Game Review: 6 Souls

There’s something about a pixel-art game that really draws me in. It’s most probably a tinge of nostalgia for ‘the good old days’ that appeals to me. When 6 Souls, from developer BUG-Studio and publisher Ratalaika Games, came up for review, I watched about thirty seconds of the trailer and knew this was a game I wanted to get my hands on.

“Uncover the Clifford family disappearance!

Embark on an exciting journey to find the abandoned Clifford Castle and uncover its secrets!

Our heroes, adventure enthusiasts Jack and his faithful dog companion Butch, go on an exciting quest to find an abandoned castle where the entire Clifford family vanished years ago. The whole castle is surrounded by mystery, from its dark dungeons to its highest towers.

While discovering new rooms, our heroes will learn fascinating details about the Clifford family, meet the castle’s peculiar residents and uncover its secrets.”

6 Souls is an all action-platformer that sees you playing as Jack and his dog Butch. Exploring a strange and mysterious castle (in search of treasure) that has more than a few secrets. Taking place over eighty levels in eight unique locations, with each locale ending in a classic boss fight. I’m not going to get into the story here as there are some really interesting things that could be spoiled, but I will just say that the plot has more than a few twists and turns that certainly make it worth paying attention to.

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Playing through 6 Souls really did take me back to that mid to late-eighties era of console gaming. It looks and feels like a Master System/NES title but with a few modern tweaks and ideas. There is a bit of a Metroidvania angle to the game too, as you’ll unlock new skills that will allow you to access previously inaccessible areas. Plus, there are a few puzzles thrown into the mix which are hardly taxing, basic pushing blocks kind of thing. Also, some sections will have you switching from playing as Jack and controlling Butch the dog to get into hard to reach places.

The two characters are diametrically opposed in how they play. Jack is the all-action, jumping and attacking type character. The one who smacks enemies in the face with his sword (and later a bow and arrow). Whereas Butch is more stealthy, he sneaks past enemies and uses his doggy speed to reach places that Jack can not. This dual character play certainly adds a layer to the game and helps to keep things fresh by mixing up the gameplay.

Then there are the skills that you learn. Like an air dash that allows you to jump higher/longe or gaining a bow, which you can use to shoot arrows into the walls and make platforms. The skills are awarded to you every time you beat an end of level boss. As previously mentioned, the skills will grant you access to previously inaccessible areas. You can go back and replay through any of the previously completed levels to explore any areas you may have missed, if you so wish.

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I did find a few niggles as I played through. The controls are simple and yet just a little bit annoying. I think the best way to describe this is with the wall climbing. Yes you can wall climb but you have to hold down a button to do so whereas, I feel that should’ve been automatic when you jump at a wall. It just feels like unnecessary busy work and when the action heats up, it proves to bit a bit on the fiddly side. The fiddly controls only become more apparent when you unlock new skills too, as the button mapping begins to make less and less sense. Button mapping that can’t be changed either.

I did mention how the game takes place over eighty levels and in eight locations, which sounds like a lot… but it really isn’t. See, most levels are bite-size and can be finished in seconds, seriously. And an entire location can be gotten through in just a few minutes or so. According to the times on my game, the most I’ve spent on any one location was a little over thirty-seven minutes and the shortest was just over four minutes. So while the eighty levels and eight locations sounds like a lot of game, realistically you can see the end credits in about three to four hours or so, depending on how sharp your platforming skills are.

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The short game length doesn’t help the fact that 6 Souls can be a bit easy. I mean, I wouldn’t call, it an ‘easy game’ per se, it’s more a fact that it seems more difficult because is easy to die, if that makes sense. Outside of the numerous deaths, the challenge here is relatively mid to slightly tricky. If you are a fairly competent platform player, you’ll find little here to test your skills and probably make your way through the game without breaking a sweat. Even the boss fights are a breeze and more often than not, just require you to bash the attack button once they have finished their attack. In fact, thinking back, only one boss had me having to try more than twice.

