I'm Currently Playing...

Blur [Xbox 360]
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 [PS3]

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Out this Week! 4th June 2010

In one of the strangest of game concepts I've seen in quite some time, Naughty Bear is released this week. With a teddy bear on a bid for revenge at the expense of those that mock him, A2M's game is deceptively violent, with Naughty Bear using the environment to his advantage in delivering brutal execution moves to decimate foes into a dispersed array of cotton. Action can take a number of forms, from silently sneaking up on enemies in stealth mode, engaging in “paw-to-paw” combat, or even luring bears into traps unbeknownst to themselves for a horrific death. It's messed up, that's for sure, but if it takes your fancy, be sure to pick it up this Friday. [PS3, Xbox 360]

I'm afraid to admit it, but yes, I am a fan of The Sims. The Sims 3, in my opinion, was the best of the series so far- of what I'm sure is likely to continue for some time to come! Out this week is another expansion to the original game in Sims 3: Ambitions, which lets you (for the first time ever) control your sims on the job whilst also allowing you to choose the way in which their career progresses, for good or bad. Trying to get away with 'office slacker' is as much an option as striving for absolute perfection and will impact the town and other sims in some way or another. Brand new career paths have been included, in addition to all-new skills, activites and “moodlets”/traits. [PC]

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Preview- F1 2010

Released: 24th September 2010
Format: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
Publisher: Codemasters

F1 titles have been few and far between in the recent past. The distinct lack of titles for one of the world's most popular motorsports is bizarrely odd considering the opportunity afforded to the license bearers. Is it just me or are the F1 games some of the best racing titles out there? I remember playing F1 2000 way back on the Playstation and being possessively mesmerised by the insane sense of speed and the thrill afforded at being behind the wheel, the hard press of the brakes bringing the blurred racetrack back into focus as I career toward the barrier. Good times... Thinking that the memory may have been somewhat rose-tinted, I recently picked up the PS3 F1 title, F1 Championship Edition, that was released back in the early days of the PS3, to re-discover what I loved about the F1 license. In admiration of the gorgeous visuals and stunning racing engine at work, there's something to be said about the ferocious speed at which these cars can travel, the tactics at work on the track, the weather changes, qualifying etc. etc. that is so intrinsic and core to F1 in particular that grabs my attention wholeheartedly in video game form. Granted, I'm not an F1 fan, but this game has me excited...

Developed by Codemasters Birmingham, in conjunction with the 'EGO Engine'- that helped create the superb Colin McRae: DiRT 2 and Race Driver: GRID, F1 2010 is likely to up-the-ante in terms of visuals and physics than previously afforded in an F1 game. The engine is beautiful, as we have already witnessed, and here brings the whole roster of 19 career tracks to stunning re-created glory, with an incredible amount of effort going into delivering an insane level of detail for the globe-trotting career mode, as well as the addition of every team and driver of the 2010 F1 championship. A full online multiplayer with a number of racing modes has also been detailed.

The career mode will allow players to work from the trenches of obscurity to associated fortune that the high life and the sponsorship affords. Whether you hop from team to team, seeking the best deal, or form a wealthy relationship with only one team, the choice is yours to make. What has me excited, however, is the way that objectives change on the fly depending on the team that you race for- Ferrari, for example, will deem a non-podium finish a disappointing finish, whereas a lesser-known team is more likely to appreciate any points on the board at all! It's an interesting addition but one which will only work if there is substantial difference in the feel of the game upon a change in allegiance. Teams are seemingly an integral part to the title as a whole, with media appearances within the game differing in accordance with the team you race for, whilst team members will consistently be tweaking and upgrading the car with new parts as the season gets under-way. The extent of customisation has not been fully revealed as yet, but expect an extremely robust system that goes hand in hand with the stat-heavy racing fans out there. Racing strategy and often superfluous looking tactics will also be intrinsic to the experience.

