Explore an expansive world collecting alien devices and smashing through crazed puzzles.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is the first game being developed by new studio Fuelcell Games. Branded by producers as an “adventure-exploration-shooter,” the title seeks to take a new spin on the Metroidvania formula. Players control Alien, a being that pilots a spaceship and collects various tools scattered around the world. The strange planet is divided into various themes, including ice, underwater, and organic zones. The items and weapons that can be discovered include buzz saws, blasters, scanners, and claws. Each of these gadgets has unique uses for solving puzzles and destroying enemies.
We started with the scanner and claw grip. Both of these weapons could be accessed by bringing up a radial menu and selecting them or by assigning these tools to the face buttons for quick use. The latter option was preferred because all menu options favored using both the right analog stick and right bumper at the same time. The scanner could be used on objects and foes to discover the best tool to use against a particular target. The claw grip could be used to pull switches, lift boulders, or even toss around enemies. These items were not only great for dealing with foes but also for forging new pathways to find more power-ups.
After dragging up one rock, a whole inclined tree sprung up like a fat man slamming his rear on a teeter-totter. This led us to more upgrades, including boosted shields and a spruced-up laser cannon. This rooty-tooty point-and-shooty became the main weapon in our beefy arsenal. After a few power-ups, this gun could destroy most enemies with ease. However, some enemies had additional defenses and hazards. Some minions would explode upon death or have frontal shields that required swift maneuvering to target their weak spots. There was also no heads-up display; instead, there was an energy meter directly on the ship itself. As we took damage, the ship’s lights would flash from yellow to red, and dark smoke would emit from the top of the craft.
Among the last items we found was the buzz saw that could be used to slice through the various cracks in the world. We were only able to locate a handful of such points, but we were informed that many secret paths are spread across the planet. The saw also served as a strong–though short-range–force of destruction. Though there were more roads we could have backtracked to and explored, there was a much greater temptation to press forward and battle the stage’s huge boss.
This fight focused on the use of the blaster as we dodged a plethora of enemy fire. Because the demo was only in its early stage, the number of shots onscreen was a fraction of true bullet hell. The boss would also retract and accumulate its fire and form it into a protective shield to defend its weak sections. We could aim at both the monsters eyes to deal damage or destroy the tentacles to prevent further projectiles. The demo concluded after all four eyes were obliterated.
Even our shorthand trial of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet was impressive and fun. While the early stage was easy to complete, we can see great potential for complex puzzles and challenging fights. The single-player campaign hosts a robust eight-to-10-hour adventure. There is also a four player co-op mode, but it was not available for demoing at this time. Check back again later for further details regarding this hot downloadable release.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet will be released exclusively for Xbox Live Arcade in the summer of 2011.
In Serious Sam 3: BFE, “Serious” Sam Stone is gearing up for his third tour of duty against the evil Notorious Mental. Croteam CEO Roman Ribaric gives us the first details.
2001′s arcade-style shooter Serious Sam: The First Encounter seemed like a breath of fresh air for first-person shooter players, who, at the time, had otherwise pretty much been stuck having their virtual gun battles in brown sewers, gray warehouses, gray sewers, or brown warehouses, all full of more crates than you could shake a stick at. It was, in fact, this novelty that led independent game site Old Man Murray to first discover the game and make it known to the public–and the rest is history. The unusual shooter, developed by Croatian studio Croteam, placed its action-hero protagonist, “Serious” Sam Stone, in enormous outdoor environments and pitted him against a gigantic army of completely insane alien monsters led by Notorious Mental, an alien overlord bent on taking over the universe. Now, Serious Sam is getting ready for his newest adventure in Serious Sam 3: BFE. Croteam CEO Roman Ribaric explains.
GameSpot: Give us an overview of Serious Sam 3. What’s planned for the new game? Bigger fights against crazy enemies in even bigger outdoor environments? How will the game improve on the previous games in the series? And, what new areas will it explore?
Roman Ribaric: Serious Sam 3: BFE serves as a prequel to Serious Sam: The First Encounter and tells the story leading up to the events of the original game. You’ll definitely see some familiar areas, in addition to some completely new locales. It was important to us that we build upon the existing Serious Sam legend and expand on some of Sam’s earlier adventures to explain how in the hell he got into the situations you’ve already played through.
