Tuesday, February 28, 2017

NIS posts full Exile Election trailer

After all the little clips and snippets, here comes a more full-on version with the cast of Exile Election, NIS's latest murder fest. Which of these 13 poor unfortunates will die in some suitably terrible way, and who will escape at the end? And will the mocking cartoon figure be revealed as a Scooby Doo villain, or much worse?

What do reckon, a shoe-in for a late 2017 western release as yet more visual novels continue to get translated for the English-speaking audience?

Dying Reborn stacks up the puzzle horrors

Coming soon to Vita, after the PS4 and PSVR launch, Dying Reborn looks like a western take on the weirdness of 999 and other puzzle adventures, transplanting it into a first-person adventure and sticking a fish head on a man's body, because, why not? The game has been repeatedly delayed, and I wonder how the Vita version will cope with an experience designed for VR, but we'll find out eventually when the Oasis Games title hits PSN.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Blue-Collar Astronaut floats to the Vita next month

Jobs in space won't all be of the Mark Watney or Jim Lovell type heroics in the future. Instead, people will be needed for more regular roles; parking space craft, trucking cargo, delivering pizza will be the Joe jobs of tomorrow.

Vita owners can get in on that action with Blue-Collar Astronaut from Mutated Software, launching mid-March. It features a range of craft to control over 40 levels, with different objectives to meet in increasingly tough time limits. The Vita version is on-show now at GDC if you want a peek.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Are you scared of the Death Mark?

Experience Inc,'s next unsettling title for the Vita is Death Mark, which releases this summer. As one of those afflicted with this mark, you have to figure out a way to survive. It all seems very nightmarish and borrowing from lots of Japanese movies and horror memes, all crammed into one of the more in-your-face visual novels.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Axiom Verge getting a physical LE Vita release

Axiom Verge on the Vita is awesome, but it would be great if you owned it on a physical cart right? And wouldn't it be even better to have a map, poster, artbook and a soundtrack CD? Well thank BadLand for putting this together as the craze for Vita physicals continues to grow. Think I'll be grabbing this one, still love exploring the alien landscapes and finding out better ways to battle the creatures to this day!

Super Robot Wars V launch trailer

The latest bot battle hits Japan today, with great interest in the Asian version that has an English language option. With hordes of mechs from various Japanese series, it should do well in the chart as usual, but it'd be cool to see how importers affect the wider Asian sales, given the amount of interest flying around on forums and Twitter.

Spanish dev Hydra wants to bring Froggler to Vita

Froggler is one of the game blocky/voxel types games that haunt the mobile app stores, but since we don't have the mighty Crossy Road on the Vita, then this would be a good substitute. Spanish developer Hydra Interactive hopes to bring the game to the Vita, approvals permitting, and why not? If it works out, some of their more evolved games like low-poly sword fighting game UpsideDown might even head our way!

UPDATE: Hydra has been confirmed as a Vita developer, so expect some voxelly, bouncing action soon!

Review forma.8

Guess you have to be pretty old to remember Terrahawks. But in that Gerry Anderson puppet sci-fi show, round metal balls did battle with grizzled alien invaders to protect the Earth. I'll go with that reference point, rather than Eve from Wall-E that everyone else is using. Largely because there was a shouty English ball and a snooty French one among the troops. If there had been an Italian one, it would be forma.8; cool, suave and going on its metal exploratory way in fine style.

Forma.8 sees a bunch of spherical probe droids launched at a new planet, and our drone is cannoned into a strange alien architecture. With a mission to explore, its glow in the dark eyes soon reveal a strange ecosystem that is a joy to navigate.

Narrow caves give way to enormous landscapes with the smooth zoom leaving you as a dot on the landscape. Life teems around the underground pools of water or lava, and tech-laden metallic passages hint that not all is as it seems.

With an ambient soundtrack, impressive and eerie soundscape, dramatic lighting (which I'm sure looks fantastic in 4K on a PS4 Pro, but is just as gorgeous on an OLED Vita), you float around powered by a gas jet that leaves a neat ion trail that gets wonky as you pick up damage. Early obstacles are overcome with a little nudging and experimentation.

Later on, you can pick up some skills that might be classed as weapons, but aren't as clumsy or random as a blaster, and collecting the nuts hidden in dark corners is a must to get the extra items, like a disguise kit, that will open up all areas of the game. (UPDATE: Hints and tips guide)

The game plays rather like Exile's End or Axiom Verge, with some back and forth, and pick-up upgrades needed to get into new areas. But, with its largely pacifist stance, you can enjoy the ride more, and worry less about much of the local wildlife, bar a few major obstacles. There are glowing orbs of energy to keep the drone powered up and healthy, and plenty of little secrets to find.
Those set piece aliens are where the game does come unstuck, a bit. The first one is a large spider with a doom-laden red eye and a repulsor skill. Nearby flying bugs were dropping from a pod, so I guessed you needed to feed them to the creature to distract it. That didn't work, so I tried hiding in the grass to see if it would lose interest - no dice. Then, I tried blowing up its exposed legs, many, many times.

In the end you only needed to push your little demolition charges at the eye, but I wasted a good while working that out, and did it by accident in the end, having expected a more nuanced solution from such a beautiful game! And of course, the next monster along, I tried everything apart from the feeding it flying bugs, which was the correct solution - aaarrrggghhh!
Fortunately, most of forma.8 is a glorious travelogue through an alien landscape, trying to find the secrets it holds and gleaning any meaning you can from them. A basic map shows where to head next, but the route is often circuitous, or inaccessible without picking up a new skill, so this isn't really a game for arcade freaks.
An incredible effort from a small Italian team, their years of work has paid off, and produced a title that can proudly sit among the finest of Vita indies along with Velocity 2X, Neon Chrome and Shovel Knight.

