Thursday, 12 November 2015

6 Predictions for today's Direct

Greetings one and all, merry Nintendo Direct day! To celebrate the return of the fan favourite Nintendo news delivery in a web format, we are going to run down some predictions for today's show. Some are based on evidence and others because I may of sneezed just a little too hard.

Lets start with some sane ones based on the evidence and not a hyper sneeze.

Twlight Princess HD 
There has been so much evidence of this game that it would be more of a surprise for it to not feature in today's show. With it's decedent Zelda U absent this year and unlikely to appear in this Direct as I'd expect it would get its own direct special.

Minecraft Wii U -
This is a newest entry of the evidence ones. Today the PEGI ratings board has apparently outed the Indie mega hit Nintendo debut. It's been a long time coming as Minecraft has made a certain sense for Nintendo's system. The game's art style would look glorious in 3D and the Wii U's Gamepad just 'fits' it perfectly. Now throw in amiibo support and you've created a licence to print large amount of money. Matching Nintendo's love of surprises according to the PEGI board Minecraft Wii U even has a release date... TODAY!

Pokemon Z 
This one has also been a long time coming and the timing seems about right. The Pokemon company has revealed an new legendary Pokemon Zygarde for their next movie. The new series of the anime is called Pokemon XY & Z and finally today Pokemon game director Junichi Masuda has asked that people watch today's presentation. It is possible that today's Direct will cover Pokemon Mystery Dungeon.

Now lets move on to the INSANE portion of this festive day. These are unfounded fever dreams of predictions.

F-Zero
Lets kick this off with a twisty one. Perhaps developer Shin'en's long gestating "F-Zero like" game "Fast Racing Neo" has been re-branded by Nintendo as F-Zero Origins and will launch early next year.

Metroid
Another Direct "leak" veteran that always pops up whenever the term "direct" is whispered. In a effort to appease the fans upset about Metroid Prime: Federation Force Nintendo will release the Prime trilogy exclusively for New 3DS.

Microsoft X Nintendo
This is the biggest brain destroying sneeze idea. Minecraft is the first part of a multistage deal between the two gaming giants. Under the deal both Nintendo and Microsoft would finally get to re-release Goldeneye for the Virtual Console and Rare Replay. Nintendo would be able to access the other Nintendo Rare games for the VC and certain HD ports such as Banjo - Kazooie HD for Wii U. Microsoft would be able to produce their own amiibo for Minecraft and other cross projects. To celebrate the deal Banjo will come to Smash Bros.

Abe's Take
The "sneezers" are all unlikely to impossible but that's part of the fun of these Directs, the guessing, the teasing and a little bit of letdown, After all its impossible for Nintendo to deliver everything these things as they tend to focus on the next few months.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

They're Back

Nintendo's Direct shows quickly established themselves has a wonderful quirky event for Nintendo fans everywhere. The absolute oddness always hit the right notes with fans and acted as a fantastic counter to the serious "we're tech geniuses" the other members of the industry love using.   

Not only did these Directs provided an entertaining way of delivering news but also made a legend of Satoru Iwata brought the Nintendo President's personality to the surface and the "suit" that we had seen in the E3's before was gone forever.



Sadly Satoru Iwata passed away shortly after this years E3 and Nintendo fans all felt the same gut punch. Iwata hosting the Directs helped him become the face of Nintendo and suddenly the Direct's future was in question as Nintendo started announcing things via its Twitter and Facebook profile.

New Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima had confirmed during the investors meeting that Nintendo Directs would return and now we know when... TOMORROW! Yep the first Direct since Iwata's passing will be held 12th November at 2pm Pacific / 5pm Eastern / 10pm UK / 11pm CET. Its unkown who will host the Japanese and US shows but Nintendo of Europe's own Satoru, Mr Shibata. This isn't the first time Mr Shibata has hosted an Direct and he has been able to match Iwata's quirkiness and humour.

Abe's Take
What would be announced? well there is a lot of hype and "leaks" about this Direct claiming from the obvious "Twilight Princess HD" and the unlikely "F-Zero". Whilst we don't know what will be shown during tomorrow's event but we can safely rule out the NX and probably Zelda U.

For thing's for sure its good to have them back.

Friday, 6 November 2015

RUMOUR: Has 360 backward compatibility titles leaked?

At E3 Microsoft unrelieved it was giving players a feature they had been asking for ever since the system launched; the ability to play Xbox 360 games on their shiny new Xbox Ones.

Microsoft announced that at launch there will be 100 titles available and more as publishers give them the okay to re-release its title on Xbox One. Thanks to the preview program, Rare Replay and various pre-orders (buy Fallout 4, get Fallout 3) we all ready know an handful of these titles. Now an supposed leak has appeared (see below) claiming to know the rest. Whilst it dose seem to match up with what we know. However there is an issue.