GS: We understand that Serious Sam Stone is going to have a new set of melee attacks. How will this work against enemies that come charging right up to him, like sirian werebulls and the exploding beheaded kamikaze bombs-for-hands guys? How will it be viable for Sam to use melee attacks to defend himself against enemies that charge at him or try to explode near him? Are you ready to talk about how this feature works?
RR: This feature is easy to show but hard to describe. For example, in the case of the beheaded kamikaze, you first stand still, then wait for him to get close to you, then you bend over, have him explode in your face, lose half of your health, and happily stand still for the next one.
GS: So maybe it is a bit too early to talk about how melee works, then. In that case, the series has become known for having huge outdoor environments with big, big battles. Just how big will the new game’s environments get? How big will the battles get? How many enemies can fit onscreen at once?
RR: There is going to be a massive number of enemies onscreen at once, along with huge outdoor levels. Our new Serious Engine 3 engine technology actually helps our designers create more massive fights and open spaces.
GS: Are there any crazy new enemies in the new game that you’d like to share with us?
RR: We wanted to pile on the awesomeness and introduce some new enemies that fans would find a little intimidating. Serious Sam is known for enemies like the beheaded kamikaze and kleer skeletons that attack in big groups and make your palms sweat a little bit. New guys, like the Scrapjack you see in the screenshots, will be making appearances and will be waiting to absolutely wreck your world.
GS: Aside from the awesome power of crates, what other lessons from developing the previous games is the team using to create Serious Sam 3? And, are there any specific requests from the fan community that you’re looking to include?
RR: We are open to hear fan suggestions on how to [pay tribute to] Old Man Murray [and its ideas]. Feel free to e-mail us or post your suggestions in our forums.
GS: We understand that the new game will support cooperative play for up to 16 players. Is this only for the PC or for console as well? How will this work? How many players can play locally? And, will that be via split-screen?
RR: In terms of first-person shooters, the PC is still king, so 16 players is PC only. However, on the consoles, we will have more co-op players playing the single-player campaign than the two current best-selling console military shooters. Combined. Oh, yeah, Sam is the co-op king of all first-person shooters. No cover; just a whole bunch of guys.
Co-op in Serious Sam games is total mayhem! We’ve traditionally scaled up the enemies and the difficulty as more players join forces in co-op. When you get to 16 players tearing it up, we throw everything we’ve got at you, and it really becomes overwhelming. At that point, if you want to take out someone on your team, you might want to think twice, since having that extra gun blazing might be the only thing keeping your group alive!
GS: Aside from cooperative play, do you plan to include any other new multiplayer modes, such as competitive modes? Could you give us some examples?
RR: Along with the most famous cooperative play, the classic competitive modes that were introduced in Serious Sam HD will also be there, like Capture the Flag, Last Team Standing, and My Burden.
GS: Will Sam be using the same kinds of guns, like the dual revolvers, chainsaw, minigun, rocket launcher, and cannon he used previously? Any changes to his arsenal? Any new weapons or items he can use in Serious Sam 3?
RR: Yes, yes, and yes!
GS: Well, fair enough. Thanks, Roman.
This Wild West action game takes a turn toward the weird. [Updated with multiplayer details.]
[Update: We've added multiplayer details to this preview, which you can find below.] You’ve probably heard that the Old West was a dangerous place, that the rugged terrain and lawlessness was an incredibly tough environment in which to carve out a peaceful living. But history books and spaghetti Westerns never told you the real threat that dominated that period of American history. No it wasn’t contagious diseases, or bears, or bears with contagious diseases. It was zombies. The Old West was absolutely riddled with the undead.
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OK, so that might not be 100 percent accurate. But that doesn’t mean it’s a scenario that won’t make for a fun video game. For proof, look no further than Red Dead Redemption’s latest downloadable content, a new expansion called Undead Nightmare. This DLC takes the world of John Marston and company and asks what would happen if the rugged frontier in which the game is set were overtaken by zombies. It’s something of a stretch for a game that felt so serious compared to Rockstar’s previous work on the Grand Theft Auto series, but with Halloween on the horizon, the timing certainly couldn’t be better.
