Tormented Souls Review (PlayStation 5)

The sole game that proves classic survival horror isn’t dead.

Survival horror is a videogame genre with its origins well and truly founded during the 1990s. Far more than just jump scares and gruesome gore, the primary goal of these games is to terrify the player through their attempt to survive against all odds. With limited resources, players must fend off horrifying and grotesque enemies all while navigating unfamiliar settings littered with puzzles and riddles. Although earlier titles released in the 80s include some gameplay elements that are vital to the genre, it was not until 1996 that gamers across the globe would be treated to the progenitor of survival horror thanks to a single iconic game that defined the genre: Resident Evil.

classic resident evil ps1
The original Resident Evil truly defined survival horror.

The decade that followed the original Resident Evil truly was the Golden Age of survival horror, with sequel after sequel released across numerous platforms. Beloved series like Silent Hill, Clock Tower and Fatal Frame flourished, keeping millions on the edge of their seats as they fought for their lives despite the terrors each game contained. However, as consoles and computers became more advanced, horror games too had to match this pace, becoming instead more focused on hectic action and gripping cinematics than slow, methodical horror.

But survival horror isn’t dead; in fact, it may be more alive than ever (unlike its protagonists). Recent years have definitely seen a resurgence in this classic genre. Modern games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast have proven that fear doesn’t always have to be fast. The latest game to join the ranks of the dead is Tormented Souls, an experience that harkens back to the genre’s roots and aims to please those who like their horror slow, dark, and terrifying. So grab your nearest green herb, pick up that discarded piece of a damaged door handle, and let’s dive into survival horror’s latest offering.

tormented souls caroline banner

Story

After receiving an unlabeled letter containing the image of two apparently deceased twins, our protagonist, Caroline Walker, foolishly puts her own personal safety aside and instead sets out on a mission she’ll very soon regret. Waking up naked in a bathtub of an abandoned hospital, attached to ventilator, and missing an eyeball seems like an awful way to start the day. This is exactly where Caroline finds herself after travelling to the mysterious Wildberger Hospital, a long deserted medical facility located on a remote island.

tormented souls ps5 nintendo switch graphics wilderberger hospital
This is where you end up when you don’t buy private health insurance.

Though there’s far more to the hospital than just cobwebs and poorly-maintained medical equipment. Pieces of discarded journals and hints of previous inhabitants all point towards a dark past – experiments on patients and children that have rendered them deformed and mindless, now left to wander the hospital hallways. As Caroline delves further, she discovers there is far more terror to Wildberger than she ever could have imagined, and she is the only one who can bring the unimaginable horrors to light.

Gameplay

Immediately players will be able to draw comparisons between Tormented Souls and the original Resident Evil, as the game is not only inspired by, but pays homage to it throughout its entirety. Exploring a dimly-lit mansion with fixed camera angles, assembling makeshift weapons to fight for your life with every single scarce bullet, and piecing together obscure puzzles to access the next area are all throwbacks to classic survival horror. Even the tension of having a finite number of saves! This is truly a game that feels as if it belongs beside the classics thanks to its simple yet gripping gameplay. Like its predecessors, there are two major aspects that divide the game: combat and puzzles.

tormented souls ps5 nintendo switch graphics wheelchair enemy gif
The hospital patients don’t take kindly to outsiders.

There’s no denying that the combat in this horror adventure feels just as it would have decades ago: clunky. Being played entirely in third person with fixed camera angles, players must position themselves precisely to aim at enemies as they approach, often whilst completely off-screen. Ammo is limited, so every wasted bullet is one step closer to death. Thankfully the grotesque horrors shamble slowly, giving plenty of time to line up shots or run around the cramped rooms in a panic. There are moments where this can be incredibly tense, especially when precious ammo is almost depleted, though for the most part combat feels tedious, and like my aim, inaccurate.

tormented souls ps5 nintendo switch graphics heart puzzle
I hope the doctor was singing “My Heart Will Go On”.

Where the gunplay seems clunky and even unenjoyable, the puzzles are thankfully the complete opposite. Tormented Souls is a masterclass in brilliant brain-bending, with plenty of perplexing puzzles for the player to unravel across their journey through the haunted hospital. These range from simple item combinations and environmental problems all the way through to complex riddles, clever conundrums, and even some segments that require stories to be pieced together by traveling back in time. The game’s impeccable use of problem-solving will have players constantly scratching their heads and being tempted to consult walkthroughs to progress. Resist the urge to look up solutions online, as the game is at its most satisfying when finally solving its trickiest riddles.

Visuals

Bringing survival horror to a modern audience means that updating the visuals is a necessity – we’ve been incredibly spoiled by gorgeous horror games like The Last of Us and Resident Evil Village. This is no triple-A title, so don’t expect to be blown away by realism, but there are many aspects of Tormented Souls’ aesthetic that capture the essence of horror effectively.

tormented souls ps5 nintendo switch graphics main hall graphics
The hospital’s main hall is particularly nice when you’re not running for your life.

Darkened environments are awash with filtered light emanating from outside sources, or from the safe, dim glow of Caroline’s lighter. Shadows project beautifully, dancing off the hospital walls and occasionally catching the player off-guard as if in the corner of one’s vision. Details in the hospital’s abandoned rooms help recall the history of the building, which was once busy with patients but now contains mutilated and hideous figures. The attention-to-detail in the hospital and its environments are certainly a highlight, and hold up incredibly well alongside even the best modern horror games.

tormented souls ps5 nintendo switch graphics camera angle gif
Fixed camera angles make everything scarier.

In contrast, many visuals feel incredibly dated, and sadly not in a nostalgic way. Character models seem awkward and out of place against the detailed environments, animations can be jittery and clumsy, and the interactions during dialogue between yourself and the hospital’s priest seems so unpolished it’s almost as if they were left unfinished. It’s disappointing that these visuals drag down the game’s gorgeous environments, which clearly received far more love and attention.

Audio

No horror game is complete without its audio – a vital ingredient in crafting an atmospheric and gripping experience for the player. Distant sounds of enemies groaning or scraping along the ground are helpful in preparing the player for tense situations, as environmental cues like this often give more insight than the game’s visuals where dangers are often hidden off-screen. Music manages to also convey certain situations, as tense chords or shrieking strings mean imminent danger, while the warm and soft sound of a piano represents safety and comfort in the brief respite of recording rooms where Caroline may save her progress onto an audio reel.

Father’s theme, which means safety, is eerie yet comforting.

Unfortunately, the audio isn’t all quality. Dialogue between Caroline and the occasional remaining souls of the hospital can be described as none other than B-grade. The voice acting, particularly from the Priest, who appears throughout the hospital, is cringeworthy and awkward, which feels more comedic than terrifying and sadly spoils the frightening tones of the game.

Conclusion

Through its clever use of brilliant puzzles and simple explorative gameplay, fans of classic games like early Resident Evil and Silent Hill will no doubt get some serious thrills from exploring the sprawling hospital over the ~10 hour journey. While elements like clunky combat and awkward dialogue feel rough and unpolished, there is still plenty to keep horror veterans satisfied whilst introducing newcomers to this slower and more methodical gameplay format. Survival horror was never even dead to begin with, and Tormented Souls certainly proves that this genre is alive and well today.

So, why should you play it?

  • This is a must for fans of the earlier Resident Evil games.
  • Perplexing environmental puzzles and problem-solving.
  • Gorgeous environments and lighting.
  • Slow, methodical gameplay appeals to you.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Prefer fast-paced games? This one’s not for you.
  • You’re easily frustrated by tricky puzzles.
  • You’d prefer a horror game with precise gunplay.
  • Can’t stand B-grade dialogue and voice acting.

A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.

World for Two Review (PC)

A beautiful, empty world down to one human and a robot that can create more life.