Perhaps being a little less enigmatic, there's one page in the manual with some mystery icons on it, would make the game more accessible, but learning forma.8's mysteries is all part of the fun. And once you get to the end, you'll probably want to complete the game properly with a range of endings and some elusive secrets left to find.

Score: 9/10
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Price: £11.99 (PSN)
Size: 500MB
Dev: Mixed Bag Games
Progress: Platinum

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Heart Forth Alicia dev update

Heart Forth Alicia's development continues to roll forward with the Kickstarted game's coders providing one of their hefty regular updates. Sure, the game is two years late and counting, but if it looks this good and the team still have the money from their $232K funding to get to final release, then I'll be only to pleased to wait a bit longer.

Work continues to get the bulk of the game into beta, with work on cutscenes, dialogue and game balance right. They state that come the middle of the year, they'll have a better idea of a release date.

Visual novels keep the Vita trundling along in Japan

Almost exactly matching the dismal pattern of 2013, Vita sales are glued to the bottom of the winter sales trend this week, but still sold another 8,200 consoles in Japan. The Media Create chart has no Vita games in the top 10, and it looks like even the immovable Minecraft might be on the way out, with only a couple of new visual novels to dent the lower half.

11./00. [PSV] Kamaitachi no Yoru: Rinne Saisei (5pb.) - 6.140 / NEW
14./00. [PSV] Diabolik Lovers: Lost Eden (Idea Factory) - 5.537 / NEW
17./10. [PSV] Minecraft: PlayStation Vita Edition  (Sony) - 4.025 / 1.110.103 (-12%)
18./12. [PSV] Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony  (Spike Chunsoft) - 3.187 / 115.840 (-24%)

Super Robot Wars V is out today in Japan, and has an English subs version for Asia, so sales could do pretty well.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Badland publishing Pixel Noir in 2018

Another game drops into the growing list of titles that will see the Vita's sixth birthday, with Pixel Noir, the long-ago Kickstarter still coming along nicely. The adventure with turn-based combat now has a publisher in Badland, who will help the SWDTech-developed game get at least a digital release, and possibly a physical one if the interest is there.

Given you can't go far wrong with a cyberpunk detective thriller, I reckon this should do pretty well. I've been following this since the first KS in 2014, and can wait a little longer to finally see a gorgeous adventure on my OLED.

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk launch trailer

Tecmo Koei's latest bag of muscles rages to PSN this week, bringing a new anime slant to their typical whack-a-mole action game type. With story mode and endless Eclipse (if you really like pummeling thousands of the same enemy), there's loads of slaughter to enjoy across a few combat styles as the Berserk Band strut their stuff.

I have asked for some Vita shots so we can see what it looks like, but for now, you can check out the Japanese version in portable action here.

Emperor of Love ready to rock

Ren is singing the sparky opening track for Love of Love: Emperor of Love. Another otome VN from Entergram, with a host of girls all vying for the attention of the school head boy, largely by wearing incredibly tight blouses! An update of the PC version, it appears to be losing some of the adult content to gain a wider audience, but I'm sure will be plenty saucy enough for Japanese gamers.

Nioh's William makes a guest appearance in Musou Stars

William, the not at all Thor-lookie-likie from Nioh is ditching his day job of hammering trolls in Nioh to hammer trolls in Musou Stars, in that last of the big names to make the release roster of Tecmo's whack-a-mole game. Unveiled in a live stream yesterday, here's Will in action in a proper HD clip.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Gorgeous-looking platformer Iconoclasts first gameplay snippet

Some 18 months after being announced, Iconoclasts from Konjak is creeping nearer to completion, classed as coming "soon". This first gameplay clip is brief, but shows off gorgeous art style and attention to detail within the game. If the rest of the levels look as good and the gameplay mechanics are robust enough, this looks like an absolute gem to enjoy.

UPDATE: There's now a second snippet, and hopefully many more to come of this sumptuous looking title.

Chroma Squad dumped for Vita, but Grisaia Phantom Trigger a maybe

Bandai is chopping down Vita games with ruthless efficiency now. The latest to get the axe is Chroma Squad. Listed by Sony back in 2015 and reconfirmed in 2016, the not quite Power Rangers game from Behold Studios, originally a Kickstarter for PC, had support from Bandai for the console versions, but is no more for Sony's portable.

The press release says only "the game will no longer be available for the PlayStation Vita handheld system." I'm trying to find out why, it hardly looked a technical tour de force, so likely the usual sales worries or lack of budget/bandwidth for porting.

On the plus side, Frontwing's new visual novel series Grisaia: Phantom Trigger is on Prefundia, and they do mention the Vita, but only when the whole series is complete, which could be a long way down the line, so definitely don't get your hopes up.

Also coming our way is Emerald Shores, a soon to be unveiled platformer from Fordesoft, the man behind PSM tile game Super Blackout, who also has a 2D RPG in the works. Expect more news on this soon.

Meet the crew in Exile Election

Yep, Monday is officially Japanese video day. Here's another set, showing off brief introductory clips for the cast in Exile Election, this is today's hero Kaname, with a bunch more on the NIS Japan YouTube page to have a quick squint at. Lots of new content on the game site too, wonder if NISA will bring this one west, given the popularity of similar games like Danganronpa.

Ys VIII latest action trailer

Given that this is confirmed for a western release, time to pay more attention to Falcom's latest RPG opus. The game hit Japan on the Vita last summer, so this new clip takes a look at the PS4 version, although it would hardly push a PS3 console.

The joys of real-time battling are all present, as are the rather short map sections, so not much of a generational shift! But otherwise, we have lots of things to look forward to splatting when the western version arrives. Screens of the cut scenes show off some more detail and while the west is getting a limited edition, its a shame NISA can't stretch for the LE Vita models to give fans something really valuable to own, and to act as a new source of Vita hardware.

More Blue Reflection battling action

Wow, this is one impressive character, sweeping down from the skies and armed with a massive sword. And to fight it we have three girls in their school clothes armed with what look like cotton buds in comparison.

