Game Review: Beat Stickman: Beyond

The one thing I adore about the indie gaming scene. Well, there are many things I adore about it. But one of the things I adore is that a completely unknown game can just appear and make me say ‘I really want to play that’.  No hype, no expectations, just a title that looks interesting and playable. From developer and publisher, Mini Fun Games,  comes Beat Stickman: Beyond, but is it one of those games?

“Join a fictional network that expands across the multiverse, where your main goal is to beat as many instances of the Stickman as you can.”

Beat Stickman: Beyond is all about you beating up a stickman, that’s it. But before you can even do that, the game forces you to take part in a faux installation thing that plays like one of those idle tappy games you find on mobile phones. Fuck me this was utterly redundant and just plain annoying. Keep tapping the X button hundreds of times. Use the D-pad to upgrade your tap, etc. Tap the X button hundreds of more times. Use the D-pad to upgrade. Tap the X button, upgrade, X button, upgrade…

A complete waste of time that took way, way too long and just instantly put me in a bad mood before the game even started. I have no idea what the point was, except to waste my time, really piss me off and just have me tap the X button hundreds and hundreds of times for no reason.

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The game then takes you through a tutorial that covers the basic controls. Move a cursor around the screen with the left stick and shoot with the X button… that is most probably knackered now after the bullshit faux install crap. The game auto-aims at your target, so all you have to do is keep pressing X. You don’t even have to move around the screen as there are no obstacles or dangers to avoid. You can stay put and just press X. Just like the faux install bit, the tutorial goes on for way, way too long in order to teach you to press X a lot… oh, and upgrade your weapons. That’s the entire game, you press X several thousand times and very, very slowly upgrade weapons and unlock cosmetic stuff. Rinse and repeat.

You don’t need any kind of skills, reflexes, no gaming knowledge or experience… you just press X. I love the indie gaming scene and think people should support indie devs more. But this is not a game that should be supported, I’m not even sure that it is a game. You just press X. I had to stop ‘playing’ this after 4 hours as I was genuinely concerned that it was going to break the X button on my Xbox controller. I’m not joking either. I thought I’d look up how long an Xbox Series X controller lasts, apparently about 10 years or 3 million button presses. I think I reduced the life of my pad by about 4 years ‘playing’ this game then.

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You know those idle/grinding games you can get on mobile devices, the ones where you just pick a few upgrades and then exit the game and it mounts up your money/points for you to use on more upgrades? Those games that you don’t actually play? That is what this is. When you do buy any of the several auto weapons, you can just put the controller down or turn your console off and let the game ‘play’ itself, earn money for more upgrades. You don’t even have to press X after a while or even have the game on at all. Pressing X is all the game had to offer, now it doesn’t even have that.

Beat Stickman: Beyond is a tappy-tap mobile game that you’d find for free on an app store, play while on the toilet when taking a dump for 5 minutes, then delete it after. But this one is being sold as an actual game on PC and consoles. In fact, it is an actual free-to-play, tappy-tap mobile game that is on the app store. An earlier version but still essentially the same game, from the same devs too.

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Recently, I played a very early test for a driving game from an indie dev that has more gameplay than this, and it was only an initial and very rough prototype. Beat Stickman: Beyond feels like it’s been put out as some kind of meta-joke about the games industry that I’m not getting. The strangest thing is that Beat Stickman: Beyond has a fantastic narrative. Yes, this game that has no discernible gameplay has a narrative. Only there is a bit of an issue, I can’t actually tell you about it. The dev asked that no spoilers be shared in the review in terms of how it unfolds and I always respect the rules of a review. So yeah, the best bit of the game, I can’t even tell you about it.

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With a price tag of over £8 on the Xbox, this can fuck right off. A few months back, I reviewed an indie game called Ravenous Devils. A horror-themed cooking/business sim that only cost a shade over £4. Half the price of what Beat Stickman: Beyond costs and with far, far more gameplay (and a free update to add even more gameplay coming very soon in August). Here’s a bit from a blurb the devs put out to describe Beat Stickman: Beyond:

“You will start with the first weapon, Tap, and then take a wild ride of unlocking and upgrading all kinds of weapons that automatically beat the Stickman for you.”

A couple of things that I wish to highlight. First, there is no ‘wild ride’, you just press X. Second, the blub itself even says ‘weapons that automatically beat the Stickman for you’. Yes, automatically, you don’t have to do anything here, you don’t even press X after a while. The devs of this should change the title of the game to; Just Spam X A Fuck-ton Of Times And Possibly Break Your Controller Through Wear And Tear, For A Bit. I can’t review a game that doesn’t have any gameplay to review (other than pressing X) and the only thing really worth mentioning (the narrative), I’ve been asked not to talk about. I can only tell you that this is a waste of time and money. If this was cheaper, if this was closer to the £2 price point, I’d probably suggest that you gave it a go, just for shits and giggles, to enjoy the rather interesting narrative and ‘play’ it in the background while doing/playing something else. But for over £8? Buy two copies of Ravenous Devils instead. One for you and one for a friend.