The pixel aesthetic has shined through in indie games for the better part of a decade – titles like Stardew Valley, Shovel Knight, Celeste, and tons others are fan favorites thanks to their gorgeous presentation accompanying the other elements to make a memorable video game. When all the moving parts are in perfect harmony, it’s a formula for a 10/10 experience. World for Two, the newest offering from developer Seventh Rank, aims for that level with a life-creation game in this style.

World for Two Steam Indie PC Review Environment Graphics Pixel Art
There’s no two ways about it – World for Two is a looker.

Gameplay

The official genre title for World for Two is “life-creation”. If you have experience with titles like Monster Rancher, Spore, and other titles where life/death is at the forefront, you’ll have a vague idea of what’s going on here. Your task is to create new organisms, thanks to the DNA/genealogy of previous organisms. With death, comes life; you will harvest the DNA from your creations, and after three DNA pulls, they disappear. Once you create a new organism, you can experiment with DNA/gene combinations to keep discovering more and more new organisms. An area of opportunity here is showing what the outcome is after an attempt, as some combinations yield nothing – it’s guesswork unless you really want to personally note every combination. There was one moment where I tried four different combinations and got nothing out of it, only creating frustration for me.

World for Two Steam Indie PC Review Environment Graphics Family Tree Gameplay
You’re in charge of the family tree – and it gets pretty complicated.

Another big pain point is the fact that you have a lot of waiting around to do in the early game – to create more genes, you’ll need an item that spawns from the blue flame outside the lab. This item has a spawn rate of one every 30 or so seconds, and upgrades to the machines in the lab require 10 of the same currency you utilize for the genes. As such, World for Two basically becomes an idle game – except you have to be tabbed in for the items to come about. With what little time I have to game, this really hurt my view of the game and I wish there was some way to expedite the tedious process, as I could have spent that time finding new combinations.

World for Two Steam Indie PC Review Environment Graphics Gif Flames
There’s a LOT of standing around waiting for flames in World for Two.

Audio

Worthy of note in World for Two is its prime background music. The stellar compositions are the only sound you’ll hear – there’s absolutely no audio in the game otherwise, whether it be speech, item activation, or anything else, so the music carries the weight of the auditory presentation. Coupled with the visuals, its presentation is nailed and will definitely be what hooks in gamers that are easily swayed by the familiar campy aesthetic.

One of the relaxing piano tracks from the game.

Visuals

As you can already see, what steals the show in World for Two is a killer visual experience. Always adorned with a picture-perfect reflection on the bottom of the screen and painstakingly-crafted environments, any moment of the gameplay could be screenshot and used as a wallpaper. Meshed with a silky-smooth 60fps and a day-night shift, this game gets high marks for mastering the hook of pixel-based shots.

World for Two Steam Indie PC Review Environment Graphics Gif

Plot

There’s not too much exposition given in World for Two – because not much is needed. As far as you can tell as the newly-built android, you’re the errand runner for the last human on Earth, a scientist who has crafted a laboratory perfect for building new life forms. Equipped with a Gene Printer, an Item Printer, and an Incubator, you have the tools for the task, but the ingredients are a different story. You can gather bits and pieces of what may have happened as you traverse each of the four areas which unlock after upgrades. For a title with its plot established within the first few minutes, there’s not much suspense to build after the fact.

So, why should you play it?

  • Unbelievable pixel visuals that will stun even weathered fans of the aesthetic.
  • A novel concept that a lot of people haven’t experienced.
  • Great for fans of experimentation and a stress-free game.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Inevitability of waiting around to progress.
  • Repetitive nature.
  • Likelihood of making the same mistakes in creation with no guidance.

A press copy of World for Two was provided courtesy of the publisher.

God of Riffs Early Access Impressions (PC/VR)

Beat Saber, but make it metal.

Chances are if you’ve played VR, or even heard of it, you’ve probably encountered a game by the name of Beat Saber. This music/rhythm game took the virtual world by storm with its initial release back in 2018 and still has a massive community thanks to its simplistic but engaging gameplay and regular updates. However, one aspect of Beat Saber just didn’t grab me, and that was the genres of music available. There’s plenty of adrenaline-pumping EDM, synth, upbeat pop music, and even some punk rock, but one crucial genre (and my personal favourite) was almost entirely missing from the tracklist: METAL.

Well thanks to a new VR game by the name of God of Riffs, that guitar-shaped void is about to be filled! Developed right here in Australia by Boss Music Games, this rhythmic heavy metal VR experience has the player slaying hordes of demons to thrashing beats and face-melting guitar in several original songs produced specifically for the game. It’s what’s been described by the devs as a “heavy metal album cover brought to life” and it’s definitely the kind of VR game I can imagine Jack Black playing.

At the moment the game is in its early stages, but the team were kind enough to hook me up with an early access copy – so let’s dive through the gates of hell, pick up our mighty axes, and become the God of Riffs!

Gameplay

If you’ve played Beat Saber, you’ll be able to easily dive straight into God of Riffs. With a trusty axe in each hand, these act as your only defense against the onslaught of hellspawn that charge headfirst towards you. By choosing one of the four available tracks, you’ll have to destroy enemies to the beat of the songs, which is a simple gameplay mechanic to pick up and play, but difficult to perfect!

God of Riffs PC Vr combat gameplay gif

Swinging around the controllers feels really natural, and becomes seriously satisfying when you’re able to do so perfectly in time with the music. Bonus points are awarded for hitting chains of enemies in a row, but miss too many and they’ll deplete your health bar leading to the God’s demise. Each song lasts approximately 3 – 4 minutes, which feels like the perfect amount of time to get a hang of the rhythm without becoming too exhausting.

Several gameplay options are also available – modifiers to change the speed/intensity of your axe swings, changes to enemies, and an easy/medium difficulty to ensure that players of all proficiency are catered for (with hard being added shortly). Each song also features a global leaderboard to flaunt your hi-score, and though I didn’t get close, it was enjoyable to challenge myself and constantly work towards a better score.

Visuals

As you’ll notice, the visuals are pretty basic, with cartoon stylised enemies and environments. Though it’s not particularly visually-impressive, it works well in VR and is still successful in immersing you within the game’s world. Gameplay is fluid and looks crisp despite the basic details, though at this stage there aren’t many options to bump up the graphics – something that’s hopefully added in future!

God of Riffs PC Vr Review Environment visuals
This area just LOOKS metal.

One nice touch is the option to change the level environment for each song – several locales can be chosen and each have a distinct aesthetic. I’d recommend trying all of them out and seeing which level suits each song best. Tracks about fire and demons seem fitting in the lava level, whereas pirate-themed song absolutely has to be played on the edge of the sea.

Music

Now the most important part of any rhythm game – what’s the music like? Well I can happily say that even in early access, the music for God of Riffs impresses. At this stage there are four tracks available, each with distinct melodic style, and equally impressive as music that has been specifically composed for this experience. The tempos vary considerably to provide several different challenges; some are fast-paced thrash metal, whereas others are a bit slower almost to the point of hard rock. The title track is easily the most impressive, and even by itself is a catchy song that I’d happily listen to outside of the game! Here are a couple tracks that you’ll get to smash heads to:

So, what’s next?

Considering the game only recently launched as early access, expect regular updates and new content in the coming months. You can pick it up on Steam for $7.49AUD and at this price it’s well worth it for VR metalheads and anyone who enjoys Beat Saber/rhythm games in general. I’ll definitely be keeping eye out for future updates and keen to hear all the new music that will be added up to the game’s official release!

You can pick up God of Riffs here: God Riffs on Steam

An early access code was provided for the purpose of this article.
All gameplay was played and captured on a Valve Index headset.

