Top 11 of '11 (iOS). Number 10 - Groove Coaster.

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

I'm a bit of a sucker for music/rhythm games. Frequency, Amplitude, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Rez, Child of Eden (yes, I count those last two)... all have provided me with hours of good times. So when I heard of one hitting the iPhone from the creator of the excellent Space Invaders Infinity Gene, I was sold.

If any of you played Space Invaders Infinity Gene (and I'm sure that plenty of you did), then you'll know that it took the basic idea of Spacies and twisted it into something barely recognisable but brilliant. Groove Coaster didn't have the advantage of a classic framework to build on... so exactly what kind of game would it be?

You know what? You're right. I am cool.

It turns out that Groove Coaster is exactly what the name implies. Your avatar rides along a crazy track, looping and swooping in time to the music. At key points on the track, you have to tap the screen in time with the tune. Every time you're successful, you build and add to a chain, with perfect timing giving you a higher score. Miss a beat, and the chain is broken. Bye-bye, high score and S-Ranking!

So, Groove Coaster is a very simple game. But there's a lot to it, in the form of unlockables. For starters, each level has to be unlocked in turn. That's not exactly a problem or a hardship, by the way... it's just a natural progression. However; you can only play a level on Easy difficulty on your first attempt... there are Normal and Hard difficulty levels to be unlocked for every track.

Space. Invaded.

Even completing a level doesn't mean you've done the best you can. Sneakily, the game has thrown in the ability to "ad-lib", an idea which has been pinched from Rock Band's "Freestyle" mode, unless I'm mistaken. To fully capitalise on this, you're going to need to have an understanding of the music, and of its beat. From this, you should be able to guess the points where extra notes could fit. Find them, and maximise your score. Guess wrong, and you could break your chain...

This adds an element of risk/reward to the game, although I'm not sure if I'm entirely comfortable with it. On the other hand, the game might be too easy without these... it's much harder to account for a player's timing issues when all the plyer has to do is tap the screen at the prompt (as opposed to "playing" the notes on plastic instruments).

Groove is in the heart.

As of the most recent update, the games has around twenty tunes, and with a minimum of three playthroughs of each one purely to complete every level, there's a good amount of game here. Even better, each level is short. That means that nothing outstays its welcome, and it's perfect for bite-sized, time-killer gaming. And the high-score element means you're always likely to want that elusive "one more go" that games developers are dying for you to need.

Groove Coaster is a lot more fun than it might have been. It has the odd frustration... occasionally, the shape of the coaster tricks you into thinking there's a beat when there isn't, and your chain is ruined. But even that can be overcome with experience. With high scores to be obtained for every level, avatars and skins to be unlocked and different difficulty levels to be beaten, this is a quality release. As of writing, Groove Coaster is 69p on iPhone/iPod Touch, and it's also 69p on the iPad. I think it's well worth that asking price.

Advent Calendar - December 12th.

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

XII Stag (Playstation 2)

I love a good shooter, me, even if the only ones I'm half decent at were in the arcades 20-25 years ago. I find modern shmups a lot more difficult... whether that's because I wear glasses or as a result of reflexes diminishing through age, who knows? I still enjoy the bullet hell games, though... in the main. Some are just too much for me, even with infinite continues.

XII Stag is one of my large and, if I do say so myself, fairly impressive collection of PS2 PAL shmups. I haven't got a Japanese PS2 so I haven't got any of the imports, but I've bought most of the other ones that are available. I even wrote about them for Way of the Rodent.. That was a fun task! So, this is one of those games that I have played before, but it fits in perfectly with the advent calendar, so here we go again...

Cloudy out, innit? Oh... that's just the smoke from wrecked metal ships.

In a world of vertically-scrolling shooters, XII Stag tries to be a little bit different. In the main, it's same old, same old... you fly up the screen, enemies swarm onto the screen spewing trillions of bullets, you die. Rinse and repeat until game's end. So in order to distinguish itself from other vertical scrollers, XII Stag introduces a completely different weapons system.

"Great!", I hear you cry, "Tell me about these marvellous innovations!". Well, don't get too carried away just yet...

