Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Review: Distraint

A few million years ago, there was an Atari Lynx Dracula adventure set in a gorgeous sepia toned Transylvania. And that's what Distraint: Deluxe Edition instantly reminds me of, using the lack of colour, the narrow spaces in its tight aspect ratio and all the sound it can throw through the speakers (better yet, headphones) to freak out the player.

The story is pretty grim too, you're a young sad sack called Mister Price, working for the man and charged with foreclosing houses on the weak and the elderly. This bobble-headed bumbler, with constantly blinking eyes and matching bobbly quiff that looks a bit like an octopus dangling down, isn't evil per-se, but he could have got a job anywhere else. Frankly he deserves to go to hell just for that.

Each home he visits plays host to a series of increasingly grim puzzles as the sad tales of the owners come to light. Find items and use them in the right place, nothing too complex, but finding where to go and what do to can still be tricky, with many doors and locked off areas. An Exclamation mark appears as he walks past anything of interest, and you'll need to pay attention with all the freakery going on.

That's as the main thrust of Distraint's strength is using the weird, the sense of dread, surreal and the abstract to make you forget about the adventuring too-and-fro. Shadows at the window, screeching creatures passing in the foreground, scenes of madness, it all does a great job at providing mini scares.

With twists and turns, and logic flying out the window, this is a great compact tale to follow, with little interludes adding a family tale and a moral core to the whole thing. All of which neatly comes full circle, hopefully Distraint 2 will soon be making its way to the Vita.

Sure, some items are hard to spot against the backgrounds, and the inventory and use mechanic is one of the weirder ones I've seen, but this comes highly recommended.

Score: 8/10
More Reviews
Price: £5.79 (PSN)
Developer/publisher: Jesse Makkonen/Ratalaika
File size 114MB
Progress:  Behind the green door
(review code provided)

Monday, October 21, 2019

2012's Knytt Underground goes Physical via PlayAsia

Looks like the publishers are digging deeper in to the Vita archive for new fodder, with 2012's very pretty Knytt Underground from Niflass and Ripstone getting a fresh, if limited to 1,500 units, release. That's thanks to PlayAsia bundling the game with the usual CD, box, manual and certificate.

Having checked my PSN, I own the game but have no recall of playing it. Guess it'll be good to give it another go, with features including, over 1,800 rooms to explore and multiple story-driven quests to complete. Zen-like gameplay, vibrant environments and dynamic characters, compelling and thought provoking storyline where you switch between human and ball form for an unparalleled sense of freedom.

Pre-orders go live this week, with the boxes arriving in time for Christmas, if you want to treat your Vita to a present.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

PlayStation Now back on the Vita, sort of

PlayStation Now was a genius little app for the Vita way back in 2015, bringing a mass of PS3 titles streaming to Sony's handheld. But the powers at PlayStation seemed to lose interest in the project, so much so, they eventually pulled the Vita app in 2017, limiting it to PS4 and PC. That is until Google recently announced Stadia and Microsoft started offering xCloud, making streaming trendy and a useful way to gain revenue from the archives.

Now the revamped PlayStation Now is here, with new offers and a stronger focus on content. The good news is the downloadable category of PS Now games can be Remote Played on the Vita, and I count 327 PS4 titles at the moment.

With the new 7-day free trial, you can give them a spin no-money-down, or if you want to go all-in, ShopTo.net has a £10 off an annual sub, making it just £3 and change per month. Since you have to download them to the PS4, and files range from a couple of GB to 45GB for the likes of GTA, that limits the flexibility of PSNow, and if you spend all your time on the big screen, this isn't much use. But if your big-screen time is limited, the Vita still proves itself highly useful. (UPDATE: Of course, you can use an iOS or Android device with a DualShock, but that's way off Vita Island).

The bad news is, the older stuff, like PS2 titles from Red Faction to Star Wars Jedi Starfighter and PS3 titles like the Bioshock originals are still streaming-to-PS4-only, so can't be played on the Vita. Presumably the lag-upon-lag would be too much for most games, but I'm willing to give it a go if Sony would change that setting.

Still, for us Vita owners, the PS4 downloadable titles in PS Now count as regular games, like the delectable Shadow of the Beast I've been testing it with. They must be downloaded to the host PS4 for PlayStation-More-Than-Now play, player at higher-res with reduced lag, limiting RP to your local network, so if your Remote Play has been poor before, don't expect a boost now or a great experience.

