Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash Review

Lawn Tennis as a sport has origins stretching back some 150 years, with rules that have largely remained the same for the last 100 of those. It’s a game welcoming to anyone who can pick up a racket, and accessible to all, regardless of age, prior knowledge, or perceived skill. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash appears to have the intention of being the friendly faced videogame embodiment of that very sport within. By stripping away the complex control schemes and many of the over the top game modes seen in previous Mario Tennis titles Ultra Smash has achieved just that, and welcomes anyone able to pick up a pad onto its courts.

As with the grand majority of Nintendo’s exclusives, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is polished to perfection, and shines as bright as any Grand Slam winner’s cup. Delivering sharp HD visuals, superb audio, and a solid, unfaltering frame-rate both on and offline, there’s no denying that this is a beautifully presented, technically sound game. My major concern though, which unfortunately relates to every other aspect of the game, is just that there isn’t enough game here to back it up.

The lack of depth is glaringly obvious from the outset, and will disappoint long time fans of the series. There’s a noticeable step backwards in terms of raw content, with Mario’s latest preferring to focus less on gimmicks and quirky game modes – there’s no mini-games, campaign or the overblown power-ups of before – choosing instead to provide a relatively concise core gameplay experience, more about simplicity and accessibility, with one or two unorthodox touches of Mushroom Kingdom magic thrown into the mix.

It’s obvious from all of the pre-release footage that, of the five modes, Mega Battle is the one you’re going to want to play. Available as either a Singles or Doubles exhibition style mode, the normal rules of tennis apply, and it’s all fairly innocuous fun… until a cheeky Toad throws a Mega Mushroom into the mix.

The series’ newest toy takes centre court across all game modes aside from Classic and affords the player a game changing boost in size for a brief period of time. Being ‘mega’ certainly has it’s advantages too, you’ll have far more powerful shots and a greater reach for one – but this is not without its failings, and you’ll need to use a degree of strategy rather than always assuming bigger is better if you really want to succeed.

These new mega characters loom over the court with abandon, which is ridiculous fun in Singles mode, but I’ve literally lost count of the times during a doubles game whereby a hulking great Bowser has delighted in the fact he’s just hit an Ultra Smash into the back of my skull at 200km/h – or vice-versa – which then loses us the crucial Match Point. The pillock.

Despite the opportunity for more of these insane Mushroom Kingdom inspired power ups to feature, the only other non-regulation gameplay perk comes thanks to the return of Chance Areas, the colour coded circles which appear on court and reward the player with a power or precision buff if the corresponding shot type is used in that zone. Their appearance guides you around the court and, coupled with forgiving timing for your hits, makes exciting twenty or thirty shot rallies, full of well placed lobs & drop shots a possibility, even if you’re not used to playing tennis games.

The titular Ultra Smash is also delivered thanks to these Chance Areas, and will prove all but impossible for less experienced players to return. To help keep the game balanced these will appear less frequently, and require slightly quicker thinking to pull off. I probably got a little over-excited the first time I hit one to be honest, with the Ultra Smash replay camera panning around a flutter-jumping Yoshi as he drives the ball to the corner of the court. Moments like this really serve to highlight the attention to detail poured into each of the extensively detailed models and recognisable character animations.

Ultra Smash reduces the controls down to a bare minimum for newcomers, allowing them to lean on the crutch of having ‘X’ simply return with an appropriate shot. However, there’s still the more complex system to play with, letting you pick your own flat, sliced, lob or drop shots depending on the situation at hand.

The newest addition to Mario’s racket-skills-repertoire is the Jumpshot, which sees him leap – often to an unfeasible height – and return the ball from mid-air, rather than waiting for a bounce first. It looks great, but, like diving for a far-reached return, can mean you’re not quite ready to return the ball next time it powers back over the net.

Outside of Mega Ball Rally – a mode aimed at getting the longest rally possible with an ever-shrinking ball – and Classic play, which lets you remove Mega Mushrooms or Chance Shots, Knockout Challenge is where Ultra Smash’s main body of gaming will lie. It’s the nearest thing to a conventional career or campaign in the game, with each of the 16 characters having their own individual progress file, as they take on a ladder of 30 matches, meeting the other characters across the varying court types with increasing difficulty. It feels like another one-and-done experience, only partially improved by the now obligatory amiibo inclusion.

Touch a supported figure to the gamepad’s NFC sensor and they’ll appear as your doubles partner for that run, learning and acquiring new stats with every fifth match as you go. At first this seems a strange, potentially unfair, way to implement the collectibles, but with the difficulty ramping up and the chaos caused by oversized characters, it actually works remarkably well. Outside of the Knockout Challenge you can then take your amiibo online, and use it, upgraded stats and all, for a more traditional 2-versus-2 doubles match.

