Friday, 26 April 2019

Asylum Reviews: Katana Zero [Switch].

I've been looking for a new game to get me back in to playing the Switch, and Askiisoft's Katana Zero has definitely scratched that itch. It's a fast paced game with hugely addictive qualities, and I could not put it down.

You play as a samurai who has no idea who he is, aside from the fact that he served in a war seven years ago and has been unable to recover his memories since. You now work as an assassin who receives dossiers with target information after each visit with your therapist. These visits seem innocuous at first, but soon things start to piece together.

As each level loads, figuring things out can seem impossible at first. Timing your dodge-rolls, reflecting bullets back towards enemies and slowing down time to ensure your survival are just a few of the mechanics at your disposal. Learning your enemies movements and attack patterns is crucial to your success. I found that you need to be aware of these things but don't over-think them, as doing so will often lead to your demise.

Taking one single hit from an enemy, or a mis-timed run under massive crushing machines will send you right back to the beginning of the level you're on. These deaths are short-lived however, with a quick restart having you back in the action within seconds. It's easy to quick restart and repeatedly make the same simple error, or successfully get through a level only to make a silly mistake towards the end and find yourself starting over. The more you try to rush, the more mistakes you will make, so take it easy!

As each level is completed, you are given the option to watch just how everything played out on CCTV. Doing so might allow you to see areas where you can improve, and helps you to learn how each specific enemy type interacts upon detection. If you fail a level and opt to restart, what you've just played will rewind. One element I think I might have liked here is the ability to utilise this rewind skill to return to a moment immediately prior to death, giving you the chance to avoid having to run through a whole level again. 

 VHS tapes are also how the levels are displayed under the Level Select screen. Names are blurred out until levels are unlocked, keeping a little of the mystery going. All of these elements to the game really immerse you in it, with it adding another layer of depth to the story. I really like when developers do things like this with things as small as menus and options - it's not a totally necessary addition to have fun and quirky menus, but it really highlights the love and attention to detail that has gone into making the game.

Dialogue is fun and interesting, with certain choices making an impact on how conversations will turn out further down the line. Aside from the few standard choices of response, you will sometimes have a snappy response too, whilst the timer bar is still within the red section. These responses tend to cut off whoever you are speaking to, and demand more urgency than the other options. It helps to try and remember what options you chose, as you may be questioned on it later - and a wrong answer might cost you.

We really enjoyed playing Katana Zero, and will definitely be keeping an eye out for any of Askiisoft's future titles. The simple style, combined with the beautiful art design and catchy soundtrack just made KZ a joy to play - even if we got frustrated at times.

In the end, we decide to award Katana Zero with the Collecting Asylum score of 9/10.

Have you played Katana Zero yet? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Asylum Reviews: Vaporum [Xbox One].

Fatbot Games' Vaporum is a new trip down the grid-based RPG dungeon-crawling lane. Previously released on PC back in 2017, the console port has finally arrived. Set on a small island, within a giant mechanical tower - you have no idea what is going on. Why are you there? Things seem familiar to the character, but you'll have to piece together the puzzle from clues hidden throughout.

Soon, you'll be presented with the option of a few different Exoskeleton Rigs to choose from. These all vary as to what might best suit your play-style preferences - this can range from Rigs that are optimised for Combat power, to Heavy Rigs which are slower but can take more of a beating, to the Thauma Rig for additional health/healing ability. Whichever you choose, you'll be stuck with, so be sure before you make that choice.

There are hidden notes and recordings located throughout the game which dive in to a little more of just what has been going on. From tales of porno mag stashes, to information about hidden weapons, these secrets flesh out the world a little more, enticing you in. The maps are decently sized, with some backtracking needed at times to find items or access newly unlocked areas, encouraging you to explore. Having the mini-map viewable helped me to adjust to my surroundings on multiple occasions due to sections looking very similar - this allowed me to re-assess the course I need to take in order to progress, and the ability to add custom markers to your map as a reminder for important things (such as locations to return to upon finding the relevant key) was a god send.

