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!