Oh look, here comes a giant bear-rabbit, that'll help! There's a fair amount of tweaking and twiddling of settings in this "action" clip, with the ubiquitous team special move, but really? That creature could have wiped them all out with a single swipe!

New Accel World vs SAO promo

Enjoy five minutes of Bandai's crossover fighting game, subtitled Millennium Twilight as the swords and weapons from the RPG class with the battlers of Accel World. The game is out Mid-March in Japan and looks like it will be loaded with extra DLC and other content to get fans paying into the future.

Review: Bridge Constructor

One of the bigger sellers in the world of iPad and mobile gaming, Bridge Constructor is a puzzle game that will test if you were paying attention during those "how they build things" science classes or megastructure shows on Discovery Channel.

Bad stuff out the way first, there's a lot of loading time and spinning gears in what looks like a fairly ordinary game. Why it needs to connect to PSN all the time is madness, but there's an option to turn some of that off and speed things up! Hopefully there's a patch on the way for the remaining delays.

There's also a mess of an interface, with some touch features, some buttons that aren't touch enabled, horrible zoom mode, and some fidgety choosing of items - that really doesn't help Bridge Constructor's cause. Oh, and it crashes rather too often, so, yeah - patch needed!

Bridge over man, bridge over!

To the good stuff - welcome to a series of islands (VitaIsland if the port team had been thinking straight!) where many bridges need connecting to bring trade and happiness to the people. With a range of materials to hand, from wood to concrete bases, steel girders, metal cable rope and more, you need to string a construction together that will let cars, trucks, and ultimately, full articulated lorries pass to the other side.

With limited materials at first, your bridges need to be simple affairs following classical designs, with plenty of triangles to provide support. In later levels, there is all sorts of hellish or crazy terrain to navigate, with massive gorges and caverns to overcome.

In design mode, you can slap as much material down as the budget allows. Go into play mode and the bridge shows all green, but any obvious weaknesses will turn yellow or red, and if you've really made a mess, the whole thing will collapse into a ravine before you've even started the cars!

Sections of the bridge highlighted yellow can probably see you sneak the two cars over, but might need more work before the trucks and can cross. Early on, working out what to do isn't too tough, just remember some real bridges in life and you can get the idea. However, later on, when you've more expensive resources to play with, figuring what to put where, especially with uneven support areas, gets a lot tougher.

So, we build, we test, we fail, we tweak, we try again, and eventually it will work, just - or you do really well and pick up a trophy. Then on to the next levels or part of the island and repeat. The later sets of islands offer really crazed challenges so there is plenty of value in Bridge Constructor.

Ignoring the rather chaotic interface, Bridge Constructor is a great thinking game, but one that you have to persevere with that poor UI to enjoy.

Score: 6/10
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Price: £7.99 (PSN)
Size: 395MB
Dev: HeadUp
Progress: Knocking Brunel into his stovepipe hat!

Review: Xenoraid

Deep in the foundations of my gaming soul are titles like Moon Cresta, StarBlade, Zaxxon and many others. So, I love a good shooter, but have always been a little suspicious when developers mess with this simplest of concepts.

Enter Xenoraid, from 10Tons, which actually makes a good fist of trying to shake things up.

Our home solar system is under attack, with aliens waging war against the outer planets in a skinny plot, told though the briefest of pixel character chat scenes, with a decent sense of humour, to not get in the way of the action.

So far, so traditional. But Xenoraid, instead of lives, gives you up to four different ships to fly. These can be light and fast, or heavy but packing fire power, with subsequent maneuvering issues. You can swap them in and out during a level at will as the battlefield changes, with big cruisers, asteroid belts and different types of minor vessel to shake up the action.

Another change is angled shooting, firing to the left or right as your ship moves to help hose down enemies in the corners, or to miss completely as you'll do a lot at first. There's also an alt-fire mode to bring the big noisy bombs, EMP or other weapons to bear. You have limited stocks, and even your main weapons will overheat, to encourage swapping over, or at the least controlled rates of fire.

That's quite a lot to take in for a little shooter spread over 40-odd levels, offering a rare flexibility in your approach. There's also three survival modes to give you something else to focus on, handy when you run of credits and have to take on a later level with one ship packing about as much armour as a shopping trolley.

Visually the game is crisp with plenty of detail in the little ships, from coolant gases flaring to a range of weapons and warp effects. The soundtrack is good driving music and there are plenty of in-character weapons effects, nothing too bombastic!

Xenoraid of the lost gameplay

Each level sees aliens or the odd bonus asteroid drop credit, plus a completion bonus, which can be used for repairs, buying new craft or picking up useful extras from the store. Let's ignore that in a time of crisis you have to go shopping for an Escape Pod to keep an experienced crew member, but you get the idea!

When in battle, enemies attack in procedurally generation semi-random patterns, but you'll soon get used to what's coming at you and how best to deal with it. A few levels in, you will find that balance between aggression and caution, but the semi-random nature means you can still get caught in the odd shield-sapping trap, but that's war, my friend.

With sharp visuals, Xenoraid is a smart, compact shooter that while not quite up with Velocity in the cleverness or style stakes, is still well worth checking out. If there are any niggles; the health and ammo meter for the active ship should be larger, there's never any time to read the ship-to-ship chatter, and its annoying that any ship can't pick up the rare bonuses, that's just one switch-out too far sometimes! Otherwise, bags of fun and challenge!

Score: 7/10
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Price: £7.99 (PSN)
Size: 40MB
Dev: 10 Tons Ltd.
Progress: Mars Attacks

VN Desire remaster is looking V sharp

Having talked lots about the Vita's future recently, here's a game, Desire, that neatly encapsulates a lot of what is to come. Let's grab a 20+year old Saturn visual novel, tart it up a bit (okay, its a full remaster, but you get the point) and stick it in a pretty box with an artbook.