As you'd expect for a game like this, your ship is pretty handy at lashing out umpteen forward-firing projectiles per minute. There are no extra weapons to be picked up, although you can power up. There's no bomb either. Instead, you have a barrier which, when activated, opens a bubble around the ship for a short time, and as long as you stay there you can't be destroyed. You have a limited supply of these per ship, so if you choose the right moments to use them you'll maximise their effectiveness.

The green, green, grass of death.

The real difference, and the reason for the name XII Stag, is the side-shooting weapon. If you emply that, rather than your forward-firing weapon, you start up a score multiplier, which climbs until it reaches a maximum of 12X the normal score. The rewards are lucrative, but as is always the case, they don't come without risks...

And here's where the problem lies. The side shooting is only activated by sideways movement. And as the game is designed to throw stuff at you to take advantage of that, you end up doing as much waggling as in the Activision Decathlon. In fact, it brought to mind the days of activating power-ups in Wizball, way back in the Commodore 64 days. Which is fine if the pace isn't too ramped-up, but XII Stag is a bullet hell shooter, and the last thing you need when you're trying to navigate a screen full of laser death is to be waggling left and right to shoot the stuff that's dispensing it.

Of course, you can fire forwards as well, and the power-ups add more and more bullets to that directional firepower. But considering the amount of stuff you chuck out, it's surprisingly feeble. There's not much point in getting behind stuff and blasting them when it's like chucking paper darts at a tank. So you have to go into spinning whirligig of doom mode, regardless. What a bind.

I don't know of an arcade on the planet that had a XII Stag machine in it, and if there'd been one near me it would have probably only got one ten out of me. That's not because it's a bad game... it's perfectly alright. It's just too complicated and difficult for an aging gamer like me.

Space Invaders Infinity Gene (XBox Live Arcade/iPhone/iPod Touch)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Space Invaders, Taito? In 2010? Really? I mean, we just had Space Invaders Extreme not that long ago... surely that's enough? It jazzed up the age-old formula quite nicely, and there's only so much you can do with Space Invaders.

Isn't there?

Not as far as Taito is concerned, and in an attempt to keep Space Invaders fresh (and raking in the cash), they've given it the most radical reworking of an original game... well, ever, probably.

That's bigger than a typical mothership!

The title screen is odd, and should give you a clue that this isn't going to be your traditional Space Invaders game. Although, when it first kicks off it lulls you into a false sense of security by giving you Spacies, straight-up. Just a few seconds in, though, and it wrenches you through time and space and gives you an Invaders game the like of which you could never have imagined...

When a shooter is as radically overhauled as this, it's difficult to think what it can be compared to. It's a bit obvious to say it's Rez-inspired... just because they're quirky, offbeat shooters doesn't mean they have that much in common. No, Infinity Gene is pretty much its own entity, offering a refreshing take on Space Invaders with enough to link it to the past but with plenty there to enable it to stand proud on its own merits.

Oooh, that looks wrong in a small picture. Anyway, all those bits fly around and need to be shot.

Although the classic invaders appear often, they're almost thrown in as distractions; as if the programmers know you'll recognise them and go after them, when greater enemies are always just around the corner. Huge vector spaceships will appear, taking several shots to dispatch. Bizarre frameworks will appear, with invaders travelling along them and hemming you in. Formations will appear from unexpected places, forcing you out of your comfort zone. Infinity Gene never lets you settle, always throwing new ideas at you, constantly making you adapt.

Fortunately, you're able to even things up a little (albeit just a little). The classic saucers that flit about now drop DNA capsules, and when you pick enough of these up they strengthen your firepower. You're never going to turn into a bullet-hell wielding, all-conquering monster, but at least you've go a bit more than the original's pea-shooter. And as the game progresses, you're able to unlock different types of firepower, some of which you might find useful and some not, depending on how you play.

This lot never give up, do they?

The game also features a number of modes beside the main game, which is quite important in ensuring you'll play it for longer than the customary ten-minute blast. Challenge mode gives you 99 stages to clear (or try to clear), Bonus mode gives you, erm, bonus stages to play, which are unlocked throughout the game... and then there's Music mode.

