READING THIS REVIEW REQUIRES THE ‘GAMES ET AL DLC PACK’.
Hehe I’m funny.
DLC Quest caught my eye as one of those little indie games that you look at and think “huh, that’s a cool idea”. The premise is simple: you must defeat the evil bad guy. Problem is, the standalone game does little to aid you in doing so; to complete the game, you’re going to need some DLC.
Very much a commentary on what the industry has sadly become, DLC Quest requires you to use in-game money to buy DLC in order to fulfil your goals. DLC ranges from simply adding jumping or music, to weapons, life, and so on. In this sense, it reminded me of Evoland, as the player continues to progress through an ever evolving game.
The gameplay itself is extremely straight forward – a 2D platformer that reminded me of old Sega Mega Drive games, particularly with the environment detail and hidden caves, I felt like I was play James Pond. Anyone? James Pond? Ahh nostalgia. Ahem. The map itself is relatively small, and you will find yourself going backwards and forwards to complete objectives, but the game is just long enough at about 2 hours that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It also features a lovely little 16-bit soundtrack, including some atmospheric pieces reminiscent of old RPGs!
Overall, humour is what drives this game forward. As mentioned, it is very much a satire on the current state of DLC and the sheer ridiculousness that surrounds it. DLC Quests parodies various unfinished games (requiring you to purchase DLC to continue) as well nods to well established franchises such as Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, Minecraft and Plants VS Zombies. Aside from this, DLC Quest is also full of its own self-referential humour that will keep you smiling as you slave over hunting down coins to buy the overly expensive season pass (that enables you to traverse the ‘Winter Zone’), or the HD pack (tinting everything with a lovely sepia tone).
The game consists of two short campaigns, each lasting about an hour. It’s a fun way to kill some time if you have it, whilst making you think about how crazy the downloadable content market has become. I’d recommend grabbing it if it’s on sale, but wouldn’t really spend more than a couple o’ quid. There isn’t really a lot else to say about this game, other than if you want a quick, chuckle-worthy pastime, get yourself a copy. Another 69p well spent!
Back in the days of early generation consoles, the 2D platformer was the pinnacle of technology and the staple design for many iconic games – think Sonic, Golden Axe, Earthworm Jim! With today’s modern graphics and technological developments, the humble 2D platformer is more often than not swept under the rug like an easy to conceal bag of incriminating evidence, save for prevalent series such as Mario. Dust: An Elysian Tail (yes, ‘tail’, not ‘tale’) is a game that revamps the 2D platformer dynamic and thrusts it salaciously into the modern day. It falls under the umbrellaing category of Metroidvania (or Castleroid) – action/adventure with RPG elements. This is a game done right.
When I first booted up Dust on the ol’ PC, I thought that I’d wandered into some sort of My Little Pony/furry fan’s wet dream. This was largely due to all of the characters being anthropomorphic animals, drawn in an anime fashion. Fortunately, as I began to play, my initial worries were quickly cast aside like yesterday’s ham.
Playing Dust feels a bit like you’re watching an anime film. The cutscenes look remarkably like a 90s Studio Ghibli film, which is a compliment when (aside from the voice acting, soundtrack and a bit of the writing), Dust was developed by ONE PERSON. According to various online sources (Wikipedia), Dust’s lone developer, Dean Dodrill, is a self-taught illustrator and animator. It’s outstanding, then, to think that this one person not only developed this entire game, but also drew it. Anime is one of those genres that retains a certain magic when it’s hand drawn, and Dust definitely brings this magic to life. Both the character models and settings are truly beautiful and well imagined. The world feels alive, buzzing, and full of fleshed out characters.
Indeed, one of the game’s best features is its design. Character costumes are pretty incredible. The protagonist – the eponymous Dust – wears an iconic sedge hat, instantly setting him apart from other characters, who tend to wear more traditional casual Korean gear. He also holds his sword with his backhand, so you know he’s cool. Each character feels unique, with the exception of some enemies – but even they are palette swapped to add a bit of variety. The backdrops across the game, along with the well-designed levels, also follow this anime-esque model, and as a result create the rich, varied explorable world that Dust: An Elysian Tail is set in.
The game opens with Dust awakening one day in a pretty little grove, lost and confused. He is quickly greeted by in-game companion Fidget (a kind of cat/bat/weasel thing, who, although very annoying, is awfully endearing…like a Tara Strong character) and a legendary talking sword, Ahrah. Together, they must thwart the malicious General Gaius, who is committing mass genocide across the country, and find out who Dust really is. The story is quite compelling, though not the game’s strongest point. It’s interesting, but predictable, and quite typically anime. Again, it reminded me of a Studio Ghibli film – mixing that wondrous feeling of magic and humour with a slightly darker, mature undertone. It touches on subjects such as war, morality and redemption, but it won’t leave you wanting to discuss the plot with your fellow comrades around the watercooler at work on Monday.
As mentioned, the level design is another of the game’s highlights. Each explorable area is divided into several ‘rooms’, for lack of a better word. These rooms fit together like a jigsaw, clearly indicating which side access points are on. This means that you won’t just be travelling right all the time, as with games of yore, but also up, down and left. This, along with the use of height levels, secret areas and explodable walls, adds great variety to each level – nothing feels like it has been copy and pasted.