If 6 Souls was really trying to capture that old school platforming feel, it really falls short when it comes to the difficulty. Now, there are two difficulty settings but the harder setting is locked until you finish it on easy. For me, this is a huge negative as I’m the kind of person who wants to play a game on hard from the off. Even more so, the basic enemies in the game that you will come across, you don’t even need to fight them for the most part. You can just jump over pretty much every single enemy in the game and keep going. I only really tackled enemies if they were in the way of a particularly tricky jump. There’s no point in taking out the enemies either, you don’t gain experience points to build your skills, you don’t get coins to spend in shops on better equipment, etc. There is zero rewards or reason to risk your life, so just jump over them.

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Your biggest enemy in the game won’t be spiders, slimes, bats or even any of the bosses. Where you will meet your death in the game will be the spikes. Oh yeah, this is one of those types of platformers. The many spikey deaths kind of put me in mind of titles like Super Meat Boy, perhaps a shade less difficult, if I’m being honest. You do have a three-hit health bar and that really only comes into play when facing enemies or bosses, cos when it comes to the spikes, it is one hit deaths. Pretty much every jump you’ll face in the game will involve spikes. Spike pits, spiked walls, spikey ceilings, etc. The spikes are everywhere and you’ll need to use pixel perfect and split-second skills to make your way through the levels in the game.

This is where the shortness of the levels actually works out well, as death will just send you back to the start of the level you are on, so you don’t really lose much in the way of progress. There is a binocular mode too, this allows you to scout out the level and see what troubles are up ahead. Quite honestly, as there is no time limit, as long as you do take your time, you can make steady progress. Just going back to those fiddly controls, as most of the platforming in 6 Souls does require some tight jumping, wall climbing and (multiple) air dashing, this is where the true pain of the game lies. You’ll often be having to press so many buttons just to make one jump that you’ll feel like you are trying to input a fatality move from Mortal Kombat over playing a platforming game.

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If this review is coming across a bit negative, don’t get me wrong. I actually really enjoyed my time with 6 Souls. I just feel that it could’ve been so much better with a few tweaks. I’d have loved to have seen some kind of experience/levelling system, a reason for taking on enemies instead of just jumping over them. What is here is good, it’s just rather frustrating at times and the controls really could’ve done with a bit of refinement. This brings me to the game’s price, it is only £8 and to be honest, that’s a price which won’t make you bankrupt anytime soon.

The platforming action is good (save a few niggles with the controls), the exploring of the castle was fun and the story was, in all honesty, pretty damn great. The puzzle-solving is basic but it works. 6 Souls is far from being a bad game, but it does fall short of being a really good one. While it did take me back to the ‘good old days’ of gaming, that Master System/NES age of platformers, 6 Souls really could’ve done with a bit more depth and difficulty. I may go back and play through on the harder difficulty setting sometime in the future, just so I can say that I did it really and because I feel the game needs a harder playthrough too.

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6 Souls is well worth a play. It may be short-ish, it may lack any real difficulty in terms of emeries and boss fights and it may be a bit on the shallow side. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself. The pixel-art aesthetic is wonderful and it has some great throwbacks to classic platforming (like the little teetering animation when you stand too close to a platform edge). I loved how the story evolved from a simple man and his dog looking for treasure one, into the (avoiding spoilers) crazy and brilliant story it did become. The cutscenes that unfold the story are sublime. 6 Souls is basic, it is simple but it is also pretty damn addictive, charming and fun to play too. If you do enjoy slightly frustrating, insta-death platformers like Super Meat Boy, then you might just think that £8 is a very decent price point for this.

Game Review: Epic Chef

I like cooking, I like funny things, I like video games. From developer Infinigon Games and publisher Team 17 comes Epic Chef, a story-driven adventure/life-sim game that combines a lot of what I like… but does it make for a good game?