Another aspect of the game that is being heavily touted is the all new dynamic weather system which is quoted as being “the most complicated weather system even seen in a racing game”. No, the developers haven't stopped at delivering an extensive physics model for each weather type, but instead include the weather's effect on the state of the track. Puddles are likely to be formed in dips and falls in the track, whilst over-hanging trees are going to result in drier parts of the track. As the rain lets off, the “drying line” is also likely to affect the race, with cars dispersing the standing rainfall from the optimum racing line. Staying focused and sticking to the racing line in these instances will likely be the difference between success and failure.

I can play Forza 3 hour after hour, but nothing can truly match the adrenaline that gets pumping from the simulation of the F1 experience. I'm thoroughly looking forward to another racing title from those at Codemasters- they have a great engine in their hands and a superb license to go with it, can they deliver an F1 title to match its ambition?

Friday, 28 May 2010

Review- Heavy Rain [PS3]

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Quantic Dream
Released: 26th February 2010

It's not very often that a video game comes along that delivers something so unique, innovative and fresh that gamers can only help but take notice. French developer Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain is one such example. Written and directed by CEO David Cage, who has been at the forefront of lavishing as much attention to his game as possible, and rightfully so, the “interactive drama video game” is a tense and dramatic thriller with its footing in brand new territory in terms of interactive entertainment.

A highly unusual and original spin on a control scheme, Heavy Rain requires players to perform actions that are displayed on screen; through button prompts, controller motions and movements of the right thumb stick. Displayed through non-intrusive symbols integrated into the scene, such prompts guide you through the narrative in the way in which you wish to progress and ultimately, delivering on its uptake of the tag-line “How far would you go to save someone you love?”. Far more than a mere input device, the irregular control method is completely brilliant in the way it amps up the tension in scenes. At times making the player hold a hand-cramping combination of buttons, only reflecting the struggle on screen- it's a mechanic like no other that works on a number of levels. The way in which prompts shake and become indistinguishable from each other in moments of panic or anxiety on behalf of the character also renders an almost joint experience between the virtual experience and reality- such anxiety most likely resulting in a bad 'choice' through a misjudged button press, and is yet another example of the intelligent design philosophy that lies at the heart of the game's already impressive engine.

Yes, moral choices and key moments influence the eventual conclusion to the story. For example of such choices, one instance that occurs in the game involves a convenience store robbery- choosing to intervene is your choice and as such, will affect the way in which the story unfolds. Do you stand at the back of the store and wait for the crook to leave? Or do you sneak up on him and save the shopkeeper? Convince the robber to put the gun down slowly, or aggressively force him to? Of course, the choices which you will eventually come across are both meaningful and difficult, shaping the experience from the traditional narrative storytelling roots into something completely different and (mostly) unique to the player. In what Quantic Dream purports to be wholly open however, at times I was led to certain eventualities no matter what I did, which is understandable but does break the spell somewhat.

Built around the interweaving narrative threads of four characters (each played in short snippets of action) and the search for identity of the mysterious “Origami killer”, Heavy Rain is reminiscent stylistically of films of David Fincher (Zodiac, Se7en)- a world of gloomy motels, strange deaths, dark and dank apartments and corrupt cops. The film noire underbelly meanwhile, establishing its themes of love, betrayal, loss and torment in a just manner. The four main characters (father Ethan Mars, journalist Madison Page, FBI profiler Norman Jayden and private detective Scott Shelby) all adding a little something different to the overall experience and provide glimpses of the plot as a whole- of which it could otherwise become much less involving (many of the game's key scenes involve the contrasting motives of the intersecting characters). Brought to life through stunning motion capture technology and gorgeously realised character models (not that the “uncanny valley” ever disappears!), it's perhaps disappointing to hear the atrocious voice acting on display. In a game so enveloped in its expectation to deliver dramatic punches to the chest it's really quite odd that this isn't addressed, the voice work is often poor and lacklustre whilst the somewhat dodgy dialogue (“It's a pain killer, it'll help reduce the pain”) are awkward in what is otherwise a triple-A cinematic experience. Its top-notch cinematography, pacing and design flourishes (use of split-screens), along with the hugely impressive score, only further reinforcing its dramatic ambition.