I love things like this in games. Music mode, as you'd expect, lets you play the game to your own choice of music. Better than that, though, it generates the stage around it. So the number of stages available is limited only by the size of your music collection.

OK, this is just getting insane.

This is awesome. Personally, I'm a big fan of instrumental rock, and it lends itself to this sort of thing extremely well. And from the tracks I've used, there can be an incredible amount of variety to the stages you can get. Yngwie Malmsteen is my favourite guitarist... I can highly recommend his tune "Leviathan" for a fun blast, or "Little Savage", which almost turns this into a racing game!

Space Invaders Infinity Gene is an excellent (if slightly mad) reworking of the original arcade classic. The amount of gane you get for your money would make it well worth your while if it was limited to just the main game and the Challenge mode, but with the Music mode giving you so much extra play, it's a steal. Music mode works better on the iPhone/iPod Touch (it's a bit of a pain having to stream playlists on a console, changing tracks on your media player every time), but I prefer the game on the big screen with a "proper" controller. Either way, you can't really go wrong with this.

The Legend of Kage 2 (Nintendo DS)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

So, this is why I played The Legend of Kage yesterday. Almost 25 years later, it gets a sequel! Although to be honest, I'm not sure why they (Square Enix this time around) classed it as a sequel... in this age of the reboot, they could quite easily have gone without the "2" in the title.

Having picked it up for the ridiculous price of £4.95 from, which, frankly, it would have been rude not to, I thought I'd give it a crack right away. And it was interesting to note that it doesn't have to be The Legend of Kage... if you don't want it to be.

That's right. This game gives you a choice of two characters... the titular Kage, or Chihiro, a spiky young girl. Your choice affects the storyline to a degree... as Kage, the visitor to the village at the beginning of the game is a childhood friend. As Chihiro, the visitor is the same person, but there's a different kind of connection... the game kind of implies an almost sexual, lesbian connection, which is weird. I'm sure it plays out differently once you get far enough... maybe one day I'll find out.

Ninjas are red, ninjas are blue, if you don't watch it, they will slice you.

As you would expect, this game takes elements of the original but adds more depth. The storyline is obviously one thing, and the choice of characters is another. But as you progress, you learn new skills that come in handy in combat, and you can collect orbs that you can use for creating powerful magic. These things are essential, because the game quickly becomes quite tricky.

The Legend of Kage 2 is a very nice update of an old game, and a pretty decent little game in its own right. There's plenty of hacking, slashing, jumping through trees and slightly iffy dialogue, which would probably be quite satisfying if you'd bought it for twenty quid, but for a fiver I reckon it's a bit of a steal.

The Legend of Kage (Arcade/MAME)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

This might seem to be a bit of a left-field, from-out-of-nowhere choice, but there's a reason I'm playing it, so stick with me!

The Legend of Kage is not a game I ever saw in an arcade. The only reason I'd heard of it previously was when I read a review of the Commodore 64 conversion in ZZAP! 64. They seemed to think it was distinctly average, and I didn't bother hunting it down for a play.

Fast-forward, oooh, donkeys years, and I find myself playing it in MAME.

And it's alright, actually. A bit odd for an arcade game, perhaps... although thinking about it, it plays a bit like a precursor to Shinobi, which I have certainly enjoyed quite a bit over the years, or maybe Ninja Spirit.

Ugh! Get away! Get awaaaaaay!

Typically, the game starts with a princess being captured, and you drop into the scene to chase after her. As you would expect, ninjas fly about, chucking pointy stars at you. Luckily, you can throw stars of your own, and you have swords for dispatching anything that gets a bit close for comfort.

You're also possessed of an implausibly mighty jump. This game sees you flying around in treetops a lot, with the ninjas whizzing by all around you. It's quite good fun, if a little strange. Other enemies appear through the game, including fire-breathing Raiden-types, just to mix it up.

The Legend of Kage is quite a nice little arcade game, which probably offered something nicely different at the time, and yet was more than likely the one that sat unloved in a corner while everyone else was playing Gauntlet. Still, it set me up nicely for tomorrow's game...