Friday, July 3, 2015

The Friday FREE GAME Feature! Ep24: Blackthorne

Test your wits and reflexes in this classic cinematic platformer from Blizzard!

Blackthorne is a blast from the past, originally released for MS-DOS and the SNES back in 1994. The game features some minor puzzle solving and gunplay alongside the jumping, climbing and rolling you'd expect from a cinematic platformer. You play as the prince of an enslaved kingdom who has returned to free his people and seek revenge on their captors. 

Your primary weapon is a shotgun which deals with the basic enemies fairly well, but does little against the larger foes. For that, you'll use a variety of items scattered throughout the game (mostly hover bombs). You (and your enemies) can dodge most attacks by simply hiding against a wall, and combat typically involves patience as you duck in and out of cover trying to score hits. This is a fun idea at first but gets repetitive fairly quickly, though I feel it was probably better than employing a simple shoot'em'up style of play. My biggest complaint here is that you can't draw your weapon while in cover, which doesn't seem like that big of a deal since you can use other items while hidden.

As with most games of the genre, Blackthorne has a few control quirks that can sometimes be annoying to deal with. For example, attempting to take cover while directly under a ledge will instead make your character grab for that ledge (and probably get you shot in the process). While these situations are fairly rare, they are still frustrating when encountered. Taking into account the age of the game though, I feel it's forgivable. In a similar vein, NPCs can stand in spots that force you to talk to them instead of what you were attempting to do, like climbing a ladder or reaching for a ledge. Blizzard provided an interesting answer to this by allowing you to shoot the NPCs if you don't feel like waiting for them to move! This was pretty much unheard of for games made 20+ years ago.

Overall, Blackthorne is a fairly enjoyable title. Fans of cinematic platformers should give it a try, if just for the sake of experiencing a classic in the genre.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Friday FREE GAME Feature! Ep 23: Broken Dimensions

Broken Dimensions is a Portal-style puzzler with a twist of horror, created in five weeks by a team of students at DADIU.

This is a fantastic game, and I'm very impressed with what the team accomplished in such little time. Broken Dimensions was clearly inspired by Portal's level design in that each area teaches you some new tricks using the game's fundamental mechanic, but in a way that lets you discover the application on your own. 

You're guided by a ghostly figure that claims to be helping you out, but it doesn't take long before you realize she's not quite what she seems (GLaDOS, anyone?). In several areas you can find scrawled warnings, likely left by other children who happened to wander in (or perhaps Ratman). You end up using a box here and there to complete the puzzles and continue in the game (Companion Cube). I suppose one could also draw comparisons between the candy and cake, though to be fair you actually get the candy many times while playing.

While the game takes a lot of cues from Portal, Broken Dimensions has an important difference that makes it a unique experience. The fundamental mechanic involves you twisting the perspective of the map in 90-degree angles so that the objects and obstacles in the room (as well as what surfaces you can walk on) shift. I'm not sure whether you're rotating the temple or altering gravity, but it has the same net effect and is a damn cool power - it's like making the entire world a giant Rubik's Cube! This is a great mechanic that I'd love to see more of. If anyone knows of another game that does this, please leave me a comment!

I'd also like to point out that the levels in Broken Dimensions are aesthetically pleasing. The temple is lined with mysterious and gruesome depictions, giving you a sense of unease and leaving you to wonder when you'll face the same fate. I feel more attention was given to the temple than the game's two main characters, but I'm actually alright with that. I spent more time looking at the environment for ways to solve the puzzles anyway, so I'm glad they focused on making it look good.

Broken Dimensions has two flaws, and I feel they're connected. It's a short game, and one can finish it in about an hour. It also lacks a save option (probably due to it being so short), meaning you can't put the game down and pick up where you left off. This isn't normally a problem, but if you experience a crash or have to stop playing all of a sudden, you have start over at the beginning.

To sum it up, if you like Portal and want to try out a different game mechanic, play Broken Dimensions!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Spellweaver - Shenanigans ON TRIAL! Ep1-9: To The Limit

Assassins abound as Sam gives me pointers and I learn the difference between "playing" a creature and "putting it on the field".

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Friday FREE GAME Feature! Ep22: Jet Gunner

Run and gun action with this NES-inspired shooter!

Jet Gunner pays tribute to those classic NES-era action titles like Contra, Code Name: Viper and Bionic Commando. You play as a soldier with unlimited ammo and a jetpack, shooting everything that moves while dodging enemies and an array of projectiles. You find power-ups along the way that change your weapon or provide you with a "drone" that can increase your firepower. 

The jetpack has a limited use but refills over time and lets you reach normally inaccessible areas (which the game has many of). The jetpack is fun and gives a lot of room for level design options.You're given a rather large looking health meter, but with everything coming at you it doesn't take long to deplete. You get knocked back when taking damage - and as any oldschool gamer can attest, this can often push you off a platform to your death. By today's standards that might seem cheap, but it feels right at home here. Learning patterns and accounting for knockback was a big part of progression in these games.

Growing up with the NES, I appreciate the gameplay and aesthetics of Jet Gunner, which captures the era and genre wonderfully.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015