Click the above picture to hear my interview with Steve Lamacq for the Good Day/Bad Day segment on BBC Radio 6 – broadcast date 18/06/09 at 16:45.
Crashing the Castle – 4 page X360 Magazine spread
Ever heard of Alien Hominid? It was an Xbox sleeper hit back in 2005 and was developed by a small, independent company called The Behemoth. Those who shelled out their hard earned pennies on Hominid were treated to homage of games gone by. Influenced by classics like Metal Slug and Golden Axe, Hominid was best known for its crushing difficulty level and vibrant art style, and we loved it! But why bring up a game from last generation, you say?
You’ve probably also heard of spiritual sequel Castle Crashers which is currently doing the rounds on Xbox Live Arcade and those who played Hominid will no doubt have made the obvious link between the two titles thanks to the artwork of Dan Paladin, which simply bleeds from the screen. Of course, it’s made by the same people, but what you don’t know about these people is the fascinating story that led them from a bedroom in Philadelphia to your very own bedrooms via the advent of Xbox Live Arcade.
It all starts with a young American programmer by the name of Tom Fulp. Born with one eye darker than the other, he was praised early on for his creative school projects, yet drew gasps at some of his more outrageous creations such as a video book report in Year 6 which featured death, drugs and alcohol. It unsurprisingly got a D. Throughout school, Tom dipped into HTML and found his passion for programming, animating shorts in the school media centre and growing up through the mystical golden age of gaming with his Neo Geo and other classic consoles.
It was in 1995 that Tom created what would lead him here today. An HTML website called ‘New Ground Remix’ that hosted his shock content created out of boredom, such as a game where you could take up your bat and club a seal, to the celebrity slugfest known as ‘Assassin’ which featured ways to bump off the most irksome figures of the 90s (Britney Spears’ monster truck for instance is still relevant today!). What started off as a bit of fun ended up generating quite the reaction; letters from the BBC threatened to sue following the sadistic Tellybubbies game, yet Tommy Lee described one of Tom’s first games as the best thing he had ever seen on the internet.
“I was just goofing around when I first set up Newgrounds, but I always wanted it to be a fun destination for people to visit,” recalls Tom. “By 1998 the site evolved to a Flash interface, with lots of simple games developed with Flash 2. This is when I bought the domain name and moved off free hosting provided by my ISP. In 1999 I created a section called the Portal, intended as a black hole for small or unfinished projects. Other people were making stuff with Flash and looking for exposure, so I started to showcase their small projects in the Portal alongside my own. The demand became so great that I started becoming overwhelmed by all the files people were emailing me and I wanted a better way to manage them. I hired my friend Ross, a PHP/MySQL whiz, and the automated Flash Portal launched in early 2000.”
YouTube? Newgrounds did it first. It developed a cult following and was the first place on the internet that people could submit their own creations to and get a mass critique. One such person who came across the site was Dan Paladin in 2001, who instantly climbed to the top of the awards system with his quirky and colourful submissions. “Newgrounds had a significant impact on discovering things about myself as well as how an audience reacts. It can sometimes be a tough crowd there who can either push you to better yourself or to give up – all depending on how you take the really honest reviews.” Tell that to Gary Brolsma who did the Numa Numa dance! First seen on Newgrounds, the internet jive-bunny had to go into hiding after the ensuing popularity, although we hear he’s doing fine now…
It was only a matter of time before the artist and the programmer met. Tom remembers their first project well. “Dan and I met and just casually started talking about making a game together. It was all just for fun – Dan made funny cartoons in Flash and I made Flash games so things just clicked. Our first game was about a guy with a giant sack, and I don’t mean Santa Claus. You used your giant sack to bounce around and smash things.” Dan agrees, “We clicked really quickly since our approach and tastes are somewhat similar. We are passionate about what we do so we have strong opinions. Sometimes those opinions differ but the great thing about that is we always find a compromise which ends up benefiting our games greatly each step of the way.”
But how do you make that jump from making games about testicles to publishing games for consoles? Could the controversy on Newgrounds turned out to have been a self made noose? Not if you can turn negatives into positives. Their next project was a breakaway flash game-Alien Hominid-which now has over 17 million views on the website alone. Newgrounds was a prime guinea pig to test their skills and the reception from users was glowing. Real life would soon take hold though, Dan’s employers had shut up shop and he, alongside some industry veterans now found themselves destitute after working on an early XBLA project. Proving that it’s not what you know but who you know, Alien Hominid reached a co-worker of Dan’s, John Baez, who loved the web version and wanted to see it on consoles. The three got their heads together and formed The Behemoth with some of Dan’s ex co-workers, an entirely self funded company devoted to publishing their own titles.
“Remember that each developer is on their own in terms of funding, the hardware manufacturers are not funding games they don’t own.” warns John, now considered an industry veteran, emphasising the point that pitching Hominid would be thankless. Tom could also see the difficulty pitching the idea to an already flooded console market. “We learned early on that it would be an uphill battle to pitch Alien Hominid, considering it wasn’t based on an existing film or console franchise. Rather than land a development deal up-front, we took a leap of faith and made the game on our own, out of our own pockets. Some publishers totally didn’t understand the appeal of the game and didn’t have any interest, while others wanted to pay us lots of money and lock up the characters for sequels and licensing deals.”