The more traditional surfaces such as grass or clay are available, but I quickly tired of those, instead opting for the super bouncy mushroom, or the ice court, a personal favourite which looks absolutely stunning, and leaves players slipping and sliding as they struggle to reach wide shots. Whichever you choose, it’ll inexplicably be in the same stadium setting, with the same capacity crowd of Shy Guys looking on.

The paucity of content is felt elsewhere, as well. Aside from the unexpected inclusion of the green Sprixie Princess from 2013’s Super Mario 3D World – who makes her first appearance as a playable character – the biggest surprise will be who’s not in the game. There’s Donkey, but no Diddy Kong, Yoshi, but no Birdo, and not a sign of a playable Koopa Troopa. Even the baby Mario Bros. haven’t made it out to play this time around.

The online play handles rankings similarly to Mario Kart 8, with a starting points level which adjusts up and down depending on your results. However, the only option open to you is to play via matchmaking, and you cannot invite friends or host a lobby. There’s also no offline rankings and there’s no trophies or cups for winning per se, but your progress is rewarded with the quirky courses and a couple of characters unlocking as you meet certain play time criteria. Each match also earns you coins, which can be used to fast track specific rewards, should you so wish.

What’s Good:

  • Beautifully presented HD visuals.
  • Simple gameplay mechanics mean fun for all ages.

What’s Bad:

  • A shallow selection of game modes.
  • No options for private games or playing with friends online.
  • Only a small roster of characters.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash has an air of familiarity, especially so if you’ve played Mario Tennis Open – but even without prior knowledge of the series, the game’s bright HD visuals and overall presentation quality will make it instantly appealing to Nintendo households this Christmas.

Nintendo have also announced anyone who purchases the game on the WiiU eShop prior to midnight December 17 2015 will also receive a free Virtual Console download of Mario Tennis for the N64 – A game that doesn’t look as pretty, but has more characters, more courts, and more modes than Ultra Smash.

Mega Battle is great fun, especially in local multiplayer, and has seen me both laughing and cursing aloud, but with no mini-games or notable campaign to speak of, and without the overblown power-ups I’m used to in Mario games, it’s a game that I’ll have all but forgotten by the time Wimbledon rolls around next year.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash Review

Disney Magical World Review (3DS)

Before we start, I feel I should confess… I probably don’t fit into the primary target audience for this game. You see, in truth, there are quite a few places I don’t fit any more – I am a grown man. That said, I am also a Disney fan, and one whom recently made his first trip to The Magic Kingdom a year shy of his 30th Birthday… without any kids in tow. It was amazing, but just like Bandai Namco’s Disney Magical World, on first glance you’d be mistaken for thinking it was intended only for devout Mouseketeers.

Not to be mistaken, a love of all things Disney will surely help going into the game, but when Mickey joyously proclaims “We’re gonna have a blast today!” from the 3DS menu, it isn’t just his ever-present optimism on display; he’s actually on to something.

From the outset I had very little idea of what to expect – I’d seen a few advertisements and screenshots floating around the internet during the American launch back in April, but from a gameplay standpoint at least, I was going in blind. It looks an awful lot like an Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, or the more recent Tomodachi Life rolled in Disney glitter I thought, and much like these titles before it falling under the broad genre of a life simulator.

Magical World sets itself apart from other such games by placing a heavy emphasis on the collection and crafting of objects through a series of story driven tasks, however, with said tasks – rather unexpectedly for a Disney property – played out via a series of dungeon-crawling quests, each of which seeing the player banish ghosts and ghoulies with the ultimate aim of collecting pre-designated materials from hidden treasure chests.

Disney Magical World sees your created character or Mii receiving an invite to the kingdom of Castleton – a promised land with “magic found around every corner” – and naturally, home to Mickey, Minnie and over 60 other colourful Disney characters. Castleton acts as the static central hub for the title, with a punctuated mini-map on the bottom screen showing hints towards the wider world beyond that at the foot of the castle. A brief introduction from Walt’s mischievous mouse follows, before we’re seemingly set off on our first task – meeting some more famous faces.

Daisy, Donald, Scrooge McDuck, and The Rescue Rangers all then lead us through a rather laborious tutorial, each introducing their own specific role within the town – be that learning how to fish with Donald, trying on, and crucially, purchasing, some new outfits in Daisy’s boutique, or knocking together some new items in Chip & Dale’s workshop, should buying them from McDuck’s department store be a little out of your price range.

There are quite a few different aspects of play to get to grips with early on, and it definitely takes a while, so expect a lot of hand-holding, but with a game so coherently targeted at a younger audience thankfully these are varied enough to be interesting, while somehow, still mostly boiling down to pressing the action button at the right time, as not to be too taxing.