This month marked the start of Games with Gold era of "all 360 GwG titles being compatible with Xbox One" however this months titles Dirt and Dungeon Siege 3 are missing from this list. Its possible that these titles wont be available November 13th but feature in the 2nd wave of titles

Abe's Take
These are the right mix of titles that i expected but with the missing titles I am uncertain on the legitimacy of this list. Whilst I expected a CoD or two but glad this list contains both Blood Dragon and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger as I didn't get to finish those titles


Lets Talk: Is Microsoft handing the keys to the Kingdom to Sony?

Since there is no interesting news, I blame Fallout 4 lurking over the horizon for that.
I've decided to rumble on about something for a little bit. 
Today I'm asking "is Microsoft playing too defensive?" You see during the 360 era MS dominated Sony by grabbing exclusive rights to games, advertising and early access DLC. Which made the PS3's early years with out any major exclusives an hard fight but an stellar comeback and MS's giant PR nightmare of the X1's reveal changed all that.

After loosing ground on Sony for a year Phil Spencer declared they was going to stop paying for exclusive content, advertising and games. Instead taking that money and reinvesting that money in their own studios and funding new games from other developers (instead of buying exclusive rights to existing games). At the time this very Nintendo-like approach was applauded by many as it meant more games and IP for Xbox One but the end to what many called the "money war",

During the 360 era MS aggressively pursued what it called "partnerships" with publishers locking in early DLC access, games and advertising. Many a Sony fan often claimed Xbox was "buying the market" and it was unfair. This caused a tit for tat bidding war that saw each console getting extras for different games making it hard of third party fans to own either system.  MS ending the "money war" could of changed that but something else happened.

Sony grabbed every exclusive contract going and not only drastically tilting the multi-format game in their favour but also meaning most adverts (both digital and physical) of these titles being PS4 branded. With Mircosoft only advertising its exclusives this Christmas; two of which aren't full exclusives Tomb Raider an timed exclusive and Fallout a multi format with early mod access. This creates a very poor image system that it shares with Nintendo "it only has its own games". Which is very untrue for the Xbox. Its an image Microsoft can not afford after their rough start and "resolution gate" (which is admittedly dying after Battlefield Hardline knocked BOTH systems down an HD peg). To show this advertising issue lets remember that by Sony's own admission their first party PS4 Christmas (the most important time in game sales) line up is incredibly light, yet its dominating in terms of advertising.

Following the Street Fighter V PS4/PC exclusive announcement Phil Spencer confirmed Microsoft wont "invest" in games that would compete against its own IP. The foolish idea an Free-to-play title can compare to the biggest fighter out there aside this create's competition where it's not needed, I highly doubt the all but forgotten Killer Instinct would of experienced any real drop in revenue when SFV launched 3 years later. This "us vs them" attitude certainly explains why Sony now has the early access DLC rights to this years competing shooters Black Ops 3 and Battlefront, which launch less than a month after Halo 5 (which will feature no-cost DLC maps).

The problem here seems to be they went from "playing to win" to full retreat. In reality what MS should of done is to continue its bidding for these contracts but instead of playing to win, they should of just "played to draw". Sure the first few times they might have to pay of parity between the platforms but it wouldn't of been long before Sony said "look we're both paying for nothing, lets just not bid" and both sides would have more money for original content.

Will the Nintendo style first party first approach work for Microsoft? Well we don't know yet as there doesn't seem to be any of these new first party titles out yet. MS is still trading on the last of its deals Tomb Raider (game), Fallout (early mods) and next year's The Division (DLC). This new generation of first party titles not only have to be good to lure players to the Xbox One but they also have to represent the console in advertising, which means they have to be ready on time as delays will create gaps in their marketing. You only have to look at the Wii U to see the damage that those gaps can cause. Microsoft has a tough fight ahead of it as it must effectively fight its allies (third parties).

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Activision gets bigger!

Today Activision Blizzard announced and huge expansion to its business. Whilst Destiny players jumped to 25 Million and Destiny's micro-transactions currency dominating PSN's top download list is all good news for the company its not what we're talking about today.

Today the house that CoD built has announce its has spent $5.9 BILLION on Candy Crush Saga publisher King. You may remember them as "the guys who tried suing anyone and everyone who used the words 'Candy' or 'Saga'.

The move today not only shifts the companies profits resulting in two thirds of its revenue now coming from digital space but also appears to be in response to their own mobile business not taking off as well as they hoped. Their clash of clans clone remains on the top downloads list but isn't earning them the big mobile bucks.

Activision hopes to use cross promotions of its home and mobile games in order to increase revenue, whilst they remain tight lipped don't be surprised to see 'engram crush saga' that unlocks rewards in destiny in the future.

FYI it was so hard to not use "the taken king" as the article headline.