So, they had to network. Comic Con, Tokyo Game show, you name it. They were there in their stall with copies of the game-which took a painstaking 15 months to upgrade from flash-generating a fan base and meeting as many people as they could inside the industry. It wasn’t easy and there were low points for Tom. “If people had hated Hominid, I probably would have just stuck with web games, but there was this feeling of unfinished business that remained afterwards. It was like we got a taste of what we could do on consoles, and we wanted to give it another go and make something bigger and better. It helped knowing there were fans out there who would appreciate the effort.”
It finally took off and sales for Alien Hominid grew after release, the game getting a great critical reception and sold particularly well in Europe. After the initial success of Hominid, the next move was, of course, Castle Crashers. Tom was in no mood to rush the next project though, and actually had difficulty establishing what console it should appear on after Hominids cross-platform success. “Alien Hominid was a rewarding but stressful experience, so I wasn’t in a huge rush. We dabbled with a lot of stuff and eventually just sort of fell into Castle Crashers when we knew it felt right. We originally started with Gamecube and PS2, but we knew they were on their way out. We tinkered with PSP for a while but weren’t really feeling it. Once we settled on XBLA, we knew we had made the right choice. It was an awesome platform for our style and had enough processing power for us to go nuts.”
Again, the differences between designing a game for the web and for a console were a massive task. With a new title to show off, more conventions had to be attended but this time with the absence of a need to prove themselves. “We always loved showing off Castle Crashers because it got such a great response from people. We didn’t need to win over any publishers because we opted to self publish. There was a point, when Castle Crashers was nearing the three year development point, where conventions became somewhat bittersweet. People still loved the game, but they also questioned if it would ever be finished, and it pained us that it wasn’t. When you have a small time and put a lot of care and love into what you’re doing, things can take a while!” says Tom. Three years may sound like a long time, but in hindsight, both men have just hit their thirties and have two bestselling games to their name. Anything is possible in the future, especially with a reworking of Alien Hominid just released over XBLA in HD.
The hard work has so far paid off; initial reception for Crashers has been great, the game regularly hitting top spot for download figures. So, Dan, anything missing from the game that you wish to God had gone in there? “I would have liked to see 2on2 arena battles. People are still finding ways to have team battles by calling out who is on which team. So in a way, it is still able to be achieved but I would have liked to have a leader board for it. We had this feature on its way but I believe we had to drop it due to time constraints. I’ve learned that no matter what happens we’ll always want to go back and change something. I think realizing that has given me a little more peace of mind with Castle Crashers!”
It sounds like the quintessential American dream for two American developers who share a common love of gaming. Of course, talent and luck play their part but it just goes to show how anybody can get into the industry with focus, hard work and socialising with the right people. And with the new community games feature on NXE, getting into gaming suddenly seems a whole lot easier…
Newgrounds has never shied from causing headaches for the legal world. Here are three of their best submissions:
TELEBUBBY FUN LAND
A satanic Tinky Winky and promiscuous Po made Ragdoll see red, but visitors flocked to the site regardless.
CHAINSAW THE CHILDREN
One of their first joint web projects, Dan and Tom caused uproar with this early imagining of Gears of War…
K-FED: DANCING WITH FIRE
A more recent entry gives you the chance to batter the irritating Kevin Federline whilst Britney holds the baby.
Here, Dan Paladin gives us an insight into character creation, thanks to his previously unreleased concept art!
“A lot of the time I will show Tom a character design and we both talk about what he might do, what would be funny, etc…”
“…then I will go and create a few actions for him and Tom blocks in his attack patterns.”
“After we play around with that for a little while we brainstorm once more for the finishing actions and touches.”
“Sometimes approaching something that doesn’t feel right later with fresh eyes makes the correction that was needed extremely fast and obvious!”
Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon Wii Review
– D-PAD Online Magazine
Mystery Dungeon has reared its head again lately, but most people will probably recognise it more for its latest Pokemon incarnation. If you haven’t played one yet then the idea is simple. You localise around a hub, usually a town, and have to explore surrounding dungeons. The selling point is this, the dungeons are randomly generated each time and the difficulty levels are extreme. Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer on DS for example will allow you to grind your character up to, say, level 10, only to strip you of everything you’ve collected-including experience-should you die at the hands of an aggressive foe. A lot of dedication is needed when taking on any Mystery Dungeon title, so does it blend well with a Final Fantasy formula?
The premise is such; you are Chocobo, treasure hunting with Final Fantasy mainstay, Cid. You come across a tower in the sand, which pleasingly turns out to be an excellent tutorial of the games dungeons and battle mechanics. When completed, you’re then banished to a town called Losttime and must solve the mystery of why all the townsfolk have their memories erased when the clock in the bell tower strikes, and the origins of a baby that has hatched from an egg which fell from the sky. All set up for an interesting Final Fantasy fable, right?
Well, seemingly. It all depends on how old you are, the opening cutscene following the tutorial is at least fifteen minutes long and it’ll no doubt leave a lasting impression on how you treat the game. The script and voice acting are terrible throughout the game and-combined with the intense, cutesy visuals-make you feel, like, totally pre-teen. But don’t forget, at heart this is still Mystery Dungeon and there are times when it can still be bone crushingly difficult and unfair, so who’s it aimed at? According to the box, it’s aimed at everyone, yet this is a serious mistruth.