In what feels like one long cut-scene with almost seamless revival of player interaction, Heavy Rain's abundance of graphical fidelity and fluid animation is somewhat elsewhere let down by its awkward character control (holding R2 to walk, left stick to control where the character is looking). The camera is also undeniably frustrating at times, with only two camera angles to choose from, it often makes searching around the scene unnecessarily irksome. On a more positive note, the decision to read the characters' thoughts through a hold of 'L2' is another ambitious design choice but one which is justifiably successful in reminding the player of key pieces of any key information/ objectives in a non-intrusive manner, delivered instead through voice-over.

On the whole, Heavy Rain is a tremendous success in the broadest of senses. It's given us a whole new control scheme with its game engine (of which I can't wait but see what comes of it) and a suitably engaging and thrilling story to boot. Packing emotional punches and drama aplenty, its moral choice design philosophy further instils the drama with even more resonance and weight. At times it is breathtaking, at others slightly irritating and disappointing, but in the end, I can't recommend it enough. You will have a unique and beautiful game experience, no question.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

News- Keyboard set for Rock Band 3?

Well it was the next logical instrument to be included in the band platter of plastic peripherals, but now it seems our dreams as rhythm action Gods has been delivered the addition of a keyboard to sink our teeth into. Downloading the demo of Green Day Rock Band will feature this teaser screen (picture below) upon loading. A teaser for the hugely anticipated Rock Band 3 and a precursor to the addition of the keyboard. In addition, the 'vocal harmonies' logo is also shown which is expected to be carried over from The Beatles Rock Band into the main game.

It should be a nice addition to the stagnating genre and will most likely be emptying our wallets of any cash upon its arrival. The thought of having some awesome keyboard solos and backing strokes added to the band is great and I'm excited about getting to grips with yet another system of play. But please, lets leave it there.

All Format Chart- Week Ending 22nd May 2010

*New Entry*
Split/Second: Velocity (PS3, Xbox 360)

Wii Fit Plus (Nintendo Wii)

Just Dance (Nintendo Wii)

2010 Fifa World Cup (PS3, Xbox 360, PSP, Wii)

*New Entry*
Red Dead Redemption (PS3, Xbox 360)

It was to be expected and no question it's worthy of the number one spot, Red Dead Redemption has jumped straight to the top of the chart after its release last Friday. Reports indicated it was estimated to sell over 2 million units. The only other new entry to enter the chart is Black Rock Studios' Split/Second: Velocity which can only grab fifth highest selling game of the week. Wii Fit Plus re-enters the chart once again and refuses to let its sales drop-off.

Expect to see a good showing from UFC Undisputed: 2010 and Blur in next week's chart. Blur has been picking up some really positive review scores and may overtake Split/Second in a battle of the competitive racers. The World Cup is also nearly here, so I'm going to say that 2010 Fifa World Cup will regain its top position next week.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Out this Week! 28th May 2010

The release schedule gets no let off this week with Obsidian Entertainment's Alpha Protocol proving RPG's can be more than fantasy-themed fodder. With conspiracies and espionage action the might of the experience, this action-RPG features a Mass Effect-like dialogue system and unique abilities in combat for the player that can be upgraded as you progress through the mission structure. Whether you go into combat all guns blazing or take a more stealthy approach, it's all about choice here. Take a look at my preview for more on the game.

If last week's Split/Second wasn't enough frantic racing action for you, then how about Bizarre Creation's Blur. From the guys who brought us the Project Gotham series, Blur is a blend of real world cars and general racing practice with neon-coloured tracks and devastating power-ups to take your opponents down. Like a blend of Mario Kart and Project Gotham, with a fantastic arcade racer structure. With a full campaign mode, 4-player split screen and online multiplayer, this may very well be brilliant.