“Epic Chef is a story-driven adventure game flavoured with life-sim farming, and crafting elements, blended together into one delicious dish via an interactive cooking experience – all served with a side of humour and elaborate cast of characters inspired by classics such as Mister Ajikko, or the writing of Sir Terry Pratchett. Grab your spatula and start on your journey to become… Epic Chef!”

Playing as Zest, you find yourself (literally) thrown onto the island of Ambrosia. Having recently come into possession of the deeds to a house and some land… which is said to be haunted. With the help of a guide-golem, you begin to plant seeds and grow some basic crops. Use those crops to grow and produce ingredients that you then use to make food. Build your home and land, grow more impressive crops, get better ingredients and make better food, open a restaurant. Become an Epic Chef. That is the basics of the game but there is a bit more going on here.

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Epic Chef takes place on the aforementioned island of Ambrosia, which at first, is pretty small as most of the areas are locked away. As you progress, more and more of the island opens up. Ambrosia is full of NPCs that can and will offer you odd jobs to do that run alongside the main story. While cooking is a big part of the game, there’s much more to do. You can build new equipment for your home as an example. There’s a lot of exploration around the island and a lot of NPCs to meet and more.

Still, the cooking here is one of the biggest gameplay mechanics and it’s rather involved too. The basics are that you throw three ingredients into a pan and cook. Flip the pan to prevent the food from burning and give it a stir to release the flavour and pick up bonus points. The more points your food gets, the better it is… obviously. Still, there is more. Each ingredient has its own properties and flavour synergies. So mixing the right ingredients together soon becomes something you really need to learn. Make the best quality food, take part in cook-offs, upgrade your house and farm and be the best chef on Ambrosia.

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While there is a lot to see and do around the island of Ambrosia, you do spend most of your time at home and tending to your farm. Planting seeds, growing crops, picking the fruit and veg, etc. This all does become a bit of a chore and really slows the pace of the game down. Still, Epic Chef isn’t a game that you blister through anyway. It’s a gentle jog in the park, not a sprint. There are a lot of various gameplay mechanics here and they are all pretty deep really.

The humour here is brilliant. Lines of dialogue and conversations really had me laughing a lot. When you meet the resident carpenter, you can’t help but find him hilarious for so many reasons, the main one being that he is, in fact, Jesus. Ambrosia is teeming with life and there is always something to do, someone to talk to, something to make you laugh. A funny and very interesting discussion on what makes a southern gate a southern gate (is it because it’s the most southern gate or because it faces south? If it is because it faces south, does it not also face north? So couldn’t a southern gate also be a northern gate?) really had me questioning my own sanity, in a good way. There really is a lot of fun to be had with Epic Chef but there are issues…

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One thing that got on my nerves is that your character ‘runs’ but he is very slow at it. Perhaps that should read that there is a run animation, yet the character still moves slowly regardless. There is a long path you have to walk to and from your house to the heart of Ambrosia, and you’ll be walking this long path a hell of a lot too. This simple journey just takes too damn long and feels very unnecessary. If only you could actually run and didn’t have a run animation that really is just walking speed. There is no in-game map and finding your way around can be confusing, especially early on in the game. Pretty much all of the secondary tasks handed out by NPCs fall into the old fetch quest category. There really isn’t much variety in terms of side quests. The tutorials in the game are really very light and hardly explain a lot of the more complex elements of the game.

Overall, Epic Chef is a fun little life-sim. It is certainly funny and the game had a lot of personality. The cooking mechanics are far deeper than they first seem. Building and upgrading your house and equipment is familiar, if you have ever played one of these types of games before. Epic Chef is a very easy game to get into but also one that really needs your full attention to get the most out of it. Priced at around £20, this is a mild recommendation from me.

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I did enjoy the game but elements of it felt a bit too ‘clunky’. NPCs are used for nothing much more than fetch quest givers. The long journey from your home to the main town is just simply annoying because you can’t actually run. Okay, you do get access to a mountable creature to help you get around, but it’s not really that much faster. Epic Chef really ‘borrows’ from other similar games and doesn’t do much new with the ideas either. There’s also no dedicated save feature. The game only saves when you go to bed and you can only do that after 10pm. So effectively, you have to play through an entire in-game day if you want to save your game… which can be really annoying. But, if you do like a life-sim, you may just enjoy Epic Chef.