Similarly, despite the apparent go-anywhere, do-anything open world nature of the game, Disney Magical World manages to maintain a fairly linear progression system; your in-game progress is measured, inexplicably, by the collection of Happy Stickers (keep those unnecessary adjectives coming, guys), and with each sticker you collect, a new objective, area or Magic Quest (oh, there we go again) will become available.

As with every other collectible in the game, the size of your Sticker pile is documented on the lower screen with a press of X, and in this instance, there’s even a handy ever-present “Recommended Stickers” selection which points you in the right direction if you’re missing one or two before your next meeting with Pooh or Princess Jasmine.

It took me a good couple of hours of point-to-point instruction and collecting my first few stickers through quests before the world opened up fully, but even at this relatively early stage of the game it was becoming quite clear that Magical World holds a virtual toy-chest full of content, all with the level of polish you expect from a Disney and Nintendo project.

Unfortunately, despite the attention to detail in the game’s aesthetics, Magic World’s quests will quickly become a repetitive slog if you let them. The goal may be as varied as collecting lavish cloth for Cinderella’s ballgown, or finding food for Alladin’s camels, but ultimately the loosely formed puzzles are just that, and require little more than a combination of walking from A-to-B, killing ghosts, flicking switches, and opening chests – all accomplished with a few presses of the A button.

To its advantage, Magical World shies away from forcing a fast paced romp through memorable Disney fare, instead allowing players to make their own adventures – moving at a steady, relaxing pace – and rewarding exploration. In that sense Magical World is never leading you towards doing any one thing in particular, promoting the creativity and customisation on offer at every turn.

The ongoing collection of crafting materials means objectives within the game will progress even when you’re not consciously working towards them, and whilst you’ll come across time sensitive quests on occasion, these will simply reset after the designated period and appear again later – meaning if you don’t want to battle a certain ghost or harvest a certain crop right now, alternatively choosing to buy a new pair of princess pumps, you don’t have to.

There’s also Cinderella’s dancing mini-game, and the Cafe – a home of sorts given to you by the King after the tutorial quests – in which you can decorate, dress up the staff, and serve newly created snacks to the town’s residents, all for a fee of course. Unexpectedly, your Cafe also hides the only multiplayer aspect of the game – visiting your friends. Except you don’t, not really. You could get my friend code and visit my cafe, but you wouldn’t see me there, or be able to interact with my fabulous looking Mii at all; rather you’ll just admire the decor and leave a gift for my return, if you’re feeling especially generous.

The missed opportunity to have created a Disney themed meeting place of sorts within Magical World where players can show off their outfits and chat with friends before setting off on quests sticks out like a sore thumb, and given that the Cafe is touted as a meeting place, it feels massively under-utilised. Whilst obviously, I went for the banishing of ghosts over selling hot cocoa and Churros or sourcing materials for sprucing up Peter Pan’s winklepickers, that’s where the longevity lies, and in essence the majority of the game.

Magical World is a collectathon, an obsessive-compulsive Disney fan’s dream come true.

Aside from the 60+ characters who offer up exclusive retro-art trading cards with each meeting, at launch there’s nearly 150 outfits, over 300 pieces of furniture and well over 100 meals you can learn to prepare. All in all, I count roughly 1,000 collectables – more than half of which will require 2 or 3 component parts before they’re crafted.

Like I say, there’s a plethora of content here if you’re willing to put in the time, and even then you’ll keep finding new stuff to experience, buy and build, thanks to the inclusion of Seasonal Items and Events. Given that I’ve spent far too long roaming Wonderland dressed in a Stitch onesie, I’m just a little bit excited about the idea of an Easter Bunny costume come April.

Presentation-wise, this game is almost faultless. Magical World is brimming with an undeniable Disney charm, the beautifully designed bright and cheery home area, looking not dissimilar to the foyer of Walt’s real-life theme parks, is populated with instantly recognisable characters fans young and old alike will enjoy, as are each of the smaller themed worlds you’ll explore later in the game. At least, for the most part; there’s sound to match the visuals too, although disappointingly once the additional worlds outside of Castleton become available the characters I met seemed entirely devoid of any vocal chords, and I’ll admit to having to turn down my volume slider after a few hours of Nintendo’s typical sickly-sweet-plinky-ponk background music. You know the kind.

Hearing the recognisable tones of Bret Iwan’s Mickey or Russi Taylor’s Minnie greeting you outside the castle guarantees an instant oversized-ear to oversized-ear smile, but the titular Magical World would feel entirely more engaging if the likes of Aladdin or Cinderella had some voice acting associated with their characters. Understandably, with the sheer scale of the game’s narrative it’s unrealistic to expect 100% of encounters to be voiced, but, to me at least, the addition of a notable phrase here-or-there seems an odd omission given that this silent supporting cast are the ones with which the majority of interaction takes place throughout the 100+ hours of gameplay on offer.