That's what developer ElDia must be hoping is a license to print money. The remaster certainly looks pretty sharp, hopefully the heavy use of English suggests a western release. It is due out in Japan in April, so there's also not much of a wait!

Set on a research lab on a remote island (never a good idea) a journalist is looking into what goes on there. Presumably chaos unfolds.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Opportunities and challenges for the five year-old Vita

Well, we made it! The Vita is five years old, and Sony is, somehow and begrudgingly, still making the little box of magic, even if they're getting harder to find and buy in the west. Yet, while there's that air of celebration of hitting five years of OLED-vibrant life, the Vita faces a narrow and darkening path ahead.

None of this piece is rocket science, but should clarify that path for anyone thinking of grabbing a Vita.

Vita Full of Opportunities

The Only Way is Japan

NIS, Vanillaware, Falcom, Gust, 5pb, Extend and others continue to deliver on the Vita. With their RPG/VN/otome engines pretty much max-optimised for the handheld, they can turn out storied adventures at whatever pace their small teams can manage. Japanese gamers still lap them up in sufficient numbers to dent the Media Create chart and ensure steady sales.

And, as those sales aren't massive, a western version on Vita, PS4 and Steam seems to be the new way that publishers can maximise revenue. As long as those Vita sales don't drop below some critical point, there's little reason for publishers to give up the ghost. That's key to attracting the latest generation of anime and otome fans who seem to be snapping up Vita hardware more than any other market (source: me staring at Twitter).

Retro is the way forward

Look at the games market today, there is a vast and growing schism between the tiny number of AAA games at the top of the charts, and what people are actually playing. Demakes, 8-bit nostalgia titles but packed with modern gameplay provide a growing range of titles that will fit well on the Vita and its ageing hardware.

In fact, the backward trend in accelerating, we've gone from Fez to Shovel Knight to Downwell in two years. Now games like Z-Exemplar and positively ancient looking titles are all over Steam and iOS, and would make easy Vita ports. The barrier to entry is falling and Sony still seems willing to give out dev kits. Add in the few porting teams, Armature, BlitWorks, Sickhead and others, still willing to work on games that have potential, and we should be good for another year.

As an added bonus, publishers like Qubic and Ratalaika are rapidly bringing over fun Steam and mobile games to the Vita. If this new market persists, and doesn't get saturated, that's another fun source of games for us!

Threats to the PS Vita

The End is Nigh

The larger publishers are already giving up on the Vita, and that process won't slow down. Bandai (except for 2018's new Digimon), Square and even Koei Tecmo seem to be easing off the gas pedal. That's just business for them, so while their decisions may hurt and annoy Vita owners, it is nothing Dreamcast, Wii and other minority platform gamers haven't seen before.

Worse, Sony's limits on production are driving buyers to the second hand market, which will lead to more battery/screen issues. While importing is less of a hassle than it used to be, in fact its a delight with the many colors and models on offer, some are still wary.

Nintendo Switch 

While 3DS and Vita have long been considered enemies, they were always really covering two different markets, with a little crossover. But Switch is a whole new beast, packed with near cutting edge mobile Tegra technology, it is what the Vita 2 would be, if Sony would have bothered.

Already, a few games that were on Vita in Japan are heading west on the Switch, Puyo Puyo Tetris, and Project Setsuna are quick and easy ports for Nintendo's partners. More importantly, indies can bring their games to Switch with less optimisation and culling of visuals or features for the Vita, although Switch is not as powerful as some were hoping!

This puts Vita another rung down the ladder when it comes to port considerations, especially as Nintendo will be keen to court developers to bump up its notoriously weak third-party roster. And, Switch does seem easier to port to.

So, there's good news and bad news as the Vita celebrates its fifth birthday, but looking on the bright side, as long as those batteries and OLED screens hold out, there's no real reason why a launch day machine might not see its sixth or seventh birthday with a steady supply of titles still coming. 

Ratalaika's roster of games rolling to the Vita soon

Ratalaika is another smaller publisher that's seen the opportunity in the Vita, along with the likes of Qubic. They have a roster of titles slated for release over the year. Plantera, developed by Varagtp, was released on iOS late last year, a grow-your-own-garden title there's a Vita version promised soon.

Upping the pace a bit, Blasting Agent from Axol Studios just hit Steam and has bags of appeal as a tiny-pixel shooter. Platform puzzler Twin Robots from Thin Ice should be arriving later in the year, while League of Evil from Woblyware Oy is an older (2012) iOS title, very well rated, with lots of pixel action platforming fun.

Hopefully, Ratalaika has plenty more classics to pick up and port for the delight of Vita gamers everywhere

Rainbite announces Reverie for the Vita

Having teased us with their dev kit and some work-in-progress shots, Kiwi devs Rainbite have finally announced their new pixel RPG for the Vita. Reverie offers some classic retro RPG action, but apart from a baseball-capped hero, some angry wasps and a shop (all shown off on their Twitter feed), a lot of detail is yet to be revealed.

Stranger of Sword City Revisited gets trailer and 8-hour demo play

Here's a new trailer as Experience tries to rescue its RPG, Stranger of Sword City with a substantial update. Given the original felt pretty unexciting and limited to say the least, hopefully the Revisited version will offer a little more. To tempt gamers perhaps stung by the first version, Experience is offering eight hours of play as a demo, to encourage proper exploration.

The update features extra character classes, tweaks to the combat plus new items and dungeons, but that alone is unlikely to save what felt like a deeply unfulfilling game, so take advantage of the demo and see if it is something for you.

NISA brings Ys VIII west, Danganronpa V3 dated September

The Vita celebrates its fifth birthday with a chunky new RPG headed our way from NISA, with the mighty-looking Ys VIII (screens) arriving in the Autumn, along with Danganronpa V3. Why isn't Ys coming from XSeed? Money and publisher politics by the look of it.