For the hardcore lot that have ploughed through Mystery Dungeon’s left right and centre, they’ll find there’s a good little RPG here beneath the surface. It’s possible to level up your character, and the new addition of job classes adds something that’s been missing from the series for a good while. You can level each job up as you progress, which include Knight, White and Black mages and Dragon amongst others. But again the game shoots itself in the foot; you’re only allowed to choose a job BEFORE entering the dungeon, meaning your whole journey will be based on fluke rather than careful selection or tactics.
Dungeons are disappointing, all are muddy and boring despite being randomly generated and, of course, laden with traps. It’s more or less impossible to spring them however, leading each journey down a frustrating trial and error route. It’s not all bad though as some dungeons have great challenges. One that really sticks out is the ‘1hp’ dungeon where you and the surrounding foes all have 1hp, one hit will determine the outcome, leading to a lot of strategic thinking. There are other fun distractions such as card games which you can take online and collectibles like any good RPG.
The hub town is also very helpful, there are chances to upgrade weapons, deposit items (which can be handy as you lose everything in your inventory if you die), money and meet helpful friends including a bizarre band of Moogle’s offering advice along the way. The pointer on the cute-o-meter hits 11 with Chocobo’s Dungeon, despite some frankly poor Dreamcast day visuals and anti-Wii controls (think Paper Mario).
Chocobo’s Dungeon is a mixed little package. It’s obviously trying hard and can be addicting at times. It’s the only thing of its kind on the Wii right now and by giving it a lot of time, Mystery Dungeon fans will get a lot out of it if they don’t mind the cruddy presentation. Sadly though, it does what it does best in one area only, the Mystery Dungeon area and people unfamiliar to the formula will more than likely struggle to get into things. Chocobo’s Dungeon though, is a great introduction to the mechanic and what it’s all about. If you’re feeling brave enough, give it a try. It might just be the Golden Chocobo you’re looking for.
Official Playstation 2 Magazine – Doctor Who: Time Trumps Preview
GET YOUR TOP OFF
Traversing entire galaxies into your PS2, it’s Doctor Who: Top Trumps
A whole new generation is experiencing the universal magic that Doctor Who cast on it’s parents, so it’s only natural that everybody wants a piece of what made it so popular. It’s called merchandising, and it ends up spreading to all manner of things. Action figures for example, bucket meals at KFC, and even as far as Top Trumps. But Dr Who Top Trumps? In a video game?
Maybe not the most logical progression for a time lord who’s adventures span countless millennia, so it’s understandable that we approached the game with some caution. Presentation wise, the Doctor looks graphically sound. The character models are taken from the cartoon that aired on CBBC a while back, but where the show features the voices of the original cast, you’ll be pressed to find anything other than the programmes opening theme being played on a constant loop. It’s a shame because dialogue would add a lot to the experience. Hearing the intergalactic Doctor curse the Daleks in his cheery Scottish tone would be fun and Martha Jones’s Cockney drawl would add just that little bit of spice.
There isn’t much spice to the gameplay however, which is just like… er… real life Top Trumps. You get dealt a card, pick a statistic from the five on offer and hope that it’s high enough to beat your opponents measurements. Special powers help improve these intergalactic struggles, for instance the Doctor can use his Timewarp ability to view the opponents next three plays, and if the Slitheren doesn’t fancy his chances, he can clone his opponents card, resulting in a stalemate. Cards are well balanced, you’ll grin when you land the Emperor Dalek because of his numerical advantages and groan equally as loud when you turn over Captain Jack because, well, he’s terrible in every single way. Ok that’s not entirely fair, he does have a speck of courage, but these filler characters feature heavily in Gallery mode which includes descriptions and content of all your favourite monsters from the last few seasons.
It’s easy to be picky though as this is obviously aimed at the fan base, and boy does it cater for their tastes. Playing the single player adventure is key to unlocking new content, so David Tennant junkies will find something here which is bang for their buck. For collective fans, the two player mode is ideal and adds more competition to the experience. It’s fair to say that we were expecting a lot more from the Doctor like some hardcore 3D space battling action, but seeing as his last adventure was over a decade ago on PC, it’s an overdue and welcome regeneration for Britain’s best interstellar traveller.
DEV: Ironstone partners
Sins of a Solar Empire Review – StrategyInformer.com
There’s a consensus in the PC world that the realm of the RTS isn’t what it used to be. Fans of the genre will fondly recall titles such as Red Alert and Dungeon Keeper in the early days before moving onto heavyweights such as Rome: Total War and Company of Heroes. Nowadays though, the MMO has taken over. Thought perplexing Strategy has been tossed aside by the brutish rush tactics of Warcraft and Co. So along comes Sins of a Solar Empire, looking to fill up that black hole with a meaty asteroid of RTS gameplay.
Load up the game and you’re treated with an intro movie with a plot as convoluted as Star Wars Episode 1. It appears that humanity has fallen foul of alien races and religious sects that we simply cannot co-exist with. Without explaining too much and speaking in riddles, the narration more or less leaves you to figure out that there’s a three way space battle on the cards, and we have to do everything in our power to protect humanity. So let’s get going! What’s our first mission? Who do we attack first?