(Guest) Double Game Review: Cotton 100% and Panorama Cotton

I have roped my shoot ’em up expert, Dave Corn, to delve back into the world of Cotton once more. Following on from his review of Cotton Reboot from a few weeks back, Dave now has gone and done played both Cotton 100% and Panorama Cotton from ININ Games and is ready to tell you just how good or bad they are.

In 2021 we’ve now seen the release of five Cotton games, this review is looking at two of these titles, both originally released in 1994. Coming up the first is Cotton 100%.

Cotton 100% is the 2nd game in the Cotton franchise. Originally released in back in 94 for the Super Famicom (SNES) in Japan. It sticks to the cute ’em up formula of the previous game, a side-scrolling shooter where you play as the young witch, Cotton. Tagging along for the adventure, you also have your fairy friend Silk. Together, they battle baddies and bosses (two per level) in promise of sweets as rewards. The cutesy cutscenes however are all In Japanese with Japanese subtitles and no option to change them either, which seems a bit of a bizarre choice for this Western release. As I’ll get into a bit later, this just seems lazy and quickly thrown out as a release.

Still, the gameplay is fun, the levels and bosses increase in difficulty with each stage. It’s not the most taxing shoot ’em up by any means but it’ll still keep you hooked. With nice 16-bit, bright and colourful levels and graphics. That however at a £12.99 price point, it honestly doesn’t feel like value There’s very little added or improved here and it’s starting to feel like someone is milking the Cotton fan-base as far as they can. Again save states and rewind gameplay options are available, as well cheat downloads. But this isn’t a pretty package, which leads me onto the next game.

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Unlike the other Cotton games, also released in 1994 for Arcade and the Sega Megadrive (Genesis) is Panorama Cotton. Taking the side-scrolling shooter and turning it into a 3rd person-3D rail shooter, a response (possibly clone) to Sega’s Space Harrier and Afterburner games.

This re-release has barely been touched. There’s no option to change screen size, so you have to play the game in the original, small screen box. As the screen size can’t be changed, this makes the handheld Switch version barely playable. Once again it feels lazy, not touched up before release and the frame problems that cursed these style games early in their day are still here, complete and irritatingly in your face, as the game just slowly chugs along.

This isn’t a good port at all. The enemies don’t appear in the distance and move towards you, they just appear with little to no warning. Panorama Cotton is less about shooting and more about quick reactions forcing you to dodge suddenly appearing objects. The ‘rewind gameplay’ option added to these releases is the only way you’ll get through this for a while at least. Out of all these five Cotton game re-releases, this is the worst.

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After a brief hint of warm nostalgia for the 16-bit graphics and gameplay, you’ll more than likely be turning this off after five minutes or so and just wanting to play Outrun or Afterburner instead. This, as a stand-alone purchase (£12.99), should be avoided.

So I have reviewed four of these recent Cotton games as they have been re-released. I can’t comment on Cotton Rock ‘n’ Roll, the fifth release. Still, I imagine that if these had been put out in one full collection, then fans would have been very happy with it. However, this feels like a money grab and it isn’t a justified price point individually.

Until they release a decent complete collection, I suggest that you stay clear of the little witch cotton and fairy Silk for now. I think that the people lapping these up now will be the ones shortchanged later.

Game Review: Formula Retro Racing

I’ve been on a bit of an arcade racer kick recently, I do have a soft spot for a good arcade racer. As much as I do enjoy a simulation, there’s just something about a good arcade racer that revs my engine. From developer and publisher Repixel8 (as far as I can tell, this is a one-man micro studio too) comes Formula Retro Racing, a title that looks and sounds like it just fell out of 1992.