Game Review: Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium

Last year, I reviewed the rather awesome Capcom Arcade Stadium. A collection crammed with coin-op classics from Capcom. It was easily one of the best arcade collections around, with plenty of options to tailor each of the 32 games to your personal tastes. Well, this year, Capcom are back with the sequel Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium. Time for me to delve back into some classic arcade titles as I cover each of the games for another very lengthy review.

I’m doing the same with the review as I did for the previous one, I’ve not looked at the game list and I’m going through them in chronological order. I’ll be playing each game and just offering a quick overview of them and then sum up the whole collection at the end. Well, here we go with another 32 classic Capcom arcade hits. Something I didn’t do with the previous review, I’m going to link to playthroughs of the games (if I can find any), so an advance thanks to anybody’s videos that I do link to.

“Capcom is taking you back to the stadium with another collection of your favorite classic hits!
Come see what’s changed, and what’s completely new, in Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium!

Just Like the Good Old Days
From 3D-rendered arcade cabinets to scanline filters, there’s everything you need to recreate that arcade atmosphere. Fully customizable display settings let you craft your own personal experience and truly relive the glory days of arcade gaming.”

The Games

SonSon (1984) is a side-scrolling shoot ’em up… with a little bit of platforming thrown in. Constantly scrolling from left to right, you shoot the numerous enemies, pick up items for points and stop off for the occasional boss fight… well fortress thing. Jump up and down between the platforms and do your best to stay alive. I remember playing this one years ago and it’s still good fun now. Simple, basic but very playable.

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Savage Bees (1985), a vertical-scrolling shooter that plays very similar to Capcom’s Vulgus. You know the kind of game, loads of enemies shooting loads of bullets at you and you doing your best to dodge and weave while taking everything out. The occasional power-up to give you more firepower, that doesn’t last long because this is a tough game. For an early shoot ’em up like this, it is pretty good.

Gun.Smoke (1985). For those in the know, this was (technically) the original Red Dead Redemption but I’m not getting into that history lesson here. A vertical shoot ’em up with a Wild West theme and multi-directional shooting. Definitely one of Capcom’s finest and still bloody great to play these days. Really hard, but still great.

The Speed Rumbler (1986) kind of reminds me of Mad Max. A top-down shoot ’em up involving a lot of vehicle-based action. Though you can jump out of your car (and would have to, if you took too much damage) and face the danger on foot. I could never get on with this back in the day and still can’t now. The controls always felt a bit too stiff and trying to line up your car to shoot the many enemies was always imprecise.

Hyper Dyne Side Arms (1986) was another Capcom shooter, they certainly liked their shoot ’em ups in the 80s. It was also a really good one. Weapons that could be selected on the fly, power-ups aplenty, lots of frantic shooting action, with the ability to shoot both forwards and backwards. I have a lot of love for Side Arms and it is still great fun to play now.

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Hissatsu Buraiken (1987) is one of the few Japanese-only games in this collection. No idea why though as my research tells me that it was released outside of Japan as Avenger(s). Anyway, this is a top-down, scrolling beat ’em up. Think of this as Capcom’s Commando… but with punching and kicking instead of bullets. Oh, and not as good either. I really could not get on with this one at all. The controls feel horrible, hit detection is way off, your character continually gets stuck on scenery and more. I never played this back then and playing here is my introduction to the game. So far, the worst game in the collection.

Black Tiger (1987) and now we are talking. This is one of my all-time favourite Capcom titles. When it didn’t make it into the first collection, I was really disappointed. So to have it here put a big ‘ol smile on my face. It’s kind of like Ghosts ‘n Goblins, only with a bigger emphasis on platforming, exploration and a good shop/upgrade system. Black Tiger is a tricky-dicky game indeed and will test your skills but it’s also massively rewarding and wonderfully playable.

Street Fighter (1987) yup, the original Street Fighter. I actually know someone who didn’t know that Street Fighter II was a sequel… despite the II in the title. The original is a nice addition to this collection for history’s sake, but it is bloody horrendous to play. Very sluggish, moves aren’t fluid and the whole game is just terrible and clunky. This is not an age thing either, it was terrible back in 87 too. The sequel was just a massive leap forwards in terms of quality that most people have blanked the original out of their minds. A horrible, horrible game but I am glad it is here though.

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Tiger Road (1987) is another title that puts me in mind of Ghosts ‘n Goblins… but now with an ancient China vibe. A scrolling platformer-shoot ’em up thing that is actually rather good. An interesting variety of enemies and stages, some really good weapons thrown into the mix and you have a pretty damn good game. Very playable, very tough, very Capcom.

1943 Kai: Midway Kaisen (1988) is another Japanese-only title and this one actually was too. Obviously part of the 194X franchise of vertical shooters. As far as I can tell, this is basically a remake/update of the original 1943 game that was released the year before this one. Improved graphics, sound and weapons but still very much 1943. A good shooter as pretty much all of the 194X games are.