Post-release, Nintendo are committed to supporting Magical World players with a mixture of both free and paid DLC, via the eShop and with the interesting addition of exclusive AR-cards found in Disney stores or theme parks worldwide. Downloadable objects will include hard to find outfits and furniture, as well as new worlds to explore. The first such paid content is a Pirates Of The Caribbean themed bundle, which adds not only Captain Jack, but also a new area, and several quests and collectables tied in with the popular movie franchise.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing there’s no DLC available in the European eShop for me to try out, although the Pirates add-on is expected to hit our shores next month – and with the US pack costing a mere $4, I’d suggest it’s definitely going to be worth picking up if you’re enjoying the main game.

Looking forward there’s obviously no shortage of source material for future DLC either, so presumably if the game is a success we’ll see more packs in 2015; personally, I’d love to visit the African plains and meet up with Simba and friends from The Lion King, or head into Andy’s Room to experience some Pixar magic with the Toy Story characters, although, in reality, the Disney princesses – and in particular the current behemoth that is Frozen – should surely be the focus if more Magical World content is deemed feasible.

“Do you wanna build a snowman?” That’s £6.99 please. Oh, and six hours of quests to collect snowflakes, carrots and coal. Admittedly, written down that sounds ridiculous, but strangely, having played Magical World, I’m more than alright with the idea.

Now, where’s my Questing Cape?

What’s Good:

  • Disney characters feel true to their origins, a lesson in well crafted fan-service.
  • Hundreds of varied collectables & customisation options, with more coming through DLC & Seasonal events.
  • More visually polished than Cinder’s crystal slipper.

What’s Bad:

  • Repetitive gameplay and quest-objectives.
  • Limited multiplayer aspect.
  • A single save file per game.

In short, Disney Magical World is perhaps best described as Animal Crossing Lite. The quests aren’t going to challenge seasoned gamers too much, but with the farming, fishing, dancing and almost endless customisation and collectables, there’s plenty to see and do. A simple, heartwarming game packed with classic House Of Mouse magic – a must play for young and old fans alike.

Disney Magical World Review (3DS)

Review: Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time (PS3, Vita)

Last generation, before kids only played the latest Call Of Duty & FIFA releases, Sony were riding high with a host of well-loved, child friendly characters & mascots to their name – remember the loud and proud Crash Bandicoot or pre-Skylanders Spyro The Dragon?

What about this guy, Sly Cooper?

Sneaking his way onto PlayStation 3 and Vita some 10 years after his original PS2 adventure, the crafty raccoon is back for a fourth instalment – Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time.

The pages of the Cooper Clan’s ancient manuscript – the Thievius Raccoonus – have begun to mysteriously disappear, and it’s up to Sly to save his family legacy from being destroyed forever – all with a little help from lifelong friends and series stalwarts Bentley & Murray of course.

(For the uninformed, Bentley and Murray are a Turtle, and a Hippopotamus… obviously.)

The time-traveling adventure, which sees our heroes explore regions in time ranging from classical Japan to the American Wild West, is, like its predecessors, a predominantly third person title – set apart with some quirky new and unusual gameplay features.

On the most part these are short mini-games – such as bypassing computer security with gadget guru Bentley, or even dressing up muscle clad Murray as a Geisha girl.

The change in gameplay mechanics every so often can act as a fun little distraction to break up the monotony of Sly’s otherwise point-to-point platforming, but unfortunately, these are few-and-far-between. Fans of the series may disagree, but in my opinion, the game’s pacing can suffer somewhat because of this, with certain stages feeling stale and unexciting – seemingly drawn out far beyond their need.

It’s worth pointing out at this stage, however, that if – like me – you’re a fan of Bentley’s hacks, you can grab the standalone PSN title “Bentley’s Hack Pack” from the PlayStation Store for a further 300 challenges. The title is only £1.59 and – like Thieves In Time – is cross-buy, meaning one purchase will unlock both the PS3 and PlayStation Vita versions.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Vita port of Thieves In Time, whilst included free, is, unfortunately, lacking: Fiddly touch screen implementation replacing the DualShock 3’s trigger buttons, and a reduced frame rate making combat a chore, mean the home console version the smart choice.
Still, it’s a nice bonus for gamers with both PlayStation platforms, should you really need to continue your latest heist whilst on the tube of a morning, and there’s a few neat AR features using the handheld’s camera, if that’s your thing.

Again looking at the big screen title – itself a bargain at only £24.99 – there’s no shortage of content either; Developer Sanzaru Games – who picked up the franchise after original creators Sucker Punch moved their focus onto the far more gritty Infamous series – have packed each of the beautifully styled comic-book-esque environments to the rafters with collectable treasures and trinkets to find should you wish to unlock all the game’s secrets.