They were the key Vita points from NISA's seasonal press event. There's a teaser site up for Falcom's Ys title and a few more goodies to boot.

US buyers can pre-order the physical limited edition here, looks like it is going fast. The steelbook collector's case includes the game, a "The Codex of Adol Christin: Periplus of the Goethe Sea Writing Materials” Hardcover Book, art book and soundtrack, acrylic bookends and a cloth poster.

Also coming our way is 3D battler, Touhou Burst Battle

and Tokyo Tattoo Girls

Cladun Returns: This Is Sengoku! also gets a release date arriving in early June.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sony pulls PlayStation Now from Vita screens

Did you like playing PS3 games on your Vita via the subscription service PlayStation Now? No, me neither, I tried the free trial, enjoyed it a bit (review) but wouldn't pay whatever the over-priced charge was for it.

If you happened to enjoy the cloud game streaming service, the tough, as Sony is pulling it from PS3, Vita, Blu-ray players and smart TVs, presumably only leaving PS4 and PC as the ways to play.

There's a blog post with the details, but I can't see this coming as a loss to too many gamers. Anyone want to guess how long Remote Play will last? Although at least that doesn't consume any of Sony's valuable cloud services. 

Atelier Firis clip shows off chain burst

This doesn't sound very Atelier, Chain Burst and Sub-weapons are the theme of this new clip from Gust that play in a part in the fighting around the story of The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey.

Firis’ journey will take her through beautiful and unexplored regions with unexpected surprises, often forcing her and her friends into battle. In battle, each character has the ability to use unique standard and special attacks, as well as supporting items. By carefully combining their skills, Firis and friends can defeat enemies more swiftly! Chaining abilities fills the Linkage Gauge which ultimately leads to powerful Chain Burst attacks, where all party members get to interlink their moves to deal devastating attacks to their foes and result in impressive finishing blow!

Latest Media Create chart data

The latest Media Create sales figures are out in Japan and, well, wake us up in March, as the seasonal snooze continues. There are no Vita new entries in the chart, and hardware sales continue to slide down with the Vita selling 8,479 units last week. Plenty of news games to come soon, so hopefully there will be the odd spike in sales, but will the odd new big game really bump sales of five-year old hardware?

Minecraft continues to plug away in the top 10, selling another 4,500 while Danganronpa V3 has fair old legs, selling another 4,100. Also out are the latest Vita Famitsu review scores (for whatever they are worth)...

Super Robot Wars V – 9/8/8/9 [34]
Island – 8/8/8/8 [32] A visual novel by Prototype
Timepiece Ensemble – 7/7/6/6 [26]

Monday, February 13, 2017

Review: Vertical Drop Heroes HD

A beloved PC indie,Vertical Drop Heroes HD from one-man-band Nerdook makes its translation to the Vita. It loses the multiplayer mode along the way, but that doesn't really matter. One of the perfect, short-burst roguelike, platforming RPGs, the Vita feels like a natural home for VDH HD.

Have a few goes, put it down. Come back, have a few more goes, settle into bed, a few more goes and its 3AM, that kind of game! Having just reviewed The Swindle, it is a relief to see that VDH HD makes none of that game's mistakes, it is instantly engaging, always rewarding, and makes better use of its quirky pixel charm.

The simpler visuals aren't a problem as you have to focus constantly on what you're stepping on, where you might drop next. And, keeping a checklist of useful things you've left above that you might need to nip back via teleport and recover later.

Each of the 10 procedurally generated levels is a vertical descent into blocky, monstrous, but cute, chaos. The first level is green and verdant, with a smattering of cannon fodder guard monsters, all gnashing teeth, but not that aggressive. Further levels get darker, hotter, and more devious, with more enemy types, environmental hazards, and bigger, nastier bosses lurking at the bottom.

Collecting gold, lying around in chests, or by completing tasks for some (rather too casual) bystanders) allows you to trigger totems that can help aid you with more health, localised attacks or other goodies. You can also rescue wizards, warriors and other heroes (clearly not that heroic) that have been locked up in cages to join your cause.

The big money goes on buying skills that future warriors can benefit from, all this while looking out for collapsible platforms, little hidden extras, ways to maximise your skills or that warrior's particular special moves, there's a lot on your tiny hero's plate in his/her short life.

When you die, which usually takes a six-seven minutes at best, you pick another, hopefully slightly more experienced character, and use the shop screen to buy more health, and learn about new skills. Stock up on keys and gold, and you can open teleports to later levels to save on grinding, although with this game, grinding through the early levels is a pleasure!

One brilliant counter feature of VDH HD is the Passive system, when you can try and sneak through the level without killing anyone, except the boss. This gives you huge points and experience bonuses and adds a distinctly different aspect to the game.

There's a dozen trophies in the game, which feels a bit light, with only a couple that require total mastery to earn. A few more in the midfield might have helped to expand on the challenge, but that's no biggie.

Wrapping up, because I want to go back and play it more, VDH HD is just as fun as Spelunky with a touch more speed, and an exciting ability to throw caution to the wind thanks to your growing powers. It is pretty awesome to drop down into the depths, chucking bombs and spells all over the shop! If you die, you know you'll be back in a minute anyway, but when it works, you feel briefly incredible!

Score: 9/10
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Price: £11.99 (PSN)
Developer: Nerdook/Digerati
Size 44MB
Progress: Fell in love with a bunch of pixels on level 6 and don't want to move on!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

iO rolls onto the Vita this week

Continuing the rush of cooler indies to the Vita, along comes iO. iO is an abstract physics platformer where you control a ball in several puzzling settings. A healthy does of physics is required to get you to your goal; reach the exit points as quick as possible and win yourself a golden medal. You can influence your speed by growing or shrinking the ball/puck. Using momentum to make your way through the drops and jumps of the levels.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Make meat with Toukiden 2's chain whip weapon

New information bleeds out of Tecmo on the latest fun we can have soon with Toukiden 2.

