A ‘nouveau gamer’ friend of mine asked me recently why so many of the compelling game titles scheduled for release this year are sequels. He confirmed this by pointing out that LittleBigPlanet 2 is already out now, which will followed by Dead Space 2, Dragons Age 2, Infamous 2, Portal 2 and countless more. My business oriented response suggested that sequels are good value for money for both developers and publishers, for a significant part of the content and marketing foundation has already been laid. That is not to say that making a good sequel doesn’t come with challenges, but that by merely flashing a title on a screen, say…something like God of War II – the game instantly has a large number of sales guaranteed without even showcasing a millisecond of gameplay or narrative.
But the first sequel, or the sophomore sequel as some would call it, is the game that will really distinguish a strong series from one destined for obscurity. In the music industry, for example, the sophomore album is considered by many as the most important. This is because when a band releases their first album, it usually consists of a collection of songs they’ve been playing, developing and perfecting since they got together, perhaps even years before that. When the songs that secured them a record deal are recorded, released and done with, they are forced to come up with new material for a second album within 2 or 3 years to fulfill their contract. This becomes a real test and, statistically speaking, a test many bands fail.
For games, the situation is different but not drastically so. For example, had Uncharted 2 been a flop, we may now find ourselves not awaiting Drake’s Deception, instead lamenting Drake’s demise. But generally speaking, for successful games, a sequel offers a chance to tweak a winning formula and perhaps throw in a few online and/or offline modes of play without really ‘rocking the boat’ so to speak. We saw this recently with games like Uncharted 2 and Assassins Creed 2 and the results were unanimously lauded. This approach doesn’t work for all games however, as examples like Crackdown 2 and Force Unleashed 2 clearly demonstrate.
Yet I believe at the root of my friends inquiry lies a more burning question and one that really concerns me: Why are studios just rehashing and rereleasing iterations of the same games? It’s not only a question of new IPs (though that is undoubtedly part of it) but also, what happened to the ‘experimental’ sequel?
A little over two decades ago, the ‘experimental’ sequel as I like to call it was quite common, even among many flagship IPs. NES gamers are bound to remember the first sequels to classic games like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania and Double Dragon…to name but a few. Those sequels, by today’s standards, drifted quite far from the original games and often provided experiences that were categorically different. Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest was essentially an action RPG, not dissimilar from Symphony of the Night but arguably a completely different genre from the first Castlevania. Super Mario 2 was exceptional in the fact that it was a redesign of an earlier game that had nothing to do with Mario. This was because the original Super Mario 2 released in Japan was deemed essentially a more difficult version of original game and, in turn, not released in the Western market until much later (as part of the Mario All-Star collection). While it is hard to imagine regionally distinct sequels in today’s market, this example is indicative of another common ‘sequel’ tactic – The bankable name, but I’ll leave that topic for another time.
Just to be clear, I am by no means suggesting that all sequels today are duplicates of their respective original games but that, with the rising costs of development, the risks are quite substantial and banking on a winning formula can mean the difference between success and extinction. More importantly I don’t believe many gamers mind the over-abundance of sequels, in fact purchasing trends suggest that they perhaps even prefer it. Games sequels have proven far more likely to excel than film sequels and so while the 4th installment of a film is likely to be rubbish, the 4th outing of a successful game series may very well be an instant classic. Still, none of the above can justify complacency, so as far developers are really challenging themselves to bring us engaging and memorable experiences they can keep on bringing back Drake, Isaac, Link, Mario, Cole, Shepard, Master Chief or even, dare I say it, Duke Nukem.
When the original Echochrome was first released on the PSN over 3 years ago, it came with a distinctive niche appeal. The visual style, the music as well its Escher-esque gameplay were all elegant as well as original. However it came at a time when gamers were still waiting for those major titles that would justify the existence of Sony’s pricey gaming-monolith, in other words, the complete opposite of what Echochrome seemed to be.
Three years on and Echochrome 2 finds itself in a very similar position yet for a different reason. Unlike the original, Echochrome 2 requires the PlayStation Move controller (released only a few months ago). And while the Move is by no means a flop, many gamers are still waiting for that Move ‘killer app’ that would justify the purchase, especially considering it’s over 4 years behind the Wii in terms of its software catalogue. As interesting a puzzler as Echochrome 2 may be, it still can hardly qualify as that killer app.