Sly’s 10-15 hour main campaign (depending on your competency) is a by-the-books platformer which gamers young and old alike will be able to enjoy, and thankfully, with just so much to do, the game’s controls are easy to pick up, leading to both character and camera movement which, on the PS3 at least, is fluid and responsive, allowing you to roam the visually stunning open environments with ease.

Early on, there’s a fair amount of variety in these surroundings too, although by about half way through my playtest, there was an almost constant sense of deja vu – and whilst Sly will meet new ancestors and gain new abilities stage-by-stage, these can feel rather underutilised and do very little to significantly affect gameplay in the long run.

Another problem is the game’s difficulty, in particular with regards to enemy AI; As with the original trilogy, and many games of it’s time, the enemy will stick to a set routine, making working through levels a relative breeze. Good. Then you get to the “boss” stages. Bad. You see, I’d like to think i’m fairly good at video games, or at the very least, average, and yet Thieves In Time had me stumped on multiple occasions with uncharacteristically complicated areas.

Had I not been playing for review, these infuriating difficulty spikes would have seen Sly ending up on the shelf. In short, Sanzaru Games are certainly breaking no new ground, but Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time is a fantastic value title rooted in solid gameplay. If you’re after a lengthy, classical platforming adventure, with both age appropriate yet snappy humour and bright visuals matched only by Ubisoft’s recent Rayman outings, you shan’t go far wrong dropping it into your swag bag.

Review: Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time (PS3, Vita)

Review: OMG HD Zombies (Vita)

The sheer volume of Zombie based games which have lumbered onto the market over the last few years is, you could say, somewhat of an epidemic; Thankfully, Laughing Jackal’s OMG HD Zombies takes a fresh approach when dealing with the rotting flesh of the undead.

Despite the name, OMG HD Zombies – described by the developers as a “HD redux” of 2011’s hugely popular OMG-Z PlayStation Mini’s title – is far less about the zombies, or indeed the HD, than you’d imagine.

At it’s cold un-beating heart, OMG HD Zombies is a puzzle game, and whilst there’s some thinly layered story about an apocalypse and an elite team tasked with clearing Redfield City of the blood-thirsty blighters, their inclusion is largely irrelevant. You could be shooting at perfectly healthy people, different coloured barrels, or fluffy pink kittens, for all it matters.

For reasons unknown (and unquestioned – just enjoy it), the infection seems to have manifested itself differently amongst a multitude of residents – with each zombie ‘class’ responding to your hollow-tips in a unique fashion; Some will simply drop dead, whilst others explode in a shower of gore, or melt into a pool of toxic goo.
There’s a couple of humorous new additions over the PlayStation Mini’s OMG-Z release too, such as the poor chap whose head pops off like a mortar shell, landing elsewhere in the environment and causing further chaos.

Spread over 100 levels, you’ll find yourself coming up against literally thousands of HD Zombies, and with ammunition supplies scarce, every single shot counts. Alas, you’ll need to vanquish the marauding hordes with carefully considered forethought.
Run ‘n’ gun style gameplay wont work here – in fact, you can’t run at all – you’re dropped into the uniquely monochromatic comic-book-style streets at a given vantage point and must target the right enemy to trigger a brutal street-cleansing chain reaction. OMG HD Zombies requires cun ‘n’ gun tactics.

Whilst the top-down urban environments of each stage are fixed, the zombies themselves are placed at random, and as such OMG HD is somewhat of an oddity for competitive gamers. It’s all in good fun, but with each stage having a scoring system attached to PSN trophies and global leaderboards, the least I’d expect is a level playing field.

(Maybe that’s just sour grapes though – I’m terrible at OMG HD.)

Of course, there’s two ways to look at this organic spawning system; And the unreliable placement of the zombies – meaning levels cannot be ‘learnt’ – brings unparalleled replay value and longevity to a game which would otherwise be short lived.

Each level can be experienced a hundred times over and a perfect shot would never be the same; Zombie type, density, and direction of movement all come into play – and whilst there’ll be times where a quick tap works, you’ll more often than not find yourself waiting for the perfect opportunity to shoot.

Controls are, as I say, extremely simple, with the Vita’s touch controls doing everything from navigating the menus to firing your rifle. The latter, unfortunately, suffers quite some degree of inaccuracy and did tend to get frustrating when targeting a particular figure amongst the crowd. Fortunately, you can switch to an analogue based control scheme as of that seen in the old game – which makes use of a crosshair and a fire button – should this be more to your liking.