It offers a multitude of diverse weapons to suit any combat style, including swords, spears, knives, gauntlets, chain-sickles (kusarigama), bows, clubs, polearms, and rifles.

Two new weapons for the series include the good old Sword & Shield, a combination offering a solid blend of offence and defence, and the Chain Whip, which allows for fast-paced manoeuvers that can quickly tear apart Oni flesh. Each armament can be used for light and heavy attacks alike, and each offers special abilities that can be combined with the versatile Demon Hand to balance the scales of power when battling Oni.

Weapons can be personalised and enhanced with the assistance of the freed souls of fallen heroes, known as Mitama. Defeating larger foes will free Mitama from their Oni captors, and can then be used to empower the player’s weapon, armor, or the Demon Hand with boosts in Attack, Defence, Speed, Healing, and Control.

New to the Toukiden series, the element of Control specialises in summoning Oni to fight for the player! Once summoned, subservient Oni will attack incoming foes as well as act as a decoy to help escape an enemy’s grasp.

Review: The Swindle

"Police state!" People have cried since the invention of the force. In this Victorian-era steampunk game, the Peelers are about to unleash The Devil's Basilisk, a mass surveillance system of its day, think Sherlock Holmes gone techno-feral.

To prevent this, you have just 100 days to build up your thieving skills, arm your random crim with bombs, hacking powers and leaping abilities to rival Spider Man, before taking on the ultimate heist. Set in 1849, each day is a mission, fail and you lose the collected money that is essential for these upgrades. That's really the core of the this stylish, yet flawed, concept.

I'll try not to compare it to the likes of Spelunky or Steamworld Heist, which is just as well, as The Swindle doesn't quite match up to them. You start off with no skills and are faced with a procedurally generated property to burgle. Cash lies on the floor, but hacking the steam-punk computers or safes is where the bigger money is.

Starting out in the slums, the procedural generation puts guards, floating bots, mines and other obstacles pretty much anywhere, in random concentrations. You will soon learn what's doable and what you need the extra tech, skills and abilities for or what to steer clear of. But these extras cost lots of money, creating a catch-22 situation where you will die lots trying to get big money, and losing it all.

You will die falling into a pit of guards with very short turning circles, so their vision will inevitably focus on you. You will die edging over a pit of spikes or trying to set a bomb in just the right place. You will die trying to break a window to get into the home an alternate way and so on. Still, you have 100 days, so a few blown missions won't hurt right?

When you get it right, you slide down walls, avoid the guard's stare and cosh him on the turn in a perfect leap, then hack the computer before a security beam picks you up, that feels awesome! The Swindle is very compelling and has plenty of one-more-go appeal. Escape without being seen and you get ghost bonuses and keep a thief alive for long enough and sizeable experience points.

Skills like double jump, hacking, stealth, falling and tools including bombs and steam generators, triggers and other gimmicks will help you deal with those trickier situations, sometimes. The amount of cash you need to access the later levels, get the top gear and then assault The Devil's Basilisk means you can't afford to chicken out, hang around or fail too often.

The swankier neigbourhoods you get to burgle, as time advances and your cash pile grows, put more more obstacles in the way like looked doors, bigger goons and nastier traps. The Warehouse District has a starker industrial setting while New Belgravia adds a splash of colour. Casinos and Banks really give you the chance to rake in the cash, but your final destination is The Swindle, taking down Robo-Holmes before it can be switched on.

However, The Swindle is let down by an all-too-Victorian stiltedness in the play, an unevenness in its progression that jars, and as for starting again once the 100 days are up, with nothing - that really hurts! Perhaps its the small size of the levels, but this in one procedural game that doesn't quite get it right.

 Score: 7/10
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Price: £11.99 (PSN)
Developer: Size Five/Curve
Size 591MB
Progress: Done some crime, too much time!

New Blue Reflection trailer (gasp)

Yes, on Twitter, I'm getting rather bored of the endless nano-clips, live streams with endless excited gibbering over the brief bits of gameplay, and introducing the 323rd different character in every damn game. I'll tweet clips to those but really can't really muster the enthusiasm to write blog posts.

However, as this is a proper trailer for Blue Reflection, Gust's attempt to do something different with the latest version of the Atelier engine, I'll post a quick story as the clip helps explain the game. Not that old "girl school where they fight fiendish demons at night in alternate realms" theme really needs that much explaining. But there you go, happy Friday!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Bridge Constructor builds some Vita screens

An ever-popular mobile title, Bridge Constructor is Headup Games’ first release on the Vita. It lands next week on February 16 (EU) for €9.99 (and on Feb 14 in the US for $9.99). If you already purchased Bridge Constructor on PS4, you get the Vita version for free, thanks to Cross-Buy!

They even provided some Vita specific pics. The bridge-building simulation has had 50 million downloads on mobile. It comes with 40 main levels, varying from easy to very hard, plus the “SlopeMania" add-on featuring another 24 tricky levels that will have you using sloping lanes to overcome massive height differences.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Media Create sales snooze on in Japan

The hardware sales continue to drift down as Japan waits to see what impact the Nintendo Switch will have. On the Media Create chart, Vita sales dive to below 10K at 9, 626. And there's no Vita action with only Danganronpa V3 sticking around the top 10 and has sold double the PS4's number.

Last week's high entry, Uta no Prince-sama Repeat Love, dives into the low-teens, but still sold another 4,000 - taking it to 33K, not bad for a VN. There's not much out this week to drive sales, but Diabolik Lovers: Lost Eden, Ys Origin and Super Robot Taisen V roll out over the coming fortnight.

Over in this week's Famitsu, the latest scores are out with:

Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII + Power-Up Kit  – 9/8/9/9 [35]
Diabolik Lovers: Lost Eden – 8/8/8/9 [33]
Nidhogg – 7/7/6/7 [27]

NIS America to stream its 17 Feb press event

NIS America's press events have usually happened behind closed doors, but for the first time, they will be streaming the event over Twitch. While the company's focus is very much moving to PC, Switch and other formats, there's still room for a little Vita love from the stalwarts of the portable gaming scene.