The obvious question facing Undead Nightmare is how its events relate to Red Dead’s main storyline. The simple answer, according to Rockstar, is that it’s purposely left vague–at least at the outset. It’s mostly up to you whether you want to interpret this DLC as something that fits neatly into the main narrative or simply the result of a John Marston fever dream. What’s much more immediately apparent is the stark transformation that the gameworld has undergone. The moon glows with an eerie greenish hue, the weather is consistently gloomy, and the music and ambient sound effects are decidedly creepier. And, of course, there are zombies.
Boy, are there ever zombies. The first cutscene we were shown introduced a new friend of Seth the grave robber: his zombie pal Moses. John Marston walks up to the two of them as Seth is pleading with Moses (who simply stands there, undead, groaning like the zombie that he is) to start playing the hand of cards he’s lifelessly clutching. Marston then chats up Seth, and what we get out of it is that Seth’s grave robbing may have played a part in the outbreak, after Marston tells Seth he never should have robbed that mysterious, undoubtedly cursed glass eye from a corpse. This cutscene was the only real story exposition we were shown in our hands-on demo, because after that we were off to complete a few missions.
At this point it’s probably worth noting that the horse we rode to our first mission was also a zombie. Decaying flesh, exposed bones–our steed was very much undead. It comes with the benefit of higher stamina than a regular horse, but with a tendency to veer wildly to either side when you’re trying to steer. At any rate, we made it to the first mission, which asked us to burn a number of coffins in a graveyard while dealing with the onslaught of zombies crawling up out of the ground the whole time. Most are run-of-the-mill movie zombies, lurching slowly at you to the tune of a ravenous moan. Then there are the special types, the hulking beasts who come running at you full steam and the ones who skitter along on all fours–the latter of which have a tendency to catch you by surprise because of how low to the ground they are.
As a countermeasure, Marston has a number of new weapons he can use to deal with these undead enemies. Most notable is a gun called the Blunderbuss, which looks like an elephant gun that fires zombie parts at such high velocities as to instantly and rather violently explode any zombie in its way. Looting zombies not killed by the Blunderbuss–those that are still intact–lets you collect undead body parts to use as ammo for the Blunderbuss. Then there’s the holy water, which acts as a counterpart to the Molotov cocktail, engulfing enemies in a bright blue fire. You can also throw zombie bait to attract them all into one cluster for tactical purposes (use your imagination–ours involved TNT).
Next was a mission that involved the help of a few other survivors. A small farm was being overrun by zombies, and we had to aid some folks hiding on the roof in eradicating every last zombie from the property. This mission gave us the choice to be a team player and ferry rifle ammo between the survivors and the crates down below, or simply take matters into our own hands and find the Gatling gun conveniently mounted on another rooftop. We started with the former but eventually moved on to the latter. Then, at one point we started hurling zombie bait and TNT into the middle of the farm to get the job done even faster, though tragically our zombie horse fell victim to the alluring scent of that bait as well. Poor little guy.
A later mission had us breaking into a house surrounded by the undead in order to rescue a lone survivor and escort him on horseback to Fort Mercer, one of the few safe zones in the gameworld. This one allowed us to traverse a wide stretch of land in which we ran into zombie roadside bandits, zombie wolves, and more zombie horses. At one point, we saw one of Undead Nightmare’s mythical horses, which include the steeds of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, such as War, the horse who’s constantly on fire.
Undead Nightmare isn’t just a single-player experience, however. There’s also a pretty sizable addition to Red Dead’s online multiplayer as well. We had a chance to go hands-on with a new multiplayer mode called Undead Overrun. At its core, this mode is similar to a Horde or Survival mode: it’s you, a team of co-op partners, and waves upon waves of enemies. The twist is that you need to chase down the randomly generated coffins that appear in unpredictable locations on the map at the beginning of each wave. These coffins serve to extend your overall survival time as well as give you some fun new weapons and ammo, so it’s definitely in your best interest to keep on the move in search of the coffins instead of just holing up in one safe spot.
