I can honestly say this is one of the most varied issues of Beyond Co-Op we've ever had. Major platform releases, downloadable titles, portable games, and indie titles are all on display this month. Check the table of contents below and then dig in for a feast of 7 game reviews.
Hydrophobia................................................................................................. Page 2
Super Meat Boy............................................................................................Page 3
Quantum Theory..........................................................................................Page 4
Jam Party: Be the Music............................................................................Page 5
Fable 3: King Maker.....................................................................................Page 7
Comic Jumper..............................................................................................Page 8
Explanation of Scores:
- Golden Billy - This is a must buy title. Truly excellent in almost everyway.
- Silver Billy - A solid title with a few flaws.
- Bronze Billy - This one is probably a rental if it interests you.
Publisher: Dark Energy Digital
Developer: Dark Energy Digital
by: Jason "OrigamiPanther" Love
The most discussed and pinpointed aspect of Dark Energy Digital’s XBLA debut title, Hydrophobia, is its dynamic water system. Standing in a flooded room in the game and just watching the water as it ebbs, flows, and moves about in a way that seems completely natural is fairly impressive. What’s more impressive is that the game does generates a gameplay feeling akin to actually being in an enclosed space where a rush of incoming water leads to that sudden panic as your head slips underneath the surface and you’re not sure if you have enough air in your lungs to make it up again. Eventually, though, this feeling wears off and what ends up standing out the most about the game is its humor, its nod to the action/adventure genre of games, and the idea that as a first episode, it’s not the most promising debut, but the potential is there.
The game places you in the shoes of engineer Kate Wilson as she navigates from area to area in an attempt to escape from the world’s largest floating city, the Queen of the World, which has recently come under attack by a group of terrorists that believe that the only way to solve the overpopulation problem plaguing the Earth is to kill people. As an action/adventure game, you face your fair share of "go here and get a key to unlock this door" dilemmas as well as "use this new gadget" type puzzles. This is where the game’s humor comes in as Kate’s friend/guiding voice, Scoot, will joke about having to do this again and at one point even hums the iconic "you got an item" tune from the Legend of Zelda series at one point. This self-referential humor, in some games, can be a grating reminder of a game’s shortcomings, yet here seems oddly appropriate and enjoyable. There is little new gameplay-wise from Hydrophobia (the environmental kills are an interesting, fun idea but never quite seem to deliver all that one hopes for), but it seems to embrace that as if to say, "this works just enough, and we know it’s not the real reason you’re here."
As the first in a planned three episode story arc, Hydrophobia establishes a world that is a little terrifying to wade through and is ripe with possibilities for future episodes. However, there is quite a bit of a gap that will need to be bridged to offer more for the average gamer than an impressive "Water World."
Publisher: Team Meat
Developer: Team Meat
by: Tally "xelissa" Callahan
Super Meat Boy has a familiar story: Meat Boy’s girlfriend, Bandage Girl, has been kidnapped by the nefarious Dr. Fetus. In order to rescue her he must navigate countless levels fraught with fatal traps. Super Meat Boy is a glorified classic platformer with a nice dose of humor mixed in. And let’s not forget the gross factor - our hero leaves behind trails of blood as he squishes and slips through the levels.
The basic levels are divided into chapters for the single-player story. You can skip around within the chapters (very useful if you just get too frustrated with a certain level), but a certain amount of levels must be completed to unlock the boss level. After completing the boss level the next chapter is unlocked. In addition to the normal story levels, you can also unlock warp zones. Warp zones are found within the normal levels; upon running over the warp gate, you enter a retro universe with a different set of rules from normal Meat Boy gameplay (for example, I played one warp zone that granted Meat Boy Kirby-like abilities which he had to use to navigate hallways of spikes).
