Mike Clark


April 8, 2011

Vertigo is a game where you attempt to race a “Xorb”, essentially a customizable marble, though a wide selection of tracks suspended high in the sky. Ideally, your goal is to go through all of the checkpoints and reach the end as fast as possible, with medals and point rewards for reaching this goal under certain times. There are infinite retries, four different gameplay modes between Arcade, Career, Time Trial and “Xorb Bowling”, limited multiplayer and so on. It sounds like a nice title at first. 

However, just because the tracks are high in the sky doesn’t mean this game is as heavenly as Icon Games has promoted it to be. More often than not the tracks you’re on have pencil-thin roads and railways for you to navigate. Sharp turns, sheer drops that do a disservice to the camera angles and few checkpoints create an environment where you’ll drive less like an F-Zero racer and more like a senior citizen: slowly and slamming the brakes every couple of seconds. At least, if you want to live that is. Otherwise you will end up dying repeatedly, having to sit through the literal five or so seconds it takes for your Xorb to tumble all the way down to the invisible “Out of Bounds” barrier at the bottom of each track; the same period of time that is added to your time as a penalty each time you die.

The Xorb by default handles decently enough, but the career mode adds in a tuning function to allow you to further enhance your Xorb’s statistics. While a nice touch in premise, the ease at which you can max out the Xorb’s stats makes going for the medals required to get the points used on stats superfluous. With the equivalent of one gold and two bronze medals I had the Xorb maxed out, and there’s 56 or so tracks to this game.

All in all, Vertigo is really only a game for two types of people: fans of marble games like Marble Blast Ultra and Switchball, and masochists who enjoy an unfair and harsh challenge. And while the portability of the PSP version can be better than the PC and Wii versions, the oddly-long loading times for a downloadable title may turn some people away.

Pros: Large amount of stages and game modes, many Xorb customization choices

Cons: Tedious and harsh gameplay, long load times, deaths take too long to sit through


At first glance, Post Apocalyptic Mayhem looks like one takes a racing game like Ridge Racer and fills it with a healthy dose of Twisted Metal. You know, brutal racing where you’ll spend as much time burning enemy rubber as you will your own. But before you even wade out of the shallow end, you’ll find yourself at the end of the pool wondering why you chose to swim in the first place. 

The basic premise behind PAM is to place as high as you can by accumulating points. Two things gain you points: destroying your five enemies and completing laps around the large tracks in the game. You destroy enemies by using your vehicle’s three unique power-ups that can be acquired by grabbing the matching barrel, much in the vein of any Mario Kart game.

That’s where the gameplay and depth flatlines. While large and detailed, PAM contains only three tracks. Three. A far cry from the “numerous compelling and completely unique” tracks the developers claim the game has. They do look nice and are filled with variety in design, but even that doesn’t redeem the fact that you have one less track than a single Mario Kart circuit. And the “unique and powerful” abilities each vehicle has? While different in visual style, many tend to emulate one another, and all follow a major pattern in terms of usefulness: the rear weapons are the ones you would want to spam, the others are more debatable in usefulness.

The biggest offense comes in the game’s “various intense race modes”. Either Arcade Mode, where you race one track, or Apocalyptic Challenge, racing all three tracks back-to-back, are all you get for single-player. Multiplayer expands this a bit with different race criteria to choose from: reach a kill quota, be the first to make a lap, or get as many kills as possible during a normal race. Shallow and simple, this is further confounding when you discover that the goal is not racing, but kill acquisition that determines whether you win. What separates this game from the many Twisted Metal games is that you’re forced into the facade of racing while still focusing on killing your opponents. Combat or not, no racing game should force the player to hover around their enemies for the sake of more points and a higher place.

The visuals of the game do look good, and the music is much what you’d expect from a game in this style: gritty and guitar-laden. It does handle well and carries with it potential. But where all the content in the game can be conquered in an hour, with multiplayer extending this lifespan by a few more potential hours, it begs the question: why bother?

From looking at the achievements, you can assume that more tracks and vehicles are on the way in DLC form. But where the racing portion of PAM seems tacked on to the vehicle combat, it remains flawed and shallow in a position where a Twisted Metal game and a racing game like Ridge Racer could both give what PAM attempts to give a lot better.

Pros: Looks and sounds good, carries a flawed but interesting premise

Cons: Shallow and short gameplay, lacks substantial content, racing seems superfluous


Atom Zombie Smasher

March 25, 2011

Do you like zombies? I like zombies. We seem to like zombies so much that they permeate a lot of modern gaming. Zombies are everywhere, from dedicated games devoted to shooting them to games where they’ve been added just for sake of having zombies. So many of these games play by the same chord, but not Atom Zombie Smasher. Blendo Games’ take on zombies creates a fresh experience of killing zombies while jumping to a different genre.

Which? Real-time strategy in procedurally-generated cities where you attempt to rescue as many civilians as you can in tandem with killing zombies using a selection of mercenary teams. That’s the core of the game. Each campaign is different from the last, as the territories are always different, mercenary acquisition is always random, and the rules in which you edit each campaign create a constantly-changing and immersive experience.

The definitive “win factor” of each campaign lies in reaching a set number of points on the “victory scale” before the Zed – the zombies – do. Points are gained for how many civilians you rescue or are killed, winning a territory with a higher infestation rate adds a multiplier to your rescue rate, and every territory either side owns will add points after each mission. The player only gets 15 per captured territory, the Zed will get 10 to 40 and they get territory a lot faster than you do.