This DLC pack will also give you an addition to the multiplayer Free Roam experience in a new mode-within-a-mode called Land Grab, which is completely free of zombies. Yes, doesn’t feature the horrors of groaning, shambling enemies–unless you count the NPCs who’ve had a few too many drinks at the cantina–as Rockstar wanted to make it so that anyone can engage in Land Grab battles, while only players who have downloaded Undead Nightmare can start them. The basic gist is that players split into posses and fight over territories within one of the major towns in the game world. Players can steal territory away from opposing posses, and ultimately receive greater XP for holding territories the longest. While we didn’t get to play this mode, it’s great to see that Rockstar is carrying on the tradition of allowing players who haven’t bought DLC to still use those features as long as their friends have–something it did last year with Midnight Club: Los Angeles.
Undead Nightmare certainly struck us as an odd direction in which to take Red Dead Redemption. But then you see things like a cowboy riding atop a flaming horse while chasing down zombie wolves, and suddenly everything seems right with the world. Expect to see the DLC released on October 26 for 800 Microsoft points, or $10.
From the makers of the ill-fated Six Days in Fallujah, Breach pairs a sim-like military shooter with realistically destructible environments.
Breach developer Atomic specialises in realistic first-person shooters–a speciality born of its experience with creating simulation-like shooters for military types. This is the studio that would have brought us the controversial Six Days in Fallujah, before prospective publisher Konami got cold feet. In Breach, though, Atomic is preparing a download-only, multiplayer-only PC and Xbox 360 military shooter that takes place in a “standard hostile environment”: a generic semi-urban setting that might be the Middle East, but might just as easily be Eastern Europe.
The deliberately generic location puts Breach in contrast with a game that would have re-created a specific battle, in a specific time and place, but it does have something in common with Six Days in Fallujah: Atomic’s Hydrogen engine, which underpins the game’s extensively destructible environments. Breach aims at a realistic, brick-by-brick simulation of battlefield destruction, rather than “choreographed” destruction, in which a certain kind of building is triggered to always collapse a certain way.
Against this destruction-ready backdrop Breach stages 16-player shoot-outs, across three maps, in four modes, with the points-based progression and weapon upgrades we’ve come to expect of a multiplayer FPS. The modes comprise Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, plus Infiltration, a capture-and-hold territories mode, and Convoy, in which one team has to attack and the other has to defend a convoy of vehicles as it makes its way to an objective point on the map. The two maps we sampled were based on uneven rocky terrain sloping down to roads with abandoned vehicles and scattered with plain one- and two-storey buildings, networked with tunnels and raised wooden walkways.
Three of the game’s five classes were available to us: rifleman, support, and gunner. Sniper and recon classes will also feature in the finished game. As a rifleman, we started out with a basic assault rifle with an underslung grenade launcher. In accordance with Atomic’s simulation approach, the guns felt heavy and solid, as did the player character. Similarly, it didn’t take much to kill or be killed. There’s an active cover system, with which you can enter into “sticky” cover and then pop over it and into iron sights. Munitions crates placed around the map give access to heavier gear, including the RPG–limited to one rocket per pickup, since it causes such massive destruction.
Though the graphics appeared workmanlike in our hands-on, the destruction element was entertaining. Single bricks can be shot out of walls, from inside or outside a building, and single floorboards out of floors. Shooting sturdier concrete walls produced clouds of dust, and taking out the wooden supports of a scaffolding-like walkway triggered a feasible plank-by-plank collapse, with the debris sliding down a steep slope into the road below. There was the odd visual glitch, and some abandoned vehicles appeared impervious, but if the wrinkles are ironed out by release, this could be a technologically advanced download-only release.
As a straight military FPS without the clout of a franchise behind it, Breach has its work cut out competing with the genre’s big guns–even with its intended sub-£20 price tag. But as a showcase for Atomic’s destruction engine, Breach has at least something novel to bring to the console download marketplace when it’s launcheds in early 2011.
We took a look at a new game mode from EA’s latest downloadable offering, which plays like a crazed mash-up of Mario Bros, Little Big Planet, and Super Smash Bros.
If this is the first time you’ve heard of Fancy Pants Adventures, you could be excused for thinking it’s a tie-in for an upcoming animated TV show or movie. However, if you have any interest in the Flash gaming scene, you’ll know that it’s actually a novel and addictive browser-based Flash game. Creator Brad Borne is working with EA to bring the game to the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade on April 19 and 20 respectively, at $9.99 and 800 Microsoft points. We got a chance to go hands-on with the game and speak to Borne at a recent EA showcase event.