Orbital Bullet (PC) Review

I’ve been frequenting roguelite games ever since I first ran Rogue Legacy on my crappy laptop in 2013. The prospect of coming back to a game time and time again and getting something new out of it is the ultimate sign of replayability. With every impending death comes a gameplay tactic or two learned, increasing your chances of success in future runs. The genre is currently in a renaissance as Hades captured the hearts of thousands last year, earning the top spot of many GOTY lists. I have dozens of roguelites wishlisted on Steam that I’ll eventually get to, but for now, I’m keen to take a look at Orbital Bullet – one with a clever gimmick and a heap of polish despite it being in Early Access.

Dubbed “The 360° Roguelite,” it’s easy to grasp and hard to master this circular concept.

Gameplay

Getting into a roguelite is a bit of a challenge. There’s always a learning curve, a necessitation to figure out how the game operates, and how to make the most of a run before you’ll almost certainly perish – typically in the early-goings. Orbital Bullet gives you quite a bit of health to work with, but is home to blistering-fast enemies that are merciless. You’ll have to learn patterns and remind yourself to dodge just as much as shoot/pounce. There’s a welcome variety in enemy types, weapons, and skill trees, in addition to randomized perks, level layouts, and more to sufficiently provide the player with a new experience each time.

Combat entails both shooting your enemies with the option to bounce on them Mario-style. I found myself particularly loving the boomerang/bola gun, fitting in two powerful shots at the cost of one trigger pull. Mixing this in with ample traversal and getting around to dodging enough made for a strong run where I got through several biomes. Getting health refills after floor clears sure didn’t hurt, either! As far as roguelites go, Orbital Bullet is quite forgiving in how much damage you can take; this isn’t a bad thing, as I love feeling strong in video games.

Audio

Orbital Bullet‘s score is absolutely massive – the instant you get past the tutorial, it ramps into high gear. I’d love to have shared it in the video below, but my amateur nature tuned the game audio too low, so enjoy it within the announcement trailer above. As far as weapon sounds go, it’s pretty standard fare of bangs and booms – the music is the highlight here.

Visuals

Opting for a cross between pixel and realistic aesthetic, Orbital Bullet boasts pretty colors and makes great use of them with compelling terrains. There’s a vast difference between biomes as you progress through levels, not just being the same thing nonstop. Bright colors accompany your shots and enemy clears, all moving along quickly with the refresh rate of your monitor (in my case, with 0 slowdowns at 144fps.)

So, why should you play it?

  • You enjoy visceral, tight action-platforming gameplay.
  • A bangin’ soundtrack is your ideal background to slaying doomed enemies.
  • You want a different experience every time you come to a game.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • The prospect of high difficulty/possible motion sickness puts you off.
  • Too much happening on-screen is a regular occurrence.

A review code on PC was provided for the purpose of this review.

Boomerang X Review: Nintendo Switch

But what if YOU were the Boomerang?

It must be extremely difficult to come up with a “new” idea for a video game. In an entertainment sector, and yes an art form, that has been around now for over 50 years and grown to be so huge internationally there is a truly massive catalogue of games dating way back to the glory days of dedicated home ‘Pong‘ consoles and PCs that ran on DOS.

This study estimates that there are about 50,000 different games in existence, while video game industry statistics reports that there are 25 new games released on Steam EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that I have played any meaningful fraction of all of the games that have ever been made. But I have certainly played a lot. And I can’t remember the last time that I played a game with a concept so simple, but so well executed as Boomerang X.

Plot

Boomerang X isn’t here to engage us with a deep story. In fact, there really isn’t a story here at all. Basically the game starts with a cut scene of our seafaring ship crashing on an unknown beach. We wander throughs a deserted village and chance upon a strange weapon… A Boomerang in the shape of an ‘X’.

How do you actually catch it without losing a finger?

From that stage of the game there is very little exposition. There are a few occurrences when some residents of the island appear between levels and provide a very small amount of information. However, by the end of the game I didn’t feel that there was any real benefit to these interactions. Certainly there is no real ‘mystery’ here. No real obvious goal other than to get to the next level and reach the end of the game.

This is a game that relies on its gameplay to keep you interested and pushing forward. Fortunately, the gameplay here is excellent.

Gameplay

What type of game is Boomerang X you ask? The game creators at studio Dang! describe it as a single player ‘first-person arena combat experience’.

The structure of the game is quite simple. We are thrown into an enclosed room where we must fight multiple waves of enemies. A certain number of enemies will appear with each wave, but there will be specific ‘target’ enemies that must be defeated to pass each wave. The other enemies can be ignored in the sense that they don’t need to be killed, but obviously they will try to attack you if you ignore them. Once the last wave has been defeated, the exit door is unlocked and we can move on to the next room. This process repeats until you complete the game.

We start our primary battle with only the eponymous Boomerang that can be used to defend ourselves in the first arena of the game. This first arena, as might be expected, is a very basic flat circular level with no obstacles. After each section of the game we are provided with some kind of upgrade. Either a shield buff that allows us to receive one additional hit before dying (up to a maximum of 7 by the end of the game), or a new skill or ability that will allow us to plow through the increasingly difficult waves of enemies that appear in the game’s weird and wonderful battle arenas.

Welcome to the ‘Grave of the Yoran Legion’, AKA the Lava Pit.

Overall there are 13 main arenas in which to do battle. Each of them is unique both in structure and style. They require use of different skills in particular ways to successfully complete the challenging waves of enemies that will appear.

The developers here have done an absolutely excellent job in regard to the progression in this game. Each new ability is earned in a specific order and we are given a basic ‘test’ in how to effectively use each ability in the next arena after it is received. Simple skills such as calling the boomerang immediately back to our hand become so intuitive that by the later levels of the game I found myself doing it after each throw without even thinking about it.

Where the game really shines is the genius concept of the ‘Slingshot’ ability. If the ‘throw’ button is pressed a second time before the boomerang returns to our hand, we BECOME the boomerang and are flung across the screen in the direction of the boomerang and it is immediately returned to our hand in the process. This ability creates a battle movement and positioning mechanic that is an pure joy to use. It is almost like having a single shot Portal gun that can throw you anywhere in the arena… with some decent aim. I was somewhat hesitant to use this ability early on due to the unpredictable nature of the boomerang when it bounces off walls and obstacles. However, as Boomerang X does so well, one of the next arenas shortly after receiving the Slingshot ability begs us to learn how to use this skill to its full potential. Where battles were previously completed on relatively small and flat coliseums, we are presented with a massive multilevel forest with platforms and bridges between the trees – think Kashyyyk from Star Wars, but less hairy. Soon after mastering this arena, the Slingshot became my main method of transition, dodging and surprise attack.

The other skill that I found myself using very often was the ‘Flux’ technique which temporarily slows down time. Flux can only be used for very short periods while charging up the boomerang for a long distance throw, but it CAN be used in mid-air. The combination of Slingshot and Flux in particular was one of the most fun experiences I have had in a game in a long time.

The remaining skills typically have a requirement to set them up – such as killing two enemies with the same boomerang throw, or killing three enemies while mid-air (without landing). These abilities when charged provide even more alternatives when charging your way through each arena.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzap!

The enemy design here is also excellent. Early in the game we fight simple bugs (spiders and flies) that require only one single hit delivered from any angle. As we progress through there are squid enemies from the Matrix, enemies that can only be hit from behind, the giant storm caller that shrouds the arena in a lightning storm and more. Once again progressing difficulty of enemies and the techniques that are required to defeat them are perfectly paced to provide the learning environment for your new skills early, and the exact level of challenge that you are looking for late in the game.

Is that the thing from Horizon Zero Dawn?

I have no hesitation here is saying that the gameplay here is just great. It is smooth, fast, and just plain fun.