UFC Undisputed: 2009 was somewhat of a surprise hit for THQ. No surprise then that a year later and the series looks to be setting up for a yearly franchise. UFC Undisputed: 2010 features over 100 fully licensed UFC fighters, a newly designed fighting system and top-notch graphics. The 2010 update allows users to dictate their own unique fighting style whilst even more moves and submissions have been added to the already substantial set. 2010 refines the standard set by 2009 and promises more bang for your buck.

Pure Football is a strange release. Not only have game play details been skimp on the ground of the online world (bizarre considering it is out on Friday!), but it features an announcement trailer with a strange looking Steven Gerrard; telling us to “feel the fight” and asking whether I'm “tough enough”. Right... Distinguishing itself from Fifa and PES, Pure Football has the odd design choice of using an 'over the shoulder' camera viewpoint and features 230 “elite” footballers, 17 International teams, and 17 “legendary players”. I won't blame you for not picking it up, it looks truly dreadful.

Review- Red Dead Redemption [Xbox 360]

Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Released: 21st May 2010
Other Formats: PS3

The American Old West, home of the cowboy, ranchers, county sheriff's and the ubiquitous noble steed. The dusty plains of the Western desert of late 19th century-early 1900s have barely been touched within video games, even with the recent Gun and Call of Juarez series mantle that there's much fun to be had within the setting. Red Dead Redemption is Rockstar's attempt- the latest sandbox entry from the studio that brought us the 'Rage' Engine that powered GTA IV. The stunning technology here used to craft one of the most stunning settings yet seen in a videogame of any type. The dry desert plains unsurpassed as far as the eye can see, the mountain ranges, the exquisitely detailed towns, cacti and other flora all visually sumptuous and intricately used to bring the first true, open expanse of the wild west yet seen on consoles. Similarly, the country and western soundtrack lays a backing track over the high definition picture and is potently memorable when used, with added environmental sounds, from the crow of circling vultures seeking their prey, to the rhythmic thump of horse hooves enveloping the desert floor all adding that something extra to the experience. Populated by Rockstar's truly memorable and lovingly crafted characters- from corrupt government officials, brutal and dirty criminals, overenthusiastic Mexicans, dependable sheriffs and cannibalistic miscreants, Red Dead Redemption is another frank reminder of the way that videogames can be used for storytelling in as much of a capacity as film. Whilst the plot isn't particularly strong (our hero, the gruff and dishevelled John Marston, seeking to redeem his previous life of gang-hood), the wealth of intriguing character personalities is enough to carry it through and is remarkably strong as a result. Whilst I don't feel that Marston is strong in terms of depth of character or personality, making it difficult to empathise with him, he was nevertheless a joy to play. Not that the voice work is to blame however, which is again absolutely sublime and well acted.

The environment is meticulously detailed and visually intriguing. Staples from across the Western genre are used throughout. Towns, such as the main hub of Armadillo are built upon foundations of the saloon where residents drink aplenty, blacksmiths, general store (where items can be bought and sold), and doctors, as well as the train station in which the steam train chugs to from across the landscape in a billow of dense, black smoke. The main hubs of the world that govern the sprawling wilderness are also where your safe houses are likely located, bought for a sizeable sum of money, the use of which allows you to save the game or change one of the many different outfits that grant different abilities (one may make the law kinder to you, for instance). From the friendly province of MacFarlane's Ranch to the more cautious Mexicans over the river, citizens speak their pieces, and interact on a superficial manner whilst you walk idly through the maze of wooden buildings.