This is the first major disappointment of the game. There is no Campaign mode! Battling away the tears, you then make your way over to the tutorial to get a slice of what the gameplay has to offer and let me tell you now, the first time you play it your brain will want to wither and die like a distant planet becoming a Red Dwarf. There’s simply so much to take in initially and it’s easy to feel lost, peering over your monitor in the hope of being easily distracted by something else in the office.
You’ll be introduced to planet politics, how to tax your people, resource management, vessel constraints, research and tech trees amongst a pile of other things including how Geordi La Forge’s eyes work in Star Trek. Ok, I made that last one up, but the initial feeling is one of confusion, especially when you clap your eyes on the gargantuan key list in the manual which is akin to reading a dictionary in Klingon.
This is a test of mettle though and will show what kind of gamer you really are. Sins of a Solar Empire just isn’t for the casual market, plain and simple. It’s for those who have lots of time and are have the patience to learn everything about the game. And the reward for all of this investment? You’ll get a package with gargantuan space battles lasting for hours, even days at a time with superb visuals and a feeling of real triumph when you get to grips with everything and storm a galaxy.
The game looks very impressive indeed. As it’s obviously set in space, you’ll have to put up with your share of endless black with a few dots here and there for stars, but the impressive zoom function alleviates all of this though which shows the beauty of the Iron Engine. Ironclad have done a brilliant job with camera flexibility meaning you can be as close as possible to an epic space battle, and with a simple scroll of the mouse, can zoom out as far as possible to see the galaxy of planets you can travel to at your whim.
Start up single player and you’re presented with a myriad of scenarios from survival of the fittest to all out exploration. The core goal is always the same though, to colonise and take over every planet before any of the other races. You’re given one of three to choose from, the Human Trade Emergency Coalition (TEC), a psychic religious sect (Advent) or the strongest alien empire in the galaxy (Vasari). Each races personality is reflected on its fleet, the Vasari for instance can choose to focus on incapacitating ships in line with their slave trading nature while the TEC concentrate on stoic firepower such as missiles and nuclear firepower.
Of course there are the conventional RTS staples here, resource collecting comes in the form of mining crystals and metals from asteroids. Where it’s different from the likes of Command and Conquer is that you can more or less leave it be, leaving you free to explore the galaxy at will with your units, which are cleverly selectable from a collapsible tree to the left of the screen. Clever because as you amass a sheer behemoth of ships, it would be hard to keep track of them in any other game. Not so here as they’re all laid out for you should you wish to select one at will, making management a simple affair for such a complex game.
Such a mechanic allows you to solely concentrate on building up your planets and ships ready to take on everyone else, but you’ll need to be quick. Pirates are always on the loose and can be bribed by other races to take you out as soon as possible which can be frustrating, especially when you first pick up the game. Black market schematics can be used to your advantage though, meaning the highest bidder could be the difference between defeat and victory. Don’t like the sound of that? Then simply switch it off in the options menu!
Where Sins of a Solar Empire is excellent value is also in its Multiplayer. Bored of spending hours traversing the galaxy looking for trouble? Then take it online and challenge a complete stranger. Where this is interesting is that the more diplomatic side of proceedings is exercised, make a pact with someone else to wipe out a rival? Or enlist the aid of pirates to stab your ally in the back? Whichever way you choose to do it, the size of online means that you’ll probably spend hours doing it
In closing, you could spend an entire lifetime playing Sins of a Solar Empire, it’s that involving. But the drawback of this is that you’ll need to spend half of that lifetime learning how to play it. If you’re a casual gamer then steer clear, but If you have both the time and the inclination to devote a lot of time to learning the sometimes over complicated set up then you’ll have more fun than some kind of space pun I can’t think of at the moment. It’s simply a must buy.
Graphics – 8.9
Sound – 8
Gameplay – 8.5
A.I. – 8
Value – 9
Tilt – 8.5/10
Difficulty – Medium – Hard
Learning Curve – Steep
Universe at War: Earth Assault Review – D+PAD Online Magazine
How many times has it been said that a Real-time strategy game won’t work on a console? There have been many valiant efforts, Command & Conquer for example gave gamers a brief glimpse of what could be achieved, but the genre leap from PC to consoles sometimes doesn’t have the desired effect. Sadly, Universe at War: Earth Assault is the perfect example of this, and it’s a shame because like one of the walkers in the game itself, it has some strength underneath its bonnet. The premise is this – War has broken out on Earth as an unknown power of celestial invaders called ‘The Hierarchy’ come to Earth to mine the planet. As this battle wages, an interstellar portal opens up carrying a race called the Novus, sworn enemies of the Hierarchy. They carry an elfin hero with them, a lady by the name of Mirabel who can pilot a mecha which looks strangely like a Gundam unit. Unfortunately, none of this has gone unnoticed by the Masari, an ancient race who reside at the bottom of the oceans and have to protect the planet at any costs. And so the premise is set, three entirely different factions for you to control and wreak havoc with on our beautiful home. Except it actually isn’t that simple, or come to think of it, even that fun.
