Tagged: ps4

Like I mentioned earlier, Pankapu will be released on the 21st of September.

Which is today. Yay.


I have played the game for about 3 hours up until I came to a roadblock that I will explain later. Don’t know if said block was poor design or a flaw that is unique to the pre-build. In either case, expect a timely review now and a thorough review later this week. Once I beat episode one, I will have even more info and insight as to what I think of the “ending”. Yes. There will be spoilers. Not in this review but in the next one. You have been warned.


Before I get into the Good, Bad, and Summary of my gameplay experience thus far, let me recap briefly on how I got this game so early. Like many of the indie reviews I do, the source comes to me rather then the other way around. And as is becoming fairly common for me, the messaging system of choice tends to be through my profile  on LinkedIn.com. I was approached by a representative of Too Kind Games and was asked to review it. Upon accepting, I was given a press kit with the pretty pictures you are about to see and a steam code. Perks of being a game reviewer, I suppose.

If you haven’t read my previous post yet, let me recap what this game is about. Real quick; boy has PTSD, his dad cheers him up with a bedtime story, story is about dreamland being taken over by nightmares until dream god creates a hero to save that world RPG platformer style. There. Your all caught up now.

Pankapu is a kickstarter project of a very small indie studio called Too Kind Games, is the dream product of two talented frenchmen, and has been released for the PC as well as pretty much any next gen console you can afford. There is even hints about it being for NX, so you’ll be able to download it if and when you get it for Christmas.

Okay, as always we start nice and positive. Here’s what went right.

The Good

The game in question can be as smooth and polished as you’d expect. It’s an indie game for sure, but one with low-maintenance graphics that feature beautiful artwork, flowing animations, and responsive control schemes that are intuitive to master. So intuitive in fact that the game manages to keep handholding tutorials down to a bare minimum; a godsend in the age of annoying information blips every time you try something new. All in all, maneuvering between enemies and platform is easy enough, and the challenges can require great precision without being unfair. That in and of itself is a staple of good design.

The narrative seems a little too simple at first, right up until you remember that the game itself is actually a child listening to a bedtime story. The game reminds you of this subtly with characters that resemble people who for the sake of this game’s meta story exist “in the real world”. Even when you level up your hero with new magical abilities, you get sparse flashbacks that tell the story of what exactly happened that made the child listening to the adventures of Pankapu wind up with real nightmares. This promises to come together at the end to provide a real sense of closure to what is bound to be a tragic tale of trauma and rehabilitation.

I wasn’t able to play all three character classes yet, but got a good feel for the one called “Bravery”. Its basically when your hero dressed up like a crimson knight complete with shining armor (beautifully drawn shining armor, I might add) a sword you can throw, and a shield that absorbs attacks to restore your magic. It’s annoying to see places where your hero can’t reach because it lacks the ability to “double jump” as promised by the green archer class, but you can always work with what you are given up to a certain point.

The lighting effects of this game contrast sharply and add subtle effects when needed and dramatic effects when appropriate and impressive. The music is soft and peaceful enough to be engaing without being annoying. The levels are well designed, and while it is sometimes tough to play, the game is always fair in a way that tests your skills rather then your patience.

That’s it for the good. Now for the other stuff.

 

The Bad

Just like I called it, the gameplay narrative is EXTREMELY reliant on cutscenes that aren’t so much cutscenes but slightly animated graphic novels with moving text. The only human voice you can understand is the narration of the father telling the story. Everything else is either mute, or speaks in sound effect gibberish, while you rush through a non-rewindable wall of text that you can easily skip over without meaning too. What’s worse is the annoying habit of the narrator to deviate from the storybook text printed on the page. It’s a minor complaint, especially given the developer’s lean resources, but I can’t help but feel a little confused and snapped out of the moment when I see the game spell one line of text and hear the narrator say something else that is the same but completely different. You never lose the gist of what is happening, but I still would like to hear the father read the story in front of my eyes and not in the designer’s head.