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In TFPA, you and up to three other friends play as stick men, with, as the name suggests, each character sporting large trousers. You can customise your character using accessories unlocked by playing through the game, which also helps you to differentiate characters from each other. You see, Fancy Pants Adventures is a very fast-moving platformer, where the emphasis is on moving through the level to collect swirls before everyone else. That’s not all–you can beat other characters to relieve them of their swirls, slide-kick them to get past, or jump on their heads to get to hard-to-reach places.
There are many modes in the game, all of which can be played by up to four players both locally and online. We got to play with three other people at the event and had a lot of fun trying to collect the most swirls while taking advantage of people in the process. Borne promises the game will satisfy players who want to have fun with friends and those who prefer to compete for high scores on the leaderboards. Borne has been in the process of pulling in levels from the Flash version of the game and working with a small Spanish team that has been getting them running on console.
There will also be more competitive game modes such as King of the Hill, which we played for the first time at the EA event. In King of the Hill, each character has to jump up walls to reach the top of the level, where they find a device that spews out swirls. Each player has to try to maintain dominance of the hill by knocking other players back down, allowing them to exclusively collect the swirls for points. In our game, players were charging their weapons (which included items such as forks and even a baguette) and unleashing them on their enemies. Others were bouncing off walls, getting a run up and then slide-kicking them into oblivion.
While The Fancy Pants Adventures is currently set for release only on consoles, the possibility of a PC version is being looked into as well. If you’ve enjoyed the likes of New Super Mario Bros. and Little Big Planet, then it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on. Watch out for the game on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in a couple of weeks’ time.
PAX East 2011: We stem the green tide at this year’s PAX East convention.
Across dozens of fantasy worlds, orcs constantly get the short end of the stick. They exist only to get cut down in a multitude of ways, and it’s no different in Orcs Must Die!. We got the chance to go hands-on with the game during this year’s PAX East convention in Boston–and we got a lot of orc blood on our hands.
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Who’s Making It: Independent studio Robot Entertainment is developing this game. Founded in 2009 by members of Microsoft’s now-defunct Ensemble Studios (Halo Wars), Robot Entertainment is adapting its extensive experience with the Age of Empires series into something a little different.
What It Looks Like: Orcs Must Die! is a third-person action game that mixes in some elements from the tower defense genre. The artistic style has the same cartoonish look as the developer’s other game, Age of Empires Online. The area we played in was a long, twisting hallway where enemies would pour through two entrances. The first was at the far end of the hallway, while the second was about halfway down. Posted around the hallway were some friendly archers who, we were assured, would help us out by firing on the enemies, as well as a few exploding barrels.
What You Do: We controlled a knight in shining armor whose mission was to slaughter waves of orcs wholesale before they reached the end of the hallway. The tools of the trade included a variety of different traps, as well as our own personal weapons and abilities. Spike pits, springboards, tar pits, and spike walls helped thin out the enemy hordes so long as we placed them in the enemy’s path. And, as we fought, we collected more money to purchase even more traps and produce more carnage.
How It Plays: The orcs that managed to survive our traps had to be dealt with personally. The crossbow, which had a high rate of fire but lost accuracy with each shot, was our weapon of choice against the masses. It also had an alternate attack, which would briefly slow enemies in a small area. Combined with the tar pit trap, we could bring hordes of enemies to a screeching halt and then blow them away with a barrage of arrows.
In between waves of enemies, the game would pause to let us catch our breath and place some more traps. The minimap would update to display a color-coded density map, showing where we got the most kills. If we saw that a particular trap had been ill placed, we could sell it back and buy another. As the waves progressed, the game introduced new enemy types, including quick and nimble kobolds who excelled at running around our traps and high-flying fiends that our traps couldn’t reach.
What We Say: Orcs Must Die! offered an interesting mix of genres. It definitely captured the morbid satisfaction that comes from watching our enemies get cut down by our defenses. And while the combat felt basic, we were assured that there will be numerous other traps and abilities to unlock in the full release. Orcs Must Die! will be released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC this summer.
Some things about shoot-’em-ups just never change–but that doesn’t mean everything has to stay the same.