The story itself however, left me feeling a tad flat. It feels like the story, explained through the protagonist's narration, grinds to a halt frequently and the voice acting is very inconsistent with some parts feeling well done and convincing... and other parts not so much. Locations are dull and repetitive despite the decent amount of detail that has gone in to them, which is a shame. An optional game mode, "old school" makes you play with no game map visible, forcing you to whip out a pen and paper if you have any hopes of navigating your way through the almost maze-like locations.

Movement during combat was frustrating: rotating on the spot whilst trying to move around a target would leave me vulnerable to attack - and using abilities such as slowing down time didn't seem to improve this much. With each battle, you'll gain EXP as well as loot which can be used to instantly upgrade your Rig. Additional armor or improved weapons are always a bonus, so checking every possible nook and cranny becomes second nature when playing a game like Vaporum. These additions could be the difference between life or death, so ensuring that you don't miss anything important is key. EXP is use to upgrade your suit via circuits. Choosing particular circuits will provide a boost to certain stats or unlock new skills, so always make sure to upgrade when you can.

With five difficulty settings I thought going straight down the middle with "Normal" would have been a safe bet. Not a chance in hell would I be going near Brutal, but I didn't want to give myself too much of an easy time - after all, a little challenge can be good. However, even on Normal, Vaporum sometimes felt like the odds were unfairly stacked against you. Gathering Fumium on your journey, and using it to upgrade your abilities via your Skill Tree negates some of this, however there is such a sharp incline in difficulty that you might rage-quit before you even get so far as to see it properly make a difference. Special Abilities can be gained, which are a fantastic addition to your arsenal - the electric shock one that you unlock towards the beginning of the game was a personal favourite of mine. Must keep in mind though that this doesn't impact all enemies the same, in fact, some may receive very little damage through electricity at all.

Lighting was god-awful throughout large portions of the game, and combining this with the already dark and gloomy atmosphere, I'd often find myself struggling to get my bearings and suss out what I'm looking at. Some moments would feel clearer, but this was short-lived, and when you're on the lookout for enemies this can sometimes leave you feeling quite annoyed.

Enemy types are varied and require some thought when planning your attack. Initial enemies such as Welder Drones are easy to take down in a few hits of your trusty crowbar (the first weapon I found), which itself appears to be a little nod to Half-Life, as is inscribed "Happy Anniversary Gordon", causing you to say "Who's Gordon?". Later enemies require some tactic, and utilising different weapons and skills is the best way to defeat them. Identify potential weaknesses, and then use this to your advantage.

In the end, Vaporum just didn't grab me like I'd hoped, which was disappointing as we loved the Steampunk aesthetic to begin with, but the slow pacing and frustrating combat left us feeling slightly bored. Therefore, we decided to give Vaporum the Collecting Asylum rating of 5.5/10.

Have you played it? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Asylum Reviews: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice [Xbox One].

Apologies in advance for the mega-late review of Sekiro. Evidently, I suck at games like this and well... I needed to play more than just the first twenty minutes (x50) to adequately have an opinion!

FromSoftware's latest title, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is every bit as punishing as the Souls series is known for. Set in late 16th century Sengoku Japan, you play as Wolf, a shinobi on the hunt for revenge after the kidnapping of his master. After losing your arm in the fight against Genichiro, you are taken in by a Sculptor who fits you with a prosthetic arm known as the Shinobi Prosthetic. This arm has a multitude of upgradeable weapons available to it, which you must find and return to the Sculptor for attaching in order to aid you in your quest for retribution.

"Take Revenge. Restore your honor. Kill Ingeniously."

The tagline alone sums it up nicely. Combat is now less about furiously bashing buttons to reduce the enemies' health, and instead focuses on their posture. An enemy with full health can have their posture totally thrown off with the right moves, making them vulnerable to Deathblows. Utilise the different Prosthetics you have on hand (I actually groaned at that pun, sorry!) to gain an advantage (or should I say, upper hand... right, I'll stop now) over your enemies.

It's unbelievably frustrating at times, and I fell victim to my own impatience on many occasions, finding myself in an infinite loop. Wipe out all enemies in the area. Take on the boss. Die. Repeat. Do a little better this time. Die. Repeat. Think I've sussed it out. Die. Repeat. Get impatient and try to do things faster. Die faster. Repeat. The cycle goes on and on.You'll find yourself almost crushing the controller in your hands out of sheer exasperation, before telling yourself that everything is fine, it's supposed to be hard. That you'll manage it next time.