You can run the PlayStation Now app remotely on the Vita to test all this out. With the likes of Air Conflicts, Batman, Borderlands, BloodBorne, Doom, F1 2017, Fallout 4, Gravity Rush 2 and many more all there for the playing. That's 300+ games you can currently play for nothing, even if you used a previous PSNow trial, with Trophies and saves. There's a Downloadable section in the app so you can see what's playable.

Having played the updated service on the PS4, there's still the odd bit of lag with the PS Now servers, but mostly it is a positive experience and on the Vita, my Remote Play is usually pretty good. Get going with the free trial at least and see what you can get from it.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Deep Space Rush and Foxyland jump to the Vita

Ratalaika and Bug Studios are bringing more pixel fun to the Vita with Deep Space Rush arriving in October and more projects in the pipeline. The games, including Foxyland are developed in Construct2 or 3, and seem to be another source of games from Ratalaika to port over.

DSR is based on Deep Space, an iOS and Android endless platformer, it looks pretty sharp, checking to see if there are any updates. While Foxyland, and hopefully Foxyland 2, are more traditional platformers with cute little critters leaping about some risky woods.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Review: A Hole New World

A Hole New World answers the question that some of us have been asking since our earliest platform memories. What's below all those horrendous dead-drops we've come across that have consumed so many of our precious lives?

In A Hole New World, dropping into one of those holes results not in death, but in a trip to an Upsidedown-like world Reversee where the rules of physics are reversed and you can use the many tunnels to avoid traps and tricky areas on the surface, and vice versa. Sure other games have used the mechanic to open up new worlds, hide secrets or lure players to their doom, but HNW uses it as a broad theme.

The plot of A Hole New World sees your city invaded by floating or armoured monsters from the Upside Down World! As a Potion Master, you must lob your spells, rather like the fireballs from Ghosts n Goblins to defeat the array of enemies before you. Levels contain secrets to find, and sometimes different routes across the level.

The game is a 750MB download on the Vita, which for a bunch of NES/Spectrum-era pixels (without the colour clash), is a big file, suggesting there's either a huge world under those gaps in the scenery or something else. HNW only has five levels, so checking what the deal is.

As you'd expect of a potions wizard, the game is not about charging at your enemies and taking a few hits. Instead, you need to plan attacks, time jumps and throws to perfection and learn the patterns of the bosses. Unlike so many other games, HNW is happy to flood the screen with enemies rather than have you plod along taking them down one-or-two at a time, which is cool and you have enough lives to experiment with your approach.

Fortunately, there is plenty of food around the place and behind closed doors to keep your health up and checkpoints to save the dreaded back-to-the-start-itis. After you complete the first level, you meet Fay, a fairy, who you can fire as a more direct weapon, and defeating the further end-of-level bosses gives you new potions to throw around.

Unfortunately, HNW isn't totally perfect on the small screen. The shrinkdown from the 2017 Steam original leaves black bats against a dark background invisible, and you'll learn the hard way about all sorts of prickly passages. Also, if you slip back down from a series of complex jumps you can end up in swamp of enemies, and the later bosses seem hard for the sake of it as opposed to challenging your skill.

That said, A Hole New World is a short but joyous romp through the world of pixel platforming with a neat twist, a strong visual "scratchy" style and listenable tunes. With Game + mode, boss rush, challenges and other extras, there's plenty to keep us playing too.

Score: 7/10
More Reviews
Price: £7.99 (PSN)
Developer/publisher: Hidden Trap
File size 750MB
Progress:  Upside down, boy, you turn me, inside out
(review code provided)

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Pantsu Hunter goes physical

Cheeky visual novel Pantsu Hunter isn't all that high on the list of games I'd like to see get a physical release. Yet, here comes EastAsiasoft and PlayAsia with a boxed release for Ascension Dream's game where you get to rummage around the lives of a bunch of nice girls and their linen baskets on the hunt for panties in the name of scientific research, okay!


The usual audio CD, and production run card pad out the offering, but I'm hoping the publishers start looking for more essential physicals that will get our pulses running for the right reasons.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Accel World vs SAO and SD Gundam G hit Play Asia as limited reprints

PlayAsia keeps churning out the reprints with two more-than-welcome Namco re-releases, ACCEL WORLD VS SWORD ART ONLINE for $39.99 and SD GUNDAM G GENERATION GENESIS at $49.99. At just 500 copies each, these will vanish quickly, so get your orders in now.

