Saturday, 30 May 2020

Asylum Reviews: Maneater [Xbox One].

Growing up, one game that I would always inevitably return to on whatever crappy PC or phone I had at the time was Feeding Frenzy. If you don’t know Feeding Frenzy, the basic premise was that you play as a fish that has to eat other – smaller – fish,in order to grow in size and be able to eat everything. From there, we got Hungry Shark World, released in 2018, which was clearly inspired by the style of Feeding Frenzy and had a very similar – albeit expanded and improved – feel. But still, something felt missing.

A new challenger approaches…

Enter Maneater. Developed and published by Tripwire Interactive, Maneater is the evolution of games like Feeding Frenzy, in that not only is the gameplay massively better, but there’s a decent level of story to get you invested, too. You play as a female bull shark looking for revenge against a shark hunter, known as Scaly Pete, for killing your mother. Similarly, he's on the hunt for you for chomping his hand off on that very same day. It's a full open-world munch-fest and it is glorious.

The game starts out with a documentary-style intro, which continues throughout the story. Characters shown in these clips have an almost Borderlands look to them, with bright colours and exaggerated outlines. Hashtags appear in the bottom right corner, along with the “show” logo and time that it airs, further emphasising the documentary theme. It follows Scaly Pete on his quest to hunt for the shark that took his hand and gives a look into the life of Shark Hunters like him. Narration is provided by the fantastic Chris Parnell, who delivers every line with absolute hilarity.

The art style is really well done, with plenty of detail in everything around you. From the moment the game starts, you can see how stunning everything looks. The world is surprisingly large, and the differences from being under or above water are immediately obvious. Below water, visibility is often impacted allowing you only to see a certain distance in front of you. Above water, your visibility goes right across the map to all of the glorious sights: towering hotels with bright neon lights of the nearby resort, motorway bridges extending over the water and gorgeous golf courses with tonnes of unsuspecting holidaymakers in and out of the water. Sound design is done fantastically also, with a clear difference between underwater sounds and those above sea level. And of course you’ll be well entertained by the narrator giving funny quips about what's going on. I really enjoyed just swimming around and taking in the view. It's not often we can delve into the ocean in games and fully see it as its own world.

One thing I would have really liked to see is more natural interaction to make this feel like a truly living, breathing world. Creatures don't attack each other, and human characters have a tendency to act very awkward when you go near them. In the water, they'll swim away but upon reaching land, they mostly just stop and panic on the spot. This results in it being very easy to get the human kills necessary for side quests, and it would have been interesting to have some require a more stealthy approach so as to not spook everyone away; currently you can just munch while most of them stand in a group.

As you grow, you’ll unlock mutations that can be applied to give you an edge against your opponents. These can include additional organ mutations, such as improved Sonar, Health, and eventually mutations to enable you to be out of the water for longer (helpful for collectibles). Similarly, you can also get physical mutations for different body parts: head, fins, tail, etc. and these alter appearance (such as to give a Bone-covered look) as well as give buffs to damage against boats or other aquatic creatures.

One of the mutations I kept on for the majority of my playtime was Sonar. Using sonar allows you to see a bit further underwater - albeit temporarily - but gives off a very eerie vibe as you see all of the hills and junk of the underwater landscape flash into view before slowly fading out again. Thankfully, the sonar can be upgraded to have a wider reach as this is a life-saver for finding all of the collectibles dotted around the map. You’ll have to hunt down License Plates, Nutrient Caches and Landmarks, some of which are hidden surprisingly well and will require some thorough exploration of the sewers to locate. License Plates and Nutrient Caches are fairly standard collectibles, but the Landmarks are the ones that really shine. These are denoted by a small signpost, and many of these landmarks are brilliant pop culture references. Some of my favourites were the Pennywise and Arrested Development gags, although there were plenty more that gave me a chuckle whilst hunting them down.

As you collect items and eat everything you can, from humans to Sperm Whales and everything in between, you continue to grow. Whilst it can feel a little grindy at first trying to grow, you’ll quickly find yourself being fairly OP and can easily wipe out most things with little effort. Some people may be annoyed by this, but I found it to really make things enjoyable as it became a challenge to just take on more and more hunters at once and laugh maniacally as I blow up boat after boat and devour every human in sight… maybe I have a problem? Having large numbers of hunters on your tail does cause a slight lag in framerate, but not enough to put me off.

I couldn't put the game down, even abandoning Animal Crossing entirely during my time playing. Making sure I gathered everything was priority, and to see the full map completed was just *chef kiss* Allan has been a bit slower than me playing through, and came across an odd glitch earlier today in that after a certain cutscene late on in the game, when he reappeared back in the Grotto, a hunter had been transported there too before getting stuck in his shark's mouth. This kinda broke things a little bit, as he had to reload the game in order to get rid of the stuck hunter (since he couldn't bite anything because of it), and in the process had his save rolled back several XP levels and prior to completed story missions that he'd gotten achievements for. Thankfully this just meant he had to re-do quite a bit, but at least his save was safe! I don't know if this is an isolated issue, as it came up with a savefile error whilst he was playing, and I got through the entire game with no issues, but just a word of warning in case anyone else comes across this issue.