The actual gameplay mechanics of Echochrome 2 are a bit different from the original although the same ‘what looks possible is possible’ premise still applies. The world of Echochrome 2 revolves around light and shadow. By shining a light on the convoluted geometric structures on the screen, you cast a ‘flat’ shadow on the wall and this is where the character will walk. The objective is to guide the character to the goal by moving the light position and, in turn, the path the character is to take.
Since the light source is controlled with the Move controller, it essentially works like pointing a flashlight at an object to create interesting (and in this case, traversable) shadows.
Naturally puzzles get more and more complicated as you progress and they begin to require extra care as moving the light around randomly can either get the character squished in between walls or cause him to plummet to his demise due to the ground shifting out from under him. There is also the added layer of unlocking ‘shadow art’ which is basically the silhouettes of different things (such as a robot or the sun) made by shining the light on an object from a specific position. A nice touch perhaps but it does not make for sustainable gameplay in itself. Echochrome 2 does however have new game modes besides the classic ‘escort’ mode. These additional modes namely ‘echo’ mode and ‘paint’ mode bring a little variety without really mixing up the core game mechanic. In ‘echo’ mode (a style of play reminiscent of the first game) the objective is to guide the character towards collecting each echo (a ghostly looking projection of the character himself). Paint mode is slightly different and resembles the general objective of the iOS game Zen Bound. Colored characters walk along the path, coloring the ground under them (or more precisely the objects that’s shadow is being trampled on). The puzzle is cleared when a certain percentage of the overall level structure is colored. As mentioned earlier, these game modes do well to provide some variety to the gameplay as each existing puzzle can be played in all 3 modes.
It’s that time of the year again.
The time we recall the games that kept us entertained and enthralled throughout 2010.
It’s been quite an eventful year for gaming. Sony and Microsoft, each released their own entry into the [Wii-initiated] motion-gaming ‘wars‘ while Nintendo revealed the first 3D image gaming device that doesn’t require eye-wear or head gear. The PlayStation brand celebrated its 15th birthday, car enthusiasts finally got their hands on Gran Turismo 5 and Call of Duty Black Ops broke the biggest entertainment launch recordset by its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2.
Not everything was roses and peaches though. Many great titles were either delayed or deemed ‘unsuitable’ for local and regional gamers. Nevertheless we are here to celebrate the great games that did rock 2010 (without getting into trouble with the censors).
A little note on how the winners were chosen. All of us here at MEGamers cast our votes, the scores were tallied and the winners announced. What ensued was a little bit of bewilderment and frustration which eventually led to scorn followed by resignation and finally acceptance:)
So without further a do…here are the MEGamers Game of the Year Awards 2010!
The release of PlayStation Move may not have gotten much fanfare from us here at MEGamers, but that shouldn’t be taken as a lack of interest. A gaming giant like Sony always commands attention and, more often than not, this attention is warranted. While some may have dismissed the Move, branding it as “Wii HD”, first sales figures released by Sony suggest that the Move launch was a modest success, with plenty of sales forecasted for the holiday season. Personally, I attended to hold out on getting the Move until a ‘killer app’ was released but my attempt at ‘playing hard to get’ failed.
Sports Champions may not be that ‘killer app‘ but it is a worthy first Move title to own. Perhaps I have been conditioned by Nintendo to seek out a sports game in order to justify my motion controller or perhaps all the other Move titles just seemed…well..atrocious. Either way I do not regret the decision. Sports Champions may not be perfect but it is often quite engaging.
Sports Champions lets you choose from six ‘sports’ to play. Beach volleyball, Table tennis, Archery, Bocce, Disc golf and Sword fighting (no not fencing…sword fighting, gladiator style). Ok so sword fighting is not really a sport…who cares, it’s undoubtedly got popular demand on its side. Sword fighting, along with volleyball and archery can be played using two motion controls. This definitely adds a whole level to the gameplay but before we get into that let me briefly go through each of the six sports on offer.
