Bloodstained – Ritual Of The Night – A New Kickstarter Project From Legendary Castlevania Director Koji Igarashi (Posted for GamersFTW)

Article can be found on the GamersFTW website released may 11th;

Koji Igarashi, known for his work as a director of the Castlevania series including the seminal ‘Castlevania; Symphony of the Night’, today announces his new Kickstarter project: Bloodstained – Ritual of the Night.

The game self–describes itself under the coined genre IGAVANIA; a portmanteau of IGA, Koji’s nickname, and vania, from Castlevania, and is a game which is “A Gothic exploration-focused action platformer designed by one of the godfathers of the genre!

After working on his last Castlevania game ‘Order of Ecclesia’ in 2008, Igarashi had begun withdrawing from the public eye, following a slow decline of output up to his last game ‘Leedmees’ in September 2011. This gave rise to speculation as to whether or not his prospects with game developer and publisher Konami, as well as his work on video games as a whole, were drawing to close.

It was then later announced that Igarashi had decided to leave Konami altogether on March 15th 2014, while mentioning an interest in creating his own game studio in passing.

After over a year of radio-silence from the developer, a teaser site ‘sword or whip‘ had surfaced at the start of this month, featuring an avatar of Igarashi resembling Dracula from the Castlevania series, making cryptic remarks and allusions to a new game.

It was only today at 11am PST that it was officially announced that Igarashi would be working on a new 2.5D action platformer, revisiting a genre he felt would still resonate with the current gaming crowd, “built on some of the classic gaming principles his works are known for”.

The game will be an exploration-focused side-scrolling platformer, which will not only include RPG elements but also crafting features, a co-op option and battle mode.

The Kickstarter itself also includes several stretch goals for backers, including a 2nd playable character, Nightmare difficulty mode and a  goal to include voice acting from David Hayter, famous for his portrayal of Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series.

Bloodstained – Ritual of the Night has currently close to 7000 backers and already reached the set $500,000 goal in just a few hours of the Kickstarter’s release.

Those interested in backing the project can visit the kickstarter page here:

Koji Igarashi is also currently running a stream on his sword or whip website, playing several 2D platformer titles, which you can visit here:

(Source of the information on Bloodstained – Ritual of the Night was found via IGN)


Value Introduces A New Feature For Selling Mods On Steam Workshop (Posted for GamersFTW)

Article can be found on the GamersFTW website, please note Valve has since taken the feature off steam;  

This week Value is introducing a new policy for Steam Workshop, where mod creators now have the option to set prices for their modded content on the Steam Workshop page. This new functionality is currently only available for Elder Scrolls V; Skyrim, with hopes to implement this feature for other titles on Steam in the near future.

The pricing for each mod can be set by the individual creator, as well as the option to upload a mod for free still being available. Content creators may also set up a “pay what you want” model that enables users to decide on the amount they wish to pay for each mod.

The percentage of revenue share that a content creator is entitled to recieve will be determined by the developer/publisher associated with the workshop. Mod creators selling their modded content for Skyrim will earn 25% of the revenue share from each mod. Payment may be withheld until a minimum of $100 is earned.

As this feature is considered a transaction, users who have bought a mod may be refunded within 24 hours of their purchase. However, once a refund request has been submitted, users will lose access to that item as well as other mods associated with that respective item. The refund policy may be viewed here.

Users may also play Skyrim for free until April 26th and may browse the currently available mods on Skyrim’s workshop page linked here.

More information on this policy is available on Steam’s announcement page.

(Source of the Information on Steam Workshop’s new policy was found via Arstechnica and PCGamesN)

Crash Bandicoot – a retrospective review (posted for GamersFTW)

Article can be found on the GamersFTW website;

Traipsing down memory lane can be a refreshing experience at times. They say that nostalgia lies, but I can’t think of a more exciting time to be a gamer than when the transition to 2-D to 3-D gaming was moving into the fore, with games like Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time seamlessly changing the format with next to no difficulty or strain.