Promised for the upcoming event are five new games, plus appearances from SUDA51 and Kazutaka Kodaka. Hopefully we'll get some news on Exile Election (Tsuihou Senkyo) as that's the latest Nippon Ichi Vita game out in Japan.

While NISA may be looking at other formats, it has a huge legacy list of PSP titles and other games that are worth updating, with the Vita an easy platform to handle them.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

More Musou Stars, Plachta goes gauntlet!

Plachta, the book brought to life in Atelier Sophie is the latest character to get her own Musou Stars trailer. Koei's latest clip sees her dishing out the punishment with a pair of giant gauntlets to the clone armies. Presumably there can't be that many characters to unveil before the end of March launch, although it'd be cool if some left-field character from another publisher sneaked onto the roster, as this lot are all pretty earnest types, so far.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Review: Uncanny Valley

Having reviewed this at the same time as playing Resident Evil 2 Revelations, it is amazing how chilling and disconcerting this little pixel adventure is, compared to the big budget theoretical scare-em-up from Capcom.

As a fan of Channel 4/AMC's Humans, it also tells a story that resonates with me - what if the robot helpers we are now building (in real life) go wrong? It starts off with you as Tom, a young man traumatised by nightmares who seeks out a job in a remote area (The Shining style) to get away from some personal trouble.
The source of his nightmares are shadowy figures that plague his dreams. But Tom also has gangsters to contend with, and his new place of work is a shut-down Android factory where the money ran out before they could complete their batch of AI helpers.

Your chubby boss, and fellow guard, Buck takes the day shift, while you work nights. A hotel-style block provides a change of scenery (and more The Shining references) from the Melior factory, where you soon find some audio and video tapes that show things weren't going to plan. There's also plenty of emails on the computers that provide a few clues as to where to go and what to do in the simpler puzzle sections.

The story plays out over rather a small scale, with time compressed into seven minute nights, where Tom must do his job. When he falls asleep, more parts of his backstory fall into place, if you can survive long enough to see them.
I'm not sure if there are game bugs, or a deliberate effort by the developer, but Uncanny Valley throws you from scene to scene, almost at random. That leads to some very peculiar outcomes, which are just as disconcerting as the actual plot and the grizzly creations within.

Whatever the route, staying alive, with some useful bandages or tools, can be tough. Armed with a torch to light up the dark spots, Tom can find a gun late in the game to slow down the robots, while judicious use of an axe or fire extinguisher will help get you around the place.
There are several ways to finish the game, and it says at the start that you need multiple play throughs to get the true story. Most of those endings are rather depressing, with a few plot twists along the way. But perhaps nothing is quite as sad as the fact that this little game from a tiny team of developers can be more chilling than the combined efforts of a mighty Japanese monster publisher.

Score: 7/10
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Price: £11.59 (PSN)
Developer: Cowardly Creations/Digerati
Size 44MB
Progress: Escaped

Deemo taps west in the spring

Finally some news for a grim winter Monday, PM Studios and Acttil are bringing musical adventure Deemo: The Last Recital west this spring. Originally a hit mobile game, it hit Japan a couple of years back and now we get a digital release.

Players will fall in love with this heart-wrenching urban fantasy story, brought to life with gorgeous hand-drawn artwork, and sink into the beautiful piano melodies throughout the world of Deemo: The Last Recital.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Forma.8 gets a launch trailer, lands 23 Feb!

Stylish Italian indies Mixed Bag Games hope to follow up the intense action of Futuridium with another spacy adventure, this time at a slightly more sedate pace. Forma.8 sees little probes exploring alien landscapes, where natural hazards, fauna and flora pose sizeable obstacles to overcome.

It looks really slick, and if you check out the trailers over the last three years, you can see how the tone and style of Forma.8 has evolved. The team has lined up with Limited Run to produce a physical version too!

More Side Kicks trailers, why isn't there more hype for this game?

Side Kicks is a cop adventure set in a very Japanese-ified version of California.

After last week's burst of video activity, there's been a few more clips put out to introduce the cast and keep the interest rolling. However, I guess because Extend is a minor publisher, the game is getting no love or little coverage from Japanese sites like Famitsu or Dengeki (a few stories last year aside).
Anyway, I like the look of it, so far there's no stupid teddy bears, the characters all look vaguely normal, they talk rather than scream or squeal all the time (so far) - perhaps I'm answering my own question!

Review: Supermagical

What a clever way to package a simple classic! What a horrible way to mess up the key mechanic of those classics. I used to love a competitive bout of Bub and Bob's Puzzle Bobble (or Bust-a-Move, depending on where you lived), Super Bubble Drop, Magical Drop and their ilk back in the Neo Geo or SNES days.

The clever dynamic of angling shots, fighting against the ever descending array of blobs, and trying to get the highest scores are all just as appealing today. Supermagical takes that retro charm gameplay, and punts it into a story based adventure. It sees a young witch, Nina, trying to rescue her magical warlock friends, and their useful spells, which can be used in fighting off hordes of gnashing monsters, rather than plain old bubbles.
That story has its own little drop of drama, but is most light candy fun, as befitting a mobile game. Skipping around a sunny island, you can go to stores, trading the coins you catch in-game, to buy candy that help in your battles, as well as play puzzles and go through some plot based scenes. There's also special items to open up new areas, and ingredients for Ultramagical spells that can help you fly through some tougher battles.
But the bulk of the gameplay is the battle levels, and be it through game design, or the higher resolution of current generation titles, it doesn't feel as snappy or as fun as those old classics. There's too many missed shots, too much interference when you're trying to play the game with silly new mechanics. It all feels as if the developers were trying too hard to cram in new ideas.
On the plus side, this is a cheap and fun diversion on the Vita, one that will be enjoyed by younger players. There's over 70 levels to bust your way through, loads of little extras like pets, and mystical creatures to give you the odd ride, but if the core mechanic doesn't feel right or all that fun, then all the effort seems wasted, if you enjoyed the originals. If that's not an issue for you, feel free to bump the score up a notch.