Bocce, for those of you unfamiliar with the sport, involves tossing a small ball (referred to as a pallino) into a zone and then trying to throw balls as close as possible to the pallino. Each player has 4 balls. While this doesn’t quite explain the rules of the sport, I am sure you get the general idea of what you’ll be doing here. Beach volleyball is your standard 2-on-2 version of the game. You can use one or two motion controllers to serve (underhand or overhand), set, bump and spike. Disc golf functions like golf but instead of swinging at balls with a club, you’ll be throwing a disc and trying to successfully guide it to the goal before your opponent does. Table tennis is pretty straight forward, no real variations to the classic ping pong game. Sword fighting is a bit similar to a weapon-based fighter (such as Soul Caliber) but really stripped down; a ‘best-of-3 rounded’ fight to the death. As mentioned above, the game can be played with two motion controllers or just the one. When playing with two controllers, one functions as the sword while the other is the shield (in single controller mode, you can alternate between shield and sword by holding down the trigger button). Finally there is archery which can also be played with two controllers. This involves racking up your score by shooting moving or stationary targets. At the end of the round the person with the highest score wins. This sport also benefits a lot from dual controller mode as one controller essentially becomes the bow while the other, the arrow.
The game does a good job of quickly and effectively teaching you the basics of each sport. By entering championship mode, the game will start you off with the basic tutorial and gradually give you more advanced lessons as you progress. These tutorials are, for the most part, very concise which means you’ll find yourself in the thick of things pretty quickly. From then on, Sports Champions is perhaps the most straight forward sports game you’re likely to play. There are very few bells and whistle. Each sports has only 3 modes: Championship (available in 3 difficulties), free play and multiplayer. When you first launch the game, you’ll have to agree to the PSN’s EULA terms which gives off the impression that you’ll be in for some online multiplayer but sadly that is not the case. The game will upload your scores to a leaderboard and that seems to conclude any online interactions. Multiplayer is strictly offline so you’ll need to either buy a second motion controller or just tell your friends to bring their own.
Visually the game is nothing special but still infinitely better than watching limb-less Mii’s frolicking about. There are a bunch of characters with different nationalities (and a little biography for each one) but essentially I did not find much difference in the way they perform. Some are said to be faster or stronger but for all intents and purposes, the differences are merely cosmetic, at least when user-controlled. That said, some of the characters are generally pretty well animated. One complaint regarding the game’s audio visual design is that it is quite barren, dry and dull. Considering that this is the first PlayStation Move sports title, it doesn’t really get you in the mood to move. Luckily you can play custom music tracks which means it is up to you to create your own atmosphere.
Ultimately the best thing about Sports Champions is that it really demonstrates the one-to-one accuracy of the PlayStation’s motion controller. Calibrating is quick and effective and, overall, the game got me pretty upbeat about the Move controller and future possibilities. While you may not find all six sports interesting, there is bound to be one that keeps you coming back. In my case this was Table tennis. I was most impressed with this mode, especially during the Gold championship campaign. My real life ping-pong deficiencies began to surface which is a clear testament to the accuracy of the game’s controls in relation to the actual sport. My final piece of advice is this: If you are looking for a reason to buy the Move then Sports Champions is a good way to go. If you are waiting for that sensational killer app then remaining patient maybe be a better option, though I would recommend you at least give Sports Champions a try…it might just win you over.
While the AppStore itself came with a promise that the average programming-savvy person can develop a game, literally overnight, and have launched on the digital market, Game Dev Story is an iOS Sim-RPG game that lets you live the more extreme version of this ‘dream’. The objective of the game is to become the market leader in video game development (with all the fame and fortune that does or does not ensue). At first glance, it is easy to dismiss the Kairosoft’s game as being rudimentary and shallow. Its visuals and music are outdated and its menus, simplistic. However, if you have even the slightest interest in the gaming industry as a whole, your are bound to be hooked within your first 15mins of play. You see Game Dev Story is a lot like Mary Poppin’s bag, it may seem small but you’ll be incredibly surprised at how deep it is and how much it can offer.
You start the ‘story’ by naming your game development start-up and hiring some staff members. Your start-up capital is not a lot so you’ll have to settle for the people you can afford. Besides having humorous names like “Anne DeRoid” and “Steve Jobson” , potential staff have different jobs and different status attributes such as programming, design and scenarios. A writer for example would probably have low programming or sound stats but higher scenarios stats and so on. Staff members can also be leveled up using research data points (points you automatically collect by working on different projects) or trained by exposing them to different media or giving them some time off. For example, leveling up a coder will give them a large stat boost will training them by either buying them some anime or sending them to a museum might give small stat boosts to different attributes. Naturally the better your staff members the better the games you’ll develop.