Presentation

As you can see from the screenshots peppered through this review, the presentation of Boomerang X is quite unique. This simple uses a small number of specific colours over a wide and bright palette to bring each area and arena to life. Green forests, blue/white icy caverns and flowing red lava are able to give each region a unique identity. These bright colours are then offset by the jet black enemies that appear with each wave, making them both very easy to identify and quite menacing when up close at the same time.

Hope you aren’t scared of spider…shadow…things

The music in Boomerang X is again minimalistic but does well to match the aesthetic of the game. The combination of soft oriental strings and tribal percussion give an otherworldly or alien feel to the game, which does match the visuals quite well, but do not always give the fast-paced high intensity aerial battles the urgency they deserve. But there is enough here to provide a pleasing backdrop to the action. Sound effects provide good feedback to what is happening on screen

Conclusion

I do need to state that Boomerang X is not a long game. I completed my first playthrough of each area in one (long) sitting of about 4 hours. The game was a good level of challenge and I did die on multiple occasions throughout this first run. Each death did not feel ‘cheap’, and was clearly due to skill error of the player.

This game is clearly built with repeated plays and speed running in mind. In fact, the game comes with an individual arena and overall speed run timer built in. Each wave of each battle starts in the same way (enemies appearing in the same positions), so I can certainly see this game being popular in the speed run community as players try to find the most efficient pattern of mowing down the enemies as quickly as possible.

On completion of the first playthrough, the option of starting a ‘New Game +’ is provided. This allows the game to be started from the beginning with all of the shields and abilities in place at the start of the game. Other gameplay options are provided as well such as a ‘no shields’ mode for extra challenge, and a ‘no gravity’ mode which completely changes the way each arena can be tackled.

Boomerang X also comes with a number of accessibility options such as a ‘high contrast mode’, and an ‘extra-visible required enemies’ mode. I found playing with these options switched on as a completely different visual experience from the base game. Not a ‘better’ experience necessarily, but it does look cool.

Accessibility activated for aesthetic reasons.

I enjoyed my time with Boomerang X immensely. For me the fire burned brightly, but only for a short period of time. Others looking to invest more time into ‘perfecting’ the game, or even speed running it will definitely find something here to get their hands dirty. The art style and the Slingshot mechanic I feel are unique, and definitely worth the investment for gamers looking to experience something new.

So, why should you play it?

  • You want to experience a fresh single player arena ‘shooter’ with tight controls, an interesting art style and a unique mechanic.
  • My last article about speed running tickled your fancy and you want to dive head-first into a new game to get your name on the leaderboard early.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Fast-paced action isn’t really your cup of tea.
  • Games with no storyline leave you frustrated or uninterested in continuing on.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.

Death’s Door Preview (PC)

Reaping souls ain’t much for the Crow, but it’s honest work.

UPDATE: we have now published a full review for Death’s Door, so be sure to check that out here if you’d like a comprehensive overview of the entire game. This articles covers only the preview, which is approximately 30% of the game but still a good snapshot of what to expect from the rest.

Devolver Digital have certainly garnered a reputation for being one of the best indie videogame publishers in the business. Their madcap approach to advertising and promotion coupled with handpicked creative and often unusual games has caught the attention of gamers from around the globe since their inception in 2009. And, like a fine wine or a delicious block of parmesan shaped into a game controller, Devolver only seem to get better with age.

Just a few of the excellent games from Devolver.

To add to their already vast library of published titles, earlier this year the team announced a game by the name of Death’s Door, an intriguing hack & slash following the tale of a soul-collecting crow set in a stylish gloomy world. Created by Acid Nerve, the two-person team responsible for Titan Souls, this immediately grabbed my attention thanks to its unique visual style and its avian protagonist and characters. Thankfully, the kind team at Devolver have provided me with a preview build to explore this entrancing world well before its launch on the 20th of July.

So what awaits behind Death’s Door?
Let me open the door a crack and give you a peek into the preview.

Premise

Office work can oftentimes be monotonous, and that’s no exception the Crow, who lives life by the clock, punching in on a daily basis and delivering the harvested souls of those who have died. Every day is much the same in this bleak and monochrome office, but a bird has to make a living, and so he sets off on his usual daily task to collect the next assigned soul on the roster.

*Not an actual screenshot from the game.

However, this routine task doesn’t quite go according to plan…
Upon collecting the next assigned soul, the Crow [STORY DETAILS REDACTED] and when returning to the office, it’s made apparent that the Crow’s own soul may be in danger unless actions are taken to fix what has just occurred. Venturing back into the bleak landscape to seek a solution, he just so happens to stumble upon…

Though inconveniently (but convenient to the plot) the door is locked, and the key to opening it lies in collecting the three Colossal Souls belonging to the Tyrants of the kingdom: a cursed witch, a mad king, and a vicious beast. Only by opening Death’s Door may the Crow complete the mission he has been tasked with. And so the Crow’s journey begins…

Gameplay

The game takes place across a sprawling map that is accessed through doors in the office-like hub world. By entering these doors, the crow is thrust into new locations full of souls ripe for the harvest. In design akin to Dark Souls, maps are vast and intertwined in clever ways, with shortcuts aplenty and secret locations that effortlessly link back to one another. Even though the preview build only showcases 5 of these areas, I was fascinated by each and wanted to explore every single corner to satisfy my own curiosity. Environmental puzzles will hinder the Crow’s progress throughout these area, and while most are simple, they are rewarding and offer more of a challenge when simultaneously trying to fend off hordes of enemies.

After exploring the main area, the map eventually branches off into smaller, more intricate locations that have the feeling of a traditional dungeon and reminiscent of Zelda titles. In the preview build, exploring the Ceramic Manor (the Urn Witch’s Mansion) involved collecting several keys, solving small puzzles in each room, fighting challenging enemies, and collecting the souls of four deceased crows to unlock a door and progress. After unlocking this door, the Crow gains the ability to fling a fireball, allowing access to a deeper area of the dungeon and then to the boss that awaits menacingly at the end. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the dungeons of A Link to the Past or Minish Cap in this design, but this is truly a compliment to the gameplay.

The first dungeon’s puzzles involve lighting fires.

Combat

Harvesting souls is not without its dangers, and as such the Crow is equipped with weaponry to help on this treacherous quest. Three melee weapons were made available in the preview build (sword, daggers, umbrella), and two ranged attacks (bow, fire spell). Attacks can be chained together in swift movements, and when coupled with ranged attacks and well-timed dodges, become a fluid barrage that at times made me feel as if I was playing Hades again. Collecting souls while progressing can be spent back at the office to upgrade the strength of attacks, the speed at which they can be performed, or other stat boosts that assist the Crow during combat.

Though I only played for just over 2 hours, by the end of the preview build I felt proficient in the combat and was able to take down the final boss without taking any damage. Restoring health during combat is not an option either, as the only way to do so is by planting seeds at particular pots and then consuming the bloom that sprouts from them. This means that every enemy encounter must be done with caution to avoid losing health unnecessarily.

Visuals

Interestingly, the game’s design and visual style seems somehow both charming and unnerving. The isometric view and detailed environments occasionally appear like miniatures or scale models, and the design and animations of the Crow are cute and at times juxtaposes with the bleak surroundings. Enemies feature a cartoonish yet grotesque appearance, and the design of some characters is just straight up hilarious, including a cast of characters whose heads have been replaced with pots by the wretched Urn Witch.

I love this character as much as I love soup.

It’s a lovely looking game and its eye-catching environments like detailed dioramas definitely had me pausing to appreciate the Crow’s surroundings on numerous occasions. There’s a lot of attention to detail, and at times this is even incorporated into some puzzles, which will require you to closely analyse for hidden clues. Though this has just been a taste, I’m excited to see the entire world in the full release shortly!