Retro gaming on your Vita

I'm getting a Mega Drive Mini today (a birthday treat that I can't open until later), and will be pre-ordering the PC Engine CoreGrafx Mini. But, as I have the world's greatest portable in my hands, what can you retro game on the mighty Vita, or a PSP if you have one to hand?

I love a good retro day, not needing to worry about trophies, performance issues and remembering endless controller options. What I do worry is that so many games are hard to find or play, like the Atari vector Star Wars games, or the Bally games like Tapper, Mikie and Spy Hunter (not the terrible modern version) or Irem's Kung Fu Master and Moon Patrol (without going the emulator route).

But for all the holes in the retro world, there's still plenty to enjoy in short retro-bursts. Note: I'm not going into individual releases like the many Mega Man games or upgrades (Ultimate Ghosts n Goblins), that's another article. And yes, I've probably missed a few collections, while others may simply have vanished, nudge me if you remember one that's accessible!

Into the history books

Naturally, there's all the PSP and a decent list of PSone games to grab directly from PSN, including the original Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Rayman and Vagrant Story among others. But that's not very retro is it? (depending on your age I guess). The odd thing is, despite the growing interest in retro, most of the Vita's offerings come from the PSP days.

There's the PSP Mega Drive (or Genesis) Collection, offering Sonic the Hedgehog, Golden Axe, Phantasy Star and Virtua Fighter 2 among 28 releases of varying quality.

Going even further back, arcade nostalgia fans can grab the two PSP Capcom Classics Collections, that include Street Fighter II (various versions), 1942, 1943, Gun Smoke, Ghosts n Goblins, Mercs, Strider, Black Tiger and many more. And the more you play, the more art and cheats you open up for each game as a reward!

Making this nostalgia trip even stranger is one of the Vita's most recent releases that takes us all the way back to the dawn of gaming with Atari Flashback Classics. This (sold old) physical offering has some 150 games from the early Atari consoles. From the simple fun of Breakout to Tempest, Centipede and many other classics.

American PSN does it better

If you have a Vita with a |US PSN account, you can grab Namco's five PSone retro bundles that include Pole Position, various Pac Man titles, Galaxians, DigDug, Metro Cross, Dragon Spirit and more.

There's also SNK Arcade Classics, with a great roster of beat em ups including Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, plus lots of Metal Slug and sports games. Metal Slug is available in various forms with Metal Slug 3 getting a recent release. Or, if you want to remote play, the 2019 SNK 40th Anniversary PS4 collection.

Physical Options

Annoyingly, a lot of retro compilations never made it to PSN or have been removed over time. Taito Legends Power-Up is another PSP mixed bag with everything from Space Invaders to New Zealand Story and Rastan Saga.


Retro Modern

Even if you don't really have much of an interest in old games but like the aesthetic, there are plenty of new games that ride the retro wave, from Super Life of Pixel, the isometric Lumo to Habroxia, all making use of modern computing power to deliver that classic feel.

And, of course, sometimes interest in an old or abandoned game from the dev community brings us the likes of WindJammers and the shiny Ultracore.

There there are those who pick up and run with classic ideas like H.E.R.O., in the fresh guise of Bobby Bombastic.

All of which means, short of buying those knock off consoles, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy gaming history!

Monday, September 30, 2019

New Vita games rush this way with trophy listings

A few new games popped up as Exophase listings over the weekend. Deep Space Rush is one of those mystery titles, not on Steam and all searches only link to the new trophy listing. They talk about zones and monsters which gives us a fair hint as to what's to come.

Super Box Land Demake we know a little more about, coming from Juliano Lima (aka LightUp Games). Check out his blog, for more info on this fun adventure that comes on the heels of, and looks like an evolved project compared to Super Wiloo Demake (below), next up from him is Milo's Quest which I hope will also make it to the Vita.

Finally, and probably pick of the bunch, is Just Ignore Them from the twisted folk behind My Big Sister. A similar pixel adventure

Also on the way is more wordy fun with Tic-Tac-Letters from Powgi, a single player logic puzzle based on tic-tac-toe. Players start by placing letters so that there are no more than two Xs or Os consecutive in a row or column. Then continue with new letters and larger and more challenging puzzles.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Shovel Knight King of Cards heads to Vita in December

Yacht Club Games has finished off work on the final installments of the Shovel Knight adventure. The final episode is almost a year later than first promised, but hey - these works of genius take time and December isn't all that far away.