There is much to consider whilst developing games. First you’ll need a license to develop on a certain platform (You’ll obviously need to start developing for the PC because it’s the only licenses you’ll be able to afford). Then you’ll need to decide on the both the game genre and subject matter. Experimenting with different combinations allow you to see what combinations work best but also awards you with extra development points you can use to push the game into being more realistic or innovative or simple etc. You won’t have access to all the genres and themes at first but you will acquire more and more as you train your staff. Of course developing a game doesn’t come cheap so, as a start-up, you’ll need to make a lot of compromises and in all likelihood, the critics will trash it and sales will be low but the point of the game is to gradually, by picking up research, experience and capital, become a big player in the gaming industry.
A lot of the game’s appeal comes from the little things that happen throughout the campaign. Every year you’ll get the chance to set up a booth at the ‘GameDex’ gaming expo or perhaps one of your game will be nominated for a Global Game Award. Best of all, Game Dev Story is loosely based on the gaming timeline of the last 2 decades. You’ll witness the launch of Intendro’s IES and Super IES as Sonny’s PlayStatus and MiniStatus portable system. The game is just filled with little reference and a lot of them are quite funny, assuming you are familiar with the subject.
While the game ‘officially’ ends after 20 years, nothing will prevent you from playing on. No new systems will be announced and the high score will no longer be logged but you an continue to develop and grow trying to beat your own sales record or win that elusive Best Game award. There is really so much to do that it is likely you’ll be compelled to play on to see what new game types you can learn and perhaps to even develop your own console.
To say that Game Dev Story is addictive is an outrageous understatement. The game is so much more. It’s charming, intelligent and is, without a doubt, an unsung triumph for indie development. It may not boast the greatest production values but everything it does it does right. Furthermore, at around $3.99 on the AppStore (US), you are unlikely to find better value on any gaming device available today.
Remember NBA Jam?
The first game to really popularize arcade-style action sports games back in the mid-90s? The game that immortalized catchphrases like “boomshakalaka”, the game that tried and failed to make a comeback on the PS2 and XBox?
Well it’s back but whether it’s better than ever is open for discussion. The problem with reviving old game is that they face the challenge of bringing gameplay from simpler times into our current more refined and highly competitive gaming environment. In my opinion, this is NBA Jam’s main hurdle and ultimately, as I will elaborate on throughout this review, its central deficiency.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the premise of NBA Jam, I will summarize it briefly. NBA Jam is a campy 2v2 full court basketball game. each NBA team is represented by 3-5 authentic players of which you can choose any two at a time. The basic basketball rules remain the same such 24sec shot clock violations and goal-tending violation but unlike real basketball NBA Jam is a full-contact sport. A lot of the game involves pushing down opponents and snatching the ball of them or throwing elbows to keep the opposition back. If you are familiar with EA’s Street series (NBA or FIFA) then you are already familiar with caricature-ish nature of such games. The old arcade NBA Jam (also available on 16bit consoles) is perhaps the most memorable pioneer of this style of game and core to its appeal and subsequent fame is its emphasis on the audacious and (literally) over-the-top dunks. Players can leap several meters into the air and perform a variety of monstrous dunks, usually accompanied by snappy commentator catchphrases. Razzle dazzle!
So how does this new NBA Jam iteration match up? For all intents and purposes, it’s virtually the same game. The core has not changed very much, barring roster changes and a some new modes. The Wii specific control schemes allow users to decide between using the classic controller (or Gamecube controller), using the Wii remote (held horizontally) or utilizing the Wii’s motion control scheme by using the Wii remote tethered to a nunchuk. Though the latter of the three provides the most varied experience, it is also the least pragmatic. It involves you swinging up and down to jump and perform either a block, a shot or a dunk. It is definitely worth trying but if you play the game often, you may find yourself reverting back to the more basic control schemes (especially if you own a classic controller). As mentioned before, the gameplay mechanics are virtually unchanged so if you were a NBA Jam fan back in the day, prepare for a solid dose of nostalgia.