Throughout the game you can also collect keys to unlock chests, which contain money and food. Food is used for healz, and ranges from a modest lasagne, to a slice of birthday cake, and even some Korean inspired dishes. Keys also unlock cages that contain a variety of ‘friends’. Purely Easter eggs, these ‘friends’ are characters from other indie game such as Super Meat Boy or Bastion. You can go and chill with them in the Sanctuary. Which is a nice way to take a break from killing things.
Dust’s combat utilises both hack ‘n’ slash and RPG elements. Fidget can use her magic to help inhibit enemies, whilst Dust attacks with the standard two button combat controls, which you can mix up to perform a handful of combos. There are only like….three, but chaining multiple attacks together, along with adding Fidget’s magic to the mix, can create a lovely dance of destruction. The flow of combat has been quite masterfully tailored, with fluid battle animations and responsive controls that you can jump, dart and dodge your way around the battlefield seamlessly. The RPG elements come into play in the form of experience, which can be used to buff Dust up and increase the damage that Fidget deals. The levelling scale is a little off, however. When you first enter an area, combat is…no exactly difficult, but slightly challenging – you have to keep on your toesies. But once you level up a couple o’ times, you obliterate anything in your path. This includes bosses. There are only four boss fights, with a handful of mini-bosses, but none really pose a threat. The last boss, who requires you to fight him four times, is the most challenging, but even then, on normal difficulty, he wasn’t a problem at all. I only died a couple of times throughout the game, and that was largely down to my own hubris when fighting a bazillion enemies at once. I have no idea what the fighting is like on a higher difficulty, but with levelling up and the various augments that you can equip to up your attack, it’s all pretty easy. Speaking of, I was disappointed that the game doesn’t feature a New Game Plus option once you complete it. Seems like it would be a good way to offer some replay value to a game that has none. Also, if you try and exit an area whilst you’re still in a fight, a little notification pops up which sounds an awful lot like the old Windows Messenger sound. That’s pretty irrelevant to this review, but I thought I should mention it. Sorry.
TO CONCLUDE. Dust: An Elysian Tail is a good game. Not amazing, but definitely worth playing if you can cough up the dollar. I completed the game with 111% out of a possible 117% (I couldn’t be bothered to do the challenge maps) in about 8 hours or so, so add on a couple of hours for level grinding and completing the previously mentioned challenge maps, you’re looking at a lifespan of about 10 hours (IGN reckons 20 wut). It’s beautifully designed, and amazing when you think that the majority of it is one person’s work. The voice acting is pretty swish too, and you could be mistaken for thinking that you’re watching an anime film (fun fact, the game actually started off as a film called Elysian Tail). There are also plans for a PS4 version to come out soon, which is gonna look sweeeet. So yeah. If you like fun, quirky, 2D hack ‘n’ slashes, then definitely go and check out Dust. If not, well, Shadows of Mordor is out soon so…
As I write this I have only actually played about 25 minutes of the game. I had to stop because oh my goodness my head is now spinning. What caused this cranial conundrum? Read on to find out…
I picked up The Bridge because it was 69p on Steam’s midweek madness. Last time I got a game for that price I was extremely pleasantly surprised (see Tiny and Big review). Published by Quantum Astrophysicists Guild and developed by Ty Taylor and Mario Castañeda, The Bridge is pretty much everything you would expect from an indie title – innovative art style with thought provoking gameplay. You play as an unnamed inventor-type fella who awakens from a nap after an apple falls on his head à la Isaac Newton style. From the level hub that is his house, you navigate your way through a series of puzzles to…well, I’m not sure why because I stopped playing…
The reason I stopped was because after completing the first of the four chapters my head was screaming at me to lay down. See, The Bridge utilises a physics engine, and the primary gameplay has you rotating each of the levels to manipulate gravity in your favour. It’s a cool concept, and allows you to traverse the M. C. Escher style designs by moving giant balls or swinging chains in your favour. But, for my poor little head, this trippyness proved too much, and I had to stop. I was enjoying myself though, so I will definitely scuttle on back later after digesting a few more litres of water. For you, dearest read o’ mine, it may be different, and your head may survive the disorientating gameplay. I hope so.
The game’s art style is completely hard drawn, and compliments the gameplay. Each level begins with your character being sketched into the puzzle, and that (along with the ability to rotate the levels at will) gives the player the feeling of an omnipotent being. Perhaps that will become more apparent in the game’s story as it progresses? Get all meta ‘n shit.
The accompanying soundtrack is nice too. It isn’t too distracting, but jut apparent enough to create an almost ominous atmosphere throughout the game (that, and the looming threat of a ball-like foe named the Menace…he is the thing of nightmares).