Shovel Knight: King of Cards is the final campaign in the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove saga, and it’s bigger and grander than ever! Step into the regal shoes of King Knight, the Gilded Goon himself, as you shoulder bash and spin jump through all those who would oppose your reign! Travel through 4 new worlds and more than 30 all new courses, all on a journey to best the “Three Kings” who lord over the land.  Discover what it takes to become a true monarch, meet a friend or two, and amass a King’s ransom in items and loot! Refined platforming, exquisite visuals, story with heart, action-packed courses, glorious new bosses and more await in Shovel Knight: King of Cards!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Review: Habroxia

Space, the final frontier. These are the - die you mothers! Sorry, some days I feel in peace and cosmic harmony with the gaming world and other times, I just want to blow stuff up. Today is one of the those days and here's Habroxia from Lillymo to provide the drug.

Somewhere between Xenon and the legendary Nemesis comes Habroxia, a sparkling dive into shoot 'em up nostalgia. It throws chrome-tinged vertical and horizontal levels at us with waves of ships firing chunky bullets at your vessel from all directions with a range of growing bosses (why do they have names, when there's no plot?) with heftier firepower and bigger health bars the further you get in.

On its own, it looks nothing too dramatic, but add all the little features and tricks like different bullet types, some of which you can shoot down, together and we have a challenging shooter with some impressive ideas and good use of Trophies to get us perfecting those trigger finger skills. For a start, you are blazing across one of the early levels, and all of a sudden your ship and the action rotates and we get a vertical shooter. Some levels, you have to rescue astronauts, who are tucked away in tricky corners (don't shoot them) and the challenge builds up with a persistent charge.

Along each level there are plenty of power-ups for your rockets, bombs and lasers, risking life and limb to collect them and health for your shields. Also, picking up credits means we can go mad in the store where you can permanently power up your ship to help out on the tougher levels. Each level is packed with asteroids, whoosy-radar things, ground installations and waves of attack craft. Far from bullet hell, you still need your wits about you, but the core levels follow set patterns, so you can learn where to dodge and what to take out first.

The controls are also a bit unusual, the right trigger fires your main weapon, left trigger and the right-stick fire your directional weapons and both triggers launch the third weapon type. The combination has the Vita shaking rather a lot but the alternate controls make more sense, using the shoulder button to boost. (bonus point to the game for having the controls listed in the digital manual!)

In play, there's progress from level to level, with no need to go back to the start. Combos give your score a bit of kick, depending on how long you can avoid enemy bullets, and new modes are unlocked when you reach a particular point. Invasion mode goes vertical with your mission to keep ships from reaching the bottom of the screen while Rescue sees those plucky astronauts in need of assistance.

Habroxia combines some lovely ideas, like the backstories of the astronauts, not some are quite perfectly implemented, while still adding to the sense of drama. A good spacy-handbrake turn sound would really top off the rotation mechanic, while some more imagination in the weaponry department would have been cool. Also, I hate that a space ship can still crash into solid land, surely some sort of collision avoidance is fitted to these things?

The music is rather plinky and doesn't seem to help the atmosphere but there's nothing that really stops this being a great game. With plenty to do beyond the core missions, Habroxia is plenty of fun, looks retro-gorgeous and is just a layer of polish off from being awesome.

Score: 8/10
More Reviews
Price: £5.79 (PSN)
Developer/publisher: Lillymo Games
File size 37MB
Progress:  Bombs and big bad guys
(review code provided)

Friday, September 20, 2019

Now you can use DualShock 4 for iOS 13 games and iPhone Remote Play, no need for Vita 2?

The latest release of Apple of iOS 13 sees iPhone users easily able to pair a DualShock 4 controller over Bluetooth and play the latest Apple Arcade games.

A rush of launch titles like Oceanhorn 2, Chu Chu Rocket, Mini Motorways, Sonic Racing, EarthNight and around 70 others, with more set to come for a £4.99 monthly subscription make it a tempting move. The update also makes the Sony PS4 Remote Play iOS app usable!

Physically, all you have to do is hold down the PS button and Search on the DS4 for a few seconds with the iPhone's Bluetooth on, and it will appear on your phone, making mobile gaming a whole lot easier to control. I'm sure Android users are way ahead of me on this, and other MFI controllers are available!