The game looks and sounds almost exactly like it did back then (taking into account the gap in technology). The visuals push the caricature nature of the game, blending still photos of the players with animated bodies. Even the memorable voice of the commentator is back with all the old favorite catchphrases (and some notable new ones as well). The campy feel of the game is also retained well and is even exaggerated with the inclusion of the lauded ‘Big head’ mode (unlockable after finishing the Wii control tutorial). There are some new gameplay modes as well (Remix modes). One such mode is ‘elimination’, where up to four players battle it out in half court basketball (switching the camera to a half court view). While the variety is welcome, this mode gets boring quite quickly and you may very well find yourself reverting back to the classic, tried and tested, mode. In fact, all the Remix modes seem half-baked from conception through to execution. There doesn’t seem to be any real effort put into ‘mixing up’ the core gameplay mode nor is there any intention to. This game is all about bringing back NBA Jam’s old-school arcade multiplayer fun to a new generation of gamers or older gamers looking to reminisce. In this respect, the game is a success.
The problem, however, is that nostalgic appeal doesn’t garner much mileage and the classic formula for fun just doesn’t hold up as it used to. After just a few hours the game can get rather stale, especially if you are playing alone. Playing with some friends can extend the experience but the novelty that kept the game fresh back in its day has lost more than a fair share of its potency. Perhaps it would have been interesting to incorporate a little more complexity via a move list of sorts. As it stands, shooting and dunking depends predominantly on use of turbo in relation to the players movement and position but a ‘combo’ system may have added an extra layer for those who seek to showboat their skills. Such a system may have provided some depth, which the game so desperately needs.
Nevertheless, with regards to the question of whether or not NBA Jam succeeds in reviving the forsaken arcade classic the answer is yes. The gameplay holds up quite well considering the original NBA Jam was released some 15 years ago but this is testament to the quality of the original…the NBA Jam of 2010, now developed and published by EA, flies on borrowed wings and does not provide any compelling reasons to spend long hours on the court. With retro appeal as its primary gambit, NBA Jam seems content to bank on nostalgia and not any real merits of its own.
Despite the fact that I have never been a big fan of the Resident Evil series personally, there is no denying that Shinji Mikami is a video gaming heavy weight. His work with Capcom over the years has yielded some outstanding results. Vanquish is his first game after the demise of Clover studios and as an ‘external member’ of Platinum Games.
After first seeing the early trailers of the game some months ago, I was initially skeptical. It looked too chaotic and cheesy, and while that didn’t stop Bayonetta from excelling, I wasn’t sure the folks at Platinum could pull this one off. While the ‘over the shoulder’ shoot and cover gameplay mechanic is a fun and quite fashionable category of action games, I feel it’s a mechanic that gets very tedious quick if not done properly. Upon playing the game, however, my qualms all but subsided. It may not be the longest, deepest or the most original action game out there, but it’s a throughly engaging thrill ride.
The story of Vanquish, set many years in the future, revolves around an armed struggle between the United States and Russian ‘ultra-nationalists’ over control of an energy generator that harnesses power from the sun. You play as Sam Gideon, a DARPA operative donning the state-of-the-art ‘Augmented Reaction Suit’ which sports many a nifty feature. Sam is your typical wise-cracking chain-smoking hard ass in the tradition of Solid Snake. Unlike Snake however, Sam isn’t really an intriguing or even like-able character. His contributions to dialogue can be summed up as a series of trite one-liners. As far as I’m concerned, the real ‘hero’ of the game is the ARS (Augmented Reaction Suit). Not only does it have cool boosters that allow Sam the ‘slide’ across surfaces at great speeds but, upon taking critical hits, it automatically triggers a time slow-down allowing you to escape danger or even to help focus your attack if you’re feeling particularly confident.
For me, Halloween has always been the most absurd of the commercially propagated holidays, those completely stripped of their historical / religious significance. How candy, pumpkins, horror and costumes fit together is beyond my comprehension. Yet, come every October’s end, I’m greeted with at least a handful of “Happy Halloweens” (which is a bit of an oxymoron if you ask me), an invite to a costume party of sorts and a craving for candy.
If you have ever been ‘Trick-or-treating’ when younger you cannot but associate the two. Halloween means candy..and this is the essence of Costume Quest. Double Fine’s downloadable RPG adventure captures children’s relationship to Halloween in all its simplicity, innocence and imaginativeness. It also doesn’t hurt that lots of fun to play, assuming you’re not expecting a deep gaming experience.