From that trailer, you are most probably getting some big Sega Virtua Racing vibes, I know I did. It was that trailer that made me put a review request in, to be honest. Formula Retro Racing isn’t exactly a new game, it was released in May of 2020. And yet, it only came to my attention last week. I’ve looked at a few reviews from its original release and all of them called out several issues with the game. However, it has had a few updates since its release, so let’s see how it fares now.

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Graphically, and as you can tell from the trailer and screenshots, this is low detail, low polygon and very nineties. It’s an art style that I really like… for a game that is a homage to nineties racers that is. What you have with Formula Retro Racing is simplicity. Just like being in the arcade, this is pick a car, pick a track and away you go… only you don’t have to keep popping coins in to play. The races are simple, checkpoint things that arcade racers back then were. You have so much time to finish the race, pass checkpoints for extra time. This is as basic a racer as you can get with fast-paced, frantic action.

What you get here is a handful of different modes. Of course, there is your standard arcade racing and if you have ever played any nineties arcade racer back in the day, then you know exactly what you are getting. Arcade mode does exactly what it says on the tin. Then there is elimination mode and here, you start at the back of the grid and have to make your way to the front. Each successive lap of the race and the AI cars get faster. You get eliminated if you drop below 10th place.

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You also get a Grand Prix mode and here, you race on any of the unlocked tracks for points and select the number of laps too. Whoever has the most points at the end of the Grand Prix wins. There’s a multiplayer option with this mode, including a four-player split-screen. Finally, there is a free practice mode, where it is just you on the track, no AI opponents, no clock. A good way to get used to the car handling and circuits.

That’s it for the game modes, as for the tracks? Well, there are eight in total. You have to score a set amount of points in previous races to unlock the next one and you’ll get points by finishing in better positions in the races. With races not lasting longer than a few laps, you can unlock every track relatively quickly. A couple of hours or so of playing and you’ll have all eight tracks to play on. Plus there are three difficulty levels for each of the races to test your skills. The tracks vary from basic ovals to circuits with a bit more of a challenge to them, one being a pretty accurate recreation of the famed Monaco circuit. There is a car selection too. But this really is nothing more than a colour choice, of which there are plenty, but it is just one car with a different colour scheme.

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There’s also a damage meter that fills with each bump and scrape you endure. When it gets full, the meter begins to flash, which means one more hit and you go boom. Your car will fall apart in a shower of chunky polygons. A few seconds later and you’ll respawn and are thrown back into the race though. Formula Retro Racing does have an issue where you can’t drive faster than the AI opponents. You can only really catch them on the corners, as in straight-line speed, they always go faster than you, especially further up the grid. This is particularly problematic on the oval races as they have really long straights and very few corners. Though I do have to point out that there is a slipstreaming system. So if you can get close enough to the back of an opponent, you’ll get a nice speed boot… IF you can get close enough.

The AI here also has that kamikaze programming where they will purposely drive into you. I don’t mind being blocked when trying to pass, that’s fine. But when you are wheel to wheel racing or even ahead of another car and the AI just drives into the side of you, slowing you down but the not AI, that’s just bollocks. There are even times when the AI will drive into you and your car bounces off into a barrier while they don’t move an inch. Still, this kind of ruthless AI was in arcade racers of the day too, these games were designed to eat your coins after all. So as annoying as the AI is, it is also pretty damn accurate.

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So now, is this worth the coin it costs? Look, Formula Retro Racing is basic, a point I really do need to make clear. There’s no real depth of gameplay and no variety of cars. This is a very simple, arcade racer as they were back then. In terms of value for money, if this was a £15 title, I’d be telling you to stay well clear… but it’s not £15. Formula Retro Racing is being sold for (as of writing) £5 on PC and Xbox and that is cheap. I poured a lot more than £5 into Virtua Racing in the arcades. So while Formula Retro Racing is basic, it’s also incredibly cheap and if you do enjoy arcade racers, then you’ll more than get your money’s worth here. Plus, from reading earlier reviews when this was first released in 2020, it was originally being sold for £10 and had fewer features. So really, this is a pretty damn good bargain. Half the price it was and with several updates and improvements. 