Why Sony didn't allow the DS4 controller to take over from the Vita for newer games at any point, either for direct control or more natural remote play, who knows? After all, the Vita has Bluetooth and Remote Play, making it ideal for more flexible gaming.

And it was available long before the PS4 Remote Play app appeared on iOS. The brutal truth of which now makes the idea of a future Vita pretty much redundant. All you need is one of those bondage restraint clamps and your iPhone (or Android) and the DS4 represents the future of portable gaming - still looks butt ugly, but usable. Or, there's the iPad's bigger screen at rest on your legs for in-bed play with a bit less squinting.

Picture taken with my Vita so it still feels part of the family
So, enjoy the Vita as the retro device it now is, with the last of the studio and indie games on the way, as technology is moving on without it. Even a modestly recent iPhone has a way better screen for brightness and resolution, chunky speakers and stronger WiFi.

My little XR is devastatingly powerful with great battery life, making the Vita look like the relic it is, either for remote play or brand new games that Apple can attract with its massive budget to propel the arcade service into people's minds.

Using this super-phone/DS4 partnership, Sony's own developers don't have to worry about hobbled versions of PS5 engines for Vita 2 "exclusive" games, everything will run on the PS5 or PS 5 Pro with 5G streaming for Remote Play at home or away on whatever phone or other device you own.

Just in case you had the tiniest lingering hope of a new portable from Sony, as the new Switch Lite comes to sweep up seasonal sales, why would Sony try to compete when it can let iPhone do the legwork? And having only dabbled in iPhone gaming (Angry Birds, Fieldrunners etc.) this combo feels like a decent, workable, way forward, especially with the Apple Arcade lineup - and when that opens up on Apple TV, who needs a big box console for indies?

Yes, I'd love to see a Vita 2 or an official Sony PS4 Remote Player handheld, but for now this is as good as it gets.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Hole New World falls onto Vita

Hidden Trap has dropped an October release date for A Hole New World, a Unity-engined game announced back in the summer. A busy pixel-platform-shooter with a solid 8-bit-vibe to it, now with a 38-piece Vita trophy listing and a Play Asia limited physical, (1,500 copies), it sees your city being invaded by monsters from the Upside Down World!

As the Potion Master, you must defeat this evil with the help of Fäy, your companion fairy, and your collection of potions! With a wide range of characters across the city, you jump and shoot to fight enemies and bosses to acquire their powers!

Story Mode offers five different worlds, with Game+, Boss Rush Mode, Challenge Mode and multiple endings to keep us playing. There are over 30 different enemies, 7 boss battles and lots of secret characters to discover!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Shooter Habroxia getting a physical Vita LE

Lillymo and Eastasiasoft are bringing a cool-looking retro shooter to the Vita this month, and we get our own little physical LE (just the 1,500 units) too with an audio CD and other goodies. In Habroxia, players blast their way through a myriad of extra-terrestrial incursions through horizontal and vertical levels.

Habroxia features 15 levels with intense boss fights, rescue missions, shifting perspectives and plenty of surprises. A persistent ship upgrade system, three endless side modes, 50 different enemies and 10 unique boss fights should make for plenty of retro space shooting fun.

A Winter's Daydream frosts over the Vita

Answering the age-old question, what happens when your grandma transforms into a cute chick? A Winter's Daydream is a western visual novel coming to the Vita according to a trophy listing (including a platinum). Developed by Ebi-Hime, the plot, if that's what you want to call it, sees 19-year-old Yuu unable to stand his younger sister, Otoko, and the feeling is mutual. 

It’s been almost a year since Yuu saw her last, having escaped his dreary home town to study in the bustling city, but with the advent of New Year’s he finds himself obliged to return to his family to celebrate.
Unfortunately, Yuu’s absence has not softened his younger sister, and Otoko is just as sullen and surly as ever before.
Finding the atmosphere at home unbearable, Yuu decides to escape once more — not to the city this time, but to his grandmother’s snowy, secluded village.
The reunion between grandson and grandmother starts normally at first… until one moonlit night, when the pair witness a star streaking through the sky.
The following morning, Yuu enters the kitchen, still half-asleep, to discover...
“Who are you? What are you doing in my grandmother’s house?”
...that his grandmother has transformed into a cute young girl!
What is the reason behind his grandmother’s drastic change? Will Yuu be able to restore her to her original self? And why is she so adorable?!

The developer has a host of idol and similar games in his archive, with a strong artistic style and reasonable reviews, so here's hoping more head over to the Vita.