The story of Costume Quest surrounds two young siblings, Wren and Reynold as they prepare for a night of Halloween trick-or-treating. The night gets off to a bad start when one of the children (you choose which) is mistaken for an over-grown piece of candy and kidnapped by monsters seeking to steal the town’s entire candy supply. The remaining kid must now rescue his (or her) sibling and return home before their parents find out what happened. Choosing to play as either Wren or Reynold does not affect the overall plot but it sort of sets the tone for the game’s ‘back-to-basics’ style. Costume Quest is perhaps one of the simplest turn-based RPGs of the modern era. And while this may be a turn off for any hardcore RPG fan, there is more to Costume Quest than what first meets the eye.
Along your quest, you will meet up with other children and a couple will join your party. Throughout the game you will collect costume materials and patterns. Each pattern requires three unique materials. By obtaining new costumes, you can select which of the party members will don which costumes. Upon entering a battle, you will transform into what your character is dressed as. Suddenly, your goofy cardboard box robot costume will become a large missile shooting battle bot. Each costume has an unique attack style and special move. Some costumes allow you to heal a single party member, others allow you to resurrect a KOed party member and so on. Some of the costumes also have exploration abilities that can be used outside battles. Different abilities will help you access different areas, allowing you to collect more costume materials and candy (the game’s currency). The robot, for example, has boosters which will allow your party to move around faster as well as jump off ramps. This is the first and arguably the most useful of the abilities and so I found myself using the robot quite often…though it was great fun trying out all the different costumes.
Another aspect of the battle system is the usage of battle stamps. Battle stamps are stamps that can be equipped to add an extra effect in battle. Some will increase damage dealt while other can stun enemies or increase your character’s overall HP. Battle stamps can be earned in boss battles as well as bought from a young girl’s stamp stand (in exchange for candy of course). Each party member can equip one battle stamp so the battle system ultimately involves choosing the best combination of costumes and stamps for each occasion.
Let me kick-start this review with a short disclaimer. Castlevania was among the first NES games I ever got and I’ve been a hardcore fan of the series ever since. I’ve played almost every Castlevania ever made (barring the ones on the DS and that ludicrous fighting game on the Wii), so when I heard about a Castlevania reboot project on the PS3/Xbox 360 I was cautiously optimistic. Optimistic because it was about time they made a truly great 3D Castlevania, but cautious for the same reasons. While the PS2 versions were not all that bad (especially Lament of Innocence), the Castlevania series was never able to follow-up the success of Symphony of the Night, not on a console anyhow. Another aspect I found worrying about the Castlevania reboot (by this point known as Lords of Shadow) was the fact that they emphasized the ‘reboot’. Anyone that has played more than one Castlevania will know that there is not much continuity between the games. The timeline of the Belmont lineage is hard to map and while some versions do follow up on previous games, it has never been an integral aspect of the series. So why a reboot? Was this to be a cruel marketing ploy by Konami, to help sell a game by slapping on the name of bankable IP?
Sadly, having played the game, I would have to say yes. But before I dwell any more on whether Lords of Shadow is a ‘real’ Castlevania or not, I will attempt to assess it as any other 3rd person action / adventure, especially for all the readers that have no particular attachment to the series to begin with.
The main protagonist of Lords of Shadow is Gabriel Belmont, knight of the Brotherhood of Light, destroyer of unholy creatures and defender of the innocent. Gabriel is set on a mission to avenge the murder of his wife Marie. In his attempts to do so, Gabriel realizes that he must defeat the Lords of Shadow in order to rid the world of evil and to acquire the power of the mask, a power which can bring back the dead and reunite him with his lost love.
Gabriel is armed with a whip (the Belmont’s weapon of choice) and, of course, performing combos with this whip is a key part of the battle mechanic but not the only part. As Gabriel’s journey proceeds, he acquires several powers, the most notable of which is his magic ability. Gabriel gains access to two types of magic, Light magic and Shadow magic. Casting either magic empowers Gabriel with the power of light or shadow respectively. The power of light regenerates Gabriel’s health as physical damage is dealt to the enemy, while the power of shadow allows Gabriel to deal heavier physical damage to enemies. Casting either type of magic is also often utilized in puzzle solving. Lords of Shadow boasts a large variety of puzzles which can range from amateurish to brilliant. I fact, I sometimes felt that MercurySteam perhaps over did the puzzles a bit, especially near the end where I felt I was just moving from one puzzle set-piece to another. Still the puzzles are often well-done and while none are really mind-boggling, I found some to be fairly intelligent, especially by today’s low standards.