First of all, what the game does well. It surprisingly goes quite far in bridging the gaps on RTS console gaming. The menu system uses cycle functions via the bumpers and the triggers to select units and skills, and works quite well. The alien vehicles can be a joy, carry a lot of weight to them and are imaginatively designed. The Hierarchy Walker for instance is a towering upgradeable behemoth with several strengths and weaknesses to turn a battle. Unfortunately though, the flaws far outweigh the good points. The camera can really take away from the experience, there’s no way to zoom in or out of battles, which can create massive frame rate problems. When all these colossal alien modules square up and prepare for a fight, the game freezes and jerks and acts like it can’t cope. Fair enough if the graphics were incredible and something to shout from the rooftops about, but for a 360 game, it’s pretty mediocre stuff. Where a lot of detail has been offered to the vast alien weaponry, it’s all seems a bit futile when you’re stomping and destroying basic rectangles and squares or trawling vast boring deserts.
Ok, so bashing a game because of graphics may seem pretty cheap. But it just shows up UAW as the mediocre port from the PC that it is. Where we say the controls are quite good, we mean the basic menu system. Trying to select a group of soldiers to fight in one unit is a terrible mess as you ‘paint’ over them with a big green circle, and this coupled with the non-existent zoom makes distinct vehicle selection and targeting enemies a nightmare. Add the frame rate issues whilst in the heat of a battle and the game can become very frustrating very quickly.
Which is where campaign mode comes in. The script seems to have been written by Paul and Barry Chuckle. Within five minutes you’ll have encountered every single science fiction cliché ever written, including American Colonel Moore demanding the safety of the President, whilst Mirabel will contemplate her human emotions as the robotic Novus dismiss them as not being essential to their programming. It’s a real damp squib on campaign mode, whilst the leap in and play mechanics of skirmish mode is all but ruined by the technical niggles. Online mode however does promise 360 owners can battle against their PC counterparts which will be interesting to see – when the service is up and running of course.
So all in all, Universe at War offers some interesting and fresh ideas, but is let down by numerous basic complaints. It’s a real shame because where the game starts of very War of the Worlds, it ends up being more of a Sci-Fi mish mash, like Will Smiths Wild Wild West. However, the title is promised to be the first in a series so maybe next time we will see a real contender for a stonking console RTS title.
Score: 2.5 stars / 5 stars
FORMAT REVIEWED: 360
OTHER FORMATS: PC
The Top 5 Batman handheld games Feature – PocketGamer.co.uk
It’s that time of the year again when Hollywood dazzles us with multi-million dollar summer blockbusters. This year, Batman is back on screens in The Dark Knight, allowing a new generation to enjoy the Caped Crusader, and making us older fans feel a wee bit guilty.
We keep throwing Batman out of our lives, see, only for the night-loving crimefighter to fly back like a wonky batarang, smacking us right between the eyes. Deservedly so, perhaps. Although lacking super powers, Bruce Wayne is touted by fans as the ideal hero, using his own wit and guile (and martial arts expertise, exceptional physique, high-tech gadgets and so on) to bring Gotham’s scum to justice.
And ladies, he’s absolutely loaded!
All of this source material is excellent fodder for a great game and developers over the years have more than capitalised. As well as movies, cartoons and comics, Batman has found himself on the kind of consoles that fit right into your own utility belt. Some have been bad enough to send fragile gamers to Arkham Asylum, but some have given us a swashbuckling account of what it’s like to be the Bat.
With the Batman phenomenon screeching around every console, we’ve decided to take a look at the five most notable handheld Batman games to date (in chronological order).
The Top 5 Batman handheld games
Batman had already tasted success on home consoles, but the Game Boy release in ’89 marked the first time gamers could fit Master Bruce in their pockets. Players took control of Batman as he hunted down the Joker, trying to stop him and his henchmen wreaking havoc around Gotham City. A platformer based on the Tim Burton film, it was nothing like the movie at all. Michael Keaton never had to jump across floating girders to grab a giant floating ‘N’, but developer Sunsoft remained faithful to the plot. Jack Nicholson cut-scenes sandwiched between a fast-paced Batplane level led to a thrilling showdown in the Gotham City bell tower.
A title released in ’95 across all systems to coincide with the Warner Brothers animation of the same name, the plot differed in each game with the handhelds being no exception. The Game Gear version saw Robin being captured by the Joker, with Batman going on the hunt to save his young apprentice. Maybe if Robin wasn’t busy in his room worrying about bat-spots and bat-girls then Batman wouldn’t have had to slug his way through a pretty standard beat-’em-up, taking on some of Gotham’s most psychotic crimelords. Kids, eh – who’d have ’em?
You might not have heard, but the year is 2040 and Bruce Wayne is suffering from a bad case of rickets. Released in 2000, Return of the Joker stars a Bruce Wayne who’s more like Bruce Forsyth, forced by decrepitude to hand over his cape to 16-year-old punk Terry McGinnis in line with the Warner Brothers cartoon. Young Terry is tasked with taking on the JoKeRz – a futuristic Hitler youth following the exploits of the Joker – by relying on his new high-tech bat suit. With Neo Gotham littered with booby traps more hazardous than the GBC colour palette, Terry ends up saving the world after beating up lots of generic enemies in side-scrolling fashion. Hmm, sounds familiar.