Konami calls Hard Corps: Uprising the “imaginary prequel” to the 1994 Genesis game Contra: Hard Corps, but that’s not to say that this downloadable shoot-’em-up is the product of anyone’s runaway imagination. The harsh reality is that bullets will rain down on you, you will die, and you will repeat that process several times over. There’s nothing fictitious about any of that. Instead, that description is more of a wink-and-a-nod reference to some of the connections that link Uprising and Contra: Hard Corps (like the mutual protagonist and shared gameplay elements) while avoiding the constraints that go along with releasing a “true” Contra game.
Most notably, there’s a new feature called Rising mode. Anyone familiar with the Contra series knows these games are synonymous with a tough-as-nails level of difficulty. Call it retro or call it antiquated, that’s just what the genre is known for. Uprising is no different. The core gameplay offers little in the way of mercy, as twitch reflexes are required to withstand the near constant barrage of enemy bullets, traps, and powerful bosses. What Rising mode does, however, is give the less hardcore among us a reason to keep trying in the face of defeat. You’re constantly rewarded though a progression system that lets you gradually upgrade your character and weapons, gaining new health slots and abilities as you go along.
Basically, it’s a system that makes sure that even if you die against a vicious boss, you’re at least being rewarded for the journey up to that point and given the ingredients to make sure that your next four or five attempts at killing the boss give you that much more optimism with every subsequent attempt. On the flip side, if you fancy yourself a hardcore player through and through, you can simply play through Arcade mode. This option offers the exact same game–including levels and enemies–but without any of those upgrades. You are who you are from start to finish.
The other area where Uprising takes a step forward from Contra is its visual design. The game is being developed by Arc System Works, known for its work on Blaz Blue and the Guilty Gear series. Those games featured elaborate hand-drawn animation, and that penchant for stylishness and eccentric characters is visible in Uprising. The level we played was set in the jungle and featured dense vegetation, robotic crocodiles, and–because why not?–giant machine gun enemies apparently wearing clown makeup.
The whole game can be played in either single-player or two-person co-op, both online and local. Whether you want to share in the madness or not is a decision you can make when the game is released on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network at the tail end of this year.
We come across all kinds of mythical creatures in this downloadable role-playing game.
For many role-playing game fans with tight schedules, it can be tough to dedicate dozens of hours to a game before the next one catches your eye. Downloadable titles are known to be easy to pick up and shorter in length so that you don’t have to commit your evenings and weekends to beat them. That’s likely why you won’t find too many RPGs on Xbox Live Marketplace or the PlayStation Network, but Jehanne Rousseau, CEO and producer of Faery: Legends of Avalon, hopes that there will be a place for her upcoming RPG, where you play as a customizable male or female fairy who has set out to save the dying kingdom of Avalon.
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Legends of Avalon is a turn-based RPG set in several unique worlds that borrow elements from European myths that some of you might be familiar with, such as the World Tree or the Flying Dutchman. As a tiny fairy, you have a pair of delicate wings that let you fly all over the place so you can go anywhere in the area. Initially, you start off with one companion of the opposite gender, a male or female fairy depending on whom you chose as your main character. As you progress through the game, you’ll come across other companions that can be a member of your three-person party. There are six characters to meet in all. Two are optional, so you can swap them around at the mirror gateway between worlds for a bit of variety (we hear there is some drama that unfolds as well).
In this world where humans and fairies once coexisted happily, the kingdom of Avalon is now dying, and it’s your quest to find out why this is happening and why magic is seeping out of the realm. What’s interesting is that your interaction with every non-player character that you come across will influence how the game turns out. We were told that it’s not going to be as extensive as a BioWare RPG, but your choices do matter to some degree. Depending on what you say, your relationship with another character could be a positive one or a negative one. The story reflects the choices you’ve made, and there are three endings. Quests can also be completed in a variety of ways. For example, to get rid of a termite infestation in the World Tree, you can either get rid of the pests yourself or lead an army of ants to do the deed for you. Your progress is documented in a book, which you can then share with other people online so they can see how you’ve completed different quests and how you’ve customized your fairy.
