Category: Reviews

Review: Shadow Complex Remastered

This review is based on the Xbox One version of Shadow Complex Remastered.

Chair Entertainment is now best known for the massive Infinity Blade series, but their first hit game was the original Shadow Complex which spearheaded Xbox’s Summer of Arcade 2009. Mixing a blend of side scrolling platforming and an addictive combat style, it was a throwback to classics such as Super Metroid and inspired a revival of 2D platform games that continues to this day.

Nearly a decade later, Shadow Complex Remastered adds some minimal graphical tweaks but otherwise keeps the original game intact in its migration to the Xbox One. It’s still a ton of fun to walk and run (eventually at supersonic speed) around as Jason Fleming, bewildered backpacker on a date who eventually rises to heroism to save his captured girlfriend Claire. This unfolds after a blockbuster opening sequence blasting an assault helicopter with a fully enabled combat suit, another nod back to the Metroid ouevre before the plot by Peter David unfolds.

 

The game looks and sounds very similar to the original release as the remastering effort was not as extensive as the full recreations of other Xbox 360 classics such as Gears of War, but a new coat of paint is really all it needed. The textures are a little low resolution in some cases and the stock enemy troops can blend together, but overall Shadow Complex still looks visually interesting and the sound design still finds the sweet spot between realism and pop sensibility that the original had. The voice acting also deserves a separate shout out, especially Nolan North in one of his earlier star turns as the put upon but ultimately heroic protagonist.

Tearing through an underground fortress to uncover a vast conspiracy, acquiring combat upgrades and smashing through enemy Restoration troops is every bit as enjoyable as it was in 2009. The power suit rivals the best that Samus Aran has unveiled in her adventures: there’s nothing as fantastical as the screw attack or power ball in Shadow Complex Remastered, but Fleming has his own collection of jet augmented jumps and supersonic running speed to traverse levels with precision. The array of weapons stay within the established bullet and missile based types which works well with the impulse rumble of the Xbox One controller, initiating a pleasing buzz or kick when dealing damage to foes at all angles. That said, the real fun comes with punching, kicking and shoulder charging through enemies with a variety of context sensitive combat moves, especially when you can catch them unaware or send them flying off the map as they shriek in anguish…!

The boss fights can be repetitive and digging up the expansion tanks can be vexing when the upgrades are tucked into the far recesses of the map, but the vast majority of the game can be completed as quickly or leisurely as desired. Frequent enemy respawns and level progression provides an incentive to circle back and gain XP, apply new abilities to previously unreachable areas and generally bounce around the interconnected levels.

Shadow Complex is still one of the best games to build upon the side scrolling action platform genre established by the original Metroid series. The smart additions of a partial extra dimension with the 2.5D format to expand the playing field without going full 3D and the unwavering focus on fast and fun combat make the remastered edition a must have for both gamers new to the title and long time fans interested in a return to the Olympic Mountains and the secrets buried beneath.

 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Review: Clash Royale

This review is based on the iPhone version of Clash Royale.

Games focused on fast experiences with a persistent item collection are dominating mobile gaming, a format led by a wave of mobile exclusive developers that includes Finnish studio Supercell. Clash Royale is a real time arena combat game set in the universe of Clash of Clans, one of the most financially successful games ever released and a genuine cultural phenomenon that has included a Super Bowl commercial and its own convention for hardcore fans.

 

Each match lasts for 3 minutes and tacks on an additional 60 seconds of overtime if needed, keeping it deliberately short to reward attacking and discourage defensive turtle tactics. Combatants fight along a pair of paths that each lead to an arena tower backed by a stronger king’s tower, with the winner determined by either destroying the opponent’s king tower or a lead in crowns when time runs out. Units, buildings and spells can be played for varying elixir costs which then automatically determine where to move and what to attack; the player input is limited to selection and placement of cards in each match. The unit AI generally snaps to a left or right lane but ambitious gamers can aggressively target the central king tower with cards like the Goblin Barrel which contains 3 stab happy goblins inside, a punishing Rocket or other airborne attack options without placement restrictions. Clash Royale really shines when the combatants have enough game knowledge and tactical options in their battle deck to push and pull the game in ways that the game may not have intended.

All of this is bundled together in a bright and attractive visual presentation with the art style and audio aesthetic of the Clash of Clans source material. Card selection and placement is very responsive, recognizing quick taps of cards or in-game messages immediately and providing a ghosted card placement/attack range overlay that is useful for planning out armada formations and drawing enemy aggression as the match unfolds.