Audio

I’m a sucker for a good soundtrack. So how does Death’s Door hold up in only this short example? Well, the world of Death’s Door is bleak, so too should be its music. Each track in the preview build has a certain sadness to it, mostly featuring piano with light orchestration and ambient background effects. This obviously intensifies during enemy encounters or boss fights, becoming more frantic and fast-paced, but never seems to stray from an overall feeling of melancholy. Here’s a snippet of the music from the Ceramic Manor, the first main dungeon of the game:

What’s next for Death’s Door?

It’s hard for me to pass judgement on a mere preview of the game, but of what I’ve played so far, I’m eager for more. An intriguing world, smooth combat, and attractive visual style definitely make Death’s Door a game you’ll want to keep your eyes on like a hawk (or a crow). It releases shortly on July 20th for PC and Xbox One/Series S/Series X, and I’ll absolutely be playing the full version as soon as I can get my claws on it! Keep an eye out for the full review which I’ll be posting closer to launch.

You can find out more about Death’s Door below:
https://store.steampowered.com/app/894020/Deaths_Door/
https://www.devolverdigital.com/games/deaths-door/
https://playdeathsdoor.com/

Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights Review (PC)

I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain (of death)?

Love it or hate it (and many do hate it!), the word “Metroidvania” is one that has become widely used across the videogame community. An amalgam of Metroid and Castlevania, this portmanteau describes a specific sub-genre of action/adventure videogames that feature 2D platforming, role-playing game elements, and vast interconnected locales that promote exploration and backtracking. Popularised by iconic genre-defining games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, this style of gameplay has since become a staple of many modern games within the indie scene.

Though the origins of the genre arose in the ’80/90s, this group of games is now more popular than ever. Indie titles over the last decade have solidified the Metroidvania (sorry, I’ll stop using that word now) as one of the most prominent and admired: games like Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge, Dead Cells, Guacamelee!, and Ori and the Blind Forest just to name a few. Any self-respecting indie studio nowadays seems intent on releasing a game to compete with the ranks of these celebrated titles. And just when I thought I had seen them all, I discovered the most engrossing action/adventure game I’d encountered since I delved into Hallownest

Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights, published by Binary Haze Interactive, a new player in the indie scene, is a dark fantasy 2D action RPG releasing on PC, Nintendo Switch this month, and Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PS4 and PS5 later this year. At first glance this might just seem like another gloomy, gothic adventure inspired by the likes of those that have preceded it, but assuming that would be grossly underestimating the experience on offer in Ender Lilies. So how does a game so clearly inspired by others hold up against the source material, or sometimes even surpass it? Well, it’s time to dive into End’s Kingdom and the endless deluge that awaits…

Plot

In Land’s End lies a fragile young girl, lost and alone; a White Priestess awakens to discover the entire Kingdom has fallen and its inhabitants now afflicted and corrupted by a fowl Blight that has scoured the entire land. Greeted with the muted, soothing sounds of raindrops, the Priestess ventures further into a ruined cathedral to discover a downpour inundating and infecting all those that it touches: the Rain of Death. Though not truly alone in this ruined world, the Priestess is accompanied by the soul of one who in life strived to protect her, a valiant knight whose spirit joins her on this journey to unravel the mysteries that await.

It is the task of the lone Priestess to explore the source of the Blight, face those who have suffered from the ceaseless rain, and purify their souls so that they may find peace. Through the act of purification, the foes whom she faces may be redeemed and join her side to aide her quest. In the style of the Souls games, snippets of story are pieces together through character dialogue, depictions, and discarded notes that lay amongst the dilapidated ruins. What initially seems like a cliché gothic storybook evolves into an engrossing, entrancing setting that simply begs to be explored.

Gameplay

If you’ve ever played one of the games that belongs to this sub-genre, you’ll feel immediately familiar with the gameplay of Ender Lilies. Exploring an intricate, sprawling map with distinct locales, environmental puzzles and littered with secrets and collectibles feels as thrilling as the first time I ever played Symphony of the Night. Before you awaits a corrupted world divided into regions each featuring unique enemies, bosses, and blighted to purify, and feels as through you’re stepping into a 2D Kingdom of Lordran. In a style of game with such a heavy emphasis on platforming, the controls during running, jumping and dashing feel like second nature, and both the character and enemies have a distinct weight and momentum to their movement.

Google Maps isn’t going to help you here.

Throughout the Kingdom you’ll encounter the discarded corpses of those who have succumbed to the blight – some of whom may take you unaware in ambush, or others that lay menacingly in wait the end of foreboding arenas and hallways. Defeating these foes will allow the Priestess to purify them, and in turn their spirit will fight by your side. Collecting these souls will expand your repertoire of skills, adding elements like a double jump, dash, swimming, ground slam, all elements that will help unlock new areas that were previously inaccessible. It’s typical action/adventure fare that offers a means of player progress, but executed cleverly in a way this does not seem dry or uninspired.

Taking a moment to rest.

With systems that feel akin to Hollow Knight, the player may pause at benches and swap their equipped souls to ones that are more suited to particular area. Treasured trinkets may also be gathered on your adventures and equipped to enhance your abilities, though these will take up equipment slots that may be expanded by discovering necklaces scattered throughout the Kingdom. In another similarity, the player’s health can be restored by pausing in a solemn moment of prayer, which is useful when exploring but leaves the Priestess vulnerable. Prayers can be replenished not through combat, but by discovering white lilies that grow in even the most horrid, desolate environments.

Combat

It is truly difficult to put into words the flowing combat of Ender Lilies, which is some of the most responsive, intuitive, and enjoyable combat available in a game of this genre. What initially feels slow and awkward becomes a fluid combination of attacks, skills, dodges, and special moves that are easy to learn but difficult to master. An almost infinite repository of combat skills and attacks are on offer thanks to the spirits the Priestess purifies throughout the game, each of whom adds a new weapon to the arsenal. Whether you’re a player who prefers a swift onslaught of attacks, keeping your distance through ranged attacks, or a barrage of slow-but-heavy destructive moves, the combat can be customised to suit your liking.

If you want to survive in the blighted Kingdom, you’ll need to be observant, as each enemy has a distinct set of choreographed moves with tells that will alert the keen eye to the next incoming attack. By watching the movements you’ll be able to perform carefully-timed dodges and parries, allowing you to quickly counter and break the enemy. This becomes even more important through the inclusion of a stamina/stagger meter, which can be depleted through steady attacks on an enemy, leaving them wide open. Chaining together a series of uninterrupted attacks to tear down the stagger and then the health bar of a difficult boss is the ultimate feeling of satisfaction.

Wait a sec, I didn’t think this was a bullet hell game?

Although the environments and regular enemies can at times pose quite a challenge (especially when you are locked into arenas where blighted knights must be defeated before progressing), it is the game’s bosses that capture the true essence of Ender Lilies’ combat. The sheer variety of bosses and the skill required will put even seasoned players to the test, especially when the boss you thought you had just defeated transforms into a gargantuan, disgusting Eldritch abomination with twice as much health. There is no doubt that many of the foes you face will require numerous attempts, but the inevitable defeat of a boss is an experience that will have your heart racing by the end of the encounter.

Visuals

Combining the magnificent and the macabre, I do not exaggerate when I say that Ender Lilies is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous games I have encountered thanks to its detailed and distinct environmental art. While obvious nods to the likes of Castlevania and Hollow Knight appear throughout the Priestess’ journey, such as resting and saving at distinct benches scattered throughout the Kingdom, the game manages to create a truly beautiful, gothic-inspired art-style unlike any other game I’ve played. Each new region presents with it a unique visual aesthetic, while maintaining the overall art-style of the game which feels like playing a morbid fairy-tale.

Detailed environments, while bleak, are a pleasure to look at.