Last Duel (1988) gives us more vertical scrolling shoot ’em up action, only with a vehicle twist. Controlling a car (though it looks more like a bike) you blast your way through waves of enemies, nab power-ups, all the usual guff. This one does mix things up a bit as your car/bike transforms into a ship at the end of the first level and the game becomes a more traditional scrolling shooter. It then flips between the two as you progress through the game. A decent little game.

Rally 2011 LED Storm (1989) from what I understand, was never commercially released. It was a prototype that was eventually reworked and released as LED Storm… which isn’t included in this collection. The main differences are that you had a car that could transform into a bike, the story and main characters were different too, as was the setting. This is a top-down racer that is pretty hard but still good fun. Why they didn’t include the released LED Storm along with this unreleased one, I have no idea. It would’ve been great to have had both of the games as a comparison.

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Magic Sword: Heroic Fantasy (1990) is a scrolling hack ‘n slash game with a bit of RPG thrown in for good measure. You only control one character, but can enlist the help of ‘assistants’ via AI-controlled allies found behind locked doors. Each of the allies have various attacks and they kind of work like power-ups in a shoot ’em up. For an arcade game, this is pretty lengthy and has around 50 levels (excluding secrets) and even multiple endings. A playthrough from start to end can take over an hour, which for an arcade game is pretty lengthy. Magic Sword is a great title, perhaps a bit repetitive at times but still great.

Three Wonders (1991) is a bit of a curio, because it is actually three games in one. First up, there is Midnight Wanderers: Quest for the Chariot. A scrolling platform-shooter with multi-directional shooting, some good boss fights and a lot of fun to play. Chariot: Adventure Through The Sky is the second title here. This one is more like a traditional horizontal scrolling-shoot ’em up. Waves of enemies, power-ups and so on. You play as the same characters from the previous game here and there is a story link too. And finally, there is Don’t Pull, and this one really is very, very different because it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the previous two games at all. This is a maze-puzzle game very similar to Capcom’s Pirate Ship Higemaru. It’s very odd that you have two games that are clearly linked by theme, tone and even story, and then one that is completely on its own in this trilogy of titles. Still, it’s actually a good little package overall.

The King Of Dragons (1991) is a wonderful hack ‘n slash style beat ’em up. Five characters to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. A basic experience system will see the characters level up through the 16 stages that the game has to offer. One of the best Capcom beat ’em ups and immense fun with its 3-player co-op mode. Glorious and well worth a playthrough.

Block Block (1991), basically Capcom’s updated version of the classic Arkanoid… which was an updated version of Breakout… which was an updated version of Pong. You know the type of game, you control a bat-thing at the bottom of the screen and hit a ball at coloured blocks at the top. Clear the screen of blocks and move on to the next level. Some of those blocks will drop power-ups and bonuses. Simple and basic stuff but still very playable and enjoyable.

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Knights Of The Round (1991) is another very typical Capcom beat ’em up and very similar to The King Of Dragons, only set around the legend of King Arthur. Smack enemies with your sword, pick up treasure for points, occasionally mount a horse and take on bosses. There is a  blocking mechanic with this one that becomes pretty vital as you progress. And all with a basic EXP/levelling system too. Capcom were pretty much the kings of the beat ’em up in the 90s and this is a fine example of how good they could be.

Saturday Night Slam Masters (1993) was Capcom’s take on pro-wrestling, which was getting more and more popular at the time. Not licenced, so no big names here and instead, Capcom used original wrestlers. There are even a few names from the Street Fighter and Final Fight franchises. Pretty much your standard one-on-one tournament fighter but with a wrestling spin. A good little brawler for quick blasts of punching action.

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Eco Fighters (1994) is a game that I had not heard of before playing this collection. As the title suggests, this one has a bit of an eco-friendly vibe. A horizontal scrolling shooter that very much put me in mind of Irem’s R-Type, which is a good thing because R-Type is awesome. You control a ship which has a shield/weapon thing on the front, which you can rotate around your ship for multi-directional firepower. Power-ups and all that, plenty of big bosses to take out too. All wrapped in a ‘save the planet’ narrative. A really good shooter and in typical Capcom fashion, bloody hard too.

Pnickies (1994) is another game that I had not heard of before. This is one of those Tetris-like puzzle games. Falling blocks, or colours in this case, match them up and connect two or more stars of the same colour to remove them. Bigger formations before you remove them earn more points. The more you play, the faster and more difficult the game gets. It’s okay, not my cup of tea at all but will please fans of the genre.

Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (1994) is a fan-favourite that was sorely missing from the last collection. It’s great to see it included here. A classic one-on-one fighter with a horror look and aesthetic. You know what to expect here as two characters punch and kick the crap out of each other in a best of three rounds fight. Special moves and all that.

Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge (1995) is… wait for it… the sequel to Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors. A few new characters and a handful of gameplay mechanic updates. But still just more of the same. This one looks nicer and does play better than the previous game.

Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams (1995) is a sequel to the original Street Fighter, but a prequel to the mighty Street Fighter II. You know what to expect by now, right? It’s a Street Fighter game.