Once you begin playing, the game will almost instantly remind you of God of War. In fact, it’s alarming how ‘inspired’ Lords of Shadow seems to have been, not just from God of War but other popular games as well. There is clear inspiration from games like Uncharted and Shadow of the Colossus (in fact some battles seem to be down-right plagiarized from the latter). Still, games can get away with a little ‘inspiration‘ given that the end result is an entertaining and compelling experience. For the most part, Lords of Shadow succeeds in holding its own. However I found some choices rather odd. For example, much like God of War, Lords of Shadow has a fixed camera. This means there is no need to assign camera controls to the right analog stick (this is a PS3 specific example). Yet, with the exception of using the R3 button to absorb magic orbs , the right analog stick has no use in the game. This would be understandable if the controls were few but they are not. In fact, many actions, including the dodge, are performed by holding down the L2 button in addition to other buttons. Some of the combinations were just not intuitive enough for me and I often lost track of them. The fixed camera also caused some problems in combat. Enemies would often linger off-camera making it painstakingly difficult to target them as well as making your character more susceptible to dash attacks.
This is the third time in a row I find myself reviewing a downloadable side-scroller. Perhaps this is an indication of rekindled demand for such games or, alternatively, it may just be coincidence. Luckily for me, I enjoy a good side-scroller but I’d be the first to tell you that despite their simplicity (or perhaps even on account of their simplicity) the lines between challengingly fun and frustratingly tedious are exceptionally thin. And while this build-up seems like I am about to accuse Shank of being the latter, I will declare from the start that this is never out-right the case. Still, as I will point out, Shank has many flaws which is not something you’d want from a game so simple and short.
Shank is your classic tale of vengeance. Betrayed by his gang and left for dead, Shank returns several years later seeking revenge. What ensues is a bloodbath as Shank begins to hunt down the members of his former gang, armed to the teeth with blades and firepower.
The game is your standard combat driven 2D side-scroller. You start off with three weapons each assigned to a different button. Effectively your dagger or ‘shank’ is the regular melee attack while the chainsaw is the heavy melee attack. Shank also packs dual pistols which are your projectile attack and useful for keeping launched enemies staggered in mid-air with bullets ( a lot like Devil May Cry). Shank also has some grappling and pouncing moves as well as grenades. Mixing and matching all these attacks allows you to execute numerous combos. As you progress you’ll gain access to new weapons and guns but essentially your moves do not really change all that much. Some moves executed with different weapons trigger different kill animations but this is more in the way of cosmetic variety than strategic gameplay depth.
Shank starts off promisingly enough. It has a distinct mood; It seems almost like the video-game love-child of Kill Bill, Desperado and Samurai Jack. It’s slick 2D visuals are impressive and the game kicks off in style. However after you’ve sliced and diced wave after wave of enemies and defeated the first boss, you are pretty much set for more of the same level after level. That is not to say that it’s awful but it gets really tedious…and if you consider that it only takes a mere 3 hours to complete the single player campaign, I found the experience rather disappointing. This disappointment extends to other aspects of the game as well. While Shank’s main appeal is undoubtedly its visuals, after the first few levels you begin to feel a little short-changed as realize that all level variety is entirely cosmetic and regrettably shallow. Boss battles do bring a little variety into the equation but not enough to really shake that feeling of repetitiveness and, in some frustrating cases, they do more damage than good.
The game has some nice touches that need be mentioned. Among them is the decision to include a separate multiplayer campaign that serves as a prequel to the single-player story campaign. You play as Shank and his gang partner Falcone. Don’t expect a different gameplay experience, just a more hectic one as the screen fills with baddies and it becomes increasingly hard to tell who is slashing who. Another thing worth mentioning is that many of the attacks are really well animated and successfully pulling of a string of combos is quite gratifying. It is a shame however that the end result is so under-cooked as Shank is a game I really wanted to like. For the most part I can say that it is by no means awful but it is disappointing. At a whopping 2GB, it took me longer to download with my admittedly pathetic Lebanese broadband connection then it took to complete…and this is including both campaigns. On second thought, considering how tedious the game was, the short duration is perhaps for the best.