Combat is turn based, and you’ll gain experience and levels as you fight, as well as when you talk to those around you. You have a standard attack, as well as offensive and defensive magical abilities that you can customize from the menu. We had three action slots (similar to the segmented active time bar in Final Fantasy XIII) and were able to queue up three attacks in each turn. To customize your character in the menu (outside of battle), your fairy has a set number of slots on his or her wings and body, where you can pick what kind of ability you want to pursue. Once you’ve made your decision, you can’t go back and change it, so the spell or skill you chose will evolve as you increase in power. Your character evolves too with the skills, so your fairy will look very different by the end of the game. Depending on what skill you assign to the wings, or the body tattoos, the appearance of your character will change. The companions that come along with you can’t be customized, but they come with a unique set of skills as well, such as the ability to summon raccoons or breathe fire, so you can always change the dynamic of your party by swapping members.
The worlds that we visited were unique. One was a Persian-themed city that was situated on the back of a giant beetle. In the Flying Dutchman area, we flew around the ocean and explored the nooks and crannies of the famed ghost pirate ship. It’s an interesting perspective to be flying through the windows of the ship, weaving among the lower decks. Beautiful mermaids were lounging in the dark waters, and sinister-looking dead pirates manned the decks, so it was fun to explore the environments as a small fairy because everything we interacted with was always much larger. Legends of Avalon’s cel-shaded art style fits the fantasy setting, and it was backed by a very pleasant and fitting soundtrack. We were told that the composer was inspired by classical composers like Tchaikovsky, and the music did a good job of reflecting the tone and mood of the area that we were exploring.
There’s roughly 14 to 15 hours of gameplay that can be found here, so if you’re looking for something that isn’t quite as long as a full-scale RPG but not as short as what you’re used to finding online, then keep an eye out for Faery: Legends of Avalon. The game will be coming to Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network, and the PC sometime in mid-November.
By Sophia Tong
We went for a splash through the physics-based puzzles of Puddle.
Konami’s E3 booth may have been dominated by the likes of PES, Metal Gear Solid, and No More Heroes, but tucked behind the giant monitors and gangs of booth babes were a number of smaller downloadable games. One of the most interesting was Puddle, a physics-based puzzle-platform game that has you guiding a blob of water around a range of obstacles and mazes.
Who’s Making It: Puddle started out life as a student project, which was showcased at the 2010 Game Developers Conference. It went on to win the Student Showcase award, attracting the attention of Konami, who’s publishing the game on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. The same group of French students is still working on getting the game ready for release, so despite the big publisher involvement, the game should retain its indie charm.
What It Looks Like: Puddle doesn’t push the boundaries of design, or indeed the power of the consoles it runs on, but it holds a certain charm. The blob of water you control shimmers and moves like the real deal, with objects passing behind it becoming distorted. The environments range from metallic structures filled with glowing pylons, through to simple levels populated with just the blob of water and a single puzzle to solve.
What You Do: The first level we played was called Fireman, and it had us controlling a stream of water, which we had to use to put out a fire on a burning pylon. The fire was split into three sections that all needed putting out as fast as possible; otherwise, other sections would reignite. Another look took place on a telephone wire. We had to carefully guide the water across the wires and make it to the end of the level. If we moved too fast, the water would bunch up, becoming too heavy and falling off the wire. There were also gaps to traverse that required long run-ups to get the required speed. The final level we saw was called Yellow Cake. Our blob of water was trapped in a maze of small tunnels, populated with areas of live electricity that would evaporate our water.
How It Plays: There were two ways we could control the water: by using the triggers or by tilting the controller in the PlayStation 3 version. Rather than move the water itself, tilting the controller moved the environment, simulating pouring. Getting the level of tilt right was tricky, particularly in maze sections filled with obstacles at the end of long slopes and tight corners. The controls worked well, though it was easier to use the triggers, which felt more accurate than the motion controls.
What We Say: Puddle is an interesting concept, but it does bear more than a striking resemblance to Curve Studio’s excellent Hydroventure. Regardless of its origins, there’s lots of potential for interesting puzzles and skilful platforming. Puddle will be out on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in Q3 of this year. Head over to our E3 hub for more from this year’s show.
Guardian Heroes, Treasure’s fan-favorite brawler for the Sega Saturn console, returns in HD.
