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27 December, 2016

Renoir Review – Not So Elementary

An intriguing noir-inspired murder mystery riddled with difficult puzzles make this a hard case to solve.

How far would you be willing to go to solve your own murder? That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a question I had to keep asking myself to see if I was willing to push through some frustrating mechanics and puzzles in the noir-inspired Renoir to unravel the case. Though I enjoyed my time with Renoir, it is one of those games where patience truly is a virtue. And, at times, that is a virtue I did not possess.

Renoir is an interesting mash up of genres, which I’m still undecided whether it completely works. From a story perspective, Renoir runs in a similar vein to Murdered: Soul Suspect with police officer, James Renoir, investigating his own murder. It’s an interesting hook with a lot of potential and one that hasn’t been completely done to death (pun intended). 

As you might expect, the story element of Renoir searching for his murderer is heavily emphasised so you’d be forgiven for thinking this would be a narrative heavy, adventure driven game. But instead Renoir plays out as a 2.5D platformer. It’s an odd pairing of genres, with the emphasis taken off the narrative and instead put on solving a bunch of increasingly complex platforming puzzles.

I love engaging my brain to solve noodle scratchers as much as the next bloke but, boy, did I encounter some frustration in Renoir. The premise behind the puzzles is that Renoir has the ability to control other phantoms around him, and use them to solve environmental puzzles (such as avoiding sources of light and directing phantoms to operate platforms). In doing this, Renoir recollects his last living memories to search for clues that lead back to his murderer.

The difficult of these puzzles ratchets up quickly and, unfortunately, I found myself turning to video guides quicker than I had hoped. Instead of being engaged by a potentially captivating murder mystery, I was instead trawling through Youtube looking for help. Perhaps this says more about my (lack of?) puzzle solving abilities, but I was disappointed that the emphasis shifted from the story to solving environmental puzzles. It didn’t help that the controls were not always the most responsive, when many of the puzzles required a fine degree of precision.

Nonetheless, let me say this though – the game looks visually stunning. I have a warm and fuzzy soft spot for noir-inspired games, and Renoir fits the part beautifully. Gorgeous black and white scenes are occasionally punctuated with a dash of bright colour, like something ripped straight out of a Hollywood noir movie or graphic novel. In fact, Renoir gives off a Sin City vibe. Or if you’ve played Blues and Bullets or The Detail, then you know what sort of game you’re in for. Renoir captures that moody, jazz-esuqe atmosphere particularly well and is an absolute pleasure just to sit and drink in scene after scene.

For more information, you may wish to read our review of Blues and Bullets: Episode One and The Detail (Episode One and Episode Two).

Renoir will not be a game for everyone. Underneath some frustrating mechanics lies a game with a fascinating story and some genuinely challenging (yet rewarding) puzzles. Unfortunately, the the complexity of the puzzles and mechanics may be enough to turn some people away, especially those who would prefer to focus on the narrative. And that's a shame too, because the gripping story should be the selling point of this game rather than a bunch of difficult environmental puzzles.

Writer:
Stephen Mitchell

17 October, 2016

Shadow Warrior 2 Review – A Fistful of Wang

With swords, demons, explosions and some really bad jokes, this latest stab at recreating a fast-paced 90's shooter makes all the right moves.

If you're looking for a brilliant, mildly offensive time-waster, this is probably it. It's not long after your first fire up Shadow Warrior 2 that you're up to your eyeballs in demon guts, explosive crabs and wang jokes. And it just gets better from there.

27 September, 2016

Burly Men at Sea Review – A five-star adventure

A charming and relaxing folktale adventure that empowers the player through a wonderful sense of discovery.

The opening scene of Burly Men at Sea is brilliant, setting the tone of the entire game. As the title screen popped up, I waited rather impatiently for the game to start. After around half-a-minute, I began to think that the game had frozen. A rather inauspicious start, I mused to myself. Frustrated, I swiped at the iPad screen. Surprisingly, the screen reacted to my touch, revealing something hidden on the right. Holding my finger down, the screen began to expand until the path forward was revealed. And so, my seafaring adventure had begun...

03 September, 2016

Overcooked Review – "One of the best modern couch co-op games this decade"

Overcooked is a classic co-op multiplayer game for a new generation of players.

Lately I’ve been feeling like there is a hole in my usual circulation of games. I feel like we’ve been missing a suite of great multiplayer party games that were so huge in the 2000s. Games like Pokémon Stadium, WarioWare and Mario Party. Thankfully Overcooked fills that whole perfectly.

Overcooked is the only game that has ever had me frantically cooking fish and chips on three moving trucks, driving down an icy road. And the first game to ever show me how to make soup on a pirate ship on the high seas. It is also the first game to ever force me into an argument over whether it's harder to make burgers or pizza.

Oh, and it has a dedicated "swear" button. Still not convinced?

29 August, 2016

Nightmares from the Deep 2: The Siren's Call Review

Artifex Mundi's brilliant hidden object puzzle game has made the leap from mobiles to the Xbox One.

Developer Artifex Mundi is the master of polish. We’ve seen this level of professionalism in its earlier titles Abyss: The Wraiths of Eden and even the original Nightmares of the Deep: The Cursed Heart. Both are just about as close as it gets to hidden object puzzle perfection, a testament to the dedication that Aritfex Mundi employs in each of its endeavours.

The Siren’s Call is no different. It’s atmospheric and tense with enough minigames to spread your brain paper-thin. And when you throw a captivating story with beautifully realised characters on top, you can just about see your own reflection in its lustre – it’s that good.

20 August, 2016

Legend of The Skyfish Review for Apple TV - Anyone for Sushi?