It’s clear that The Bridge has taken inspiration from other successful indie games, notably Fez, Super Meat Boy and Braid. Coincidentally the three games featured in the must-see Indie Game: The Movie. That’s probably irrelevant. The level design is somewhat similar to that of Fez in the manipulation of space. The Super Meat Boy inspiration comes from the kind of cool idea that you can see everywhere you have died. And finally the game is very reminiscent of Braid in its drawing stlye and the fact that you can essentially rewind time if you die. These are not criticism in any way – if something works, why not utilise it? I’m just making an observation – if you enjoyed those games, you will probably like The Bridge.
There isn’t really much more to say about The Bridge. It’s current full price is £6.99, and whilst I will probably attempt to continue playing at some point, and although it’s pretty pretty and quite innovative, I think that the overall experience will become a little tedious eventually. I may be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But we’ll see. A lot of indie games do now seem to just implement a unique art style and call it a day (I’m currently playing through a game called Secrets of Rætikon that seems to be doing pretty much that…review will come soon).
I originally decided to write this review in verse, as Child of Light is presented. However, it was shit, so I scrapped that idea and will just do a plain, vanilla review. I’m so sorry.
It must be said that Child of Light is a truly beautiful game. From the art style, to the score, to the story…just beautiful. You play as Aurora, the daughter of a duke in 19th century Austria. One day, Aurora falls into a deathly sleep, and everyone assumes she is dead. But, plot twist, she is not! Aurora wakes up in the strange land of Lemuria; a land in which the sun, moon and stars have been stolen by the dark queen, Umbra. It’s up to you to restore it, as Aurora, the Child of Light! The game is developed and published by Ubisoft, and isn’t their usual MO, but don’t let those nasty sceptics put you off – they did a bloody good job! It’s also written by Jeffrey Yohalem, who wrote AssCred: Brotherhood (the best one) and FarCry 3.
The game is presented like a mixture between a children’s bedtime story and an opera. Just looking at the unique art style reminded me of books from my childhood, illustrated by artists such as Mick Inkpen, or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. There isn’t much more I can say about the art style that does it justice – just check out some of my screenshots. It’s like a picture book come to life, and if that isn’t enough just to give this lovely game a go, the accompanying score is just wonderful. The game is a love letter to older JRPGs in numerous aspects – the music being one of them. Composed by Canadian artist Cœur de pirate, it seamlessly blends serenity with peril, tranquillity with jeopardy and even, dare I say it, light with dark. Once you have finished the game, the soundtrack is definitely something that you will not let go of. I have it playing right now (for scientific purposes)!
Aurora is joined on her journey by a firefly named Igniculus, who can be used to reach far off objects, heal, and slow down enemies in battle. The game also features a co-op mode, where a younger sibling can control Igniculus (because they won’t be controlling Aurora, will they?). There are seven colourful party members to unlock in total (eight with the Golem DLC) as the game progresses, each with a wide variety of skills such as healing, offensive magic, status magic, tanking and so on.
Fans of older JRPGs such as some of the older Final Fantasy games, notably VI, will feel a wonderful sense of nostalgia. Well, at least, I did. Combat follows a turn-based battle system in which combatants must wait until they reach the appropriate point on the battle gauge. Once they get about 3/5 the way down the gauge, you can select an attack. The rest of the gauge is ‘casting’. If a character is attacked whilst they are casting, they will be interrupted and sent back down the gauge. Igniculus can slow enemies down, allowing you to manipulate their battle gauge. As such, the battles require quite a lot of tactics and timing. Two members of your party can be in the battle at any time, but you can swap in and out whenever you want to issue an action, meaning that you can chop and change and tailor your combatants to suite the battle’s needs. There is a wide variety of enemies, and every character has their uses (albeit some more than others) so battles rarely feel stale or tedious. I played the game on the higher difficulty (obviously), which made it a lot more challenging but not impossible. It required me to think about fights tactically, and always be one step ahead, planning my next move. There were a few enemies that posed a bit of a problem, but in the end once I worked out their patterns it was quite straight forward. Bosses are often accompanied by a couple of ‘basic’ monsters, so my advice is always get those goddamn adds first! Outside of combat, players control Aurora through the nicely painted levels in a kind of Limbo side-scrolling puzzle solver way (just with much less child death…). The game also features an impressive skill tree which, whilst appearing quite dautning, is very straight forward so both veterans and newbs can grasp it. Once the story is completed, New Game Plus is unlocked, allowing you to restart the game with your current party and skills and fight even tougher enemies! #replayvalueOne unpleasantry is that the game uses Uplay. Yh. Once you get past this, all is well, but there is that initial moment when you start the game and you’re filled with dread as you have to sign in to yet another account using some annoying client that no one cares about.
As I said at the beginning (which feels so long ago now, doesn’t it?), all of Child of Light’s dialogue is written in verse. It follows a rhyme scheme of ABCB, and whilst an interesting and mostly well written approach, some rhymes do often feel a little forced and lazy, and as a result completely breaks the flow of dialogue. But writing a whole game in rhyme is pretty darn challenging I’m sure, so I can let them off for that mostly. Mostly. The story if endearing and thought-provoking, but it’s the overall experience that makes Child of Light a must-play. It’s just beautiful. Have I said that already? Probably. But it is. Beautiful. Go play!