If you owned a Saturn back in 1996, odds are you have fond memories of Guardian Heroes, the excellent side-scrolling brawler with role-playing-game elements from beloved developer Treasure. Besides the simple fact that it was an absolutely stellar example of how traditional 2D side-scrollers could be enhanced with some new gameplay wrinkles and technology, it was a great showcase for the Saturn’s 2D muscle. Fast-forward to 2011 where, 15 years later, the game still has a place in the hearts and minds of gamers, many of whom consider it one of the greatest games for Sega’s console.
The game’s enduring popularity led to a portable sequel, Advance Guardian Heroes, for the Game Boy Advance and aimed to capture the magic of its console predecessor on Nintendo’s handheld. Fans of the original game, a demanding bunch, have continued to ask for a console sequel to the Saturn game. While Sega and Treasure aren’t delivering on that particular wish just yet, fans hoping for the chance to the play the classic game again without hauling out their Saturn consoles and dealing with standard-definition visuals are finally having their pleas answered later this year. On a recent trip to Japan, we had the chance to visit Treasure’s office for the first look at Guardian Heroes HD, an upgrade of the original game for Xbox Live due later this year, which adds online play.
If you missed out on the original game, we’ll offer you some essentials on the ambitious and surprisingly progressive action game of yesteryear. Guardian Heroes hit the Saturn in the US in January of 1996, eight months into the system’s troubled life. At first blush, the game appeared to be just another side-scrolling brawler, but once you actually played it, you quickly found that there was a lot going on there that set it apart from other games. You played as one of five heroes–four that were initially selectable and one that you could unlock–who fought to save humanity from an evil wizard named Kanon. While this involved much mashing of buttons to fight off hordes of enemies, Guardian Heroes introduced some very cool RPG twists that put a fresh spin on the time-worn brawler formula.
Defeating enemies yielded experience that players could allocate to six different attributes to improve their combat skills. Combat took place across three planes–foreground, middleground, and background–which gave depth to the 2D action. Players were also able to give basic orders to an undead warrior non-player character that would assist in combat. One of the most intriguing gameplay mechanics in Guardian Heroes was the branching path system in the Story mode. While the notion of changing the way a game unfolds based on player choice is old hat these days, back in 1996, the ability to make choices that affected the levels and bosses you played, as well as dictated which ending you got when finishing the game, was an exciting addition to the genre that no one was really doing at the time. In addition, the game featured a Versus mode for up to six players on the same console, thanks to the almighty Saturn multi-tap. The simple mode let you use the main characters, as well as unlockable characters you encountered in the game, which included bosses and assorted monsters for a total of 45. The game found a loyal and rabid following that, unfortunately, didn’t number high enough to garner it big sales.
Despite the game’s unspectacular sales, there’s something to be said for a loyal and vocal fan base. Developer Treasure has been keenly aware of fan interest in the game throughout the years, and given the success of its previous digital releases, it opted to revisit Guardian Heroes. The team, with many of the original staff members that made the original, rebuilt the game to include higher-resolution visuals, as well as online compatibility with the Story and Versus modes. The team is also including a difficulty setting to allow players to have the classic experience offered by the original game or to try out a new, arranged mode that features some refinements to the game’s AI.
We had the chance to visit Treasure to try a work-in-progress version of the game to see how it is coming together. The visuals were obviously our big point of interest, and we were mostly happy. Anyone who’s played the original Saturn game knows that the game’s massive, scaling sprites could become unattractively chunky at times. While Treasure hasn’t done a total art overhaul on the visuals, the team has done some work to enhance the original graphics that’s a mix of higher resolutions and an artsy, almost cel-shaded, layer. For purists who want their chunky classic graphics, it will be possible to toggle off the enhancements and use the original sprites. We tried out the totally insane battle mode that’s been upgraded to support 12 players, human or AI. Even though the original battle mode often seemed like sheer madness, this is even crazier. The mix of small and massive characters, coupled with crazy visual effects is hectic.
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Guardian Heroes HD is looking like a fun trip down memory lane that we’re anxious to take. The game may not be a full-on HD revamp of the original, but being able to play the game without hauling out the old Saturn and the added online functionality make it appealing. Guardian Heroes HD is currently slated to be released on Xbox Live this summer. Look for more on the game in the weeks to come.