Sometimes the best thing you can do in that situation is just walk away. Leave the game for a while, do something else. Anything else. Then, when you come back to it with a clear head - armed with the knowledge you gained the first hundred times around - you just might do it. Having the ability to revive after death - providing you haven't already wasted it dying a needless death 30 seconds before a boss fight, is one of the best aspects of the game. It is in the name after all. This allows you to figure out a plan of attack, and coupled with your Healing Gourd, can make all the difference between finishing a battle or not.

Death - and in particular, repeated death - can cause Dragonrot. A horrible illness afflicting many of those around you, increasing infection rate the more frequently you are killed. Revives do not increase this, and with the discovery of Dragon's Blood Droplets, this can be reversed, allowing questlines to continue (as some may be affected if the relevant NPC is infected) and Unseen Aid - the chance for XP and gold to not be halved upon death - restored.

As can be expected from a FromSoftware title, the bosses are fantastic and interestingly designed. With differing levels of difficulty and necessity, taking the time to decide if a boss is worth attempting now or coming back for later gives you extra control in how you want to play. Some bosses can't be avoided, which can make for a pretty tough time, but you'll find that a whole bunch of 'em can just be ignored and ran straight past if you don't feel up to it just yet.

The varied settings are stunning, and travelling from place to place is made all the better through the use of your built-in grappling hook. This allows you to build up some speed on your travels, and comes in handy when up against tough bosses as it allows you to not only get some space to recover but can also be used before/after certain attacks to give you a quick opening to attack the enemy. 

Shrines seem to be less spaced out than the Bonfires were in the Souls series, giving a touch more comfort to an otherwise nerve-wracking expedition. These allow you to navigate the world quickly and easily, as well as giving you the chance to rest and replenish your resurrection power, whilst respawning enemies (aside from bosses) to allow you some time to grind and build up those experience points. The sound design is beautifully done, with a fitting score and superbly done voice acting - even when using the English voice track.

A few glitches happened here and there, but nothing so serious as to make the game unplayable. Most were just hilarious physics issues, often caused by the de-spawning and respawning of bodies when entering a previously cleared out area, resulting in the bodies falling from the sky or flailing around awkwardly. These tended to cause more of a laugh than anything else, and didn't impact on gameplay experience at all.

In the end, we decided that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice deserves the Collecting Asylum rating of 9/10.

Have you played Sekiro? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Friday, 12 April 2019

Asylum Reviews: FAR: Lone Sails [Xbox One].

After playing tough and/or frustrating games like Sekiro and Outward endlessly for the past couple of weeks, Okomotive's FAR: Lone Sails offered a sweet, sweet refuge I couldn't be more grateful for. A side-scrolling puzzle-lite game, with no dialogue or enemies, FAR proved to be a simple, reflective journey.

You play a small nameless character in a desolate world, alone and mourning the loss of a loved one (whose grave you'll find yourself at as the game begins). The game's description being listed as: “FAR: Lone Sails” is a vehicle adventure game. The player needs to maintain and upgrade their unique vessel to traverse a dried-out sea." 

One of the devs has been posting on Reddit and was asked to pitch the game for everyone:

gamedevM: It's basically a journey you take. It's you and your rickety vehicle vs. the environment. You have to take care of your vehicle by collecting flotsam, burning it in the oven to generate fuel, set the sail when the wind is right, repair broken parts etc. You mainly travel, discover what happened in this place and overcome obstacles together by solving puzzles.

A perfect description, from one of the people who knows best. It truly is a wonderful, relaxing game, and can be completed from start to finish in under two hours. 

Shown above, you can see the different areas of your vehicle, including your energy tank, steam meter, and more. At the far left, marked with the number 2, is the fuel converter, where you'll place an item (such as boxes, tanks and even chairs and radios) and have it converted into fuel to keep your little land-ship running. You have to jump from area to area in order to keep your landship moving properly, from filling the tank, to pushing the big button to increase the speed, to releasing the steam valve when the pressure gets too high (which gives you a handy little speed boost too). Just to the right of the steam meter is a button that you boop with your head to brake - not doing so, and going too fast when approaching a wall with make you crash, and can lead to various parts of your vehicle to go on fire, and need repaired.