Abe's Take
This is a significant shift in Activision's revenue that is sure to have repercussions across their brands and IP. Whilst the potential is there Activision's plan seems to rely on Kings 500 million customers being loyal to the brand, which is a gamble as the mobile market is incredibly fickle. Lets not forget a portion of these guys also propelled Nintendo's Wii  from 100 million to the Wii U's 10 million.

To put this move in perspective Microsoft spent 2.5 billion to nab Minecraft and the internet bricked its pants at the "expense".

I am well aware of how dry this article was so here is a picture of a Mandeer from some crazy Wii U indie game. Look at it, worry about that and not Activision seemingly hording money to become the empire... seriously WTF!!!

Friday, 30 October 2015

Still No Splitscreen In Halo 5

The start of this week saw the launch of the rather brilliant Halo 5. The guys at 343i pushed the gameplay and narrative forward in a new direction whilst still feeling like Halo. However among the wonderful new weapons, worlds and characters there was something missing, something very Halo...

Splitscreen. Halo 5 launched without any splitscreen functionality what so ever, no local verses or co-op. Playing both co-op and multiplayer with friends easily made the Halo Series the go to series on Xbox, 360 and X1. Times have changed with online multiplayer being the default means of gaming but splitscreen is still an demanded feature, in fact there are multiple petitions (the largest being 9,000 strong), complaints and general forum rage to bring the feature back.

Even Nathan Fillion's pleasing tones did not ease fans' tension
Now split screen (as well as some crafty resolution cutting) was sacrificed in order to keep the game at a steady 60fps during the effects heavy combat. The sacrifices was not made in vain, as the game dose look and play fantastically. However fans have been hoping that the feature would be added down the line. hoping that they could cut the FPS down to 30 in local only co-op and verses.

Today that hope took a punch to the face. Speaking to GamesRadar+ today Franchise Director Frank O'Conner

"Realistically, for Halo 5, it's not something we can just throw in a patch, It's just not feasible with the way the engine works."

But there is hope for the next entry as O'Conner admits that the uproar on this was "huge" and pledged his support for spiltscreen... kinda.

"Splitscreen is fun for me too. It's not something that I object to, and we would've loved to put it in, We'll talk about it for the next game, and we'll talk about it for the future."

Abe's Take
The lack of splitscreen did hurt my experience of the title. Playing Halo with my brother and friends are permanently engraved in my memory. So much so that as I was installing Halo 5 and knowing full well it didn't have splitscreen, I wrote out a text to my brother telling him to "get round for more Halo" and it wasn't until I was about to hit send did I realize what I was doing.

But its not all doom and gloom for couch warriors as smaller titles like Toy Soldiers: War Chest still support splitscreen. Hell Borderlands: Handsome Collection actually increased the local co-op count from two to four.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

More Titanfall!?

Titanfall was a great multiplayer game. It stumbled real hard when it came to narrative, today brings news that might address that. Could more news be incoming?


Today Respawn has announced an new partnership with Nexon who will be handling development of several Titanfall mobile games. Not a lot is known about these new titles other than they wont be first person and will be "new game play experiences"

This isn't the first time the two have worked together, Nexon handled an free-to-play version of Titanfall for the Chinese market. This new deals has no effect on their deal with EA or the development and release of Titanfall 2.

Titanfall 2 has no firm release date, however I suspect after its no show this year's E3 that it will probably land in 2016 instead of Battlefield 5. We do know that it will be multi-format this time.

Abe's Take
We loved Titanfall a lot here but like many others we thought the narrative could of supported so much more. The universe is certainly set up to have different game types, a RTS jumps to my mind. Regardless of the quality or content of these mobile games, I am certainly looking forward to more Titanfall and am excited to see how it will evolve.



Nintendo Has Surprises!?

Can you smell that? it smells a little like a Direct is lurking about. 

New Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima dropped a micro bomb during an "Special Strategy Briefing" Nintendo has more unannounced games ready for launch "before the end of the year" on both Wii U and 3DS. Odds are these will be digital games over retail releases but Nintendo has pulled surprise retail launches in the past.

Whilst we don't know what these games are there is one rumour that keeps getting more and more evidence. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD. So far data miners have found the games menu tile (the little picture that appears on the gamepad) and the games ID on the eShop. Today's extra evidence is the most "straw clutching" one yet.


This piece of art (top) accompanied today's surprise and is the source of today's extra rumour. You notice Link mimicking the Twilight Princess artwork (bottom) but with an cleaner, lighter style and wielding the Master Sword and looks a lot like an in game asset. Of cause this could mean anything, perhaps Smash is getting character costumes as DLC. It certainly wouldn't be the first time Nintendo used their fan's expectations against them.

Abe's Take
Since the passing of Iwata Nintendo fans have been waiting for a new direct but Nintendo has been happy just dropping release dates and details via it's social media pages. With the increase chatter of Twlight HD and confirmation that a new direct will be hitting this year, it seems thing might finally be getting back to "normal".