Comparisons have already, as expected, been drawn with GTA IV for obvious reasons. The analogy of “GTA on horses” is perhaps a little belittling however, even as the HUD, map and overbearing structure are all suitably identical to the aforementioned. The clunky and difficult combat system also makes a habit in returning, with Rockstar seemingly keen on its integration (much to the annoyance of many gamer's, no doubt). For the most part, it works on the barest of levels, although the pop in and out of cover is far from a natural fluid movement, resulting in waves of frustrating gun fights, of which there are many. Although the guns of the period feel nicely weighted and powerful, it's the addition of the 'dead-eye' mechanic which is really brilliant (of which there are 3 levels and allows time to be slowed down and targets painted for a quick kill). It's a great step forward and it'll be interesting to see whether this will progress into future games or whether it will stick to the gun-slingers of the West. The way in which weapons are interchanged is also a slight differentiation from Rockstar North's masterpiece- here, a press of 'LB' brings up a radial menu to choose your piece from (taking over from the D-pad quick buttons). It would be a fully successful system were it not for the way play doesn't stop while selecting weapon, meaning death if not quick enough in the selection process. Yes, believe it or not, Red Dead Redemption does have its faults. The insistence on the 'tap A' system to run, sprint, or to spur your otherwise responsive horse on, makes travelling to missions and roaming the countryside often laborious and somewhat of a chore of the highest annoyance and puts me on the fast track to 'Repetitive strain injury' (although it does give chance for some fantastic character dialogue exchange synonymous with Rockstar's back catalogue!)

Further changes, such as the use of an inventory, that holds items and maps is a nice addition and also provides a quick-save mechanic in the form of the camp-site which can be erected for Marston to get a quick rest and a 'save game' in whilst alone in the wilderness. The reassuring glow of the burning camp-fire in stark contrast to the starry night sky. Fast travel can also be used here to skip to points on the map. Red Dead Redemption also makes use of a morality system, governed by the 'Fame' and 'Honor' meters. Positive honor can be attained through positive action in the world, such as saving someone from a kidnapping or rescuing a stolen carriage (such encounters are procedurally generated and none more scripted than your own actions) whilst negative honor arises from negative actions. The 'Fame' meter is an overarching meter that quantifies how renowned to the townsfolk you are as a character. By completing main story missions, undertaking encountered events in the correct way or helping out strangers, ranging from procuring medicine for ailing women to finding a man's lost son, the more likely others are likely to know of Marston and act in accordance to his 'Honor' level- for instance, shopkeepers will likely offer discount if 'Honor' and 'Fame' are both high. The 'Wanted' system has been designed extremely well. Whilst the same GTA-like red circle of danger indicates the area of where those looking for you are placed, upon leaving the circle for a sustained amount of time, instead of everything returning to normal, a bounty is placed on your head for a value in dollars that is reflected in the severity of the crime committed. The bounty can be lifted before a bounty hunter comes to kill you by using a “letter of excuse” or paying the value of the bounty off. It's an intriguing system and works much better than the police wanted level from Liberty City, in laying down a more persistent, realistic law enforcement mechanic.

The procedurally generated events are only the start of what is likely to be experienced from start to finish in Redemption, however. And whilst the use of which acts as a huge leap forward in terms of our attitude towards sandbox gaming as a whole, the rest of the game is just as brilliant- full of rich, dense landscape, diverse characters, locations and attitudes and values whilst the variety in mission design and structure makes it a more fulfilling experience than I have yet seen within a game of this type. Games that are so large in ambition often grow monotonous far too quickly, GTA IV struggled itself with repetitive mission design after all. Here, set piece arrives after set piece meaning the plot gallops along at a fair old pace- a steam train has to be protected from a gun-toting gang on horseback, a hijacked train has to be caught before it careers over a cliff, a 'Troy'-like wooden horse attack on the Fort Mercer stronghold, “The Great Mexican Train Robbery”- never does it seem the team have run out of ideas which is no doubt a result of the fresh genre they have tapped into. The shift in location, from the orange and brown palette of America, to the whiter sands of Mexico and the more civilized world, also ensures the game play never feels stale or dull. Side missions- from card games, “Five finger fillet”, hunting the wildlife that teem the environment, picking plants or finding treasure can also be completed for extra cash and 'honor'. Tearing down 'Wanted' posters from the side of buildings will also allow you to become a bounty hunter, hunting criminals and delivering them to the county jail, alive or dead. The good old Western staple of the 'duel' in the center of town also makes several appearances. Making use of the dead-eye system, opponents can soon be felled to the ground as they challenge you, the “famous John Marston”.