The visuals are at their best when elements of beauty can be found within even the darkest, most grotesque settings. While standing upon a mound of skulls, a serene light engulfs the scene and washes over the character. A darkened and lonely bedroom offers a brief respite and moment of comfort in an otherwise violent and dreadful deserted castle. Colossal cathedrals loom in the background and frame the boss fight occurring in the foreground – you’ll often be distracted to admire the sheer detail within all of these environments. Though enough of me trying to explain how beautiful the game can be, here’s some screenshots that speak more than words:

Audio

The music to Ender Lilies has been composed entirely by Japanese indie group, Mili, who have created songs that feature in anime like Goblin Slayer and Ghost in the Shell and rhythm games like Cytus and DEEMO. Few words are more fitting when describing the music of Ender Lilies than melancholy. The game’s sombre sounds of solo piano and haunting ethereal vocals echo throughout its disturbing environments, and sound as though they offer a fleeting glimmer of hope amongst the dark and daunting world. Songs will vary considerably based on your surroundings – heavy rain in open areas will dampen the track and remove its vocals, whereas the same song played indoors will be calming and detailed, adding extra layers of audio that were not previously present.

The theme of The White Parish area.

Overall the soundtrack features 50 tracks and a colossal 144 minutes of music, which is a massive amount for an indie game. There’s a lot to love about the music to Ender Lilies and I’ll likely be listening to it for weeks to months to come.

It’s also worth noting that the person responsible for the game’s sound effects is Keichi Sugiyama, who you might not know by name, but you’ll certainly recognise the games he is responsible, notably Rez, Daytona USA, and Rule of Rose. His experience in sound design is certainly reflected in the quality of the game’s audio, particularly in its frequent use of rain, water, and numerous audio cues that add to the overall experience.

Conclusion

Combining a bleak yet entrancing world with expansive exploration and seriously satisfying combat makes Ender Lilies one of the best in the genre, and in ways surpasses the games that have inspired it. Every moment throughout its 10 – 15 hour journey is captivating to say the least, and the game has taken me completely by surprise in what I can comfortably say has been one of the finest games I’ve played so far this year. If you consider yourself a fan of games like Symphony of the Night and Hollow Knight, you would be doing yourself an absolute disservice by not playing Ender Lilies. This is a game you must play.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’d consider yourself a fan of games in this genre.
  • Challenging and satisfying combat that never feels unfair.
  • Truly gorgeous art style, environments and soundtrack.
  • Interesting world that is intriguing to explore.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You struggle with challenging combat and swift dodging.
  • Not a fan of platforming games.

A review code on PC was provided for the purpose of this review.
Find out more about Ender Lilies here: https://www.enderlilies.com/

Shantae (GameBoy Colour) Review: Nintendo Switch

How does the Half-Genie Hero’s debut hold up after almost 20 years?

WayForward, an independent videogame developer and publisher based in California, have certainly made reputation for themselves over the last decade. Though the company was founded in 1990, it’s not been until the last decade that they’ve become a common household name. Memorable titles like Ducktales: Remastered, Aliens: Infestation, and most recently River City Girls have well and truly proven the studio’s knack for creating modern side-scrolling games and keeping this retro genre alive.

River City Girls Nintendo Switch
Kyoko and Misako fight for their boyfriends in River City Girls (2019)

However, one WayForward series stands hips and shoulders above the rest. I’m of course talking about the entrancing, belly-dancing, eponymous Half-Genie Hero: Shantae. Conceptualised in the mid-’90s during the boom of Nintendo’s killer handheld, the Gameboy, it wasn’t until the end of the console’s life cycle that Shantae made her debut on the videogame stage. In a bold move, the game was developed entirely for the GameBoy Colour and released in 2002 after the launch of the GameBoy Advance, a choice that game director Matt Bozon says contributed to the game’s poor sales.

Shantae Art Nintendo Switch
Shantae’s stylish character design definitely put WayForward on the (treasure) map.

Despite its poor sales performance, the original Shantae is widely-recognised as one of the best games released for the GameBoy, and it pushed the hardware to its limit. Additionally, gaining quite a cult following, it has become one of the most valuable games on the handheld, with original boxed copies occasionally going for upwards of $3000USD. Almost 20 years since its inception, WayForward’s flagship character now boasts five separate entries and over 3 million sales across the entire series. An incredibly impressive figure for a series that initially struggled for financial success!

Shantae Gameboy Color Colour Prices
Screw BitCoin, I’m going back in time to tell myself to invest in Shantae.

Now in collaboration with Limited Run Games and Modern Vintage Gamer, WayForward have revived the original Shantae title, republished, enhanced, and ready to dance on Nintendo Switch. This means that for the first time ever, all 5 games in the series can be played on a single console! So forget about taking out a personal loan to secure a copy of the original Shantae, because for a mere $10 it’s time to step back in time to one of the best GameBoy Colour games ever made.

Shantae Dancing Sprite Gif

Plot

Scuttle Town is a peaceful abode by the sea, bordered by a vast desert and inhabited by a cast of quirky characters. It’s also home to a mystical Half-Genie who lives not in a bottle, but in a lighthouse. However, that peace is soon interrupted by the nefarious lady-pirate, Risky Boots, who catches wind of a ancient technology recently unearthed in Scuttle Town: the Steam Engine. With the ability to produce an immense amount of power, Risky will stop at nothing to make this mystical invention her own, and whisks the dangerous device away for her own selfish plans.

Shantae Ret 2 Go Nintendo Switch
Shantae is always ret2-go!

As the self-appointed “Guardian Genie” of Scuttle Town, it’s up to Shantae to get Scuttle out of trouble! In order to thwart Risky’s plans, Shantae must recover the four Elemental Stones, each of which can be used to harness a unique power that can run the steam engine indefinitely. Spread out across Sequin Land and protected within ancient labyrinths, Shantae will need to uncover her hidden genie powers to obtain the mythical items and put an end to Risky’s escapades once and for all.

Gameplay

This initial entry in the series introduced a style of gameplay that has helped define all the other Shantae games that followed it. A unique blend of side-scrolling adventure, platforming, exploration and RPG elements combine with clever animal transformations making for a GameBoy experience unlike any other. I’d go so far as to say this is some of the most ambitious gameplay you’ll find on the console, and thanks to this it has aged incredibly well. The game takes place over three main areas: the overworld, dungeons, and towns, splitting the game into three distinct styles of gameplay.

Exploration: Spread across a sprawling map, there’s a vast world to explore in Sequin Land, which at times sometimes feels a bit overwhelming due to its impressive size for a GameBoy game. Each location has distinct enemies, platforming challenges, and environmental puzzles that you’ll need to overcome by using abilities that are acquired throughout the game. Using her hair as a weapon, Shantae will also need to fend off enemies spread throughout the overworld.

Shantae Overworld Gameboy color Colour Nintendo Switch

With a day-night cycle, numerous hidden collectibles, and expansive exploration, you’ll spend the majority of your time trekking the overworld in between its dungeons and towns. This can occasionally become bothersome, as the technical limitations of the GameBoy mean the screen is only capable of displaying a small portion of the area, and considering Shantae at times controls like a floating brick, you’ll often fall into obstacles that you have no way of predicting or avoiding.

Dungeons: Four major labyrinths appear during the game, each containing one of the four Elemental Stones. These are comparable to dungeons from early Zelda games, which feature a unique ability that will need to be utilised in order to progress. Through the mystical power of dance, Shantae can transform into one of four creatures: Monkey, Elephant, Spider, and Harpy. By rescuing the dungeon’s genie and unlocking a new transformation, you’ll be able to gain access to new areas and solve puzzles in order to progress. Then, at the end of each dungeon awaits a large boss that often also requires clever use of the transformation. These dungeons are entertaining, satisfying to solve, and in my opinion the overall highlight of the game.