 

Like I said earlier, the story of the actual game is a little bland. If you ever played a video game since the 80s, you know the basic narrative pretty well, and the plot doesn’t get interesting without the flashbacks or the meta underneath. What’s worse is that some of the characters can be annoying. The spider sidekick you get stuck with seems to quote the obvious a lot, and is the kind of annoying guide that hasn’t bugged gamers since Navii. See Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for details on that infamous character.

While the spider has some moments here and there, even the good parts of the game fail to make up for what appears to be a very severe design flaw. I can honestly say I would not be able to complete the game even if I tried. Unless they update this one major flaw or I find a way around it (will let you know if that’s the case), I find that while exploring a deep cave, one with ledges and platforms jutting out of the walls, there is literally one space that is JUST OUT OF REACH. I cannot jump high enough with my current abilities, and the game will not let me progress without making the impossible jump. Literally an impossible jump is blocking me from completing a single level in the game. To call it a game breaking bug is an understatement, and it needs addressing ASAP if its worth even a dollar to play, let alone 5. Hopefully, by the time you read this article, they will have addressed it in time for you to buy the game.

That’s the Bad. Time to wrap things up.

 

The Summary

All things aside, if they can fix that one game-breaking bug this game is worth much more then the five dollars advertised. Even if this is episode one, it promises to be worthy your money and your time. It takes real guts to start an indie project like this, and these guys bang out an awesome product that would make and humble bundle an awesome holiday gift by virtue of gracing it with its presence. By itself, I would pay three times this amount for the experience it offers, and despite having some dark undertones, this game is bound to be a family favorite for the budget conscious. 

The only thing holding this game back from being an instant classic besides that one bug (which they can fix with a 5 minute update) is the fact that the bedtime story narrative is a little weak and some of the narration doesn’t sink up. Both can be fixed easily by tweaking some of the text elements in the game in a way that perfects the already glorious design.

That’ll end this review. Next up on my list is a game from Telltale, about another kind of knight…

Image result for telltale games Batman Logo

See you then!

 

 

Last year, on October the 28th, a team called Too Kind Studios started a Kickstarter Campaign for the game shown above. As you might have brilliantly deduced, said campaign was successful. What you may have also deduced by the existence of this article is that I was contacted by someone representing their team to do a review upon the games release.

The game will be officially released on the 21st with the full review.

As for the game as it is now, I haven’t played any of it (yet) and in addition to announcing its release date, here’s my impressions on the game based on the information provided by their PR campaign.

For those of you who haven’t checked out the Kickstarter campaign or the GreenLight on Steam , the game is basically about a young boy with sever PTSD who suffers terrible nightmares. His father comforts him each night with a special bedtime story that his folks told him. The story goes like this:

That’s the basic premise of the story; you are a hero named Pankapu, upon which the game is named, and you get to save the dream world from nightmares Action RPG Platformer style. The game itself is told through the eyes of the young boy whose listening to the story being told by his father. It is a living testament to a concept in game design referenced as “Mechanics as Metaphor” and promised to be a fun game with a moving backstory that tells of the struggle through past trauma. The game will be released in the form of “episodes” that resonate the same style as an adventure game from Telltale, in the sense that the game will tell a complete story in fragmented parts that will be sold separately. Only 1 has been completed, and will be sold on steam for $4.99.

My Impressions

The game Pankapu reminds me of another game which also included RPG elements in an Action Platformer. Ever hear of a game called “TOMBA!”? For those of you who haven’t, its basically about a pinked haired Tarzan wannabe who fights evil pigs with magical powers. It was released for the first Playstation console, it was colorful, imaginative, and borrowed themes and tropes from every fantasy story you could think of, and does it in a way that is beautifully animated and colorful. TOMBA! was very well recieved in its day, and was one of my favorite games growing up. Pankapu seems to be going the same direction, but with a slightly more serious tone as it sets up its more fantastic elements as a metaphor for a story that inspires a child in need.