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Mega Man: The Power Battle (1995) and I didn’t even know that Capcom made any Mega Man games for the arcade. I was really looking forward to this, some top-notch action-platforming action. Classic Mega Man, but with an arcade twist, just imagine something like Black Tiger but with Mega Man. Then I loaded it up and it was (basically) Street Fighter with shooting. This is another one-on-one fighter and it plays like one long boss rush mode as a whole game. You might get a kick out of this if it is your kind of thing, I just found it massively underwhelming.

Street Fighter Alpha 2 (1996) and now we have a sequel, to a sequel, that was a prequel. Yet even more Street Fighter and I’m running out of things to write. It’s a good Street Fighter game… but it is still just Street Fighter.

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (1996) is a Tetris-like puzzle game with characters from Capcom’s Street Fighter and Darkstalkers games. Match the coloured blocks and destroy them with a specific smash gem of the same colour to take out your opponent. Simple puzzle stuff and I actually quite liked this one. The little fighting animations in the middle of the board are pretty amusing.

Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters (1996) is (of course) the sequel to Mega Man: The Power Battle. More of the same with a one-on-one, boss rush/fighter thing. I still didn’t enjoy it very much. ‘Nuff said.

Vampire Saviour: The Lord Of The Vampire (1997) is yet another one-on-one fighter and is Darkstalkers 3. I have nothing more to say here, the latter part of this collection is basically the same game with a different skin, repeated multiple times. More punching and kicking, special moves and so on. It’s still Street Fighter with vampires.

Capcom Sports Club (1997) is fucking awful. Much like the previously covered Three Wonders, this is three games in one. Only now sport-based. Smash Stars is Capcom’s take on tennis and for an arcade tennis game, it’s not too bad. Kick Stars is football, or soccer for the Yanks. This is one of the worst arcade football games I have ever played. Very stiff controls and cumbersome gameplay. Super Sidekicks it most certainly is not. Dunk Stars is the same game, but now with basketball. Same stiff and cumbersome gameplay too. Of the three games, tennis is the only one that is slightly playable, the other two are just awful.

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Super Gem Fighter: Mini Mix (1997) is a Street Fighter and Darkstalkers crossover only massively simplified and ‘cutied’ up. Even though this is yet another one-on-one beat ’em up, it is different enough to stand out from all of the others so far. Fight, collect gems, power up moves, unleash over-the-top and often comical attacks. Good, silly fun and well worth a play.

Street Fighter Alpha 3 (1998) and now we have a sequel to a sequel, that was a sequel and a prequel. Has anyone actually tried to map out the Street Fighter game’s timeline? I think you’d need some kind of PhD in metaphysics, or similar. Look, I ran out of things to say about Street Fighter and the one-on-one fighter genre several games back. This is a good fighter, I have nothing more.

Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition (2003) oh what a surprise, more Street Fighter and another one-on-one beat ’em up. Probably the most ‘complete’ version of Street Fighter II ever. All of the fighters, all of the various options and rule-sets from the many different versions of the game through the years. This is kind of like a ‘greatest hits’ take on the classic game and arguably, the best version of Street Fighter II around. Not a bad way to end this collection at all… if you haven’t had enough one-on-one beat ’em ups yet.


Overall

My comments here are going to pretty much mirror what I wrote about the first Capcom Arcade Stadium, the same praises and the same disappointments. In terms of the overall package, nothing has really changed. You get the same options for the games, the same controller support, the same many, many variables and so on. This is actually a good thing because, quite frankly, Capcom put an amazing package together with the first collection and as the saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Each game can be tweaked in many ways until you find a setting that suits your playstyle. Change the game’s speed, the difficulty setting, full button customisation, loads of display options, a rewind feature and more. The Capcom Arcade Stadium POints (CASPOs) are back too. Play the games, take part in challenges, earn CASPOs and unlock various cosmetics for your arcade.

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Another thing I have to praise is how you buy the games. With Capcom Arcade Stadium, you initially had to buy the games in packs (though they added individual game purchases later) and if you already owned some of them from previous collections, tough. With Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium though, you can buy the games individually. However, I’m taking that praise back instantly because the games are priced at £3.29 each! When bought in the packs from the first one, they worked out at a little over £1.20 each. Yup, that is quite a massive jump in price per game. To buy all of the 31 games individually (you get SonSon free), that’s a price of £102. If you bought all of the packs from the first game and its 31 games, it only cost £32 as you got a discount for buying all three packs in one. From £32 to £102? So yeah, the option to buy the games individually is great… but fucking hell, Capcom are taking the piss with the individual prices here. But, if you buy Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium as a complete package with everything… it only costs £33. I really do not understand the pricing here. How can the exact same game cost either £102 or £33? Basically, if you are tempted by this, buy Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium as a whole package because going for individual games, you’ll need to take out a bank loan.

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Just before I do move on from the whole price thing, please let me do a little more maths for you. If you were to buy both Capcom Arcade Stadium and Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium as whole packages with all the available games right now, it would cost you £32 for the first one and £33 for the second. That is a grand total of £65 for both of these, fully loaded with all 64 games. But buying Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium alone and purchasing the games individually costs £102… how?