Shantae Transformation Elephant Gif Nintendo Switch
Transforming into an elephant lets Shantae smash through obstacles.

Towns: These laid-back areas are the most entertaining aspect of Shantae, featuring colourful characters and incredibly amusing dialogue. By chatting with NPCs you’ll obtain not only snippets of information to aide Shantae on her quest, but also some legitimately hilarious conversation. Each town also contains a shop to purchase items like potions and weapons, a bath house to restore your health, a Warp Squid (for fast travel), and generally some form of optional minigame that can be played to accumulate currency. It’s a nice change of pace and some of the most unique presentation in a GameBoy game.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Color Colour Zombie Caravan Joke
The Zombie Caravan is my personal favourite and is packed full of hilarious dialogue.

Visuals

When playing Shantae, there’s one key fact to remember: this is a port of a GameBoy game. While the newer Shantae games feature gorgeous, vibrant, detailed graphics, the original somehow manages to achieve this despite the technical limitations of the hardware at the time. Character and enemy sprites and their animations are detailed, environments are colourful and packed full of detail, and the towns offer an impressive over-the-shoulder view unlike anything I’ve encountered in a game of this era.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art
The pixel art is particularly eye-catching.

WayForward managed to create a unique visual aesthetic drawing influence from both The Legend of Zelda, Aladdin, and real life Middle-Eastern Culture. This game’s visuals have formed the foundation of the series as a whole through its distinct art style and iconic character design. For players wanting to appreciate this further, there’s the inclusion of a bonus art gallery which features plenty of interesting concept art.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Art Gallery

Audio

At the time of its creation, the music of Shantae was composed by a mostly-unknown video game musician, who had actually dropped out of school to take up game music full-time. Having made soundtracks for only a handful GameBoy games, WayForward recruited the young musician and in doing so unknowingly helped create one of the most prolific VGM composers of all-time: the now legendary Jake Kaufman. Best known for his incredible music to Shovel Knight, Jake’s distinct chiptune style shines through every track of Shantae, which features many songs that have been used throughout the entire series.

Despite being a mixture of blips and bloops coming out of a Gameboy, the soundtrack has a distinct Middle-Eastern sound, as if being played by an 8-bit oud. It’s appropriate for the setting, catchy as heck, and honestly never gets old, which is important considering GameBoy tracks often have very short loops.

So what’s new?

Although the game is mostly unchanged, the Switch port makes several welcome improvements that help this near 20-year old game feel just a bit more modern. Save states are available, meaning that at any time the game can be paused and saved/loaded, which makes some frustrating areas much less tedious. I found myself not using it much, but it’s a welcome addition for those not accustomed to retro games. There are also several added visual options allowing the game to be played at a native resolution, with a sharp filter, or with an LCD screen effect layered on top.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Visuals Sharp LCD Filter
Sharp filter (left) and LCD filter (right).

The entire game now also includes the “GBA-enhanced” version, which features improved colour palettes and an additional “Tinkerbat” transformation that can be unlocked, allowing Shantae to fly. These all come as welcome additions, but do not add any massive enhancement to the overall gameplay.

Conclusion

Considering this piece of GameBoy history would have previously cost you almost $1000 to own and play legitimately, a mere $10 feels like a bargain to experience the first game in this brilliant series. Though the gameplay at times may feel clunky and frustrating to control, there is a wealth of enjoyable content in Shantae that ensure you forget any of its shortcomings. Not only is this an incredibly charming, amusing adventure introducing an iconic cast of characters, but it’s also a sheer technical marvel when you remember that it was designed solely for the GameBoy Colour. Although it might not be Shantae’s most outstanding performance, fans of the series and retro gaming alike would be foolish not to at least give this excellent Switch port a go.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art Dancing Sprite

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of the Shantae series and want to explore its origins.
  • Retro platformers are up your alley.
  • Gorgeous pixel art and catchy chiptune soundtrack.
  • Satisfying dungeon design akin to older Zelda titles.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Dated gameplay compared to the rest of the series.
  • Controls are at times clunky and frustrating.
  • Won’t appeal to those not fond of retro games.

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Announced for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch

You’re really gonna dig this game.

Strictly Limited Games brings an awesome and addictive platformer from the 80s – from legendary developer TOZAI – to PS4 and Nintendo Switch! Retro fans need to prepare themselves for a real challenge. Spelunker HD Deluxe will be available as Limited and Collector’s Edition for pre-order from Sunday, June 6th midnight (CEST) at the Strictly Limited Games Shop! The digital version for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 will follow in Q3 2021 by ININ Games. 

Dedicated retro game fans might remember the original game, which was first released for Atari 8bit computers back in 1983. Or also the PS award-winning “Spelunker HD” that was released for PS3. And now Strictly Limited Games proudly presents Spelunker HD Deluxe coming with awesome fresh graphics and a new game mode!

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

A variety of game modes and many different stages will provide players with a lot of challenges on their way to seek out the mystery that lies in the depths. All of the modes can be played as single player, but they are also supporting online multiplayer with up to six people and offline multiplayer with up to four people allowing the players to explore the caves together!

  • Adventure:
    Players can explore 100 stages by fighting and jumping their way through enemies and obstacles
  • Competition:
    The best cave explorer wins! In this mode, players can compete with their friends
  • Championship:
    The name says it all… This mode includes another 100 super-difficult, challenging stages that seek for real cave exploring experts
  • Endless Cave NEO:
    In this mode, players can compete and see how far they get in endless, randomly generated caves

Whilst exploring dark caves and avoiding getting beaten by the dangers that lurk in the depths, players can enjoy a fresh visual appeal with new 3D assets and a realistic cave atmosphere, accompanied by a catchy, memorable soundtrack. But those who prefer to keep it classic, will also get their money’s worth – the well-received “Classic Mode” that was also included in the PS3 version will still be available in Spelunker HD Deluxe. So retro fans can enjoy beautiful nostalgic pixel graphics and 8-bit sound for the original Spelunker experience like back in the early 80s.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

Players that are ready for a real challenge can get themselves an awesome limited Edition at the Strictly Limited Games Shop.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Limited Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Booklet
  • Individually Numbered

The Limited Edition is available for €29.99 and limited to 2700 copies for Nintendo Switch and 1500 copies for PlayStation 4.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Collector’s Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Collector’s Edition Box
  • Spelunker Figure
  • Glow-in-the-Dark Sticker
  • Flyer
  • Large Reversible Poster
  • Soundtrack
  • Level Guide
  • Booklet
  • Individually numbered

The Collector’s Edition is available for €59.99 and limited to 1300 copies for Nintendo Switch and 700 copies for PlayStation 4. If you’re wanting to secure a copy, before sure to keep an eye on this link for when the pre-orders go live, as they won’t last long: https://store.strictlylimitedgames.com/collections/spelunker

Maid of Sker Review: PS5

Will you answer the Siren’s call?

There is a new survival horror game out on PS5 this month (well, a newish next-gen upgraded version of the game anyway), and I’m not talking about Resident Evil. Maid of Sker was previously released by Wales Interactive for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2020, and has received the next-gen upgrade treatment for PS5 and Xbox Series consoles. Can the small Indie developer known for trying to bring back the ‘FMV’ style of game (baaaaaad idea) find some success with a game in a more mainstream genre? Read on my friends, read on…

Plot

The story of Maid of Sker bears little resemblance to the original Welsh folk song (or the novel of the same name). The game is set in 1898 in Wales and we embody Thomas, a silent protagonist (unless you consider grunts and screams as speaking). He is sent a letter by his lady friend Elisabeth along with her mother’s musical locket. Elisabeth requests that Thomas write a song, indeed a ‘counter song’ to the melody played by the locket (whatever that is), and to bring his music to her in the Sker Hotel managed by her father. Unfortunately, she cannot provide any further detail in her letter…how convenient.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
Welcome to Silent H… I mean the house of Lady Dime… I mean the Sker Hotel.