As far as specific gameplay goes, Meat Boy can wall-jump (from wall-to-wall, or up the same wall), sprint, and even change direction mid-air (not completely, but you can, and often must, guide his path while in the air). Some levels also contain collectible bandages which go towards unlocking alternate characters - but be warned, you must collect the bandage AND complete the level on the same life for the bandage to stick (get it, “stick?!”), so no suicide runs for the bandage with the intention of completing the level on the next try. Upon level completion, you are awarded a grade and you can watch the replay mode which displays your past attempts of the level simultaneously. Always good for a laugh as you watch the demise of Meat Boys of the past.
Super Meat Boy is a very challenging game, and with difficulty always comes the possibility of frustration; however, it also has that dangerous addictive pull to it as well (“just one more level...”) which often pushes you past that frustration. It comes packed with an impressive amount of gameplay (over 300 levels), as well as potential replay value (you can go back to collect bandages, unlock warp zones, or get A-grades), which in my opinion makes it well-worth the price tag. I would call it a must-have for any platformer fan, especially one who has fond nostalgia for the classics.
Publisher: Tecmo KOEI
Developer: Team Tachyon
by: Nicholas "bapenguin" Puleo
Lets get this out of the way now - Quantum Theory is as close of a direct rip-off of Gears of War as they come. Big hulking muscle dudes? Check. Crazy space story with twisted huminoid bad guys? Check. Cover system with Gears like icons? Check. Unreal Engine 3? Check. Ok, perhaps I’m being too hard on the game - Quantum Theory does do one thing differently and its perhaps the games saving grace.
You are Syd, an exile who is hellbent on killing off Arks - giant towers that are living organisms that seem to destroy the land. The game opens as Syd and Nyx, his female counterpart, kill off a tower but it’s discovered that doing so kills everyone but Syd.
Soon you meet up with a group of soldiers to take on the next Ark. Once inside, Syd once again finds himself as the only survivor until meeting up with Felina.
This is where the game has a bit of an interesting concept. Instead of just all the run and gun you and Felina can team up for different attacks. Melee attacks can be combo’d with her and you can aim and throw her to slice enemies at a distance.
The problem with the game is the AI is horrid, the enemies are repetitive as are the levels themselves, and the voice acting is pretty cheesey as well. The weapons look like they were directly ripped out of Gears of War, so you have your standard assortment of guns to use like pistols, shotguns, grenade launchers, etc. It’s a shame too, because the story in Quantum Theory is somewhat interesting.
The game also sports some multiplayer modes for up to 8 players, but matches are few and far between.
At $60 Quantum Theory is a game to avoid. In a fall crowded by incredibly solid games, it’s hard to justify even renting the title.
by: Nicholas "bapenguin" Puleo
In a world where music games are a dime a dozen, or rather $60 a piece, it’s nice to see a $10 title that takes a different approach and is more music tool than music game. Jam Party Be the Music is a game from Zivix that puts players in the role of a music producer. Your goal is to mix tracks of existing songs together to produce your own music. It’s a lot less like a DJ Hero and a lot more like a music creation program utilizing existing loops.
There’s are several areas to unlock as you play, though each area is only available for aesthetic measures. Undersea, lounges, and studios are all at your disposal as you sit in front of a mix board with 25 tracks. These tracks can be activated with a keyboard or using your mouse. Each bank contains 5 tracks with a theme like bass, melody, FX, vocals, guitar and others.
Basically what you end up doing is building a song by combining certain tracks at certain times. There’s no right or wrong way to do this and as far as I can tell, you basically get points just for tinkering around.
The music itself is pretty generic, but does offer some variety. You’ve got some rock-ish, pop-ish, and techno-ish stuff at your disposal. There’s even some Tangerine Dream style new age if you like.
Once you’re done with your mix you can save it and even export it as an MP3. Here’s one I made.
Jam Party: Be the Music is also said to support USB guitars, but sadly, I had none to test this feature. For $10 this is a nice diversion from other music games and the ability to export your creations to share is a nice touch. With 25 songs to play there’s not a whole lot of content here, but the game itself is very replayable.