It's a game that works on so many levels. As a Western it's one of the most successful of its type, delivering themes of love, the seek for redemption, honour, political struggle, gang conflict and criminality in its gritty setting. Thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, as a game, it can be heralded as one of the best of the year so far no question. Although it does have its fair share of technical niggles and slight poor design choices, it ultimately never fails to deliver and brings its A-game to the forefront every step of the way. A top game of the highest order.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Preview- Alpha Protocol

Released: 28th May 2010
Format: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Sega

In the surrounding hype of Rockstar's wild west epic Red Dead Redemption, its easy to forget that other games are indeed also laid out for us on the release calendar, vying for a 'dead-eye' split second of our attention. In one of the busiest months of releases thus far in the year, Obsidian Entertainment's Alpha Protocol has, rightly or wrongly, been struggling to get us gamer's just as excited for this spy/espionage RPG that they would perhaps crave.

In a genre that seems more strongly attached to fantasy from the likes of Fable and Oblivion, but with the likes of Bethesda (Fallout 3) and Bioware (Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2) showing in abundance that this needn't be the case, it's with high hopes that I look towards the latest game from the developer that brought us KOTOR II and Neverwinter Nights 2, along with the 'is it/isn't it' sequel Fallout: New Vegas- out later this year.

Originally announced way back in 2006, Alpha Protocol, which was initially destined for a late October 2009 release, but since pushed back to the current 28th May 2010, is a third-person action RPG set in the murky world of CIA operative Michael Thorton who is on the run from the US government following a botched mission, and on the road to uncover a secret conspiracy...

OK, the set-up is straight from Hollywood and yes, we've seen it played out from the Jason Bourne's and Jack Bauer's of the world time and time again, but as a game, it provides ample ground for guns, gadgets and sophisticated game play. In addition to the expected gun-play, hand to hand combat and use of advanced gadgetry, the player will also have use of added “action elements”- 10 skills that can be upgraded throughout the game in traditional role-playing fashion, that can range from improving accuracy to a 'slow-down' action, akin to Splinter Cell's “mark and execute”. The dialogue system (or DSS- “dialogue stance system”) is also at the forefront of the experience, with all conversations happening in real-time and requiring timed player input at key “decision points” that will no doubt alter progression throughout your investigation. Choosing from any one of three “stances” (that are effectively different attitudes taken towards the conversation; suave, professional or aggressive), players will also have the Mass Effect 2 ability to end the conversation abruptly in an “action” choice that are available at specific moments. Such conversation's will shape the game differently for each player, and choices made here will have effects that may or may not be immediately apparent, but ultimately having a dynamic impact on the rest of the plot-line. Combat is also given the same freedom of choice; load-outs are selected before each mission from the vast array of weaponry and gadgetry on offer which means stealth is just as much an option for more reserved players than the all-out 'run-and-gun' type! Weapons can also be customised to suit such encounters as well as appearance of the main character if you believe a gruff moustache will somehow give extra bravado to your actions!

With real-world hub cities including Rome, Taipei and Moscow to enjoy and the world of spy espionage to uncover, I'm eager to escape the dusty plains of the wild west for a few days to soak in this very different experience. The name's Bon...Oh, wait. Alpha Protocol.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

"Bargain Bin" Review- Mini Ninjas [PS3]

Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: IO Interactive
Released: 11th September 2009
Other Formats: Xbox 360, PC, Wii, DS

Mini Ninjas is a 3D action adventure game with enough charm and brilliance, along with a batch of childish toilet humour to facilitate an all round enjoyable flick. A strange choice of direction then for IO Interactive, the developer behind the Hitman series and the masochistic Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, but one which ultimately pays off.