The ’05 mobile incarnation of the Batman Beginsmovie (we gave it a rather respectable 7/10 when we reviewed it) tried things a little differently by introducing stealth to Batman’s talents. An action game at heart, Batman Beginsinvites you to infiltrate some of Gotham’s seediest buildings to take down the criminal underworld and seek revenge on the killers of Bruce Wayne’s parents. With slick new tools to match those in the movie, Batman Begins delivered gameplay tighter than Katie Holmes’s top with the stealth gameplay making Batman more translucent than Christian Bale’s talent. A top-notch download.
We’re awfully excited about this one. And yes, we’re jumping the grappling hook gun by including it before the game is finished. But we’ve played it and can’t see how it shouldn’t make this list. Traveller’s Tales has already brought the Lego magic to Star Wars and Indiana Jones and on current evidence you should expect the same with Batman in September. If so, we’ll have a party at Wayne Manor to celebrate. Promising two-player co-op, the game allows you and a sidekick to either save or destroy Gotham, depending on your persuasion, as you star as the hero or villain. Expect to have the whole Batman roster to tackle in a portable Lego brick Gotham City, including Gary Oldbloke himself, Commissioner Gordon. If there is a regret, it’s just that Lego won’t do Catwoman’s cleavage (and the Bat’s fabulously moulded pecs, obviously) any favours. You can’t have everything.
PokerMillion 2009: The Bluff Review – PocketGamer.co.uk
Type ‘poker’ into our trusty Pocket Gamer search engine on your left and you’ll be greeted by literally hundreds of results, which demonstrates how saturated the mobile poker market is today. To stand out from all the others, developers are going to have to offer something different to the genre, which is what Massively Mobile is trying to do withPokerMillion‘s lavish Story mode.
Stakes are high as you follow the trail of your missing brother Alex, a world-famous poker genius who likes to keep a hand in the criminal underworld. Alex has suddenly gone AWOL and is presumed dead so it’s up to you to spend thousands of dollars at the world’s most lucrative casinos to try and find out where he’s gone. As you progress you find out that he’s been captured by a man known only as ‘The Wolf’ and you must use your own poker talents to bring him down.
Not only is the story fun and packed full of twists, but it’s fabulously presented. Detailed environments are matched with characters that wouldn’t look out of place in a Frank Miller comic book. The story is shown in stylish cut-scenes, and includes a musical score that perfectly sets the mysterious tone on your search.
As well as the standard Texas Hold ’em found in all poker games, you’ll also be trying you hand at games like Omaha hi/lo and Pineapple, with handy tutorials if you aren’t familiar with these variants.
Alternatively you can play through the whole game in plain old Texas Hold ’em mode, so don’t fret if card experimentation isn’t high on your agenda. The game also has a nifty odds stat in the corner of your screen, showing you the chances of winning with only the most daring gamers overriding it and going all in if they feel lucky.
Unfortunately, Story mode can also be PokerMillion‘s downfall. Since the narrative is full of deception and intrigue, it can feel broken up by drawn-out games of poker, especially during the tense siege held in the Afghan mountains.
Standard Tournament mode and Quick Play options are the only other things on offer here, and although the Story option is brilliant in itself, we can’t help but feel Massively Mobile has missed an opportunity to add a lot more to the game to make it the complete poker package. A Bluetooth multiplayer mode as shown in the recent Pirates of the Caribbean Poker, for instance, wouldn’t have gone amiss.
It doesn’t offer the variety of something like Rounders Poker, but then again it has a much better story than The Sopranos Poker and isn’t as poker faced as many other simulations out there. It’s as smart and classy as a card dealer in Monte Carlo, but, unlike a card dealer, it’ll leave you feeling as though you’ve had your money’s worth.
VERDICT – Worth a punt if only for the brilliant Story mode, although this can’t disguise the lack of other options on offer.
Sex Empire Review – PocketGamer.co.uk
It’s a perfect evening. You and your spouse enter a restaurant, greeted by a helpful maître d’ who lavishes attention upon you. He makes your dining experience the best it can possibly be before bringing you back your coat and handbag – all of which have been kept in pristine condition – and sends you on your way with a smile.
Now, in Sex Empire, you don’t get to play the role of the happy couple, oh no. You play the maître d’.
This is the main problem with Sex Empire. Your job in-game is to start managing a seedy den and work your way up to overseeing the coolest VIP clubs by keeping a long succession of customers happy.
Your approach, however, is a little more hands-on than most managers. You have to take their clothes, give them sex toys to get themselves started, give them back their togs before cleaning up after them, and repeat ad nauseum.
A number of keys pop up for you to delegate your manager towards the various beds in your establishment. Some beds can only fit a certain number of people on them, starting from a couple and eventually going up to groups of four. There can be a maximum of five beds in total in later levels with keys ‘4’ to ‘8’ ferrying your little manager between them and going to ‘9’ to dispose of their filthy mess in the trash.
This kind of key management really takes the pace out of the game, leaving you to simply key in the combo and sit there twiddling your… thumbs.
It can pick up in the latter part of the game when your club gets busier – people will wait in a queue to enter and will probably leave if they have to wait too long, meaning delegation plays a big part.
Getting to the larger party first will of course lead to a heftier point bonus and higher satisfaction, whereas the couple who haven’t given you any trouble at all will be quicker to clean up and help you shorten the queue to get another lot between the sheets. You can’t proceed until the satisfaction bar on the right of the screen is at least half full, so you’d better choose wisely before time runs out.