Take for example the quality-assured seal of the original Crash Bandicoot game.  Yes, it’s dated when placed alongside the current movers and shakers in the market right now, but if you get past the graphics, the gameplay is anything but antiquated. There’s something quite quaint with the simple design of yester-year that makes no pretences of being anything more than what it is. No gilding the Lilly with fluffy cosmetic extras to purchase or exclusive in-game content only accessible from committing to pre-order. No hidden paywalls or elusive on-the-disk content deliberately held back for paid DLC. It’s just nice to go back to a time when cynical business strategies were not as blatant as what is now fairly commonplace.  Whatever was in those plastic jewel cases was pretty much what you got.

Admittedly the Crash Bandicoot series has lost out in recent years, chagrined by some fairly middle ground releases after Crash Bandicoot: Warped; releases that barely kept the franchise’s head above water. Yet Crash’s origins, once an innocuous mascot synonymous with its native console the PlayStation, still has a lasting charm; particularly as the initial outing felt like an earnest effort at creating an enjoyable game.

Taking your first steps into Crash Bandicoot, it’s clear there is a lot on display. The terrain on show is awash with very bright colour palettes, allowing the lush tropical vibe of the game to burgeon onto your screen, with flush and warmly coloured plant-life festooning the half-ruined Aztec landmarks littered across the three islands.  That coupled with Crash’s ruddy-coloured fur and chirpy expressions, as well as a vivid interface to match, and you have a game with a very rich and engaging presentation. Even the later industrialized levels are still varied with different swatches of colour as opposed to having a stodgy monochromatic grey hue, which is something quite commonplace in modern titles.

The varied spectrum of colour also serves to embolden the varied spectrum of challenges in store.   In many instances the game will see Crash weaving past clouds of bats, dodging rolling stones, outrunning boulders, scaling walls of towering  fortresses , delving into  temples long forsaken and even saddling unsuspecting warthogs  in order to charge though  hurdles and blockades.

Each level’s theme is also demonstrably tied into its difficulty gradient. With its beginnings in the mild easy-going tropical jungle, a temperate stroll at thumb-slackened pace, to the haphazard industrial grime of Cortex’s laboratory, cluttered with acme-esque devices and traps for your eyes to trip over, while mixing up other obstacles and enemies to test your wits.

The Bosses are also quite a motley crew of misfits with memorable entries such the mad as a hatter Ripper Roo; the muscle-bound Koala Kong, whose entire caricature makes 80s action heroes look reserved; and the slick Pinstripe Potoroo, lying in wait in his office with an itchy trigger finger.  Each boss has their own distinct characteristics as well as a specific method in order to dispatch them, some of which add a nice creative touch to the overall game.

In terms of setting and action available, there is a lot on show here, with the game sparing no effort in order to get as much mileage from each set piece as it can.

It has to be said, however, that the game can be a little too content to tread familiar ground, and your typical platforming staples make a bold return. To go down the roll call, the game is littered with moving and collapsible platforms, platforms that are incorporeal until you flip a switch, as well as spikes, retractable pikes, rolling barrels and other oft-seen hazards which at times feel shoehorned as impediments.

Let’s not forget the obligatory collectable McGuffins such as Wumpa fruits which stand in for coins, granting an extra life after mustering one hundred of them. This also includes hidden tokens which give you access to a hidden bonus round and Aku Aku masks, each of which grants you progressive levels of invulnerability. Disappointedly, some of the enemies, such as bland Island critters, textureless tribesmen and balding scientists, -can all look a bit too stock.

Yet for all the rather standard obstacles in store, the game keeps these elements pretty varied for the most part. Crash Bandicoot takes great pains in order to constantly switch things up in a manner that keeps the action on screen well-paced and engaging. It deliberately utilizes a simple yet straight forward design philosophy that creates some effortlessly fun experiences.

Execution is pretty much the watchword to describe what makes Crash Bandicoot such a joy to play, something which makes it accessible for everyone, even with the child-like visage. It’s challenging in places without being merciless, its levels are assorted with things to overcome without being strenuously involved. It’s the definition of a pick up and play game, with an admittedly low bar of entry, yet still maintains an appeal for the more seasoned of gamers.

Of course that doesn’t mean that Crash Bandicoot was beneath the opportunity to flex the PlayStations’ technical muscles. The facial animations- exhibited in Crash Bandicoot’s character models was one of the first games of its kind to be implemented in 3-D games, making it something of a tent pole release in that regard.

Despite this, the game thankfully does not expend too much effort showboating it’s technical abilities, rather focusing on keeping the gameplay as dynamic as possible. For the most part Crash Bandicoot has a fairly humble presentation, adding to the game’s endearing quality.

However a game this accessible is still going to rack up a few flaws, one of the most prominent ones being that it is somewhat too easy.

Lives in the game are fairly common to come by; being stocked with over 60 lives on the third island is not a remote possibility. Whilst death can be a common occurrence, it tends to be caused simply by careless mistakes, most of which are easily avoided. When you have that many lives in tow, it’s hard not to be nonchalant, with the large stockpile acting as a massive crutch.

Some of the bosses are also a tad on the easy-side. For example, Koala Kong is a cakewalk once you’ve worked out the timing of the TNT placements. Not to mention that the last stand-off with Neo Cortex himself is also slightly anti-climactic as well, requiring some very simple pattern recognition.

It won’t take a herculean effort to finish the majority of the game, yet there are some elements that will take a bit of trial and error to finish.

Some levels such as Temple Ruins and Machinery Room have some very weird perspectives which can make jumping alignment from foreground to background tricky at times. It can also be a pain to get purchase on moving or even static platforms, where you’ll often offshoot or undershoot a jump.  This is even caused sometimes by monuments or objects in the foreground obscuring where crash is going to land, as well as the pattern of moving obstacles being frequently awkward to negotiate.

As with any platforming game, Crash Bandicoot has some notoriously grating levels in its midst. Whilst not exactly murderous in their difficulty, they are going to take quite a few tries to complete, where levels such as Generator Room, Toxic Waste and The High Road can potentially make even the most collected of gamers lose their presence of mind.

Although perhaps not quite fine wine, Crash Bandicoot’s charm still ripens with age, considering its somewhat benign and well-meaning presentation, which is a rarity in today’s rather cynical market. It is a source of pure fun, -and with its colourful gameplay it is truly a gem worth revisiting.

Dino Crisis (Psx)

Credit where it’s due, Dino Crisis is still a  pretty damn solid game in all the places that counts, earning the stripes that place it on the mantel piece with other survival horror greats. Yet overcoming the Vaseline smeared nostalgia, you have to wonder why it remains largely forgotten.

While greeted with moderate success upon release, its muted traction with audiences was rather telling, as it’s accolades were little more than a perfunctory footnote. Blame could be placed on its release on the tail-end of the Playstation’s lifespan in late 1999, the time when hype around the PS2’s release was still hot in the air. Personally, I would hazard a guess that in-part, the blame could be placed on falling victim to its own praise.

Critics ceremoniously penned Dino Crisis as “Resident Evil but with dinosaurs”, half-realizing a seemingly innocuous tagline carried some hefty backhanded sentiments.  At a glance, it writes off a lot of Dino Crisis’ unique features by lumping it in with all the other derivative survival horrors and try hards. Considering its presentation and the Resi clone a la mode that clustered the market at the time, the response was understandable. The promise of the same lived-in formula of tank controls and fixed camera angles may have been one to many for some, and felt Dino Crisis was nothing more than a palette cleanser to tide them over while greener pastures were forming on the horizon.

The plot doesn’t put it in good graces either, the crux of which revolving around a rather cut and dry espionage plot with four agents (one being the player character Regina) tasked to apprehend a scientist, previously presumed dead, from a top secret facility on a remote island. The plot only tangentially manages to justify why dinosaurs are in the mix feeling like a non-sequitur just for the novelty itself; like an Ian Fleming novel shoehorned with dinosaurs.

Yet like most things Capcom, story has never really been the yardstick in which their games are measured, as plaudits land chiefly in the execution of its gameplay.

Indeed Shinji Mikami’s signature survival horror formula returns in spades with Dino Crisis, to the point of being a blatant throwback of its zombie-infested forebear. Yet for those who did not dismiss the game out of hand, were greeted with a unique survival experience that was more than just  Resident Evil with a fresh lick of paint.

Surprisingly Dino Crisis gets a lot of mileage from the prehistoric creature feature, especially taking a lot of care with their overall design right down to the mosaic mesh of their reptilian scales and expressive facial animations denoting there carnivorous nature. These cosmetic flourishes however aren’t the only aspect of the dinosaur’s design, where Ai interaction with the environment and Regina’s presence caters to the idea of a relentless predator, as opposed to an incidental enemy like the zombies in other horror instalments.

Dinosaurs will either prowl  their respective room, stand dormant, or even if you’re really lucky  doze off in a corner giving Regina ample time to quietly creep past them. They have keen senses that don’t need direct line of sight and will hone in on Regina’s location if they hear her or even smell blood if Regina has not staunched a bleeding wound with Haemostats.

Dinosaurs are also not tethered and tied to occupy one space and if they spot Regina changing rooms may also give chase, following her into the next room. The idea of a stalking villain can throw players off-kilter and create an immense amount of tension and paranoid anticipation, reminiscent to the Scissor-Man in the Clock Tower series. It can more often than not take some players out of their element.

Dinosaurs are also fairly resilient as well, where a basic raptor can take upwards to five shots of even a shotgun to dispatch, requiring the player to more often than not negotiate when to stand their ground or simply run.

This isn’t aided by the fact that resources are not really a big clutch either, as ammo, medial packs and haemostats is few and far between. In the Resident Evil instalments, players are given a lot of leeway on quite a surplus of ammo, with enough to eke out victories without having to resort to outright fleeing. In Dino Crisis, such reserves are very low. In fact munitions around the base near the end segments of the game are practically non-existent. Blowing through ammo in reckless abandon can often or not put the player in quite a bind in the later stretches, almost to the point of being neigh-impossible to complete.

While you do get emergency boxes that compartmentalize extra reserves and even have ammo/med kits pre-stocked, these boxes can only be accessed by plugs which are also hard to come by. Players will have to negotiate which boxes they wish to use and can barely, if ever, open all boxes up in any given play through.

There’s more of a focus on rolling with the punches as opposed to being enabled  to outright plough through dinosaurs with overstocked and overpowered weapons, something more closer to what a survival experience should feel like. A nice change to its predecessor, whose frequent bevy of slow reanimated corpses  seemed to deliberately take up screen real estate as a means of being nothing more than chuckle-worthy shotgun fodder.

However Dino Crisis does have some glaring foibles which can be quite a put off. The music (while including a few memorable ditties), is something that’s not exactly recounted on with fond memory.  Some of what you could call orchestral stings accompanying dramatic set pieces, are not exactly easy on the ears and in places becomes a discordant mess of electronic trumpets, drums and piano scales inharmoniously clashing together as if fighting for room to squeeze through your speakers.

The puzzles can also be quite slog to go through, some of which are fairly involved and require a good ten to twenty minutes of trial and error to go through. This is only worsened by the fact that quite a few puzzles are repeated twice sometimes thrice throughout the game, breaking the action far too often.

The convoluted plot also requires some suspension of disbelief, as the story is something that even goes out of its way to out-ham the bio-weapon shtick in Resident Evil. I won’t go into spoiler territory but let’s just say its concluding denouement will leave some invested players feeling like they got the short end of the stick.

This culmination of ongoing pressure from item management,  constant stalking from dinosaurs and  messy musical interludes during combat maybe too overwhelming for some, and can be off-putting to players who have a  shoot first, think later philosophy.  Out of all of Capcom’s survival horror instalments, Dino Crisis is probably the most inaccessible, with the more bloody-minded of players looking back on Resident Evil’s more easy-going and accessible approach to horror with wistful longing; largely because Dino Crisis doesn’t really focus all that much on horror at all.

This goes fill circle to Why Dino Crisis’s infamous tagline is quite misleading. Dino Crisis’s violence is pretty clinical for the most part, bordering on being way too sterile, taking a good few sheepish steps away from the gore. This is a far cry to the polygonal viscera of its zombie predecessor, a series which lavishes in its own corpse-ridden, blood-caked and entrails-laden excess.  It’s the restraint from the indulgent gore-fest that causes the game to lose a bit of bite and trails away from the focus on horror in favour of being a pure survival game.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing, as the survival elements are as tight as a drum; just this remould may not resonate with horror fans as much as Resident Evil does, mainly because when it comes to violence and horror with Resident Evil, the gloves are completely off.

While following in the footsteps of Capcom’s critical darling, Dino Crisis nicely evolved the formula and took survival horror in a direction, closer to a truly imagined fight for survival scenario, only to leave a few sparse horror elements knocking on its door. Its inaccessibility coupled with a few intrusive design choices may be bugbear for some, however the overall game mechanics are tight enough to enthral the hardcore gamer and fans of 90s survival horror games alike.

Dark Souls (Xbox 360)

The original Dark Souls  is the spiritual successor to Demon Souls,  a decent game in its own right but plagued with some flakey design choices that hindered it from gaining larger appeal. The Dark Souls permutation however improves on Demon Souls greatly, creating a more polished experience in terms of gameplay and execution as well as introducing a non-linear open world that liberally allows the player to approach the game in anyway they see fit.

When examining Dark Souls on the surface most casual fans will view the difficulty as it’s baseline appeal, deriving entertainment in the seemingly insurmountable ways the players can die. Through this assertion however one can completely miss the  philosophy of some very unique design choices which serve as a tool to facilitate the portrayal of Dark Soul’s mythos.

The player is given a concise yet opaque introductory cutscene to set the scene. The narrator, with feeble yet somehow venerable solemnity, recounts events that have come to pass which have left the world of Dark Souls in ruin. A simple legend, without advent or elaborate detail yet spoken in a verse-like recital, giving the context an air of grim antiquity.

The legend speaks of a war waged between dragons and lords which in turn has lead to the world becoming a post-apocalyptic wasteland, rife with dangerous creatures and unspeakable horrors in its depths.   While the exact details of events are unclear what is clear is that the aftermath has left most of the living with the dreaded Darksign, a curse which slowly turns its victims into mindless hollows. The only way to remove the curse is to undergo a pilgrimage, to completely restore your humanity from being undead by ringing two bells in the land of Lordran; a task vied by many but rarely accomplished.

The environment of Lordran succinctly evinces the overall state of world in Dark Souls, with the desaturated hue of the colour palette displaying an environment drained of colour which by extension displays a world drained of life. Many landmarks are decrepit and misused, barely outlasting a war that has its residual memory etched forever in the crumpling masonry and levelled structures. The panoramic view of the colossal buildings and monuments makes up the labyrinth-like ruins of Lordran, giving a vista of things to come. A manifold of medieval architectures such as bastions, dungeons, cathedrals, castles and ramparts whose grand proportions effortlessly blot out your own. The very existence of such majestic landmarks infers a deeper narrative which has long since been forgotten.

Once past the tutorial in Undead Asylum you are given free rein to explore the non-linear expanse of Lordran. Most areas are interconnected to each other with shortcuts becoming unlocked as you progress through each respective zone.  Laying eyes on the breadth of Lordran’s province can give the player a misguided sense of chivalry, vigour to intrepidly delve into its depths while conquering all odds. However it doesn’t take long for the player to realise that traversing off the beaten path can lead to certain death as arcane traps and monstrosities swiftly thwart reckless players with punitive precision.  It is through this revelation that the design philosophy of the game begins to resonate with the player, in that any given situation is achievable provided that the player is willing to work for it.

From the outset of the game players can effectively explore and overcome most of Lordran (with a few exceptions) in any order, of their own volition, including the secluded areas that serve as a foreboding backdrop for the higher level challenges. Nothing is closed off to the player with every seemingly insurmountable encounter containing a subtle solution that requires some problem solving and patience in part by the player.   Really the only impasse in the game is self-imposed by the players themselves, seen in players wanting to rush the game  and sally forth headlong into encounters in hopes to expedite completion; though this approach usually has disastrous results.  While other titles are eager to hold the players hands through tutorials as well as toning down its content for accessibilities sake, Dark Souls requires the player to learn through trial and error and working out the mechanics and item effects on their own.

The game’s harsh but fair punishment for recklessness underscores the importance of learning the mechanics of the game thoroughly as well as observing an opponent’s behavioural tendencies, including attack patterns and ailment inducing effects.  Certain areas are tougher than others and require more effort to complete, however are still relatively achievable even at lower levels. While levelling and procuring stronger weapons does aid somewhat, it is not a complete panacea for success where benefits from levelling attributes are incrementally small as opposed to drastically tipping the odds in your favour.  There are some secret weapons that are available to assist beginner players,which are strong at first yet gradually lose their effectiveness as the game progresses.

The game has some very tightly programed elements as well as inputs that require strict timing in order to use effectively.  Even when having a good grasp of how to parry, stagger shielded opponents with your kick or swiftly dispose of them with a well timed back stab, there are a lot of other variables in the game that will affect the outcome of any given situation. Even with a methodical approach to each circumstance is not going  to yield the same results as enemies can also behave erratically, with their own skill sets and abilities at their disposal. In one instance they may await dryly in defence for you to blunder a strike or in another apply offensive pressure, wailing on your shield in hopes to apply attrition on the scant reserve of your stamina bar.

There are checkpoints in the game in the form of bonfires which you can light up once you have reached a certain point within an area. Should you die you restart at the last bonfire you have used. As no set of variables will ever be the same the player has to essentially roll with the punches from bonfire to bonfire, incurring as little damage as possible in order to reach the next bonfire with no way to be completely surefooted about the outcome in-between.  Only experience and skill can mitigate how badly a situation can go as well as approaching each situation with caution and at times a level of self-restraint.

Every action uses stamina, including actions such as your attacks, running, withstanding the force from blocked attacks, as well as the stamina recovery being reduced when your shield is up. This requires players to plan their moves accordingly while managing stamina usage in order to avoiding being staggered themselves which is the result of overexerting your character with no stamina available.  In essence the key to success in Dark Souls is how well a player can adapt, master the controls and mechanics, as well as adapting to constantly changing situations with due caution.

Particularly in the initial stages of Dark Souls every action appears to have more consequences than benefits, with more emphasis on consequence. Even the more frequent foot-solider level of enemies can score hard hitting points and critical hits in relation to your own.  That is not to say that the game purposely veers people off using each action, but simply demonstrates that each action has to be used judiciously in part by the player in order to make progress, presenting the carrot and the stick overtly by the punishments that befall the player for relying too much on risks.

As there are rarely any forms of recourse in terms of equipment, or abilities to overcome this, simply adapting to bad circumstances is the only way a player can maintain a foothold in Dark Souls’ hostile environment. In most fantasy games the hero is significantly overpowered and serve in a sense as form vicarious entertainment where  the player can act out their fantasies of being a revered  hero that can  cull through waves of monsters effortlessly and with little thought.  In Dark Souls however the environment is hostile towards the player character and requires the player to work hard for success, where learning through death becomes a habit. Never at any juncture do you feel like a master of this world but rather a hapless interloper who must utilize their wits in order to merely survive it. Your Character is fragile and at any time can be swept off the planes of Lordran like lint off a piece of clothing.

All of these aspects offset each other neatly and form the motifs that are integral to the Dark Soul experience; that of despair and futility which beset the world of Dark Souls and in turn evokes a sense of being Lilliputian in the large scheme of the game’s narrative.

For most of the game your part in the overall lore of Dark Souls is never really made a focal point where only happenstance events in the later parts of the narrative give your character some semblance of importance. The brevity and impenetrable vagueness of the game’s lore is made to deliberately alienate the players from its world.  The main paradigm-changing war that affects the world of Dark Souls has long since reached its conclusions with the main movers and shakers involved in the conflict having either perished indefinitely or confined themselves in the secluded parts of Lordran to slowly wither away. Your character’s predicament is simply the result of their actions, where you’re demise or in the grander scheme your success thereof, has little to no consequence to the overall condition of the world, essentially because it’s already dead.

Your only course of action is to simply survive the aftermath, as there is nothing left to salvage in a way that leads to recourse for civilisation as a whole.  Your character is not a gallant hero endowed with any powers or any defining characteristics that set it apart from the other cursed undead who are trying to also regain their humanity (made clear by the ghostly apparitions representing fellow players online  and npc’s making it abundantly clear that undergoing your quest is commonplace for survivors). So what is the incentive for the player to continue to the end of Dark Souls?, For the sheer experience of exploring it’s forsaken world, while forming your own narrative and versions of events as the story  slowly unfurls itself organically from environments, monsters, and chance encounters by NPCs.

Overall Dark Souls is a game that manages to deliver a unique experience by  adopting  traditional aspects of the action RPG genre, as well as managing to instil fresh ideas that are challenging to take in, yet slowly  resonate with the player in a manner that makes the whole experience memorable. This is done by the involved gameplay mechanics, and by delivering an engaging premise naturally by the presentation of its world as opposed to exhaustively drab exposition . A solid title that carries more clout than many of derivative titles in the market thus far.