The quality of the narrative will lean heavily on this metaphor, and I can only hope to see the nature of the boys’ trauma revealed as the game progresses. The nightmare creatures that you are inevitably going to be slashing and shooting throughout the game provide ample opportunity to reveal backstory as to what it actually was that gave the child PTSD. Different creatures can represent different people or events that happened in the child’s past that reflect on a rather unfortunate set of circumstances; or worse, be the results of outright abuse. Such a theme remains compelling not only due to the unique way its being told, but in the idea that the story is there to help the child overcome it.

The graphics of the game look polished, the animations are smooth, and the cinemas seem to rely very much on the Max-Payne style “Motion Graphic Novel” approach in which your not so much seeing a cinema as you are a slideshow with word balloons. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and for the low low price of $4.99 and the fact that this is a small game that was just recently kickstarted, you can hardly blame the developers and art team for cutting corner. Plus, none of this seems to compromise the quality of the game. Just don’t expect anyone’s lips to move and to have voiceovers mixed heavily with big and thick dialogue boxes and captions.

The class system seems to be very utilitarian and splits on the classic Warrior/Archer/Mage split that seems to permeate so many action RPGS. They aren’t named that of course, and I can say for sure that the naming conventions of everything in this world is…well… kinda obscure. Heck, even the child’s name is hard to pronounce, and every creature and character’s name seems to be taken out of a forgotten over pronounced back page of the Silmarillion. I get that this is supposed to be a dream world, and I also get the hint that the world the child actually lives in isn’t all that different, but even so, staple characters tend to benefit when the audience can remember and pronounce their names. But I digress.


Regardless, the game itself seems to be a lot of fun. The controls seem straightforward enough to be simple to learn and easy to master, and I look forward to cycling through classes and leveling up to find the perfect combos and earn that shiny new ability. I just hope that the way such abilities are used and rendered take advantage of the action platformer system that doesn’t feel slapped on or too reliant on the ol’ skinner-box mentality. The game itself looks promising, and I will be disclosing just how much of a prophet I am once I play the game through and through. Look forward to mentioning more of it on the 21st. Till next time.

Beyond-Two-Souls-Promo-ArtIn and effort to both cover as many games as possible and save my hard earned dollars, I embarked to scour through my entire collection of Video Games from today and times before over the course of an entire month in what I like to call a Review Marathon. So far, my pace hasn’t seemed to earn that title justly. While I did write two reviews over the course of one day this week, the days since my last review stacked higher then I like to admit. Maybe because I heard from various sources that this game wasn’t exactly stellar. Maybe it was because I am not used to cranking out writings at such a hectic pace. Or maybe I was just feeling lazy these last couple days, and now I finally want something to show for it. Either way, the marathon continues, as does my reviews. Round 2; FIGHT!!!

_FIGHT!

 Video games have been trying to cross over into the movie business since the inception of the Sega CD back in the 90s. The fact of the matter was that it was less then successful, as the fact that movies had tricks, tropes, and entertainment strategies that just didn’t work once you applied them to games. One of the poor unfortunate souls to try an make the “interactive movie” dream come true was a man named David Cage, who now is founder and president of a studio known as Quantic Dream. The studio only produced three titles including this one, and they all had mixed reviews overall. Some like the idea of a story based game while others think all of David Cage’s work can be compared to fecal matter. I try not to read review of games before I can review them (for obvious reasons involving objectivity) and I couldn’t help but notice the headlines of other reviews. They weren’t positive. I tried to give this game the benefit of a doubt, but I can at least see where my fellow review monkeys are coming from. I was hoping Beyond Two Souls would surprise me with something, and so far it hasn’t.

But before we get to my take on it, let me once again remind any new readers out there how I review games. Mainly with the Seven Word Synopsis. It’s basically my answer to the usual 1 through 10 scale of most review sites. Its only a seven word review of the game compressed to dileniate

The Good

The Bad

And The Summary

With the exact same number of words that you see above. Let’s begin, shall we?