Is Legends of the Skyfish by Mgaia Studios the killer Apple TV app we were hoping for?

The fishermen of the aptly named Fishermen's Town became greedy, attracting the ire of the Skyfish, risen from the deep to take its vengeance. After a beautifully rendered storybook sequence sets the scene, you're on your way to save your fellow townsfolk from obliteration.

Cue 45 levels of door-switching, spike-avoidance, sword-swinging and grapple-hooking.

But is this latest offering from prolific mobile publisher Crescent Moon Games and developer Mgaia Studios worth your time?

Well...

19 August, 2016

Ninja Pizza Girl Review

Indie developer Disparity Games delivers something hot and tasty to gamers on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Mac and PC

Ninja Pizza Girl is a neat title. It’s eye-catching, humorous and oh so very indie. But Disparity Games’ second release isn’t really about any of the things in its title. Its protagonist is a ninja pizza girl, but the game stands out more for its take on life as a teenager than it does for Shuriken or extra cheese.

In a future where blokes on scooters can no longer cut it, Gemma is a ninja pizza girl doing deliveries for her family’s pizza shop. Players guide her through a slightly sci-fi city, running, jumping and cartwheeling over ledges with one goal: deliver the pizza, and deliver it hot.

The levels aren’t brutally hard. Missing a jump just means taking a different route, and there’s no such thing as a health bar. It’s an accessible and friendly game, with an upbeat, thumping soundtrack punctuated by comic book cutscenes that are full of real character.

More experienced players need not fear, however. Whilst the multi-storied levels make it impossible to die, they also allow some routes to be better than others, and a carefully timed button push is needed to land smoothly, flip over obstacles, wall-jump and slide as required – it’s reminicent of the Mirror’s Edge mobile game. And despite the welcoming set up, getting an A-graded time still requires plenty of skill and practice.

But on to those teenage tribulations. Disparity Games is a Queensland outfit consisting of ex-AAA developers Nicole and Jason Stark, with added input and influence from their four children (daughter Raven is behind the game’s comic-book style illustrations). It’s that family origin that gives Ninja Pizza Girl its soul.

It was a simple question from Jason Stark to his daughters that changed the course of the entire game. Their response to “what scares you the most?” transformed Gemma’s enemies from the usual robots or monsters into a very real villain – other teenagers. They taunt and tease Gemma, pushing her to the ground and draining all the colour from her world.

That little tweak from physical to mental damage doesn’t change the gameplay – you can run and jump around without a second thought – but what’s left of my teenage self certainly took note. That is how it was. Sometimes it felt like other people had beaten you with nothing but a few nasty words and an unkind glance. Sometimes it sucked. Sometimes all the colour disappeared.

Luckily Ninja Pizza Girl is also about overcoming all that junk. About having fun; about being there for your friends and family. And about doing that crappy job really well. Gemma is an unusually normal gaming protagonist – not royalty, not the chosen one or a superhero, but just a teenager doing her thing.

As a result the game feels very genuine, and it’s pretty funny to boot. For those who find that little something within themselves that resonates with Gemma (and the Stark girls, by extension), Ninja Pizza Girl offers an experience that isn’t often seen in video games, much to our industry’s disservice.

The game is out now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and Mac. Read a full interview with the developer in Episode 8 of Grab It.


Writer:
Claire Phillips

19 February, 2016

Blackwell 5: Epiphany Review – Dearly Departed

The final entry in the Blackwell series saves the best for last, packing an emotional punch for long time fans.

This review is of the iOS version - which released on February 18, 2016 - but the game is also out on PC.

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. And so it must be with a fitting and touching conclusion to the Blackwell series. Over the course of five games, we've followed Rosa and Joey (quite literally) to hell and back. So to have their story finally wrapped up left me feeling conflicted in the best way possible.

11 January, 2016

Helldivers Review - Highway to Multiplayer Hell

Helldivers by Arrowhead Game Studios was first released to PlayStation 3/4 and Vita in early 2015, but it has just exploded onto Steam and we look into why it's a must own for action fans.

Helldivers knows exactly what it is and exactly what it wants to be. It is an over the top, chaotic slugfest with aliens, robots and a tonne of explosives. The inspiration is clearly Starships Troopers. If you’ve never seen it, it is a classic sci-fi action flick about big guns and bigger bugs, I highly recommend it. Helldivers thrives on the same retro-futurist 80's vibe, with a tongue in cheek recruitment video that sets the stage.

In the distant future, the human race has spread out across the stars. From our new home of Super Earth, the Helldivers strike out against the alien races that threaten our livelihood and spread democracy across the cosmos.

In this case, democracy is code for bullets.

03 December, 2015

Assault Android Cactus Review – Intense Four-Player Bullet Hell

Best experienced with friends, Witch Beam's Assault Android Cactus may be one of the most intense, satisfying and genuinely fun games of 2015.

Assault Android Cactus from Australian developer Witch Beam is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable games I’ve played in recent times. This year's game catalogue has been quite an interesting one for me, with a few really big ups, but also some notable downs. So I’m very thankful to have been able to play a game like Assault Android Cactus, which left me feeling incredibly cheerful after every play session.

A throwback to classic arcade games, Assault Android Cactus is a lovingly crafted twin-stick shooter about mowing down hordes of robotic enemies with an arsenal of weapons so over-the-top it would make Rambo blush. After picking up a distress call from a space freighter, Cactus (the assault android) and co are sent to investigate. Upon arriving, they are lovingly greeted by a crazy AI who looses its robotic minions upon the not-so-helpless crew. Cue lots and lots of shooting. Lots!

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