In regards to Twlight HD, I've always thought its was the prime candidate for an HD remaster with its darker setting and more realist take on the art style and would certainly help tide players over till Zelda U hits next year.

New Nintendo Detail Drops

We're Back! Again! Today might be a good day. Maybe its because of a poking to return form the US (woo a fan), maybe because its Nintendo dropped a load of info or perhaps its because a 2 year old called me Zod this morning. (its totally the Zod thing BTW)

Today was day two of Nintendo's financial results and whilst day one was all mind numbing numbers and corporate talk. (Short version: Profits, hardware and software are up.) However day two has dropped some important details about Nintendo's future. We also learned nothing about the NX and that Directs will be returning this year but in a different format.

Nintendo Account/My Nintendo


Today Nintendo finally revealed its Club Nintendo replacement "My Nintendo", the new service will spread across the Wii U, 3DS, NX, PC and Smartphones. Not only will My Nintendo operate a rewards program like its predecessor that will reward players for buying games but also playing them. Whilst this wasn't elaborated on I suspect that this will be an achievement system that would payout the new programs currency. My Nintendo will also "transfer game data between mobile games and console games via cloud bases data service" at the moment we don't know what game data means. Could it mean save data (cross-play) or actual games (cross-buy)?

The rewards covers digital content, original merchandise and discounts.

Not only will the be the new service but also a new account system. Hoping to make the process easier the new Nintendo Account can be set up using not only Nintendo Network ID but also, Facebook, twitter, Google+ and, "email and password". We don't know what this means for the NNID itself; if that means its being retired or as a separate tier much like Microsoft's email and Gamertag are linked but separate tiers . On that note its interesting that Microsoft's email service isn't mentioned directly in the list of services being able to setting up an Nintendo Account. It appears that Nintendo account will also handle your friends list, creating one uniform list for all your Nintendo gaming across devices.

The Nintendo Account will apparently track your purchases, Which hopefully means it'll act like a Microsoft account and let you download games to another system. (currently Wii U purchases are locked to the one physical device and have to be transferred manually.)

Ultimately this sounds like they are merging Club Nintendo, Nintendo Premium and bits of Miiverse into one system. My Nintendo and Nintendo Account will launch in March 2016

IP War
Okay so maybe war is a little 'dramatic' but according to Mr Miyamoto Nintendo is going to use their IP aggressively and "beyond licencing". Whilst they refuse to elaborate what this means its worth noting that the Nintendo Account is said to also link up with Theme parks, Movie theaters and, retail outlets. This all lines up with a lot of interviews with Nintendo executives where they have stated their intent to push their IP beyond their own games. (this spawned the now infamous "link should be played by a girl" comment.)

Nintendo on Mobile
Nintendo has finally unveiled its first mobile game and true to their word it wasn't what people expected. The internet was expecting some money squeezing Mario endless runner but what we got was Miitomo.


Miitomo appears to be a heavily modified multiplayer version of Tomodachi Life spliced with Miiverse. Its described as a free-to-start communication application and judging from the official overview below will be a hit in Japan and very odd in the west.

"The main character of Miitomo is you. First, you create your own Mii.

The Mii asks you a variety of questions and communicates your answers with your Friends’ Mii.

The people you will be able to communicate with are limited to your friends whom you have registered as Friends. We are designing this communication application to enable Friends to share information comfortably and securely.

In this way, instead of the users proactively sending their own messages, Miitomo has a unique characteristic that can be called “friendly communication starters” as your Mii will automatically dispatch the answers you gave to certain questions to your friends.

These “friendly communication starters” have an advantage that even the people who are less willing to send messages can easily participate. Another unique characteristic of Miitomo is that you may be able to find out unknown aspects about your friends or unexpected commonalities you share with your friend because Miitomo may pick up the topics that you usually do not discuss but would be willing to answer if asked.

What we would like to realize is, through such communication, you will be able to deepen friendly relationships and have more people with whom you can play games.

Both My Nintendo and Miitomo will be available in March 2016.

For reference, more than 200 million Mii characters have been created on our platforms, which means that many people around the world understand the appeal of Mii."

It dose sound like the sort of thing that will make millions in IAP's whilst the rest of the gaming community stands there confused that it's even making money.

Abe's Take
This all sounds rather promising and modern for Nintendo and sounds like a good foundation for the NX. I do like the sound of both My Nintendo and Nintendo Account. Admittedly I am a little down on Miitomo simply because its not a "game game" but I'm pretty sure Nintendo is entering the mobile market to make money, not to revolutionize it and Miitomo sounds like an IAP paradise.