After each stage you’re given one of four rankings based upon the number of infected you’ve managed to dispatch – with this you’ll also unlock new stages and in-game currency to spend on 100 weapon upgrades and modifications. The latter levels are all but impossible without these upgrades, but again, they also mean you’ll head back and replay earlier scenarios with a view to attaining a new high score.
If you do get completely stuck at any point, there’s also the option to buy a level-clearing ‘ZIT Grenade’ for £0.65 of actual money, but with the aforementioned upgrades applied this isn’t a necessity, by any means.

The slightly clumsy default controls and cluttered menu system shouldn’t put you off what is otherwise a wonderfully addictive puzzle title, oozing with style, substance and blood. Lots of blood.

Log on to the PlayStation store and pick up OMG HD Zombies now for £2.99 – You’ll thank me for it when you’re holed-up in a bunker somewhere trying to forestall global armageddon.

Review: OMG HD Zombies (Vita)

Review: Men’s Room Mayhem, PlayStation Vita

Available as from today on the PlayStation Vita, iOS and Android stores is the first game developed by Sawfly Studios, an indie start-up comprising four ex Sony Liverpool senior employees. So, what’re we to expect from the guys that bought as Wipeout?

Probably not this.

Sawfly have joined with Ripstone Games, a publishing powerhouse on the Vita as of late, to release their altogether different title Men’s Room Mayhem. Different is a good thing.

Ripstone’s Men’s Room Mayhem is a game “inspired by men’s room etiquette”. I know, the idea sounds questionable at best, but don’t wash your hands of it just yet.

Men’s Room Mayhem is actually really good fun.

Gameplay is based around the chaotic line-drawing genre, made famous by Firemint’s Flight Control, which saw players guiding planes to their respective runways and became an instant mobile-gaming sensation and best seller upon it’s release in 2009.

In Men’s Room Mayhem, you are tasked with the job of janitor – primarily responsible for guiding males, who may or may not be called John, to the, well, you get the idea.

Using your device’s touchscreen, you must lead numerous characters to their required destination, be that the urinal or the cubical. If you want to keep your job, however, the unwritten rules of the men’s room must be observed.

First and foremost there’s no touching. At any point. Ever. That is to say, unless of course you want to be breaking up a fight and subsequently mopping up a pool of blood.

Aside from letting the waves of potty patrons relieve themselves on the floor, these collisions are the only way you’ll be fired, but then there’s a whole host of secondary etiquette which must also be observed if you want to rack up a high score. Ensuring each John or Thomas doesn’t peek over to a neighboring urinal or directing each little chap to the hand-wash basins after their business will accrue bonus points, all of which are multiplied based on the number of men on screen.

With any title in this genre, the core gameplay doesn’t stray far from these ideas, but as you progress there’s a variety of different locations to unlock and the different bathroom layouts and unique characteristics of their locals keep things feeling lemon-fresh.

Men’s Room Mayhem’s level progression is objective based, although the way these work in real-terms is akin to dropping your pants and then realising there’s no paper – they don’t – you just abandon all plans and start again.

You’ll be presented with specific requirements, such as ensuring 3 people wash their hands during a certain wave of gameplay, but because said objectives don’t update during gameplay you’ll be forced to quit and restart, subsequently breaking your high score, should you wish to attempt a new challenge and progress through the game any quicker than in 10 minute dribbles.

With global and friend based leaderboards, this isn’t how the game was designed to be played, but it certainly makes unlocking objectives and, as a result, rewards or PlayStation trophies faster.

All in all, Men’s Room Mayhem is a mobile title with it’s own distinct style and humour; The game’s clearly not going to be sat on any porcelain pedestals, but it’s a well presented, fairly priced and most importantly fun little game for those moments on the throne.

Ripstone and Sawfly have crafted something which makes loitering in a grotty men’s room far more enjoyable than it should be. I’ll see you in there soon.

Men’s Room Mayhem is available on iOS and Android now for the more than reasonable price of £0.69. [Players on these platforms can enjoy 5 stages and the standard timed game mode, choosing later to upgrade to the “complete” version, which will include a further 2 stages, extra characters and an endless “Blitz” gameplay mode, for a further £0.69]

The PlayStation Vita version includes all extra content at launch, and is £1.99, or £0.99 for PlayStation Plus subscribers.

Review: Men’s Room Mayhem, PlayStation Vita

Review: Jacob Jones And The Bigfoot Mystery Part One, PlayStation Vita

Jacob Jones & The Bigfoot Mystery: A Bump In The Night is the first of a five part episodic puzzle-adventure game from British development studio Lucid Games.

The series, as you would expect, follows our titular character, schoolboy Jacob Jones, as he unearths the mysterious legend of the Sasquatch, or Bigfoot – and all that entails.