It’s a shame to wait until the penultimate paragraph to mention the porn aspects of the game, but putting it bluntly, there simply is nothing to get excited about. If you’re looking to get any kind of sexual kick from Sex Empire, then you’d best look elsewhere for your portable porn as this is merely adult themed.
Indeed, the most sexual contact you clap your eyes on are some tiny animated exhibitionists trying their best to get their groove on like a perverted Habbo Hotel while you stand by as manager, waiting to clean up what they leave behind. Don’t demean yourself. Someone should be doing this for you, not the other way around.
VERDICT – Sex Empire can be completed in a premature half an hour. Slip into something with a bit more class.
Steve Davis Pool Star Preview – PocketGamer.co.uk
Steve Davis was snooker personified in the ’80s as he powered to the top of the world leaderboards. It’s where he made most of his money, but these days the Ginger Magician is a self styled pundit for the BBC and media personality as he looks to wind his career down. Unbeknownst to many, however, he also likes to earn a living on the side as a talented pool player.
This is probably why the Nugget has lent his name to another mobile billiards incarnation. Steve Davis Pool Star is looking to be the definitive pool game for your mobile and takes a step back from the rather stiff Steve Davis Snooker with this version offering a more relaxed hands-off approach.
In terms of modes, you’re offered 9 Ball, 8 Ball (UK and US), straight pool, World Tournament mode which will unlock more options and, best of all, trick shots. There’s also the option for pass-the-handset multiplayer, so Steve really is looking to screw the black into the corner pocket with this latest effort.
There’s a variety of different angles from which to view the table, which is a pleasing break from some of the fixed top-down games we’re used to. Striking the ball will lead to different 3D cinematic angles showing how your shot came off, which adds a little bit of drama.
The AI is ruthless: one mistake and your opponent will cut you down, making you look more like Steve Redgrave than Steve Davis.
One surprisingly enjoyable part of the game is choosing a character. You can pick any generic so-and-so if you fancy and build a career from there, but the game allows you to use your camera phone to take a picture of yourself gurning, giving it that little bit more personality than its competitors.
Offering solid 3D pool, Steve Davis is no doubt hoping this will be as celebrated as his intoxicating on-screen chemistry with fellow pundit John Parrot. Click ‘Track It!’ to see how he does.
Puzzle World 3 Review – PocketGamer.co.uk
Harry Potter is probably – for the moment, at least – the world’s most famous wizard. Throw in the likes of Gandalf, Merlin, and that chap from Oz and a pretty good illusionist Top 5 is starting to conjure itself up. But where on this list does our friend from Puzzle World 3sit, you’re no doubt asking?
Well so far he isn’t even on the radar, but developer FDG is doing everything in its power to make sure he at least gets his own Top 5 games into the mobile mainstream continuing with this, the latest instalment of the Puzzle World series.
This third outing for the franchise takes you to Toyland, and you have to use a combination of sorcery and quick wits to survive. For those unfamiliar with thePuzzle World formula, you play a wizard’s apprentice who has to reach the end of each of the game’s 50 levels by collecting a large array of magic powers and using them to match up blocks, thus making them disappear and opening the exit at the end of the level. Pretty standard fare then, right?
Well, in the case of Puzzle World 3, yes. Nothing much has really changed since the second package bar the background toy-themed setting. Admittedly, some of the puzzles can be thought provoking, requiring you to magnetise and warp blocks to align them properly, but alas, the majority are a little frustrating.
For example, a lot of them early on will require you to freeze enemies to use as stepping stones for your blocks. Sounds simple, until you consider the restless nature of the enemies, which, like hyperactive vampire children, are forever getting in the way and killing you.
The reset option will be your friend throughout the entire game. You simply can’t progress without it as it allows you to browse the layout of a level, get used to the spells needed, learn the patterns of the enemies and work out a strategy.
Should you really be playing the same level a minimum of five times though? It leaves you wondering if carrying on is worth it – until, that is, you come across the later levels, which let you warp and push blocks from a distance. The variety of spells really is the saving grace for Puzzle World 3 as some of the challenges can be confounding. We just feel that the mix of platforming and puzzling needs cleaning up as, currently, neither sits very well with the other.
Part puzzler, part platformer, if there’s one thing that Puzzle World 3 doesn’t do it’s raise the bar in either genre. It’s simply another spoonful of what you’re used to. What it does do, however, is give you the chance to occupy the odd spare half hour. It’s not magic, but it’ll do.
VERDICT – Puzzle World 3 fails to put us under a spell, but with some slight tweaks and improvements it could establish itself as a strong series for mobile
Phil Taylor’s Power Darts ‘09 Preview – PocketGamer.co.uk
You can’t accuse the darts world of lacking character. Watch some of the contests on TV and you’ll betreated to many a hairy behemoth wearing shimmering capes and displaying personalities with the magnitude of those in the WWF. What you can accuse darts of lacking is presentation, as each contest is held in a dimly lit pub or dreary men’s club.
Thankfully, though, Player One has been addressing this problem with its Phil Taylor’s Power Darts series. Having successfully added a quirky graphical style to its predecessor Phil Taylor’s Power Darts ‘08, the ‘09 edition is hoping to go one better by adding sharper, more cartoon based graphics.