Saturday, 3 October 2015

ClayFighter (1993) - Hourglass review


ClayFighter (1993) - Hourglass review




When I started writing for a videogame blog, I knew I didn’t want to be a politician. I knew I wanted my writing to reflect a deeper truth even if I was writing about a man with a pizza fetish collecting pennies in sand castles. None of that matters. What matters is that I can sleep easily having blunted your head in with unbridled, unspoken honesty even if it’s in a language you don’t understand. My friend recently gave me an ultimatum: review ClayFighter by Tuesday or be stung to death by bees. I don’t like bees. I have never played ClayFighter.

For those of you with short attention spans consider this an abstract of the original game. It involves clay, fighting and little more. There is a problem however. My friend likes this game and I write for my friend. Politics. Sometimes you just have to dive in and, like Patrick Swayze in Ghost trying to craft clay whilst not paying attention to Demi Moore cleavage is, it’s nigh fucking impossible. Resolve pushed me on. I would put myself on the firing line. I would be a paragon for journalistic integrity. I would stay awake all night, liver pulsing with caffeine and review this game...

Tuesday: 06:00am

Somewhere between student narcolepsy and Mountain Dew drenched sleep, Tuesday rose. My blank page winked at me. The bees were coming and writing an opening declaring my devotion to honey wasn't going to save me from imminent death. I hastily set off on my stupid journey to find just what all the fuss was about. Rushing into the city, knowing stream of consciousness and fingers would be my best defence against the dark, swarming cloud, I located my refuge: a dank caffeine den overflowing with wobbling, bean addicts, set my laptop down on a grotty table and typed for sheer life.



                                                                       bzzzzzzzzz

14:05pm 

ClayFighter (1993)

ClayFighter was a wild idea. Parents could rejoice in violence, child in tow, whilst belaying all fears of the wee bairns becoming future harbingers of global mass death. ClayFighter is love. Not Patrick Swayze love. Tough love. Real love. It’s the love of punching that snowman in the face on Christmas day when you had raced downstairs to the smell of warm oat cookies and a roaring charcoal fire only to find Santa Clause has shat in your stocking. It’s Walace and Gromit on acid. It’s…not that special.

bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
 
14:15pm

It’s hard to know where to start with a game like ClayFighter. There’s something so strikingly unfinished and uninspired about it all, that the characters, even when they are this original; when they have moves this promising, just seem to plod about exhausted by the games own inability to mould them into something greater. This would come later with more ambitious sequels. Regardless, there’s simply no finishing touch here. No definable story. No real personality on display. It’s the recent Tim Burton movies with Johnny Depp. It’s a constant reminder of better times had elsewhere.

bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
 
14:28pm

Yes, sadly it isn’t as gooey as you might expect. In fact it downright bland. For a game about cartoon clay wrestling to death in an exploding, flying circus this is damn boring. Perhaps I should have lowered my expectations. Perhaps I was expecting too much when I travelled back in time to pick up putty in an explosive era of Samurai Shodowns and Killer Instincts. But the original ClayFighter could have been nuclear. It just wasn’t formulated correctly. It has the grace of a game rush released for Christmas incapable of becoming anything more than the sum of hollow parts. Take that bees.

 ClayFighter: Tournament Edition (1994)

15:23pm 
       
Two games? They re-released it? That's not fair! Does nobody care that Christmas is fast becoming a cold clammy season drizzled with orphan tears that they would holler “MORE” as they dish out this mess?  I'm glad version two ads a plot for the snowman but that doesn't excuse this cash in and it's still about as gripping as…Oh god, bees! Horrible, stinging bees!         


Fun 2/5

Graphics 3/5

Longevity 2/5

Endpoint 2/5 


Hourglass Recommends: 
Garou: Mark of the Wolves (1999),  ClayFighter 63 1/3 (1997), Earthworm Jim (1994)




Rise of the Robots (1994) - Hourglass review

Rise of the Robots (1994) - Hourglass review

 




In the fall of 1994 there was a game known as Rise of the Robots. What I tried to do there was not funny and nor was this game. In fact, Rise of the Robots played like a game designed by microwaves and unemployed astronauts struggling to understand why people enjoyed doing things with buttons. Things like playing video games, going to work or switching off terrible reruns of Baywatch. And to their credit if anything can combine button pressing, employment and bad television it is this game.

The characters aren’t worth talking about but given that I am running with the theme of wasted energy I’ll begin. There is a blue, yellow, red, green, white and silver robot. The end. I would like to point out here you play as none of these and unless you have two controllers, and a friend chained in your basement, alive by steady diet of determination, assault and this game alone, you will never use them. The lead character is your only concern,. He is a cyborg aptly named the cyborg. You as the player have the thrill of conquering all of these colours with a simple flick of the kick button which you can occasionally mix up with a few strokes of the back button and the up button. Credits.

Now you might be thinking, “wow what a stinking pile of ass but what is the problem here? Aren’t there more pressing issues out there in the world? Shouldn’t you be out there tackling AIDS, cholera and plague-ridden dwarfs?” My answer? No. And here is why: this game celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year and should be remembered not only for its painstaking lack of attention to fun, but also as a firm example of how marketing companies write heart warming, rainbow quilted crapola in the press about how their game will “enrich the earth” and Mirage’s marketing division was no stranger to the concept of the illusionary.