We’re first introduced to Jacob as the somewhat socially-awkward youngster arrives alongside the wooded cabins of Eagle Feather Summer Camp – a wonderfully crafted and stylised environment which plays home to a myriad of kooky characters, including, amongst others, an eastern European groundskeeper with plans for his mail-order tiger, and a stonking great Phys Ed teacher with an undeniable superiority complex.

All perfectly normal, and commonplace in a multitude of videogames, I’m sure you’d agree.

Gameplay is a simple affair with movement controlled by a mixture of touchscreen gestures, such as swipes to walk around each scene, or taps to interact with points-of-interest. There’s also tilt controls, which utilise your device’s gyroscope sensors to adjust the player’s viewpoint and reveal previously unseen secrets.

Each chapter of Jacob’s journey has its own interesting narrative and charming characters – all sitting satisfyingly amongst the engaging humour, dry-wit and intrigue of BAFTA nominated writer George Pole’s overarching storyline.

Oh, and, there’s the puzzles.
I jest, of course, for Jacob Jones & The Bigfoot Mystery is a puzzle game at heart – and an excellent one at that – but I feel it’s real importance, and value, lies in the inclusion of said story.
Episode One features both logical and mathematical problems aplenty – a handful over 20 of varying ilks and difficulties in total – which will have you glancing quizzically at everything from a fairly unambiguous spot-the-difference, to the dilemmas involved with serving the perfect pizza for friends, or interpreting the song of a trapped bigfoot; You know, as you do.

Moving through the game, you’ll be presented with these puzzles, which, whilst generally lighthearted in nature seem consistently well-conceived, intuitive, and rarely out-of-place with regards to the wider plot points to which they’re linked.

There’s a challenge to be had if you want to attain a perfect score on each puzzle – and in doing so you’ll often earn a trophy or achievement of some kind – but there’s nothing here which is going to stump a seasoned puzzler.

Newcomers alike need not fret either, as helpful hints for each mini-game are available – at a cost of virtual credits – should you need them, and the camp is literally littered with opportunities to earn these.
An unexpected idea though perhaps, is that for the most part, the puzzles are, at any given time, optional; You’ll have to complete a majority of them at some point, but you won’t be held back with regards to game progression if you pass as certain challenges appear, choosing instead to come back later with a fresh thinking cap on.

This mechanic makes the Jacob Jones series of games great for short pick-up-and-play sessions whereby you’re still able to enjoy a story without being held to ransom and getting increasingly frustrated if a particular puzzle doesn’t work for you right away.

The only caveat to completion of A Bump In The Night was that 18 of the 23 available puzzles had been finished at some point, although when and in which order, is again, entirely up to the player.

A Bump In The Night is a delight to experience; For a game of its genre, and indeed it’s price, the production values are second-to-none.
The standard of sound & character design – sitting atop the vivid landscape which aesthetically wouldn’t be out of place in any well loved children’s tales – coupled with the well-written story and rewarding puzzles made my entire playthrough, whilst over a little too soon at around 2.5 hours, an extremely enjoyable one.

The first instalment of this Bigfoot Mystery has certainly whet my appetite for more of the same, and with many of Camp Eagle Feather’s stones left unturned, I’m hoping part two delivers exactly that when it arrives on the PSN and iTunes in the coming months.

Part one of the Jacob Jones And The Bigfoot Mystery saga, A Bump In The Night, is available right now for the PlayStation Vita (£1.59) and iOS (£1.99), with a possible Android port forthcoming.

If you don’t go and pick it up, I’m sending the big guy round.

Review: Jacob Jones And The Bigfoot Mystery Part One, PlayStation Vita

Impressions: Far Cry 3 Online (PS3)

Far Cry 3’s competitive multiplayer mode is, when it works as it should, pretty enjoyable; There’s some seriously weighty gun-play, customisable loadouts, and numerous large, varied and well designed pre-built maps, each with plenty of opportunities for long range or close quarter combat; There’s even a fully featured, if slightly perplexing, map editor, which has led the community to create some rather impressive home-grown battlefields.

There’s no groundbreaking game modes on display, but there doesn’t need to be – you get exactly what you’d expect from a FPS multiplayer – variations on the ever-present Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag and King Of The Hill modes, albeit those then loosely themed around a pirate-heavy island setting.

Nonetheless, a few little additions here-and-there show Ubisoft Montreal have really tried to make Far Cry’s multiplayer feel like it belongs amongst the ranks of other shooters. It’s certainly not going to pull any hardcore frag-fans away from the latest Call Of Duty, but the weapon progression, team support and perks system are all well implemented and there’s even support for a nifty mobile app which allows you to edit your loadout on-the-fly and ‘decode’ enemy USB sticks you rather bizarrely seem to earn with each win.