There is still no online play. A lot of these Capcom classics are multiplayer and co-op, but local only. I love a bit of couch co-op as much as the next man. But we are living in an Internet world now and I’d really like to play some The King Of Dragons with my two brothers, who both live nowhere near me… but I can’t. The last game didn’t have online play and it is disappointing that it’s not here either.

There’s a massive imbalance in terms of the games you do get. Just look at the last third of the collection and all of them are mostly one-on-one beat ’em ups. Three different versions of Street Fighter Alpha…but no Street Fighter III, which came out before most of the Alpha games? Including the original game, there are five Street Fighter games here. Six of you want to include Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. Seven if you throw Super Gem Fighter: Mini Mix in there. I do love a bit of Street Fighter but come on… five games and three of them from the same sub-series? Capcom Arcade Stadium had an issue where there were way too many shoot ’em ups (mainly the 194X titles) and with Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium, it’s beat ’em ups that are taking over. You’d think that after 1994, Capcom only released beat ’em ups.

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Also sadly missing, no histories on any of the games. This was something I mentioned with the last collection too. Each of the games has an instruction manual to help teach you how to play. But there is nothing on the histories of any of the games, how they were made, who made them and so on. I love gaming history and would seriously love some background info on the games. Some of the concept designs and so on. Both of these Capcom Arcade Stadiums are wonderful arcade collections, but neither of them really celebrates the history of the games themselves. Hey Capcom, I write about gaming history (a lot). If you do a 3rd one, I’ll let you hire me to cover all of the games.

But still, just as with the previous game, this is a fantastic package and a big recommendation from me. The oversaturation of one-on-one beat ’em ups is a bit disappointing. The stupid pricing of the individual games is an utter piss-take as they are around three times what they cost in the first collection or even if you just buy the whole collection in one go. I would’ve loved to have seen some more obscure titles and even previously unreleased titles such as with Rally 2011 LED Storm. The lack of online play is another letdown too and I would’ve loved to have seen the option to import games from Capcom Arcade Stadium into this and have all 64 games in one place. Niggles aside, this is another winner of a collection for arcade fans.

Game Review: Train Valley: Console Edition

Often, a game comes my way that I have heard nothing about, didn’t even know it existed and when I play it… I’m kind of glad I didn’t know it existed and wish it would’ve stayed that way. Sometimes, a title comes up for review that I didn’t know about and it really comes as a wonderful surprise as to how good it really is. Train Valley is a puzzle-strategy game from developer Flazm and publisher BlitWorks. But which side of the good/bad coin does it fall?

“Build railways, manage traffic and stay accident-free. Play in Europe, America, Japan and USSR in 1830-2020. Complete the story mode from the Gold Rush of 1849 to the first manned spaceflight, and then explore the random mode. Management. Construction. Trains. Welcome to Train Valley!”

Now, Train Valley was released back in 2015 in the world of PCs. I mean, they’re on Train Valley 2 already and have been since 2019. But this is the console version that has only just been released and I’ve been playing the Xbox port. So then, what exactly is Train Valley all about? If I told you trains, would you be surprised? Taking place in five counties around the world (this version includes the Germany DLC) and over two centuries of the age of the train. What you have here is a puzzle time-management game where all you have to do is get a train from one place to the other. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, if it were really that simple, it wouldn’t be much of a game. Played on a grid, you don’t control the trains directly, as in you don’t drive them. You place new pieces of track to connect two or more stations. Each station is colour coded and the trains will want to get to a station of a different colour. As an example, you have a red station and a red train at that station. But the train wants to go to the blue station. So you build a track from the red to the blue station and let the train go. Easy… until you get more than two stations, multiple tracks joining together, crossings, junctions and numerous trains all wanting to go to different places at the same time. This is where switches come into play as multiple stations mean multiple routes and you don’t want the trains crashing into each other.

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Then add on that each map will throw up various problems to overcome. Maybe there will be an uncrossable lake in the middle of the map, limiting where you can place track pieces. Maybe a real-world event will hinder you, like World War II. Then you have money to worry about. Building train tracks is not free and you start each map with a budget, so you’ll want to keep trips short by using as fewer track pieces as possible. This can be a bit tricky if there is something in your way, you can go around it and use more money and track, or go through it and uses even more money paying for demolition but have a shorter journey. Pick your poison. Run out of money and it is game over. You can earn more cash by successfully getting trains to the right station in the quickest time. The faster the train, the more money you get. Still, rushing can lead to some pretty nasty train crashes and you really do need careful planning, especially when things get increasingly more hectic with more stations and more trains. This is where the whole puzzle element comes in. You can’t just throw down track pieces and hope for the best, thinking is key here and planning is very much a requisite.