Thomas of course obliges to Elisabeth’s request and rushes to the hotel via train. On arrival, Thomas is greeted not by a thankful Elisabeth, but by a ringing telephone in the lobby of a dilapidated hotel filled with crazy cult members. Upon answering the phone, Thomas is pleased to hear that Elisabeth is on the other end of the line. She explains that she has barricaded herself in the attic to protect herself from her father, her uncle, and the strange people now inhabiting the hotel. She tasks Thomas with locating four musical cylinders hidden throughout the hotel that if played on the organ/harmonium in the hotel ballroom will turn everything back to normal. What is it that needs to be turned back to normal you ask? The ‘Quiet Ones‘ – staff and guests of the hotel that have been driven insane. They roam the grounds with sacks over their heads, viciously attacking anything that makes a sound.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
Play me a song my darling Elisabeth.

Thomas is generally left to his own devices to complete the game’s quest and other than some brief phone conversations with Elisabeth there are no other verbal interactions of which to speak. However, there are a number of clues scattered around the hotel in journals and on scraps of paper that provide further plot exposition. Elisabeth’s family has been part of a cult for generations, after her ancestors appear to have encountered the mythical Siren out in the open sea when sailing back to Wales. What was it about the Siren’s song that was so alluring?

Gameplay

The main story mode of Maid of Sker can be best described as a survival/stealth horror game. We control Thomas from a 1st person perspective as he skulks around the hotel finding clues, solving puzzles and picking up the musical cylinders without being discovered by the Quiet Ones. Fortunately, the Quiet Ones wear sacks over their heads and are for all intents and purposes blind. They can only locate you when you are silly enough to bump into furniture or try to walk through a dust cloud and cough your lungs out when they are in earshot. Unfortunately, in what may be a frustrating choice for some players, for the majority of the game we are literally defenseless. Even when the game is nice enough to provide a ‘weapon,’ this can only be used to temporarily stun enemies and cannot kill them, and in typical style the ammo for this weapon is extremely limited. More frustratingly, there is a point when this weapon is simply taken away from you for the rest of the game.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
How do you know I’m standing here? Oh, I forgot deodorant this morning you say? It is only 1898 after all.

Whilst I must admit to finding this complete lack of any offensive power incredibly frustrating in the early going, by the later game it does provide you with some tense moments. Thomas does control well enough, and there were never any moments where I felt a death in the game was caused by anything other than my own poor choices.

The puzzles in the game are all intuitive enough to solve without needing to look up a guide, and there are typically ample clues around to help you if you get stuck. In truth I would have liked a bit more variety in the puzzles here, and there is nothing ground-breaking that you haven’t seen done in similar games elsewhere. Find item X to open secret passageway Y that leads you to key Z etc. etc. That being said, the offering here is solid and if you like this style of game, then it is an enjoyable way to pass some time.

I must point out that the main story is relatively short even for survival horror, and can be completed in about 4-6 hours (more if you want to find all of the collectable items and uncover the full backstory). Originally released as an Indie title by Wales Interactive for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2020, the team have gone above and beyond in providing something new for this next-gen upgrade with a collection of completely new game modes.

These 4 modes whilst all somewhat similar in their goal (escape the hotel with a limited number of lives/deaths) and do show that the game developers listened to some of the complaints of the original game. The two main differences in these additional ‘Challenges’ as they are called are:

  1. You now have access to 4 different weapons (Axe, Handgun, Shotgun, Rifle).
  2. There are a number of different enemy types that you need to mow down on your way out of the hotel.

The new experiences do give you that feeling of power that you severely miss in the main story and are worth a bit more of your time. But they probably won’t be something that significantly extends your time with the game as the FPS style controls and gameplay are just not up to par with dedicated FPS games.

Certainly my favourite element of the gameplay is the way that music and sound are utilised throughout the adventure. The crescendoing shrieks of a dissonant string orchestra will warn you of danger nearby. Alternatively, a simple change in the background music to a music box tune will alert you to an important item or save point nearby. What is that you hear? The rattle of a key turning a lock in the distance? You go to investigate… you have now opened the door to the next section of the review.

Presentation

Presentation is both a strength and a weakness of Maid of Sker. On the negative side, and as we might reasonably expect from an indie title with a small development team, the visuals here are rough around the edges. This was a late generation PS4 game, but it really wouldn’t look out of place on a PS3 when you compare it to the big AAA games on that platform (think Last of Us and Uncharted 3). Similarly to the lack of variety in the gameplay, there is also a similar deficiency here. The one main type of enemy is very bland looking and their animation is a bit janky, and the main boss is not much better.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5

That being said, there has clearly been a lot of care and attention to detail here in regards to the environmental details here such as the trimmings of the hotel, the art on the walls and the furniture strewn around the rooms. There are a number of brief/small set-pieces that made me stop and say ‘that was sick‘ (in a good way), whereas other moments seem to fall flat, or almost appear comical in nature due to the animation. Despite the game’s clear limitations in terms of visuals, the gritty, dark Sker Hotel and surrounding grounds provide a great atmosphere particularly when combined with the aforementioned best element of the game – the sound design.

Audio

I was blown away by the quality of the sound and music in this game. It is by no means perfect, but clearly sound design is the highlight of the Maid of Sker experience. Given that ‘music’ is a core aspect of the game’s story and gameplay, it is obvious that the developers really put some effort in to this part of the game. The soundtrack is haunting and the perfect fit to this game, particularly in the build up to the game’s finale. Sound effects are also generally good, but can occasionally be a little more miss than hit, for example some of Thomas’ falling/death screams seeming more funny/hilarious than scary. Thomas is silent throughout the game other than his breathing, screaming and yelling. Elisabeth, however, is fully voiced during the numerous phone calls with her, and the Gramophones that are used as this game’s save point (like the Typewriter in Resident Evil) will also play a recorded voice clip of Elisabeth and her family.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
If the screech of this device upsets you, wait until you hear me falling.

Some PS5 features also helped improve the experience such as the fast loading times and the utilisation of the Dual Sense controller’s haptic feedback. Thomas’ heart rate will increase and become stronger depending on the situation he finds himself. It is subtle but again helps build on the game’s strong atmosphere and overall experience.

Conclusion

Maid of Sker was made by a small core team of less than 15 people, and at times it does show. As noted above, the base game is very short for a modern game. Even in this game’s genre, this one feels a little bit short for me. This may be as a result of the repetitiveness in the enemies and the puzzles.

That being said, the atmosphere that is built though the soundscape of this game is excellent. You can feel the pressure and tension of sneaking past groups of enemies, and the relief of snatching the item that you need to progress without being found.

There is nothing here that can be considered broken or otherwise gamebreaking. The game is a solid package and everything works. I played through the full story and multiple attempts at the challenge content and did not come across any bugs or crashes on PS5. Maid of Sker can’t compete at the level of a game like Resident Evil: Village – but we have to accept that a AAA game would have had at least 10 times the number of staff working on the game as Maid of Sker.

For what it is Maid of Sker is an enjoyable, if not short, experience that provides an intriguing story, a creepy atmosphere with some occasional jump scares and a cracking soundtrack.

So, why should you play it?

  • You are a survival/horror buff and want to experience a different and unique story.
  • Zombies, Vampires and other common horror tropes bore you and you want something more.
  • Not much time to play? No worries with this, you can get through it easily without too much of a time sink.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • BOO! (did that scare you?)
  • You prefer a game that you can engage with for a long period of time.

A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.