Firstly, we were led to believe that this would be the videogame equivalent of Blade Runner. A fully immersive, breathing environment of robot justice awaiting all those hungry enough to purchase this road hugging turkey. Even with revolutionary CGI graphics, what this motif boiled down to was a simple opening where Mr Cyborg wakes up, flies into town and walks over a platform. Sadly, this wonderment could be appreciated on your 3DO, and because Rise was spread over 16 bit consoles and handhelds globally few would even see this incredible walking across a platform feat anyway.

Secondly, the game was marketed as one of the first boasting an active A.I. system. The robots would learn how you play the game. They would develop unique strategies to counteract your moves. Kick, kick, kick, death. Awful, awful lie. If robots demonstrated any degree of learning in this game it was the complete understanding that they must kill themselves immediately and that suicide by foot was the most intelligent option available in a factory of misery and lies.

                                                           
Finally, Brian May and I have to mention this, because it’s Brian May. That rocking, long haired, take no prisoners hero that even your dad loves wrote the soundtrack. And with Queen, Blade Runner, A.I. and machines where can you go wrong? As clique a rhetorical question as this may be let me answer it. Never play this game and please try to get more fresh air. May frets three chords on the opening title then swiftly leaves to be awesome elsewhere. Take his cue. The results of Rise spoke in whispers, disappointed sentient life and faded through the mists of time but those lies and mahogany slamming afternoons lived on in our hearts forever.


Fun 0/5

Graphics 3/5

Longevity 1/5  
Endpoint 1/5 


Hourglass Recommends: 
Guilty Gear X (2001), Street Fighter 3: Third Strike (1999), Garou: Mark of the Wolves (1999).




Lord of the Rings gets an M-rated tie in that is... Good, Real good.

Disclosure: We purchased Middle-Earth: Shadows Of Mordor (from here on referred to as Mordor) for £35 of Amazon and played it on X1.

The underdog to rule them all
Mordor didn't look like it was going to be much. It was announced with no gameplay or fanfare, and quickly plummeted in price on Amazon and other sites (except GAME) and as a licensed game we was all expected it join the "meh heap" but then we paused as it was rated M - Mature. That was a good sign, Cash in's are usually E - everyone or T - Teen to maximise sales then slowly we started to get details and it sounded promising.

There and back again... in blood
Set after the Hobbit but before Lord of the Rings, There is no leaning on the films for support (expect one character who makes a loosely connected experience).
The mature rating is put to full use right from the get go. As our hero Talion, A ranger of Gondor and captain of the black gate watches as Saruon's followers kill his family in front of him and then give him the same extreme shave. However Talion wakes in the wraith world and discovers he has been bound to the spirit of an elven archer who also thirsts for revenge. The wraith's desire for revenge is so great it prevents Talion from passing it the next world so no matter how (or how often) you die you always comeback.

The plot is possibly the games weakest part. Not because it's bad, if you remove the Middle Earth lore the story is your usual revenge and redemption tale. It is effective and the Middle Earth's lore really dose help the story feel special. It just that the game part is better.


Game play merger!
We knew that this was being published by Warner Brothers (publishers of the Arkham Series) but we wasn't expecting developer Monolith (F.E.A.R & Condemned) to raid Rocksteady's game mechanics. Mordor's Talion borrows a lot of Batman's play book.
So combat is predictably great and free flowing allowing you to bounce from enemy to enemy using attacks, counters, Stuns and a dodge/flip over, building up a combat multiplier allowing you to unlease a speacil (usually head removal) attacks. Though the system is a little more forgiving than the Bat's as you can counter mid attack. Combat feels rewarding as you chain together hits, dodges and counters. Tailon can also enter the wraith world the same world we see when Bilbo or Frodo puts on the ring, this functions largely the same as Batman's Detective visions

The devs also borrowed from Ubisoft as the climbing and stealth mechanics are faithful emulations of the Assassin's Creed series famous abilities. however enhanced by a the ability to sneak which is handy as stealth is rather important in this title especially when it comes to the captains. Speaking of...

My captain, My rival!
Mordor's big selling point is it's "Nemesis System" and it pure player story gold.  For those who don't know this system fills your world with randomly generated Uruk (Alpha Orcs) captains (bar a few plot required ones) so not only are their names, titles, appearances are randomly picked but so are their strengths, fears, weaknesses and hatreds. Resulting in each captain feeling different from their piers. But not only dose the system give you these random mini bosses but it remembers your fights with them. Whenever you encounter an captain you'll lock blades and he'll either reference your legend in Mordor or your previous fight.