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Ninja Theory
by: Sam "Samoza" Tyler
At the recent Eurogamer Expo I was given the chance to play a variety of third person action games, but the one that stood out was Enslaved; a retelling of the Ancient Chinese fable of Monkey. The similarities between Enslaved and ancient mythos begins and ends with the lead character being called Monkey. This game is an all out action platformer that pits the heroic Monkey against an army of Mechs who guard the dead cities of America. Alongside him is a young woman named Trip. At the start of the game you both escape a group of mysterious slavers, but whilst Trip appears to be free, Monkey is not. Whilst out cold, Trip fitted Monkey with a head device that will kill him if she dies, as she feels she needs his physical strength if she is to survive in the wilds. This results in a game mechanic centred on keeping yourself (Monkey) alive, ultimately by keeping Trip alive.
The male and female lead mechanic evokes memories of Ico, but the game also has touches of Beyond Good and Evil, and Uncharted 2. All of these games are traditional computer games at first glance, with their platforming and/or shooting mechanics but they also created characters you care about and a story that draws you in. Unlike these three games Enslaved does not quite become a master class in story telling, and even with the involvement of The Beach and 28 Days Later scribe Alex Garland, the narrative is pretty linear. However, this does not mean that the characters are boring. Monkey and Trip have a great relationship that builds through the game. On the introduction of Pigsy, a humorous and chubby recluse, there is a lightness in the game and the relationships mature wonderfully.
Many gamers don’t really care about storytelling in their games, which is a shame. This trend is noticeable in the countless faceless shooters that dominate the modern gaming market. The fact that Enslaved makes you care about the characters is a real bonus and adds to the impact of events later in the game. Graphically, Enslaved is not as good looking as the previous effort by Ninja Theory, Heavenly Sword. The multiformat Unreal engine is far jaggier than their own PS3 engine and the textures pop into existence a few sections after each cut scene had started. However, for a game that uses the Unreal engine, Ninja Theory are able to give Enslaved far more tones of light and colour than the usual grey/green (greyn) palate the engine usually provides.
In terms of gameplay, Enslaved falls just short of excellence in several areas. Combat is fun and solid, but gets repetitive. Level design is awe inspiring on occasion, but you get the feeling the game is a series of set maps, rather than a cohesive whole. The platforming is the strongest element of the gameplay as Monkey’s natural athleticism means you bound around the level with ease. Unfortunately, the repetitive animations end up jolting your sense of pleasure. In all these areas Enslaved does a good job, but it fails to innovate in any of them.
It is this slight lack of polish that makes Enslaved fall short of being a must buy. Ninja Theory has obviously learned a great deal from Heavenly Sword, but they have yet to mature to the standard of true AAA. In terms of voice acting and face capture technology they are at the forefront, but the likes of story telling and gameplay need to be improved to the high standard of their character development if they are to match Heavy Rain or Uncharted 2. If it were not for the harsh monetary climate of today I would encourage Ninja Theory to return to Sony exclusivity, as the Japanese giants are known to nurture the type of work that Ninja Theory is attempting, yet just failing, to achieve. Despite Enslaved falling short in a few areas the package as a whole is an excellent action platformer that any fan of Uncharted, Tomb Raider etc will enjoy immensely.
by: Sam "Samoza" Tyler
I’m not one to usually pay attention to iPhone Apps, as when it comes to handheld devices I am more of a podcast/music man myself. However, when watching Peter Molyneux’s keynote speech at the Eurogamer Expo he announced a new Fable III themed App called Kingmaker, which allows you to earn Fable III gold before the game is even out. My pathological greed meant that Kingmaker was sure to peak my interest.
After some initial stumbling over the release date, Kingmaker finally made it to the App Store for the grand sum of nothing; zip, zero, nada. Free things are always nice, but unfortunately the ‘game’ reflects the price. Once you finish downloading Kingmaker you are asked to link it to both an email address and an Xbox Live Account. You are then automatically given the role as a Royalist or a Rebel. Each day you can plant ten flags in ten locations that offer wireless connectivity. If the area has more Royal flags it falls under Royal control and the opposite if the Rebels dominate. Essentially, the game plays out as a real life game of Risk; actual people can tip the balance. For a better idea you can check out this video.