Unfortunately, the game has a couple of significant flaws that keep it from being universally fun. First and foremost is a matchmaking system that skews heavily in favour of one side for almost every game; the difference in king level, card level and current trophies results in imbalanced blowout matches that are dissatisfying to win and frustrating to lose. The discrepancy has gotten worse since the game launched worldwide a few weeks ago as it buckles under the influx of new free to play and heavy spending players alike, exacerbating the logical flaws in their algorithm; this is an addressable problem for a studio with significant multiplayer experience, but they need to fix this quickly.

The game has also shown an early trend of rewarding gamers who spend significant amounts of real money to get the latest and greatest cards as they are added to Clash Royale. Newly introduced legendary cards such as the Ice Wizard and Princess have dominant splash/range impact on matches and an accompanying high rarity in finding them among free chests, providing a significant advantage to the colloquially nicknamed “gemmers” who spend a lot of real world currency to purchase paid chests en masse to add these weapons to their collection. It isn’t a surprise for a free to play game to reward gamers willing to spend lots of real dollars for immediate results, but the economics would benefit from a readjustment to keep common and rare units viable.

Clash Royale is going to be an ever evolving experience as the studio periodically adds new cards, revises existing cards and makes other changes that keeps the game enticing as an arena combat platform for players around the world. Supercell has set up a unit creation model across games that resembles the workflow created by Blizzard Entertainment, adding units to their Clash games either simultaneously or sequentially to keep players invested in their larger fictional universe.

There is a real art in learning when to poke at towers with low elixir units such as Spear Goblins, drawing out splash damage spells to set up counter attacks, unit drop positioning and much more in the quest to accumulate ranking trophies and earn glory for your clan. I can live with the occasional matchmaking and paid to play imbalances to get my regular fix of fast, aggressive combat in a game that I still find as compelling as the day it debuted.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Review: Pac-Man 256

This review is based on the iPhone and iPad versions of Pac-Man 256.

Franchises that have been around for decades have a significant challenge in remaining relevant for modern audiences, requiring a balance of modern design and gameplay elements with identifiable traits from the original to form a meaningful remake. After some misfires in the past, Namco published a truly addictive update in Pac-Man Championship Edition DX and has another interesting interpretation in Pac-Man 256.

Developed by the team behind last year’s smash hit Crossy Road, Pac-Man 256 takes an unexpected detour for the iconic franchise into the realm of free-to-play games. The team at Hipster Whale carries over the isometric perspective and swipe based motions from their debut hit to the Pac-Man universe that respects the formula of the classic games while taking advantage of the isometric perspective. The game is essentially an endless runner with an advancing barrier of degenerating code (a shout-out to the infamous level 256 glitch in the original version that is also the namesake for this game), but you can weave forward and backward with a greater degree of flexibility in comparison to Crossy Road. It’s better seen than described:

 

Pac-Man 256 offers a choice between Free Play and regular Play modes, the latter adding an assortment of power-ups beyond the original power pellet onto the playing field in exchange for a virtual credit. Topping out at 6 credits and regenerating a credit at set time intervals, the game is metered but with a threshold that will only affect players who crave extended sessions on power-up enabled levels. The Free Play versions largely resembles the classic arcade Pac-Man experience and provides an equally viable method of munching on dots to unlock the more advanced power-ups in your arsenal for equipping and upgrading. Your armory eventually expands to a total of 16 weapons comprised of options such as a path frying Laser, explosive Bomb that triggers upon contact and a Pyro that leaves a trail of scorching flames along Pac-Man’s movement path. I’m partial to the Pac-Men army of spawning mini allies that chomp on nearby enemies, sending out a trio of smaller but equally deadly avatars.

The game delivers a steady streams of gifts, earned by watching a 30 second trailer (mostly for other mobile games) or for accomplishing tasks such as eating fruit or destroying ghosts with specific power-ups which can usually be earned in a few plays for credit. Each one provides a random amount of coins or a pair of credits that can be used for upgrading abilities and playing games respectively, making the selection of a preferred mix of 3 power-ups depending on play style and tactical need a key factor in choosing what to upgrade.

The controls are generally responsive, but it would definitely benefit with the precision of tactile controls: the inherent imprecision of swipe based movements and accumulated sweat on the screen during longer play sessions combine to create some frustrating results.

Pac-Man 256 is an engrossing, addictive game that refreshes the classic pill munching format with a wonderfully inventive mix of power-ups and retro aesthetic look. Veterans of Namco’s iconic series will get a kick out of Hipster Whale’s interpretation and newcomers will find a fresh, revitalized take on a legendary gaming franchise.

 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars