In this day and age with people shouting from every mountain top and soapbox available, it should come as no surprise that a game like Never Alone exists,a game based on and around another culture and its mythology where you play as a young girl on top of everything else. It’s something that we're probably going to be seeing a lot more of and I'm all for it. I just hope those other games don't skimp out on the "game" part of it all.
Never Alone is based on the lore of the Alaskan Iñupiat. In it you play as a young girl named Nuna and a magical arctic fox. After saving her from a polar bear, the fox starts following the girl around through a giant blizzard. The entire game is narrated by a person speaking what I presume to be the Iñupiat native tongue, and it gives the feeling of listening to your grandpa tell you a story around a campfire, which is fitting. In between all the in-engine bits we have cutscenes drawn to look like old paintings you would find in caves and on native art and whatnot. All of this really helps sell the idea that this is another culture's story being told to us by another culture, and not filtered through white people.
When we aren't in the native art style, the game looks kind of weird. The fox and the polar bear look like they don't have enough fur on them, with their coats fading out as it gets further from the body. It gives them this balding effect and I can almost make out the naked model underneath it all. The girl looks fine, but I have a hard time figuring out if the trim on her coat is supposed to be frozen hair, animal bones, or it just glitched out. There are these huge triangles all over the coat and they look like something wasn't coded properly.
The environments don't look that much better. Sure, when you get to the caves and wooden areas, everything looks fine. But when things are covered in snow, it gets bad. The snow never looks or acts like snow. It looks like white dirt that the character models just clip through. And that's a real shame, because it looks like some effort was put into the game in regards to the snow. When you walk on ground level snow there's a slight bit of dust up, and when the snow gets deeper Nuna does a small hop with every step, which is how a small child walks in snow. Believe me, I'm Canadian, I would know. The snow never feels like anything more than a big texture, and it really bugged me.
But snow aside, where the game really falls apart is in the gameplay. You control two separate characters, Nuna and the fox. I think this game was meant to be played in co-op mode, with one person controlling Nuna and one controlling the fox. But I don't have any friends to play games with, so I had to play it solo. You can switch between the two of them at any time, and when you do the other character becomes AI controlled. Unfortunately, the AI is kind of stupid. So many times throughout this game my AI character would die or screw up puzzles because I had no way that I knew of to tell them to stay put or come or not be stupid. There was a level where I was controlling Nuna and had to jump between blocks of ice that were smashing into the ceiling (because video games). So I jumped and ran across the ice block to the safe area. The AI then did one of three things. He either ran into the safe spot with me, caught up to me then ran back into the crushing maw of death behind me, or overshot the safe spot and fell into the gap between the platforms and drowned. This happened so many times I almost gave up and stopped playing the game. But I eventually made it through there and made the jump to the final platform, completing the level. Or, I would have, if the fox hadn't missed the jump and drowned. Pushing us back to part where one of the previous three things would happen.
Speaking of jumping, it doesn’t feel great in this game. Like a lot of polygonal platformers nowadays, turning around takes off a lot points right off the bat. So many times I tried to make jumps but my character wasn't facing the right way, so I went a foot forward (or backwards) into a bottomless pit. When you do get the jumps right, you have to make it a decent way on to the platform or you will fall back on to the ledge and have to sit through the climbing animations. And then you have the wind to deal with, which is always fun. When it's first introduced, you're given the ability to brace yourself so you don't get thrown back. But almost every time you encounter wind after that first time, you're supposed to use the wind to propel yourself forward to make jumps. It's never really clear on when you're supposed to brace or use the wind, and since the place I'm supposed to be jumping to is blocked by the camera which I have no control over, I'm just sitting there cowering from the winds trying to figure out where the hell I'm supposed to go next.
Also there's the bola. Oh boy, is there the bola. You get this from a magical owl man who may or may not be your grandfather and it's absolutely terrible to use. What you do is, pull the right stick back to charge it up, then flick it forward in the direction you want it to go. There is no precision aiming with this thing. You just fling it and hope it's going in the right direction. And it's dependent on which direction you're facing, too.
The fox can scurry up some walls and wall jump, and it works fine enough. He can also somewhat control spirits. This is entirely dependent on his position on top of the spirit, which basically serves as a platform. When you get to a specific on the spirit, it will move. But, since you probably had to control Nuna to get her up on the platform, you will have to switch back to the fox to move him the quarter of an inch forward to get the platform to activate right. It never feels right doing this stuff and it really pulls you out of any kind of experience when you have to move that damn fox into the proper position.
I believe games being developed by and about people of other cultures is a good thing. I don't really go out of my way to learn about this stuff, but a game could get me interested and teach me something I didn't know before. Hell, this game even has a documentary series in it about the Iñupiat. But the game around all the learning stuff needs to be good. And I don’t think Never Alone is particularly good. The graphics and platforming aren't great, and the computer controlling the other part of your twosome is terrible. Maybe I would have had a different experience with the game if I had played this with a friend or, failing that, the fox that hangs out outside my house howling at me all night. But I didn't. I was alone in this, and I did not enjoy it.
Before this year, I was never really a fan of the Rayman games. I couldn't really tell you why, but there was just something about them that didn't feel right to me. But then Rayman Origins came out and I was completely turned around. The game had a fantastic art style, amazing atmosphere, and really tight gameplay. So when I heard that a sequel was being made in the same style as Origins, I was fucking excited, and the game did not disappoint, carrying over most of the things that made the first game great but still changing it up enough that it wasn't just Origins again.
Continuing on from the "story" of Origins, the game starts with a fully voiced (in proper English, no less) narration, explaining how a group of evil Teensies are kidnapping the rest of the Teensies. Rayman and his friends, who are still hip-hop sleeping in that tree, are summoned to stop them. Much like Origins the story is barely there and serves as an excuse for you to be doing all the things you do in the game. It's like the platformers from the gaming days of yore where a single cutscene or a block of text is all the story you get then you just have to jump on things until the game says stop.
The basic gameplay of Legends is largely unchanged from Origins. Your movement speed, the way you punch, the way you jump, it all works like it did in Origins, which is a very good thing. The gameplay was great and didn't need any major changes to it. Running, jumping, and punching dudes and things still feel incredible and pulling off some of the more complicated sections of the game is extremely satisfying. The game does start off a little on the easy side, though. In the first few worlds I was breezing through levels, collecting everything there was to find and getting the highest rating possible. But as the game progressed, the challenge really ramped up to the point where I was pulling my hair out and screaming in frustration, and I was loving every second of it. On these levels the relief after beating it was even more satisfying, especially with the really upbeat music that plays on the scoring screen. There was confetti and people cheering and it all felt fantastic.
The one thing that wasn't so great about the gameplay, and this was also in Origins, is the punching. Not the regular punch, though. I'm talking about the running punch and the air punch. With the running punch, no matter how fast you're moving you always punch at the same speed which is a bit faster than your full speed sprint. Because of this (and my own boundless stupidity), I would keep launching myself off the edge of a platform or straight into a wall, completely fucking up any kind of flow I had going for me. The air punch is the exact opposite, sucking away all of your momentum. You could be going at top speed when you jump into the air but one punch cuts that speed in half. Neither of these things are particularly awful, they can just be very annoying.
While the movement and everything stayed the same, three of the main elements of the game were changed, the first being the enemies and the combat (shut up, I count them as one). In Origins, every basic enemy took two hits. The first hit made them expand into a bubble and the second one finished them off. They would eventually die with just the one hit, but you wanted both hits to get all the Lums (the Mario coin equivalent). In Legends, the enemies get taken out in one hit and they give you a bunch of Lums. I much prefer this method of dealing with enemies. Before, if you were running at a good clip through a level but wanted to collect all of the Lums to get the highest rating at the end you would have to stop and jump on every twice and it could really kill your momentum. Now you can keep going at the pace you want (assuming you have the skill) and deal with enemies without losing your momentum.
The second element is the collectibles and the rating system around them. Each level has six trophies you can collect; three for collecting Lums and three for collecting Teensies. But with the Teensies it is really weird. In most levels there are 10 Teensies to collect. Eight of them are your run of the mill Teensies, but two of them are King and Queen Teensies. If you grab the King or Queen, you get the bronze. If you get the King and Queen, you get the silver. If you get the King, Queen, and all eight other Teensies, you get the gold. But if you get all eight Teensies and the King or Queen, you get bronze. I don't know what happens if you only collect the eight regular Teensies, but I'm guessing you would either get bronze or nothing. I know Kings and Queens are important, but why rate it like this? Why not make collecting the eight worth a trophy, the King worth a trophy, and the Queen worth a trophy? This isn't a complaint, I just find it a bit weird.
As for the Lums' trophies, they work the same as they did in Origins. Just collect the right number and win the trophies. But now there's a trophy type thing in between silver and gold, and that's the Lucky Ticket. If you pass the halfway mark between the silver medal amount of Lums and the gold medal amount of Lums, you get a scratch card. This gets you more Lums to unlock character skins (which is what Lums are used for now), creatures for your gallery (which are an entirely different set of collectibles), Teensies, or "Back to Origins" levels (levels based on Origins levels with the new art style and gameplay).
Speaking of art style, the final element changed was the atmosphere of the game in regards to the art style and music. The music still has the same catchy and light-hearted sound to it, but some of the pieces go for a bit more grandiose feel to them, especially in boss fights. It keeps enough the same for it to recognizable in style and changes enough with the new pieces to not feel like it's the just the same music again.
The art style this time around went for a more painted look to it as opposed to Origins' more hand-drawn style. All the characters look like they have more detail to them and almost look polygonal. It's a nice progression of the art style that I really like. The only things I didn't like very much were the characters and enemies that actually were polygonal. These models were mostly bosses and with what they had the bosses doing I can definitely see why they chose to make these guys polygonal, but I didn't think they looked as good as the rest of the game. They looked too disconnected from the rest of the world and the look of the world didn't translate particularly well to 3D. Fortunately for me they didn't show up that often, but when they did they weren't as gorgeous as the rest of the game.
On top of all of the stuff that was changed, new things were added. And by things I mean level types. The first one introduced are the levels with Murfy, a character from an older Rayman game. He was brought back when the game was a Wii U exclusive and was supposed to controlled with the touchscreen on the gamepad. On 360 you just push a button and he moves a platform or cuts a rope or something. Murphy doesn't really add much to the levels he's in. He's just something else you have to think about while platforming.
The second new level type takes out all the enemies and just has you run. There's no hunting for hidden doorways or collectibles, everything is in your path. You just have to avoid obstacles and time your jumps and punches right and you can get everything in the level. But if you die, you'll have to go right back to the beginning of the level. This type of level is where the challenge really starts to ramp up. Playing these levels were the second most infuriating and enjoyable moments in the entire game for me.
After that we have Invasion levels. These levels replace the time trial medal from Origins. At a certain point in the game, stages you've beaten will randomly invaded, creating a sub-level. You have 60 seconds to run through the level and save three Teensies, who are set to explode on fireworks if you don't beat the level in a certain amount of time. 60 seconds is your lowest bronze medal score. Any lower than that is DNQ.
Finally there are the end levels in each world. Here, the rhythmic platforming that this series is built on just goes fucking nuts and you are platforming to a song. These are my absolute favorite levels in the entire game. The music helps make the platforming feel incredibly fluid and rhythmic, and when you're pulling these jumps and such off it almost feels like you're playing Guitar Hero and that your actions are making the song. They are so fun and so awesome, these levels would've sold me on the game alone.
I was originally going to mark this game down for the polygonal models and weird punches, but having spent some time thinking about it those two blemishes barely even register for me anymore. Rayman Legends is an outstanding game. The platforming feels amazing, the music has the same great sound but still amps things up, the art still looks fantastic, and the new levels are fun and add something kind of new to the formula. Legends is a great follow-up to Origins, and one of the best platformers in this generation. Get this goddamn game.
“To sleep, perchance to dream,” in Abyss Odyssey therein is the rub. Out now for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC Abyss Odyssey presents a very interesting story wrapped in a brawler, a platformer, and a rouge-like game.
Drop into the darkness.
The story is set in the 17th century Chilean capitol of Santiago. Evil creatures are coming up through a hole in the center of town and threatening to overtake the city. You start out as Katrien, a swordswoman who specializes in short swords. As she arrives at the edge of the mysterious hole, the soldiers guarding it tell her to leave, that this is no place for a lady. She tells them they have no idea what they are facing. That they are fighting creatures that are the result of a Warlock sleeping at the bottom of the abyss. Those creatures are being created from the nightmare he is having. With those bold declarations, she drops into the abyss to begin her journey to the bottom in order to confront the Warlock.
Along the way you will die. Several times in fact. Such is the nature of Abyss Odyssey. The first time Katrien dies she reveals that she too is a part of the Warlock’s nightmare, that she died a long time ago. The dying part isn't as bad as it first seems. When Katrien falls she is replaced by a soldier who promises to revive her at a shrine, provided he makes it. The soldier is less powerful, but not entirely helpless. If he does fall in battle, then you are revived on the surface and have to fight your way through again. There are no save points in the game, but you can have temporary checkpoints. At special shrines you can change it into a checkpoint, provided you have the key for it. A note of caution, these checkpoints have a limited number of times you can be revived. Once used up you start at the surface again. This is not necessarily a bad thing either. As Katrien observes, the abyss, like a dream or nightmare, is never the same. Which means that every time you enter the abyss it is randomly generated, making it something new and different every time. It is a nice touch that provides for a lot of replayability.
While you start out as Katrien you won't play as her all the time. Besides the soldier you will be able to eventually unlock two other characters, the Ghost Monk and Pincoya. Both, like Katrien, have their basic attacks, but also special attacks and weapons. If that's not enough variety of characters for you, there's a way to acquire more. You can capture souls of enemies you defeat. Once captured, you can turn into them and use their powers and abilities.
Choose your weapon wisely.
The characters have some role playing game characteristics in that you can level them up and tailor their fighting styles. You may be slow and sluggish at the start, but carefully choosing how to level up your characters will result in a lean mean demon killing machine. Weapons can be found in the abyss or bought from merchants. A small problem for me was that you couldn’t sell your old weapon. This necessitates spending your money cautiously and wisely. Found weapons can only be picked up if they match your current character's weapon style. So if you are playing as Katrien, you can't pick up pole arms, only small swords.
Pretty as a picture.
Graphically Abyss Odyssey is stunning. It looks like someone crossed a storybook with art nouveau prints; it's colorful and beautiful. One of the touches I really liked was when you use the block move to stop a hit, a halo appears around them. The halo's design takes on the look that's almost a trademark of art nouveau prints. This art style is present in everything, from the backgrounds to all the enemies. I would love to see an art book created from this game.
Abyss Odyssey is a downright stunning game. The art, music, story, and gameplay come together in a beautiful arrangement. Even when you finally get to the end and finish the story the randomly generated abyss makes the game different every time. On top of that the developers, ACE, have stated that at current count there are about 37 enemies are to be captured and used. ACE has hinted at more enemies and bosses to be added to the game in the future. The game also really challenges you with that rougelike system. Can you make it to the end with no saves and limited checkpoints? It's a game that I really think is a contender for my top 10 of the year. I like it that much. If this sounds like your cup of tea, pick it up now.
If you would like to play a fun, energetic, competitive type video game, then you may want to play Rush Bros. In the multiplayer mode, you play against your friends and find out just who is the better player. Rush Bros. is essentially a platform racing game, where your video game character travels and avoids or conquers several obstacles before reaching the finish. The gameplay consists of about 40 levels, with you as the video game player choosing the specific level you want to play. You do not have to traverse each level in sequence -- you have the freedom to choose whichever level you prefer to play. There is also a survival and fast forward mode where the gameplay is basically the same; however, your character will move more quickly.
Before I get into the specific gameplay, lets talk about some preliminaries. Rush Bros. is a PC/Mac game, so it is playable on either the PC or the Mac. I played this video game on my Mac, and did not experience any problems having the game added to my Steam library for gameplay. So it goes without saying that before you play this game, you must already have a Steam account or be prepared to set one up. I'm thinking that if you are an avid video game player, whether you play games on your favorite consoles, PC or Mac -- that you more than likely already have a Steam account. If not, why not set one up so you can play Rush Bros. with your friends?
A big part of video games in addition to gameplay is the graphics. This game did not disappoint in this area. I believe you will enjoy the bright graphics as well as the colorful backgrounds as you play the different levels of this game. Even though Rush Bros is a racing game -- the race to the finish may not be as simple as you may think. On your way, hopefully to victory, you will encounter spikes and other obtacles that you have to avoid if you want to clinch the win.
Need help in getting to that next higher structure while you are racing? Simply, use the springs to propel your character to the next higher height. If the springs do not do the trick, then you may have to scale the side of the structure before jumping over the spikes to continue your journey for the win. My points here are there are a multitude of ways to move your character along the platform.
You may say to me -- "Well, that's all good, Ms. H, but were there any negatives about this game?" My response would be the positives of this game outweigh the negatives -- but there were some. When I loaded the game and saw the graphics on the main page, I thought this would be basically a music game. I saw two figures wearing sunglasses who appeared to be DJs. And what do DJs do? Among other things, they play music. So I was getting excited about playing some sort of music game. However, that was not to be the case. Music is a big part of this game -- in fact, you can change the music to listen to different tracks as you play the game. However, music is more of a by-product of the game -- instead of being intricately woven into the gameplay -- at least on the parts of this game that I played. Once the gameplay started, the music was more of a backdrop to the game itself.
I'm not sure if this was a glitch in the game; however, while trying to get my character through a maze of blocks, I got him actually stuck in a block -- and he could not get out. Try as I may -- the little figure stayed in the confines of the block until the challenger, of course, obviously won the race, since I could not get my character out of the block.
Another possible glitch is at one time during gameplay, I stopped pushing buttons during the game; however, the figure continued to run back and forth across the screen. Mind you, this was a character that should have been following my directional commands -- but that was not the case. He kept moving along, without me pushing nary a button.
There was also what I would call a "tedious" part of the game. The gameplay involved the character needing a key to open certain doors. In order to get the key, the character had to backtrack over areas that had already been covered to retrieve the key -- and then go back to the door with the key to open it. I found this part of the game to be tedious, because I felt that I made progress in getting to the door that required a key -- only to find out that I had to sometimes retrace my steps to get the key and return back to the door to open it. Some may see this as a way to win the race, especially if your challenger is not fast at locating and using the key; however, I found it tedious to go back and forth in this game. My suggestion would be to position the key at a checkpoint that is very close to the door to be opened instead of having the player to retrace his or her steps.
From a PC/Mac playing standpoint, versus the video game consoles, i.e. the current Xbox 360, and the PS3, I had to get accustomed to using either the directional arrows or the specific alphabet keys to move the character. In my opinion, this game would be more enjoyable to play using a controller instead of the keyboard. In fact, I believe it is recommended that a controller be used along with your PC or Mac. Unfortunately, during the game, in my zeal to win, my fingers would sometimes become overly taxed, as I pounded the keys to move the character. Thankfully, my fingers returned back to normal after I stopped playing the game. Of course, you may or may not experience this discomfort while playing the game.
Now back to the positives. I liked getting co-op help on certain parts of the game via challenger on Skype. I also liked the upbeat music that played during the gameplay, as well as the different environments that changed with each level.
Sounds like a video game you would like to play? If so, you can play Rush Bros. now since it is available on Steam for the PC and Mac.
Rush Bros. was released on May 24, 2013 by Xyla Entertainment.