An opening animation sets the plot of the game running- the narrator informing us that the once tranquil kingdom in which the game is set has seen an evil warlord once again disrupting the balance of nature, causing storms, floods and the like. It's up to the remaining two ninja and, you guessed it, you as the player, to restore balance once again and bring peace back to the people. The generic story does little for older players but gives simplicity to actions for younger gamers, which is the intended audience of the title. The incredibly simple aesthetic of the game, from its smooth 3D modelling, hand-drawn backdrops and Eastern d├ęcor delivering a beautiful setting, whilst the individual character models of the 6 ninja all give warmth and personality to the overall experience.

Starting out as Hiro (one of six eventual unlockable ninjas that can be interchanged on the fly with a push of 'L1'), a quick tutorial giving credence to the basics of game play stands in the way before you can leave. Attacks amount to two “attack” buttons ('Square' and 'Triangle') whilst 'L2' initiates a block; a hold of 'Triangle' meanwhile, allowing the execution of a “special” move- each individual to the character (Hiro, for example, can slow time down to allow the player to 'paint' targets to attack, resulting in a flurry of swipes and quick removal of all in his way. The use of which are governed by the number of red energy spheres in your grasp (a total of up to 3), which can be picked up from fallen enemies. Hiro is also inclined to use “Kuji magic” (which results in the “kuji” level depleting), a batch of separate spells that can be found within the world to unlock their use; including, amongst others, the 'Lightning storm', 'Tornado' and 'Spirit form'- which can turn Hiro into any of the animals within his immediate area. The careful use of the magic gives variety to what first seems a set of incredibly simple game mechanics. The different ninja also having separate and unique set of skills- Hiro is especially good for sneaking and stealth whereas the larger Futo may be used for his strength against particularly nasty foes.

The fluidity of game play along with the quick menu switches between the different ninja is the game's key draw, providing simplicity while also allowing more keen gamers to get sufficient depth from the number of different options in possession to them. Saying which, however, the endless drones of enemies that are greeted wave upon wave through progression in each area does get tiresome after some time, even with the number of different enemy types on show (from the simple swordsmen to the archers and guardsman). Saying that, the way in which each section of the game is designed in a distinct style (such as water, ice, wind) which, in itself corresponds to the end boss of that particular section somewhat alleviates this mundanity with a refreshing palette change before the design grows truly stale. The child-friendly hint system, the “advice from God's” mechanic, provides the player with a reminder of their current objective and arrow to point the way with the tap of 'up' on the D-pad- the use of which available at any time and most probably needed by many players since the linear structure of levels is often halted with exploration of the open areas for any of the many collectibles that can be found within the game. The main collectible “Kuji statues” scattered to and fro over the map whilst ingredients to make any of the potions (through the 'Select' menu) that restore the magic meter, health meter or replenishing red spheres, also ought to be picked up. Health is governed by a bar represented in terms of 'hearts', which are also divided further into smaller hearts. The health bar can be extremely quick in depleting if not timing dodges and parries successfully enough, so clever consumption of potions at critical moments and picking the health-restoring apples is key to getting to the next checkpoint within the level before your hero falls to his knees in loss.

In the end, it's easy to recommend Mini Ninjas to young and older gamers alike. As I've mentioned, the game's initial simplicity can be opened to an underlying depth that is often lacking in other games for its intended audience. Whilst some aspects of the game are severely misjudged (the boss battles are way too simple and short, the use of the dodgy Six-axis control), the overall appearance, levelling system and tongue-in-cheek experience is worthy of a play. IO Interactive may be returning to more hardcore territory with the return to the Kane & Lynch franchise but judging on this performance, I certainly wouldn't mind them returning to the casual market in the future.