Events happen in the world where these Uruk try to move up their hierarchy and become War Chiefs. They do this by ambushing one another, hosting feast, executing rivals, beast hunts, duels, and trial's by ordeal. If a captain succeeds in one of these he is awarded power and moves up in the hierarchy. All of these events are also missions you can invade. either trying to stop an powerful enemy from rising up the ranks or try eliminating them entirely.


Now you will die, often in fact but instead of going to the last check point your thrown back into the world. Any of the above events would of passed whilst you was gone regrowing what ever was stabbed or torn off, and the captains will move up (or down) the ranks or killed off. This also extends to whether if the captain killed (or survived) you, this also applies to non captain uruk that kill you off earning themselves an name and rank. In the early game your skills are fairly limited and Talion's status as undead means you cant take much damage (even in the late game Talion isn't overpowered in health) so an unprepared meeting with an captain can be disastrous. You can discover your foes weakness by locating certain uruks that your wraith friend can vulcan mind meld the info out of or discover evidence in the world. This is important as the system can produce real monsters, Immune to most attacks. This has caused several members of the GK - UK team to have mild strokes but kept me away from the story hunting captains for about 10 hours.

I found these enemy level ups are greater punishment for death than Dark Souls' unspent XP drop system, It forced me to play smart and added a real sense of danger to the whole affair.

2nd Act Woes
the seound half of the game see us travel to a far nicer looking area of Mordor but also see the introductions of "dominations" where you can turn an Uruk (captain or not) to your side. This combined with the advanced skills see's the difficulty plummet. As hordes of enemies stop being an danger but an asset, would be assassins become body guards and so combat starts to feel like a waste of resources. The 2nd act is also here the game hit a some major frame rate drops as one area was over filled with Uruks fighting me, with each other, and the wild life, all as a hoard of flies buzzing around and as I was exploding barrels.


Conclusion 
Despite the 2nd act wobble and relatively weak plot Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor is an amazing game and an example of what Next Gen games can be, if Graphics are secondary.

Destiny might be touted as the first "Next Gen" game but seeing as it's cross gen with only a graphical not feature downgrade. Mordor stands as a true next gen game

+ Frilling combat
+ Deadly enemies
+ True "Next Gen"

- Standard Plot
- Weaker 2nd half
- Occasional Nemesis Monster






Spawn: The Eternal (1997) - Hourglass review


During the mid to late nineties, comic icon and entrepreneur, Todd Mcfarlane was pushing his character Spawn to become the next big household name. This period resulted in broad mediums being covered, some successfully such as the HBO (Bravo in the UK) late nigh animated serial and some less successfully; i.e. the field of video games from which Spawn: The Eternal rears its cowl of crap.

Following the mistake of placing this game in your system, the "plot" is revealed in a brief opening. Here, all the elements of 90s adolescence are on display. Grave, fire, cape, bats, skulls, more cape, Spawn and all encompassed by a theme ripped off from the movie Cape Fear. You may assume this would be a game involving steady amounts of cape; however you would be wrong, very wrong. In fact, this game is so far isolated from what one would want from the hero, antihero or majestic cape genre that I could bury it in the artic prior to leaving earth for some northern star only to be less remote by comparison. 

The game begins in the fiery pits of hell. It looks terrible and if you decide to do something revolutionary, such as turn left, Spawn will crank over to the corner with less charisma than a block of wood while the camera stares frozen at him in utter miserable disbelief. This camera, perhaps knowingly, simply refuses to follow you on your quest and will only budge if either A: You collide head first with it, whereupon it begrudgingly shuffles beyond you refusing to move ever again or B: you find an opponent and enter one on one combat, which fixes the camera to a side view allowing a view of just what in the whole of hell is going on.

When he does turn around, with a pace that can only be described as tomorrow, players will be filled with horror to behold the mess Sony's graphics division has unleased upon the world. Spawn contains approximately three colours, one being fur, and resembles a structurally unsound Jenga tower bounded by opium addicts.

   elementary, my dear Watson.

Once this monstrosity leaves hell, in a manner faithful to all renaissance literature, by striding through automated doors, you are transported to a subway containing his mortal enemies: white man with sunglasses and black man with ‘tash.

The state of combat goes something like this: black man with ‘tash moves forward, Spawn moves forward, black man with ‘tash moves closer toward him, Spawn moves closer toward him, following this both spam kick repeatedly until the winner is decided. Punches can be used, however they hold no range whatsoever and any magic used will deplete the power meter making Spawn keel over and die. Since the kick is all you will need to complete the game, I wouldn’t worry about it at all and enjoy the dynamite feel of that action button whilst internally lamenting your disillusionment knowing you are involved in some horrid 3D equivalent of Rock ‘em Robots.

"fear my foot, you tashy mistake!"