Control-wise and you can really tell that Train Valley was designed for PC play. Moving a cursor around a screen for a game like this, with a mouse, is always preferable to using a gamepad. Things can get a little fiddley too because you are playing on a console. There are action options in the top-left corner of the screen and you select them via the shoulder buttons, scrolling to the one you need at any given time. This is slower and more clunky than just whizzing to them with a mouse pointer. The actions are; switches, for changing the direction a train goes at a junction. Track pieces… for laying the tracks. Demolition, for removing any pesky scenery in your way or any misplaced track. Station release, to send a train out from a selected station. Finally, a train action where you can stop and turn a train around, in case you send it the wrong way. When the action heats up, flicking to the action you need in a pinch is pretty much impossible. Still, you can actually pause the game and still select the action you need, build track and so on. This does take some of the sting out of the controls and, as it turns out on later levels, it is pretty much a must to pause and then carry out an action, the game was designed very specifically for you to use the pause… a lot.

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There is another issue that definitely caused some problems. It’s really fucking hard to see where your cursor is. It is tiny, even when playing on a big screen TV. Again, this is further proof that this was originally designed to be played on a PC with you sitting a few inches away from the screen. But console players don’t do that, they sit back in a comfy chair, several feet away from their TVs. I mean, just go and look at the pictures I used in this review, all of them taken from the Xbox version that I have been playing. Have a quick game of ‘spot the cursor’ in each of the screengrabs. Seriously devs, if you read this, make the cursor bigger on the console version as it is pretty much impossible to spot. Especially when things get hectic.

Train Valley really infuriated me at first, the clunky controls and tiny cursor being major problems. Still, the more I played, the more I got used to the controls and slipping into pause mode to take a breather and re-plan my strategy of getting the trains where they wanted to go. Honestly, after an hour or so, I seriously fell in love with this game. What looks like a ‘kiddy game’ soon becomes a really damn tricky puzzle title that will test your reactions and force you to use the old noodle a fair bit. More stations in later levels mean more tracks, more trains and more chance of a crash. Various obstacles make planning your tracks more awkward as the game progresses. Each level throws a new challenge and each level also has three bonus goals for you to reach too, which really adds a lot of replay value.

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Coming in with a £10 price tag Train Valley is a worthy purchase and it has kept me entertained for a good while. I do think that some players may find it a tad repetitive as all you are doing is getting trains from one location to another. But still, look at that price again and remember that this console version does include the Germany DLC, it’s a decent price point. This is a game that is very easy to understand but increasingly more difficult to master. Frustrating at times but also addictive with that ‘one more go’ style of gameplay that just pulls you in. But please devs, make the cursor bigger or give us an option to change it so it is more visible on the console version.

Available to buy now on everything and it is well worth a purchase.

Game Review: Severed Steel

The FPS genre is one that I personally feel is more than a bit oversaturated. That’s not to say that you can’t find a good FPS these days, because you can. However, they can feel very ‘samey’, can’t they? What is needed is a FPS title that gives you something a bit different, a bit not Call of Duty. This is where developer Greylock Studio and publisher Digerati step forwards and throws Severed Steel at your face in super slow-motion.

“Severed Steel is a single-player FPS featuring a fluid stunt system, destructible voxel environments, loads of bullet time, and a unique one-armed protagonist. It’s you, your trigger finger, and a steel-toed boot against a superstructure full of bad guys. Chain together wall runs, dives, flips, and slides to take every last enemy down.”

I think the best way to sum up Severed Steel is, take a portion of Stranglehold, throw in a few helpings of Mirror’s Edge, a smattering of Superhot and mix in a blender until the blender explodes in an orgy of flying shrapnel and then do you best to doge it all via some deft movements. This is a non-stop action romp that packs in loads of fun. There isn’t really a story, well there is but it is really used as a backdrop to the main fun of the game… the shooting the crap out of everyone. You play as Steel and only have one arm as the other has been removed, or severed… Severed Steel. You are just thrown into the action pretty much from the start. There is a short tutorial to get you used to the controls and the many moves at your disposal and after that, it’s utter chaos.

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Steel is pretty damn nifty on her feet. She can slide, wall-run, double jump, dive and more. Wherever you do break into one of the many moves, the game enters slow-motion and you become impossible to hit, while you pick off the enemies one by one. Chain moves together and you can clear out a room in seconds and before the bad guys even have time to react. The levels are small and offer plenty of chances to show off your acrobatic skills. If there’s a window between you and a room of enemies, just dive through it and start blasting. Slide under tables and shoot someone in the balls. Is there an enemy hiding behind a shield? Jump over him do a backflip in the air and put a bullet in the back of his head… while you are upside-down.

The gunplay here is amazing and everything feels very smooth as you jump, dive, slide and wall-run all over the place. I never once got bored with throwing myself around and shooting people in increasingly more acrobatic ways. The gameplay loop really does feel very satisfying. Each level will have an objective like just killing everyone, or maybe having to destroy some equipment… while killing everyone. Once you finish your objective, you find the exit and move on to the next level. Severed Steel never gets complex, it keeps things simple, and I mean that in a good way. There is some variety in the levels too. One instance comes to mind where you have to stop a speeding train by starting at the back and making your way to the front to destroy the controls. Still, the basics and acrobatic slaughter of the levels never change. This is a game about shooting loads of people in very stylistic ways. It doesn’t slow itself down with a story and it doesn’t try to pretend that it is anything more than a frantic shooter.