Different parts of the vehicle will get upgraded as you progress, such as gaining the sail to begin with, improved wheels and add-ons such as a vacuum to hoover up useful items for refueling. The vacuum is a great addition as refueling the tank is required frequently, however, even in the absence of the vacuum you can manage fine - simply needing to hit the brakes and manually collect the crates and such yourself. Having your sail raised can help further, as even without fuel the wind will propel you forward slowly but surely.

The game's score fits beautifully with not only the setting, but the often peaceful pace in which you journey across this abandoned world. Art style is beautiful, with muted tones with the occasional pop of colour for your fuel and the various buttons you'll need to use - making these stand out due to their importance.

As you travel, you come across various buildings and locations that provide a slight puzzle for you to solve in order to progress. These are simple enough, with the main requirements being to either hit a button or refuel something. It's a nice change of pace to prevent the game from solely taking place in the confines of your ship, albeit you'll find that to be a comfort - protecting you from the elements through harsh weather changes.

With FAR: Lone Sails being a fairly short game, the ability to 100% all of the achievements seemed to be a hopeful prospect, especially after completing the game and realising I only had two left to unlock. One of the two I had left was to reach 9001 on the distance counter. I'd reached something like 5000 on my first run (which is apparently surprising, as most people seem to have been around the 3500 mark), which I think was mostly down to replaying two stretches due to bugs: the first, causing me to be unable to pick up any items (after an item I was holding somehow pinged away from me), and the second caused me to become trapped after going through a hole in the ground earlier than I should have, and coming back up, preventing me from getting back down there when required! As the counter carries over on multiple playthroughs, replaying these sections boosted my counter up to 5000+ so I was excited to see I could complete the "It's Over 9000!" (DBZ reference highly appreciated in this household) achievement after just one more run...

However, the game crashed during the end credits and when I began my next run my counter had reset to 0.

The other achievement would have been awarded for completing the game in under 99 minutes, which I think I missed by a grand total of 5 minutes on my second playthrough - but after the distance counter resetting, I had already gotten quite frustrated about my achievement hunting plans. I almost, almost didn't bother playing it through to completion for the second time, knowing the 9001 achievement was already going to be out of reach, but I already wanted to replay that last stretch of the game, shown below.

The game comes to a close with a satisfying yet sombre end. A melancholy end to a story that has no real story - no dialogue, no long drawn-out explanations for things, just whatever the game manifests as in your mind. The relationship between you and your landship draws to an end, and already the game makes you want to play again.

I'll definitely go back to FAR again, although I'm hoping that this time I won't have any issues with the distance counter resetting again. Aside from a couple of small bugs/glitches, the game ran smoothly and kept me totally transfixed. At the cheap, cheap price of £12.49 on Xbox, it's a no-brainer to give it a try, and I would recommend it to anyone.

In the end, we decided that FAR: Lone Sails deserves the Collecting Asylum rating of 8.5/10.

Have you played it? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Asylum Reviews: Outward [Xbox One].

Ninedots' Outward sees you play as a simple commoner who has inherited his family's debt, with just a short amount of time (a few days, in fact) given to pay it off. Straightaway, Outward shuns the traditional archetypes of RPG protagonists and gives the player the added bond of realism to the character, and with it the dread of how being nothing but a simple, boring ol' human may impact you.

Everything is a potential threat to your health in Outward. From the enemies to the harsh environments (and not wearing the proper attire), or even just eating rotten food, everything can play a part in your downfall. You need to plan your course of attack, or prepare for journeys to ensure you'll always have access to a food supply, in order to truly excel in this game. You're a breakable little human, and recognising this is the first thing you must do if you are to succeed. Running into fights unprepared definitely gives your enemies the upper hand, particularly in crowds. Being stealthy is usually the preferred - and safer - option, allowing for a little more advance planning and reducing the risk of being trapped and outnumbered. The game is far more survival-orientated than most other RPGs, and forgetting this will only make your journey more difficult and frustrating.