Realising all too soon these challenging feats could barely contain the sheer levels of fun, the developers included complex puzzles in the game such as unlock the gate using the gate key! These keys along with the special items are found by painstakingly traversing each level while the camera, still frozen in shocked awe, observes you scrambling to locate boxes and bins standing over half your stature. By tapping investigate, Spawn kicks out like an angst filled toddler making the bin explode. If only you had a similar superpower to recycle this garbage.


Fun 1/5 This game perfectly recreates the excitement of a homeless man wandering through his own private purgatorial hell.

Graphics 2/5 Spawn and his enemies have never before looked so hellish, so grim, so gobsmackingly bad.
Longevity 5/5 There is no more apt a title than “The eternal” there are four stages in this game and you'll struggle to find a wasted day where you're crazy enough to play through a single one of them.
 
Endpoint 2/5 Spawn stands as a monument to the philosophy that medium crosses are predestined for eternal failure by representing the very foundations on which to design a bad game. 

Interesting notes:
An online playthrough by user silenig contains this faux Sony licensing disclaimer “The reputation of this product as one of the worst comic book games ever made, and the suffering it caused to the fans that purchased it legitimately, are legendary, even in hell. Spawn is pretty bad, but not quite as bad as people say…it feels more like a beta than a full game and it can get so frustrating that cheats are used.”

By running the game in a CD player, a hidden interview can be found with Mcfarlane discussing how he wanted the game to “convey not so much the details of Spawn but the attitude.”

Hourglass Recommends:
Batman: Arkham City (2011), Shadowman (1999), Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (1999).

Toy Soldiers 2 - Late Review

Toy Soldiers is a prime example of why the XBLA program (and Indie games) are good for the industry.



Full disclosure: We acquired Toy Soldiers: Cold War Via Games with Gold.


Toy Soldiers: Cold War is an hybrid title - A tower Defence game with Third person shooter elements combining strategic thinking and action gameplay. The original Toy Soldiers was set in World War 1 but the sequel has skipped the expect WW2 era and jumped to the 80's. Complete with Top Gun styled Music, 80's action movie references and iconic 80's memorabilia littering the levels.

3rd Person Tower Defender
It's hybrid nature is fantastic. At any time you can assume control of any of your turrets, which is a great feature seeing as it basicly fixes the issues I have with tower defence games. Most TD games either have me waiting for the cannon fodder to earn me enough to build the next tower or having built a good system have to stand back and watch the AI do foolish things like using anti armour against troops as the tanks roll by unharmed. Two issues that disappear when you can control the turrets yourself.


You place towers on special areas around the map there are 6 towers Machine Gun, Anti tank, Mortar, Makeshift, Anti Air, Artillery. Each of the towers have their unique uses. combined with the limited placement sites you cant just spam AT turrets or Machine guns and hope for the best. The Anti Air and Artillery require larger placements and so are limited to a few spaces per map increasing the need for forward thinking. Towers can be upgraded that improve their functions and at their highest levels allow you to damage thing they wouldn't E.G. A upgraded machine gun gets an secondary grenade launcher that can do damage to tanks, While it's not as effective as an Anti Tank weapon it dose help out on the larger enemy types.  

There are also special units that only work with you in control. There are various Tanks, Helicopters and Jets, all with different on-board weaponry. These vehicles are free to move around and attack enemies as long as you have the battery power. running low on power? either pick up some spare batteries or park on the charging plate. They are powerful and an enjoyable change of pace. They however pale in comparison to the Commando unit. Unlocked via the games combo system. A powerful unit who wields an RPG in one hand and an LMG in the other. He spews Action movie one-liners like a drunken Rambo impersonator and always brings a smile to the face when used


Toy Story
Almost everything in this game is in fact a toy and all the battles take place on scale model environments on a table top. Little details elude to the fact everything is a toy, a wind up key here or an battery there, even summoning the powerful commando who comes in his own little action figure box . Littering the battlefield are 'full sized' items like playing guards, aviator sun glasses and Rubix cubes. Outside the battlefield is an normal room so you can see desk lamps and wall paper. Its not original but its rather uncommon enough in games to make this feel fun and refreshing. The toy aspect really comes into play against the bosses which can range from flying aircraft carriers to giant plane-tank hybrids that also carries smaller tanks with in


Ways To Game
Toy Soldiers features an Campaign mode, Survival mode, Challenges and VS mode. All modes support local/online multiplayer, Leaderboards and challenges. Co-op is pretty much required on higher difficulties which makes it weird that you have to access level select to invite another player (online or off). Co-op is a lot of fun, both players have free reign to place and control turrets and better yet also earns their own money

Conclusion

Toy Soldiers is an easy recommendation for anybody interested in tower defence games.
Local Co-op and unit control make it a great game to convert a friend to tower defence.

+Plenty of replay value
+Co-op is fully integrated
+Direct control fixes Genre issues
+80's-ness

-Missions can be short
-DLC only adds Levels
-Co-op is hidden