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Weapons are easy to come by as every enemy has one. However, they have very limited ammo and once it is empty, the gun is no good… so throw it at someone, slide across the floor and take their gun, to then jump in the air and shoot them in the face with their own weapon and all in slow-motion. Seriously, the game is wonderfully slick and the gunplay feels very cinematic. You’ll feel like the love child of a John Woo hero and Max Payne.

Pretty early in the game, you’ll find a prototype arm cannon game and yup, Steel slaps that bastard on her severed arm. Now she has a rather handy cannon that can blow holes in walls. The scenery here is very destructive and it’s not just there ‘because’, it can play into the gameplay quite a lot. See an enemy on a floor above you? Blow a hole in the ceiling and watch him fall down as you shoot to take him out. Is there an objective that is tricky to get to? Just shoot a hole in the wall and away you go. The level of destruction is pretty impressive and just walking around after the carnage and admiring your handiwork does put a smile on your face.

In terms of looks, Severed Steel has a Tron-like visual style, very cyberpunk-ish. A lot of bright neon colours are used as edging around darker objects and scenery and so on. The graphics are not remarkable, but they never need to be. You get speed lines when you go into slow-motion and it looks really damn good, giving you a sense of speed, even though you are moving slowly. The music is (as described by the devs) ‘dark electronic’. It certainly is some frantic music to go along with the frantic action of the game. Though between you and me, I found myself turning the music volume down in the options. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but mainly because the music (by default) was just too loud and it was washing the sound effects out.

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So then, the big question. Is Severed Steel worth the money? Well, it comes with a £20 price tag (depending on the format) and that’s an average for a small indie game. But, I did get to the end credits in 2 and a bit hours on normal difficulty and that does make that £20 a bit more tricky to swallow. Some levels in the game can be completed in just a few seconds. In terms of the core gameplay, I really thought that Severed Steel was amazing. It is fast-paced, action-packed and immense fun, but it is very, very short and I am all about value for money when I review a game. I don’t think you get that value for money here. There’s more to do outside of the short campaign, there’s a game+ mode and then there is the Firefight Mode. This is basically you on a single map and you have various sub-challenges to complete. There are also several ‘mutators’ to unlock. These are fun little additions like big head mode, etc. This only took me just under 2 hours to finish all of the levels and unlock all of the mutators. So all in, about a 4-5 hour game.

Then there are multiple difficulties to play too. To be honest with you, even on the hardest setting, Severed Steel never really felt ‘difficult’. A bit more challenging yes, but never difficult. This is because you are invincible when doing your acrobatic moves and because you can trigger slow-motion every time you do a move (which is 90% of the game), you are pretty much unstoppable as long as you keep killing to top up your slo-mo meter and stringing together moves. I don’t really have a problem with the length of the campaign and there is nothing wrong with a short blast of a title either. Severed Steel is a game that feels like it may outstay its welcome if it got into double figures. But still, a just over 2 hours campaign for £20 (and around 4-5 hours to unlock everything)? If this had a lower price point, I’d be telling you to grab a copy right now. Instead, I’m going to suggest you wait and get it in a sale. Severed Steel is great, it is immense fun and well worth playing. It just feels a bit too expensive for what you do get.

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Just going back to Superhot for a second. That was a very similar FPS title with similar mechanics only in reverse. With Superhot, it was all about going slow and planning your attack. Moving could prove deadly if not properly prepared. With Severed Steel, the opposite is true as standing still is a surefire way to get you killed and constant movement is key. They both had small arena-like levels to play in that could only last a few seconds too. Both are frantic and both are relatively short games. However, Superhot featured a rather splendid meta and clever story, it was also crammed with loads of extras and bonus features. Severed Steel, as good as it is, lacks that and it ends up being a wonderfully creative FPS that just needed a bit more meat on its bones.

Severed Steel is available on everything right now.

Game Review: Hell Pie

Rare’s Conker’s Bad Fur Day on the N64 is a huge fan favourite, even now over 20 years later. It was a cute-looking platformer that was rude, violent, full of bad language, pop culture references and more. Conker’s certainly wasn’t your average cute platformer For two decades, fans have wanted a sequel and Rare have never delivered. Developer Sluggerfly and publisher Headup Games have answered that call with Hell Pie. Not a Conker’s sequel, but more of a spiritual successor this is clearly influenced by Rare’s classic and very adult title.

Hell Pie is an obscene 3D platformer that takes bad taste to the next level! The game sees you grab the horns of Nate, the ‘Demon of Bad Taste. He is given the honorable task of gathering the disgusting ingredients for Satan’s infamous birthday pie. To do so, Nate must venture out into the overworld and do whatever it takes to ensure those ingredients are secured in time, or there’ll be hell to pay!”