It's the first game in a while that we've been able to play properly via split-screen. With the increased focus on online gaming, and particularly online multiplayer (battle royales, anyone?), we've moved further and further from the classic days of couch co-op. What was once a staple of gaming has now been reduced to almost nothing, with most games opting to only include co-op gameplay via online rather than local split-screen; the days of chilling out with friends, huddling around the TV and delving into a story together is dying out.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm a panicky player. It really doesn't take much to startle me and have me lose all sense of how to actually play a game. I'll go from walking calmly to bouncing around in my seat and yelling obscenities at the screen. Having the ability to play local co-op means that my chances of dying unnecessarily are significantly reduced. Allan's support  allows me to be the usual overly-anxious player I am, with minimal risk. He can wipe out a large portion of enemies and fend off my attackers with ease whilst I run around like a headless chicken, something he deserves praise for as he doesn't always have the patience to deal with a co-op partner such as myself, haha. Another benefit to playing co-op is that in this game, the survival element takes you all the way to your sleep requirements. Sleeping not only replenishes your health and stamina, and despite being a necessity it can prove quite difficult due to leaving you open to attack. There are three activities that can be done during the night: Sleep, fairly self explanatory, Guard - reduces the risk of being attacked at night, and Repair - which deals with the damage done to your weapons and items. In two-player, one of you can guard the whole night to allow the other to rest up, or you can take it in shifts. This helps to negate some of the vulnerability that comes with being asleep, and gives co-op players a bit of a boost compared to their single-player counterparts.

A neat feature of Outward is your backpack. As with a lot of survival games, you can only carry a certain amount of stuff with you on your quest. Backpacks can help you increase this capacity, with better, larger backpacks further improving this. The larger and heavier your backpack however, the more your mobility is affected. Once again, you need to have your planning hat on to be able to decide what is truly going to make a difference for you on any particular leg of your journey. If you get caught out in a fight, you can drop your bag instantly, allowing your mobility to increase and improve your speed. You'll need to remember to collect the backpack afterwards though, otherwise all of those precious items that you've been gathering are as good as gone. It's something we haven't seen in many games, especially to ditch the extra weight on the fly like this, and is a nice little addition to the game that we'd love to see more of.

Combat is difficult and oftentimes slow and clunky. You will die a lot to begin with, and that's okay to some extent as you learn the ropes. The variety of ways you "respawn" can make things more intriguing, but having this happen over and over definitely becomes a huge drag. Things do eventually improve a bit, with the increase in skill and better weapons making things a little less frustrating, but you'll still find yourself cursing out the slow, floaty movements and non-connecting attacks. Playing in co-op definitely helps out with this as you aren't as defenseless with a friend there to help you out, but the slowness is still noticeable. Utilising magic is far more interesting and breaks up some of the monotony of fighting. Learning runes and taking time to learn their combinations for specific spells is a sure-fire way to improve the gameplay for yourself as the battles become a bit more flowing and fun. Remembering the combinations can be a bit of a challenge but overall this feels more rewarding, and as we'd imagine real magic would feel due to learning through a fair bit of trial and error.

Visually, Outward is a bit of a confusing mixed bag. Some things look fantastic, and other things look pretty bland and low quality. The settings are frequently stunning, and show a great amount of detail, but sometimes things just look a bit off. The creatures are varied and interesting, and have some truly impressive designs, but fighting them can end up feeling like a chore. Travelling across the vast world is similarly chore-like. With no fast travel system, or even a quicker method, getting from one place to the other can take what feels like forever and while this is something the devs have done intentionally, it doesn't make it feel any less boring. The soundtrack/score is fantastic, and fits the whole theme and style of Outward well - it's definitely one of the best parts of the game.

Overall, Outward was an okay experience. It took quite a lot to get into it, and when we finally did, the jankiness was still enough to put us off a bit. There's been talk of quite a lot of bugs, which luckily we didn't run in to too many of, but the devs are still working hard to fix these so hopefully there will be other tweaks here and there that will improve the other issues we have with the game.

In the end, we decided to give Outward the Collecting Asylum rating of 6.5/10.

Have you played Outward? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Asylum Reviews: Party Hard 2 [Xbox One].

After really enjoying the first Party Hard, I was desperate for more. And when PH2 was released in 2018 I was so excited, but it wasn’t...