, you need to have stable power, water and air systems in order to support the colonists when they arrive. Before the essentials are in place you also need to worry about mining concrete and metal, having sufficient storage, along with having enough food for the colonists once they arrive. Some buildings can’t be manufactured and need to be sent from Earth on additional rockets.

Once this is all in place, and you think you are ready for humans, you can build your first dome, which is the area that the humans will live in. You can build housing, gyms, factories and shops for them to be able to live and work when they arrive. All was going well for me when I took this first step but I neglected to have enough food and a sufficiently powerful water supply, and immediately my colonists started to starve, and the farm in the dome could not grow crops due to the lack of water. Again, Surviving Mars didn’t hold my hand or help at all in this situation and panic set in, before I did the only right thing and restarted in order to put my learnings from failure into place!

On the third (or maybe fifth) attempt i managed to create a successful colony, and here the game appeared to get more challenging and interesting. Surviving Mars then throws a random mystery at you, to really test your skill at both keeping the colonists alive and solving the mystery. These mysteries are the “story” element to the game, as without them, Surviving Mars is essentially an open-world sandbox game. In my case the mystery was a load of black cubes that appeared over my colony, which brought back memories of classic sci-fi movies. However, it’s a real shame that there is so much legwork to do before you are given the opportunity to tackle one of these.

Within the menus there are options to check to see if the various resources are providing enough to sustain life, but this isn’t in any great detail, and was something that Aven Colony does a lot better. There are also a number of research trees that will enable your colony to have different perks dependent on your research, which actually works more like a skill tree. It is really difficult to describe how detailed this game is, as for everything I have tried to detail there are at least two or three things I haven’t had the chance to play with, or had time to investigate. From environmental disasters to unique colonist behaviours (a full colony of lazy drunks for example?), there is a huge amount of content to explore.

Visually, Surviving Mars is gorgeous. Like Aven Colony before it, you have the ability to zoom right in to see how much detail has been put into the animations, when at the standard viewing distance you just don’t appreciate this. It sounds great as well, especially with headphones, as the Mars wind whistles around, making you feel just like you’re on the planet. The control system struggles, and always does with this type of game, and I found myself screaming out for a mouse instead of my Xbox controller. I also had some technical problems with saves from the Xbox One X crashing the game on the Xbox One S, and as the X has had to go away for repair I found myself unable to continue my game.

Would I recommend Surviving Mars? Personally I prefer Aven Colony, as the shorter, snappier missions suit my game playing habits. But if you’ve got the time and the energy for this type of game then Surviving Mars will give you hours and hours of pleasure. Personally I had a tough enough time trying to keep everyone alive on the easiest setting, the thought of the harder difficulty setting is something that keeps me awake at night!