Unfortunately, for all it’s plus points, Far Cry 3’s online component has it’s negatives;

The single player campaign featured a rich and rewarding story, as much about Jason Brody’s survival and adaptation to the environment as anything else;
Each mission gave the player choice – the choice to go in gung-ho, fighting tooth and nail, or to be the little-boy-lost, trying desperately to sneak past unseen.

Far Cry 3’s competitive multiplayer forgoes all choice.

It’s all about gunplay, regardless of how you actually want to play.The RPG crafting and levelling system, the wilderness, the slowly-slowly stealth approach building to an explosive crescendo – all but invisible behind a now overwhelming barrage of muzzle-flash and poison gas.

Like I said, at times it’s a really tidy, well designed, and brilliantly fun online component, which had it been alongside a different campaign, would complement the single player perfectly. It just doesn’t feel right when coupled with the Far Cry 3 I played. Not at all.
The co-operative missions are, again, a veritable romp to play, and there’s a bare-bones story which features the contractual pirates and an island, but it’s a Far Cry from what I wanted, having devoted over 25 hours to the single player.

Regardless of which multiplayer mode you’re attempting, the maps and assets found within them are obviously from the same pool as the main game, and they look great – the closed environments actually help alleviate visual discrepancies such as the open-world “clipping” and questionable draw distances found offline, and yet, regardless of this, if you jump from single player into an online mode, for all the glaring similarities, something just feels, for want of a better word, wrong.

It’s like not only an entirely different game, but an entirely different world – the atmosphere, pace, open world freedom and style you’ve come to expect and enjoy are completely gone.

I really, really wanted to love Far Cry’s multiplayer aspect – I wanted it to enhance and expand upon the experience and excitement thrust upon me by the main game – but the harder I try, the
harder this becomes. For all intents and purposes, multiplayer is broken.

Arguably the game’s biggest stumbling block is the stupidly long loading times – In researching this piece I’ve repeatedly spent 20+ minutes sitting in a matchmaking lobby. There’s absolutely no indication why, or even that the game’s not entirely frozen. Am I waiting for the current round to end, before I join? No idea. Seems unlikely though, given the 57 minute wait at one point yesterday. Nearly an hour for the servers to find me a “quick game”. And no, going via a particular game mode isn’t any swifter.

Perhaps the load time and the subsequent lag in-game go someway to explaining the astonishingly low number of players online, too? Maybe it’s because the game’s still relatively new and everyone is, as I did, choosing to run through the campaign first; Who knows? I’d like to think that’s the case however, because at peak times, there’s repeatedly fewer than 500 people online.

One of the game modes I tried to play last night, a variant on the usually popular Capture The Flag mode, had only 16 players. Sixteen. That’s 2 available public lobbies, a month and a half since the game launched; That’s worrying.
As to be expected, the majority of players were found playing Team Deathmatch, although with room sizes reaching 14 players, that still only leaves 30 or so matches, and when you factor in connection rates, gamers are presented with a suprisingly low number of playable options.

(For comparison, Call Of Duty Black Ops, a game released almost exactly two years prior to Far Cry 3 had, at the time of my test, 500 times as many players on it’s PS3 servers.)

Purchasing Far Cry 3 around the Christmas period, as I suspect many people did, may have been this game’s undoing. Having read the pre-release hype, and given the gameplay a tinkle back at the Eurogamer Expo, I was now ridiculously excited to see how the story behind Rook Island tied in to it’s spectacular gameplay.
I purposely left the game unplayed until the middle of January, knowing I would have a few hours to sit and sink my teeth into the island and it’s characters undisturbed, and now after perhaps ten lenghty sittings, with near 100% completion, I’m so very glad I did.

There’s a conundrum ricocheting around my head though – should I have played the multiplayer first?

If the linear level design and basic storyline had been my first impression, I cannot comprehend how amazed I would have felt after being let loose on Rook Island and Vaas. The difference is mind-boggling. Everything I’d seen and felt thus far would have expanded, rather than retracted, and a mediocre shooter would have grown in scope to a GOTY contender.

Or, perhaps I’d have just felt a bit underwhelmed by it all – and turned my console off?

Herein lies a quandary. I honestly believe had I not left the game on my shelf, and instead chosen to load up multiplayer, it may have been another month or even more before I found the enthusiasm to start the single player campaign.

Far Cry 3’s multiplayer really is a Catch-22; If the server issues are addressed, with regards to load times and lag, then you’ll be facing a good solid online action game, pirates and tattooed tribespeople included. Conversely, the single player campaign is so much more than that, and for me, it’s just a shame the two-halves have to share a disc and form a rather juxtaposed whole.

Multiplayer has, for all it’s joys, been detrimental to my Far Cry experience; It’s tainted my impressions of the title, and had these been my first impressions, I certainly wouldn’t be calling Jason Brody’s adventure one of my games of the generation.

Impressions: Far Cry 3 Online (PS3)