Score 6/10
Price £3.99
Publisher: Tama
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Size: 422MB
Progress: Road to Perdition

Vertical Heroes Drop HD arriving mid-February

Digerati continue to deliver the goods with a Vita version of one-man-band-developer Nerdook's Vertical Heroes Drop HD arriving in just a couple of weeks. Cross Buy with the PS4 version, it will cost $6.99.

The game is described as a procedural platformer RPG hybrid, which naturally comes with those inevitable roguelike features.

Heroes wade through randomly generated stages, mixing skills and traits to overcome the obstacles, enemies and other dangers across each level they descend. Features include:

  • Randomly generated stages, enemies and bosses, resulting in a very replayable game.
  • Split screen, local co-op.
  • Destructible terrain and multiple uses for each skill gives you plenty of options to approach the different situations generated. 
  • Tons of skills, abilities, traits and powers that you can unlock in the game, creating a different hero each time. 
  • Unique combat system where proper planning is more important than quick reflexes. 
  • Persistent upgrades allow you to carry forward progress between games, with a choice between increasingly expensive persistent upgrades or generally cheaper temporary upgrades. 
  • Every enemy and boss has been designed to provide challenge and variety.

Review: Resident Evil 2 Revelations

What a sad thing to see. I guess this was the last big Vita franchise game, and it took Sony to cough up to get it developed through Frima, with Capcom not being keen. With that in mind, and having seen some hellishly grubby screens, this spin off Resident Evil game comes as a reasonably pleasant surprise.

That's in part by picking the full game up for £7.99 in the festive sale, rather than the original episodic format. Helping even more is a hefty patch that solved, what I recall were, quite a few frame rate problems and bugs with the launch code. I may be very late to the party on this, but I think I win!
The game itself sees various characters from the series running around a hellish island, Zabytij, like little lab rats. It starts with Claire Redfield and Moira Burton getting kidnapped from a swanky corporate event for Terra Save, a company cleaning up the bioweapons mess. They wake up on the island in cells, so typical batshit crazy RE plotting.

Sinister wristbands will inject them with a toxin and turn them into zombie freaks, The Afflicted, if they get scared enough. But the game never plays with that mechanic - where's the scared-o-meter that sees the player have to stay in control of a situation?
Talking of control, the Vita mechanics are mostly okay, except when you get stuck in corners, or are surrounded, at which point things get very messy. Quick replay points mean you get rapidly back into the action and will soon learn the best order to take the Afflicted down, and with which weapons. They can be upgraded at workbenches, but you mostly always feel under-powered.

Those situations are generally a steady stream of mutants bursting out of the scenery, and you needing to conserve ammo, manage health with the faithful green and red herbs, and switch between characters. One of whom generally is limited to weaker weapons, but has a few useful skills. There's a few puzzles to solve, or items to find, but the pace skips frenetically along.

Being taunted by the controller of the island (sounds a bit like Sigourney Weaver), the girls soon reach an impasse. Then, we leap forward in time to Barry Burton turning up months later in a boat, with just enough ammo to deal with the first batches of creatures - good thinking Barry! He soon meets a mystery girl and we run back through the levels the girls battled through, facing slightly different threats and puzzles.
 This reuse of previously conquered territory isn't quite as annoying as I'd expected, and actually helps tell the story in a rather clever way. The time-split story rattles around the island, with various narrow escapes and many a noble sacrifice. With split endings, bonus chapters and point-scoring raid modes to undertake, there's a lot to the game, but its not something that you'd want to repeat often, even for all the hidden little secrets.
A few of the puzzles are really annoying, and the Jonny-come-lately Vita version could have been tweaked a little to make life more fun, but I guess that's never been the point of Resident Evil. The Vita load times are still pretty bad post-patch, but once playing, the world of Resi soon wraps its tentacles around you.

Score: 7/10
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Price: £24.99 (PSN)
Developer: Sony/Capcom
Size 2.8GB
Progress: Lobbing bricks

Review: Towerfall Ascension

Three strange things with this game.

First, the instructions aren't in the manual, but buried in the Archives (which are mostly scores and achievements), so I had no idea what I was really doing, which explains quirk three.

Second, its a multiplayer-focused title, and you need a Vita friend to play in ad-hoc mode. Even on PS4, there's no proper online mode. So, if you get Towerfall, you're limited to the single-player Trials, unless you have a Vita bro or sis local to you. Apparently its great fun on PSTV with multiple controllers! 

Three, when you are in the trials, those "scores" aren't scores, but time limits - the third decimal place is what confused me! I only figured that out when I checked some YouTube videos, and top players were doing speed runs in under three seconds - and there I was, impressed with doing a simple level in under 10. 

 The game itself is single-screen pixel fun of the highest order. A set of archers must leap around the level and shoot each other, each with limited arrows that they must recover or steal. In trial mode you're limited to shooting the static targets in the fastest time possible. There's three difficulty modes per level, so 24 maps to play, not bad for a tiny 90MB download.  
Most levels have a special weapon, laser or exploding arrows, or useful features like wings to fly or bounce pads. There's some DLC in the form of the Dark World Expansion for £7.39 if you fancy, or have friends to make it worthwhile.

So, maybe grab this if you have friends, or can find a local player to battle against. Not really worth it just to try out those trials and to beat some of the impossible looking times set online! 

Score: 7/10 (+1 for each Vita friend you can play against)
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Price: £11.49 (PSN)
Developer: Matt Makes Games
Progress: Finished the trials, but no records