The gameplay is largely unaltered from previous versions. Pressing ‘5′ when you’ve decided where to throw your dart will bring up two circles whilst a third pulsates between them. Pressing ‘5′ to match this with the inner circle gets you a perfect shot, but you have to be quick. If you dilly-dally or miss completely then your throw will be skewed.
This pick up and play mechanic is all very well, but it’s in the presentation thatPower Darts ‘09 really shines. There are myriad colourful characters, many of whom linger playfully on the line between harmless cultural stereotype and, well, we won’t go there. Suffice it to say, the French opponent wears a big beret and holds a baguette, whilst the Italian rides a gondola proclaiming “Mamma Mia!”
Stereotypes aside, all of the characters are handled very well and offer plenty of variety as you progress through Career mode in your bid become the best arrows player in the world.
Phil Taylor’s Power Darts ‘09 also offers a levelling-up system, whereby you keep playing to gather experience and unlock more options and tournaments as you strive to take on Phil in the darts Holy Land of Las Vegas.
The usual mini-game distractions are also present to take your mind off the main competition in the form of a carnival, which has set itself up across the road from the pub. It offers fun balloon popping games and shooting galleries that look graphically sound, as you would expect, and offers a different way to sharpen your skills.
Unlike the big man himself, Phil Taylor is shaping up nicely and is looking to slam an arrow right into the bull’s-eye with this latest effort. Click ‘Track It!’ to catch the review.
Michael Vaughan’s Pro Cricket ‘08 Review – PocketGamer.co.uk
Publisher Player One has had something of a monopoly on this golden boy over the past couple of years, but it’s more than just a sales pitch, as the series keeps on churning out solid and fun cricket titles. Michael Vaughan’s Cricket ‘06/’07 and Michael Vaughan’s Cricket ‘07/’08scored an 8 and a 7 respectively when we last saw them, so how does Pro Cricket‘08 fare?
Well, if you try to just pick up and play it prepare to be all out for three runs. You’ll immediately be dealing with off spins, fast balls, doosras and all sorts of other cricketing claptrap.
So surely this will alienate those looking for a casual knockabout? Not quite. All the main modes are still here: one day internationals, 20-20, triangular series match ups, custom tournaments and, best of all, the challenges, but where you’ll be heading first is to the nets to practise your skills.
Captain Michael will pop up and give you hints on how to bat and bowl. You need to use the number keys to place shots (or joystick depending on your handset) whilst bowling entails stopping a small cursor in front of the batsman with ‘5′. It takes time and practice to master both, but when you get the hang of it, you’ll be throwing perfect leg spins and hitting balls for six into spectators’ plastic pints.
You then take these skills into the various modes to prove your worth, and doing so is an absolute pleasure. The AI is finely balanced and your fielding can be adjusted with the touch of a button.
If there’s a gripe it’s that matches can be too short and only last a few overs, and the casual gamer may feel intimidated by how tough it can be to get used to the controls, but Pro Cricket really is a game that you should consider taking the time to master.
Michael Vaughan’s Pro Cricket ‘08 offers the perfect mixture of both variety and challenge to keep your interest, whilst also providing plenty of depth. It could have looked a little bit better (fielders can sometimes be represented by dots on a big green circle, which look more akin to a game of rounders with year 7 than a modern video game), but overall the presentation is slick and is the perfect bow on this fine package.
Michael Vaughan’s Pro Cricket ‘08 not only smashes a six over the boundary, but it does it with a smile and a wave to the crowd. Perfect for curing your summer cricket blues.
VERDICT – Michael Vaughan has lent his name to a pretty absorbing cricket title and one that continues to show improvement with every release. A must download for Cricket fans and worth a quick sniff for everyone else.
Minesweeper review – PocketGamer.co.uk
To assist you, you’re given hints in the way of proximity numbers if you uncover a blank tile, telling you how many mines might be in and around your current position. You also get ten flags to cover suspicious squares; cover all the mines and you win.
Unfortunately, this simplicity is the downfall of Minesweeper. Developer Teazel has managed to import over the core gameplay well enough, but has given the game a lick of paint that could only please Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.
For some reason the grid has been zoomed as close to the screen as possible, meaning it can be hard to gauge where to make your next move. Some squares vary in colour to give a watery effect but it’s unnecessary. The music is worse – it drills into your head like a creepy nursery rhyme and we can guarantee you’ll have more fun playing it on mute.
Also, offering only the Minesweeper experience with four difficulty modes (easy through to fiendish) means there really is no need to go back and replayMinesweeper other than to beat your fastest time. And if you find yourself doing that in your spare hours, then there really must be something wrong with your social life.Keeping in mind that Absolute Minesweeper had bonus items and better presentation while Minesweeper Mobile at least tried to update the formula, then it’s hard to recommend this version over some of the other mobile attempts. What it does offer is good, quick Minesweeper fun for when you’re stuck behind David Cameron’s bike in a traffic jam or are clawing at your face now cigarette breaks have been banned at work, but there are considerably better mobile experiences out there.
VERDICT – Well, it’s Minesweeper! A fun distraction and nothing more, with no attempt made to enhance what has become an over-familiar affair.