Still, I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more variety, especially with the cars. Having a choice of car that makes no difference to anything other than the colour seems rather pointless to me. I’d rather have three or four cars that had different stats over the twenty different colour schemes of the same car you do get. Different cars with different stats would’ve made some of the races far more interesting too and added a little bit of strategy.

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But yeah, Formula Retro Racing is great for a quick blast of racing action. This is not a game you’re going to pour hours upon hours of long gaming sessions into. But it is a game that you load up now and again to have a quick race or two on and for only £5, I say give it a go.

Game Review: Hermitage: Strange Case Files

I do enjoy a good adventure game, I do enjoy a mystery, I also enjoy games that do things a bit ‘differently’. From developer Arrowiz and publisher Giiku Games comes Hermitage: Strange Case Files, a paranormal horror adventure game that takes place in a bookstore.

“WELCOME TO HERMITAGE!
But beware: Ye who enters here might start questioning reality as they know it…

Investigate mysterious cases by taking on the role of a less than motivated bookshop owner, a former anthropology professor who for unknown reasons has never been seen outside of his bookstore.

With the help of a hacker genius on the run, a self-proclaimed detective and a short-tempered legal consultant, you must get to the bottom of a row of horrific incidents, bearing in mind the supernatural horrors that lurk within the pages of Hermitage’s Lovecraftian book collection.”

So the plot of Hermitage: Strange Case Files sees you playing as an unnamed manager of the bookstore, Hermitage. A schoolgirl enters the store looking for a very unusual and rare book about supernatural visions and the game’s plot really kicks off from there. But what is the game’s plot? I honestly have no idea. I don’t like to beat around the bush or waste time, so here it goes. Hermitage: Strange Case Files is a complete mess. For an adventure game like this, you need the writing to be tight and concise, this game fails at everything it sets out to do.

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Unbelievably bad translations, I understand that this was a Chinese game that has been (very badly) translated and localised. Honestly, I’ve not seen such terrible translations since I first saw “All your base are belong to us!”. The game is stupidly long and drawn out too. I’ll be honest with you, I never saw the end, I gave up through sheer boredom and just good old plain annoyance. I think the first chapter alone took me around 12 hours to get through. I have no idea how many chapters there are, nor do I care as I’m not wasting any more of my time with this to find out.  Those 12 hours are not because the chapter is long per se, it’s more a case of everything is just slowly drawn out with textbox, after textbox, after textbox. Yeah I know this is an adventure game and reading is a major aspect of them but Hermitage: Strange Case Files is like reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace… backwards and in Latin.

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The game just trundles along at a terribly slow pace. And no, it’s not because this is an adventure game that you need to go slow. I have played a great many similar games that are story-heavy and enjoyed them far better. Hermitage: Strange Case Files is just so unnecessarily drawn out to the point of causing you pain. The shop owner that you play as is devoid of any character or personality and whenever he meets someone new, he does this Sherlock Holmes type thing of over analysing everything they do what they wear, how they move, etc. The text boxes seemingly never end and the story (whatever it is) is ground to a halt as shop owner just continues on and on and on.

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The countless mistranslations and just awkward sounding wording makes playing the game next to impossible as clues often don’t make sense. Maybe this worked far better in its original Chinese language? But here, it is bloody awful. Questions and answers rarely match or make any sense and the hints you are given are more likely going to have you getting things wrong more often than right. You don’t need to use logic here, just trial and error.

The only good thing to say about this game is that is it a bit of a looker. The wonderful art style really pops and its presentation feels very graphic novel-like. Other than that though, I have nothing. So onto the price, this is going for around a £16-£17 price point and do I think it is worth it? Nope. If you want a similar game but a far, far better one, grab a copy of The Innsmouth Case instead, it’s cheaper and much more fun to play too.