You’re not without hope, though. In addition to the set of mercenaries given to you over time, there are also two extra offense options that periodically show up: the Elephantbird Cannon and Llama Bombs. The former allows you to go hog-wild and decimate a territory up close and personal, while the latter allow you to eradicate multiple infested territories with one click. 

Along your quest to beat the Zed with your unusual and effective weaponry are a narrative that seems nonsensical and random, and excellent surf guitar music. These make the game feel less like your typical gritty and dark zombie game and more a game that happens to use zombies well.

On top of all this charm, wacky appeal and deviance from an industry standard that culminates into an excellent title, there’s also official mod support and multiplayer with up to three players at one time. Atom Zombie Smasher is packed with replayability and a zesty feel that deviates from common zombie use and does so excellently.


Ys I & II Chronicles

March 10, 2011

Following Ys Seven and The Oath in Felghana, Ys I & II Chronicles is the third PSP Ys title to be released in the North American region since August. Much like The Oath, I & II Chronicles is a remake of the first two titles in the series. Playing as the series’ hero Adol Christin you set out to discover the Books of Ys, which in turn help unravel the mysteries behind the titular land. Unlike the other games of the series, I & II Chronicles actually takes place in and around the Land of Ys (pronounced as Geese minus the G) and is the starting point of Adol’s adventures.

Despite being a remake the games stay true to their roots, to somewhat of a detriment. The gameplay in the titles has remained very consistent between versions and this is no exemption. Most of the combat in the games is done using the “Bump System”, a heavy contrast to other top-down titles of the genre. Where those would advise against touching enemies, Ys I & II embraces this as the only way to damage enemies in Ys I and one of the only ways for Ys II is to run into enemies. Quite literally, bump into them. There’s a strategy to this as running into them head-on will damage Adol so attacking from sides or behind is the way to go. Ys II introduces offensive magic for long-range fighting to supplement Adol’s bumping attacks. This part of the game translates well as the combat is fast-paced and intense. 

What doesn’t translate as well is the rest of the gameplay. Like RPGs of old, the games are vague on what your next goal is. Subtle hints are given here and there but for the bulk of the games you’re left backtracking around constantly to get new items, activate plot progression points and just try to get ahead in the game. In fact, XSEED even bundled a walkthrough for Ys I into the instruction manual because of how vague and confusing Ys I is!

The pacing also feels odd in contrast to earlier versions. In the TurboDuo port on the Wii’s Virtual Console, there was a constant flow to gaining levels. But here in this version my level was maxed before I reached the halfway point in the first game.

While the gameplay might not be received as well by newcomers of the series compared to long-time fans, the rest of the game’s assets shine and are appealing to all. When starting a new file on either Ys I or II, you’re given the option to choose from two sets of portraits and cutscenes: PSP release or the 2001 PC release. At any time during the game the player can switch between the PSP’s soundtrack, the PC version or even the PC-88 original. 

With an incredible trio of soundtracks supplementing gorgeous and sharp visuals, Ys I & II Chronicles stands out as a title that looks and sounds great but might take some getting used to when playing it.



March 8, 2011

A puzzle platformer where you use a handful of characters with unique skills together to pass traps and obstacles while collecting items as you attempt to get to the end of stages. No, I’m not talking about The Lost Vikings. I’m talking about CreaVures, the latest release from Muse Games.

The plot of the game is relatively simple: the forest the CreaVures live in is dying and they must band together to gather the fading light and restore the forest. You start with the cat-like creavure Bitey and as you progress through the 15 stages and 2 boss battles you acquire the remaining four creavures to use: Pokey the porcupine, Zappy the lizard, Rolly the armadillo and Glidey the fruit bat.

Each character brings something different to the table. Bitey can latch onto hanging fruit and have his tail used as a vine by other characters. Pokey can fire his quills in different directions and create quill ladders on walls. Rolly is pretty obvious: she rolls and can smash through stone. And Glidey is also obvious as he can glide, but with a twist: he can also pick up other characters and carry them as he glides. Each character is used interchangably and at certain times to progress, giving this platformer a large measure of variety.

The actual gameplay is pretty easy to pick up and it handles well. There were a few times where the game would glitch or bug out on me, forcing me to restart from the most recent checkpoint I had been to though. Playing with both keyboard and controller felt natural and good, and the only problem I had with the latter was double-tapping to turn on the vines didn’t seem to work. Beyond that, the game controlled well and gameplay was fluid.

There are three different difficulties to play on in CreaVures, and each stage of each difficulty has a number of “Essences” and “Motes” – the game’s collectables – to acquire. On top of that, once you beat CreaVures you can use all five characters from the beginning of the game, giving the game a wide berth of replayability. 

The most striking thing about the game is the visual and audio style. With the light fading from the forest, everything within it glows in a rainbow of neon colors. With this gorgeous spread of an appealing visual pallet is ambient and mellow music that only adds to the aesthetic vibe of being within a forest. This changes up when you fight the two giant bosses to that of a more tense variety, but overall works great to supplement what the player sees.

All in all, CreaVures is a great indie puzzle platformer. Even with the variety and replayability packed within, the repetition might turn some people off but the game is a solid title with solid gameplay and a great audio-visual style.

Pros: Visually beautiful, controls well, great variety in gameplay

Cons: Buggy in a few places, replaying the game doesn’t change the experience much