In theory this should work well, but there are a number of issues that detract from the App. On pure aesthetics, it does not look that pretty; a lot more could have been done to spruce up the imagery or cater for fans of the Fable III series with some unlockable artwork or sound effects. There are only four screens on offer that range from the bland Place a Flag icon to the sleep inducing options page. There is some initial excitement on offer when you discover the map page which explains which faction owns where. However, you are unable to move the map around or zoom in for better accuracy; it feels incredibly limited.
To add to these issues, I also found that the App crashed on me a couple of times and would take a day or two to restart. Finally, the game allows you to plant 10 flags in the same spot, this meant I ended up just planting all 10 in the same place as this equates to 500 Gold Pieces that will be imported into my game. To really encourage gamers Lionhead should have forced people to plant flags in different areas.
By my age, I should be wary of the paradox: ‘what Molyneux says ain’t what he delivers’, but I can’t help being a fool. I imagined that Kingmaker would be an immersive App that drew gamers into a huge Meta role playing game; it turned out to be a poorly coded gold making app that people could play sitting on their couch. This being said, it’s nice to have something for free and I will be able to spend the gold I earn in game. For that alone it’s worth picking up in the regions it is available.
Publisher: Twisted Pixel
Developer: Twisted Pixel
by: Marc "DjinniMan" Alli
Comic Jumper is the latest offering from Twisted Pixel, creators of The Maw and ‘Splosion Man. The hero in Comic Jumper is Captain Smiley, a blue-and-yellow clad muscleman with a talking Star on his chest and a round head reminiscent of…well, a smiley face. Shortly after the game begins, Captain Smiley’s comic is cancelled due to low sales. His only option for renewal is to earn money by guest starring in other comics. In each of these comic books, the art style changes drastically; in the Conan-inspired fantasy world, the Captain is decked out in leather and sabre-tooth tiger skins, while in the manga world, he is a black-and-white, spiky haired protagonist and the normally gruff Star is more Hello Kitty than Dirty Harry. These changes in appearance and style will definitely keep a smile on your face, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The gameplay, on the other hand, may just have you tossing your controller at the screen in frustration. The fact is, Comic Jumper is very, very difficult. It’s a mix of platformer and dual stick shooter, with the Captain attacked from all sides by all manner of bad guys. If you didn’t grow up in the 8 or 16 bit eras, this might just be one of the toughest games you’ve ever played. Using both sticks to move, shoot, and then having to worry about jumping as well is finger-crampingly hard. There are no health orbs to help you, either. The good news? You respawn infinitely, so you don’t need to worry about losing lives. Dying will set you back a few minutes, however, and though the hilarious quips from Captain Smiley at his death (“I hope your friends aren’t watching!”) lessen the blow, you might have to replay a section dozens of times before you succeed.
You can upgrade Captain Smiley’s abilities by spending cash earned throughout the game, thankfully. In all likelihood, you’ll need to play through the special challenge levels multiple times in order to gain enough money for the best upgrades. Increased damage, especially, is vital to Captain Smiley’s success, particularly later in the game when the levels and bosses are incredibly tough.
The levels in Comic Jumper are somewhat repetitive, which, like the difficulty, is very old school. But there are several things that mix it up just enough to keep it interesting. A few punching and brawling sections, as well as sequences where the action goes over the Captain’s shoulder, much like a lightgun game are welcome changes of pace. The shifting art style helps, too, but the real reason you’ll keep playing even when the game gets a bit tedious is the humor. I cannot recall ever playing a game as outright hilarious as Comic Jumper. There are many self-referential bits that will have you laughing out loud, and the comic timing between Captain Smiley and Star is wonderful. It’s easily the most enjoyable aspect of the game. I highly recommend Comic Jumper; it is one of the finest downloadable titles I’ve ever played.