Unique

Pretty Unique

As in the game is both pretty to look at and its a breed of its own. One thing Cage manages to get right with his games is to craft a story that’s pretty original. His first game called Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy here in the US) was about a guy who is possessed by a shaman to take the fall for a murder. The second game called “Heavy Rain” was about the investigation of an abductor that leaves origami as his calling card. This one is basically about a girl named Jodie whose soul is tethered to a supernatural being that acts like your typical ghost.You know… is invisible to people, passes through walls, possesses people and controls their actions. Basically the same things that can be done by either a psychic character in a video game(Psy Ops, anyone?) or Casper the Ghost. Neither are the best reference for making a movie. Only true difference between the thing she calls “Aiden” is that it’s connected to a  little girl who looks like Ellen Page and can see through its eyes.

Fortunately, they seem to be aware of how corny this is, and work hard to define this thing as anything but. Fairly early in the game, she is placed into a meeting with a doctor who will serve as a father figure to her throughout the game. He asks her about  Aiden, and through his inquiries we learn about how her powers work. He asks if its a ghost, to which she replies no. It is just a creature from beyond (as the title suggests), and apparently not the only one Jodie encountered. This is what we in the writing business call “foreshadowing”, and in this scene in particular, Cage does his job and does his job well. Only thing is, I only used the words “fairly early” as the game takes a very long time to get going. More on that when we get to the bad stuff.

Another thing that makes David Cage’s work stand out, despite their lackluster results, is the sheer graphical quality inserted into each game. When it was first being “previewed” by review sites whose budget and spare time dwarf my own, it was nick named as project Kara, many reviewers were amazed at how “awesome” the graphics looked. I’m not that surprised myself, given the technology they had available at the time, but I must admit they couldn’t have tried hard to make things look more realistic. The models rival reality, the textures are smooth and detailed, and the color is spot on, even in dark shading. The lighting needs a bit more work, especially when the main character is working through dark places without a flashlight; something that happens a little too frequently. The first among many shortcomings this game and others like it have to offer.

Slow, Sloppy

QTE2

Beside being seeped in darkness at some points, Beyond Two Souls tends to fall into a trap both movies and video games fall into when they focus too much on “story”. I put that in quotations only because there is a big difference between focusing on “story” and actually delivering an enticing narrative. The high concept by itself is pretty solid; little girl is born with unusual imaginary friend that is both menacing but also helpful. She seeks help in controlling it and winds up becoming a secret agent. Now she must run from that agency before they kill her. Okay. Good enough plot in and of itself. Few holes pop up though; why are they trying to kill her? Did she run away? Why did she run away? Such things are missing from the game story thus far, and are kinda important to the story. While there is nothing wrong with keeping things mysterious, this once again falls into M. Night Shyamalan and JJ Abrams “Mystery Box” territory in the sense that mystery serves no purpose but to excite an audience before they enter the theatre. They usually wind up disappointed. While I cannot say that I was dissapointed, I did play the game for three hours and still can’t answer the questions above. The origin of “Aiden” is also a mystery, but I almost expect that to be the case only because the supernatural is a mysterious thing in and of itself. Why you became a secret agent and then desert is something that people don’t normally do without a good reason, and thus need some explaining. That and the fact that the intro to the game has NO interactivity and the game as a whole features cutscenes outnumber those of Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid creator; infamous for having way to many cutscenes). I could easily forgive this if the game had a sense of coherency in its plot. But the only things consistent are the heroine’s misery and the writing’s blandness. Nothing much to say on that.

William Defoe

I call it Sloppy for much the same reasons listed above, plus the issues I see with the modeling and with the cutscene execution. Cage makes it clear that he wants to make an interactive movie, and Beyond Two Souls has the Dual Star-power of Ellen Page as Jodie and William Defoe as the doctor who studies and befriends her. In case you don’t know who those people are by name, Ellen Page was the female lead in the movie Inception and William Defoe was the Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man movie. Chances are good that you have at least seen them and their stellar work, and the talent does shine through the voice acting. Simply hearing it sounds like a professional movie star being given a lackluster script, and the models themselves bear a striking resemblance to say the least. But the thing that doesn’t come through the game to the eyes of the viewer tends to be that thing most actors are known for. You know… what some people would call acting?! The animation of the models do nothing for the character’s expression, to the point where I almost mistaken Ellen Page for that crappy actress who played the female role in Twilight. Yeah. Her. Grand Theft Auto used little more then super-detailed cartoon characters and still made movements less stiff and more realistic. If these guys used the same motion capture technology that was used in LA Noire for recording faces, this game would have very easily gotten a better review. I guess David doesn’t talk to those guys.