As that blurb says, this is ‘an obscene 3D platformer that takes bad taste to the next level’ and yup… it certainly does that and then some. Hell Pie makes Conker’s Bad Fur Day look like an episode of Peppa Pig. Playing as Nate the demon, you are tasked with finding the ingredients to make a pie for the Devil’s birthday, that’s the entire plot. This really is a loving throwback to a certain style of platformer from that mid-90s to the early 2000s period. You know the ones I mean, Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro the Dragon, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and of course, Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Simple plots, a basic story told within 3D levels/worlds that are crammed with lots of platforming action and plenty of things to collect along the way.

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Where to start with Hell Pie? I really don’t know, how about the fact that your sidekick, a cherub called Nugget (who works as a grappling hook/swing/weapon), is naked and you can see his tiny cock? No, I wasn’t looking, that’s just how you are introduced to him. Yup, that pretty much should let you know the type of game you are getting here. Adult content from start to finish… but with a level of puerile and outright silliness. Do you want a serious platformer with a deep and evolving story? You’re not going to get that here. What you will get here is fart gags, used tampons as a food ingredient and more blood and gore then you’d see if you watched Peter Jackson’s Braindead on repeat for 48 hours.

The way the game works is that it is split into a number of semi-open world hubs and each of those hubs is themed. You can explore the hubs, talk to NPCs, find collectables and even a few of the ingredients that you need for Satan’s birthday pie. The hubs also contain levels for some classic mid-90s styled 3D platforming action and the odd boss fight too. The levels in these hubs really can be very, very tasteless. Just to give you a couple of examples. One level is based in a sewer, because of course it is. The main enemies that you face are literal shits, actual pieces of poo… that are dressed in (basically) SS Nazi uniforms. Another level takes place inside a whale, this whale is still alive too. Oh, and the local residents have set up an exclusive restaurant inside the whale where its patrons eat it alive from the indie. Bearing in mind, those are two of the tamest examples in the game and only from the first hub too. That’s before I get into a slaughterhouse that turns humans into food. So, SS Nazi poo monsters and eating a live whale from the inside is the standard of bad taste the game is boasting about.

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Nate and Nugget work well together and both have several upgrades. Nate has various skills to use via his demon horns and as you progress through the level, you obtain new horns/powers by pulling the horns off cute unicorn baby things. Your standard set of horns works as a kind of compass that points out places of interest, NPCs, etc. Very helpful for when you are exploring one of the game’s hubs. Others horns will allow Nate to run fast, fly and add many more abilities.

Nugget, who is permanently chained to Nate, is pretty limited, at first. You can use him as a grappling hook and swing over larger gaps, but only once and you need to set foot on the ground to recharge the use. Or you swing him around to be used as a weapon, which is very handy for smacking Nazi poo monsters. You can find tins of candy meat (I think it is made from puppy dogs) that Nugget likes to eat, find enough and you can buy upgrades for your little friend. Additional swings before needing to reset, improve your wall climbing, unlock new attacks… make Nugget fart. You’ll be searching every corner of the hubs and levels to upgrade your little cherub as much as possible.

The world that you find yourself in can be pretty interactive too. There are things to play around with that make no difference to the game, they are just fun. One of the first things you can interact with is a photocopier and when you do, it spits out endless pieces of paper with crudely drawn dicks on them. The kind of ones that you used to draw in the back of your school books complete with droplets of spunk shooting out. This is the level of crass humour you are dealing with folks. Or maybe you’ll find a nice desk chair and spin yourself around in it… just because you can. There is plenty of stuff like this that doesn’t affect the game in any way and is just there to make you laugh.

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Hell Pie is definitely not for the prudish and those easily offended. If this had been released in the 90s,  Jack Thompson would’ve had a heart attack. Farting, shit references, vomiting, nudity, blood and gore, etc No stone in the obscenity garden is left unturned. The actual platforming action is very solid and I really enjoyed using Nugget to swing around the levels and explore as much as I could. As I write this review, I am only 48% into the game and have not made it to the end credits yet. So I can’t tell you how long it takes to beat this one and can only say that I’ve spent a good 10-odd hours already though, mainly because I’ve been laughing and exploring the hubs way too much.

I did come across a few bugs though. One had me defeat a boss, only for the game not to progress and it just kept me stuck in the arena where the fight was. I had to reset the game and defeat the boss again, it worked fine the second time. Other bugs had me getting stuck in scenery and with another one, I fell off a ledge to my doom, only the game didn’t count it as a death and I became stuck at the bottom of an inescapable chasm. I’m sure these bugs will be ironed out with patches I hope they will be.

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£20 is how much this slice of disgustingly obscene pie is going to cost you and you really do get a lot of game for your money. There is plenty to see and do, lots to collect, unlockable costumes, a good progression and upgrade system and much more. The thing about the 3D platformer is that it a genre that I don’t have a lot of love for, I just prefer my platforming to be 2D. However, I did find Hell Pie really enjoyable. I love a good fart gag and Hell Pie is crammed with that type of humour. Film references, such as a funny Scarface one where you have to shotgun enemies who have taken over this game’s version of Tony Montana’s mansion. If you are a fan of the 3D platformer and are looking for an itch that needs scratching, left by the absence of a Conker’s Bad Fur Day 2, get a copy of Hell Pie and be humorously offended.