Beyond Two Souls fails to deliver on the promise of interactive storytelling, proving once again that it takes way more then just mashing the rules of movie making was a slap dash game. Here’s what I mean.

Interactive B Movie

QTE

There was once a game known as “Dragon’s Lair” that frequented arcades at one point but then quickly fell into obscurity. To sum it up, it was a Disney cartoon where you had to press the right button to keep the main character from getting killed. On the whole, it was a pretty neat concept and probably seemed revolutionary to the team that was working on it. But in the end, it was merely a well drawn, poorly written cartoon that restarted itself every time you didn’t press the exact button. If real Disney cartoons did this, they wouldn’t survive to make the Little Mermaid, let alone fund Toy Story.

It did give rise to the often called “Quick Time Event” which basically does that same exact thing but with 3D model cutscenes. Beyond Two Souls is flooded with these, almost to the point where you wonder why. You often have to do pointless actions like getting up or sitting down or make choices in the game that are completely useless in determining anything that happens; and unlike The Walking Dead, Beyond Two Souls kinda makes it obvious. The game doesn’t punish you half as seriously as “Dragon’s Lair” did-thank the lord-but when it seems like you succeed even when you fail, the button pressing seems even more pointless. I’m sure that if you fail enough times, something bad happens, but we never seem to get a chance to fail too badly. I was driving on a motorcycle while being chased by a police helicopter (like we never saw that before) and not only were the turning controls unwieldily, but the game seemed to compensate by making it impossible to crash. C’mon! That’s like finding out the gutters are way to wide at your bowling alley and then fixing it by putting in permanent bumpers. If a interactive element doesn’t work, and you don’t have time to fix it, remove it! Game Design 101.

Aiden looking at Jodie

And speaking of design decisions, let me flex my own game design muscles that I have been working out since Global Game Jam and give you my two cents on what Cage should have done to prevent this thing from bombing; take out the parts where you play as Jodie. I’m serious. Between doing things as thrilling as sitting down and preventing a boy from touching her butt, it seems like my actions are completely unnecessary. The thing that carried the game barely halfway was the fact that it had high production values and you could control an angry ghost that can take revenge on evil teenagers. Stick with that. You could have easily dissected the game between me watch a movie played by the character models and me watching the same movie play out in 3D while I wandered around bound to the main character. Press Y; see Ellen Page act. Press Y again, go back to possessing people and blowing stuff up. That would have been a good experience, especially if you put the same effort you did in those “Quick Time Events” to improve the script and take better advantage of your star power. I seen both their work; Ellen Page and William Defoe are both stars actors that deserve to be stars. But you got Ellen Page saying nothing half the time between being awkward and being a badass, and you got William Defoe in the background more often then not. Lets have the stars shine in this picture, shall we?

Sad Jodie

Although to be perfectly honest, even Aiden’s controls were wonky, as I often had trouble finding something to click on and even looking at a card in someone’s hand. I’m sure if you spent less time and manpower on Jodie’s button prompts, you could have used the same programmers to develop a better control scheme for Aiden, and maybe add some new features. Or work with the animators for better acting.

That wraps up my review. I am sorry this review is so late; I really need to get into the flow of things here. Let’s finish off with a brief update on the Synopsis, and a quick link to where games are sold if you weren’t scared away from my review.

Beyond Two Souls

Price: $55

Pretty Unique

Slow, Sloppy

Interactive B Movie

Tommorow I will be reviewing