In the end, we decided to give Maneater the Collecting Asylum rating of 9/10. Aside from Allan's glitch earlier, occasional framerate drops, and a couple of ideas I'd have liked to have seen implemented, I don't really have anything negative to say here. I thoroughly enjoyed this game, and am excited to see what Tripwire has in store for the future.

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

- V x

Thank you to Koch Media for the Maneater Xbox One review code!

Monday, 11 May 2020

Asylum Reviews: Ministry of Broadcast [Switch].

Inspired by Orwell’s 1984, Ministry of Broadcast (from the aptly named Ministry of Broadcast Studio) is an intriguing little platformer recently released on the Switch. The country is divided by The Wall, and you, as a character named Orange, a rare type of human known as a ginger (haha - so relatable!), who must take part in a brutal reality TV show known as “The Wall Show” in order to win the right to see your family again.

You must travel through arenas as Big Brother watches over your every move. A variety of different traps and hazards will be flung your way, and it is up to you to navigate the insanity laid out before you. For all that the core concept of the watchful eye of the regime is a treacherous and very serious thing to deal with, the dark humour spread throughout the story and NPC dialogue helps to keep things lighter and makes the game actually very funny. Between the humour, heavy themes and the cinematic platforming style it gives off a very Oddworld vibe, so that’s a win with us!

Art style is interesting; with a fairly common pixel-art look utilising a lot less colour than we’re normally used to for the style. Lots of muted greys and metallic blue-tones, and an overall tense dystopian feel works really well here. And with your HUD integrated into the environment instead of taking over a large portion of your screen, you feel very drawn in to what is going on. Hints and tips are subtly shown, so when times are tough in the arenas it helps to pay close attention to your surroundings. Sound design is also done perfectly, with music that changes very well alongside the story.

What starts as fairly normal platforming becomes much more difficult later on, and the specificity of your movements become all the more important. The controls of MoB are very precise, and often a poorly timed jump will spell disaster for you. I found that if I struggled too much at one particular area, I would be best to just sit the Switch down for a bit and come back to it later. It gives you enough time to calm down from the adrenaline rush and rage, and lets the information sink into your brain so it’s much easier to deal with later once you’re clear-minded. Muscle memory, ftw.

The morality of Ministry of Broadcast is something that is done fantastically well. Earlier in the game, Orange’s fellow competitors are simply a stepping stone to success (sometimes literally!), but as the game progresses and things get more challenging, with the outlook becoming more dire with every passing moment, desperation kicks in and these choices – that are often the difference between life or death – feel that much heavier. Luckily, if you pay attention in the sleeping areas between arenas you will find characters you previously sacrificed, with some stating that the thick padding they are wearing kept them safe from the spike pits.

Puzzles are something I really enjoy in games, whereas Allan sometimes finds them a bit too frustrating and leads to the fun being sucked right out for him. But here, we both really enjoyed them, even when some of them required some serious out-of-the-box thinking to get to the bottom of. Some of the puzzles involve you having to figure out how to cross spikes by causing competitors to fall on them and create a path, other times you may have to sacrifice someone to a dog in order to pass. Trying to think a few steps ahead at all times is difficult, but will ultimately help you when it comes to timing some of the more difficult challenges.

At present, the game is really well done and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with it. A patch was scheduled to drop recently, however due to the current pandemic (still can’t believe I am writing those words) the patch has been delayed. This will add an option of “Normal” or “Easy” modes within the Story Mode, enabling people to experience the game without as much stress if they select the easier option. There will also be some bug fixes and additional language support added in with the patch (which I presume may help with the spelling/grammatical errors, of which there are quite a few), as well as some new animations and chapter screens included, so I’m excited to give it another go once the patch is live to see the changes.

As it stands, we have decided to give Ministry of Broadcast the Collecting Asylum rating of 8/10.

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

- V x

Thank you to HitCents for the Ministry of Broadcast Switch review code!

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Asylum Reviews: Infinite - Beyond the Mind [Xbox One].

Futuristic retro action platformer Infinite - Beyond the Mind from developer Emilie Coyo has recently released and we have been super excited to get stuck in. Playing as one of two friends: Tanya or Olga, you will have to hunt down Queen Evangelyn and her armies after they kidnapped your partner.

Controls are simple and effective, and make playing very enjoyable. Combat feels fast and your chosen character can move around the screen quickly to attack enemies or dodge roll out of the way of incoming fire. You have a stamina bar which keeps you in check, preventing you from just endlessly rolling everywhere, however this regenerates quickly upon stopping.

Playable in co-op as well as single player, having another player really adds a lot to the game. It makes it much easier to get through harder areas of the game, as well giving you some assistance when you come up against bosses. A second player can drop in at any point, taking command of a flying robot with a decently ranged weapon. 

Enemies are well varied, with an arsenal of different weapons you'll have to come up against, including shotguns and sniper rifles. Most enemies can be defeated fairly easily in just a few hits, but smaller enemies can also just be sped past and ignored on your mission to go up against the big guys.

The art style of Infinite is very nicely done, with a cute pixel art style that really conveys the realistic but futuristic setting well. Environments are well detailed and you will find hidden items sporadically placed around levels, allowing you to regain health or get an extra life. Sound design is fantastic also, with a fun chip-tune style which really adds to the overall retro theme. 

At just £7.99 on the Xbox Store, it's a cheap little indie title that will do you a turn if you're looking for something new to play. It's a pretty straightforward game, and doesn't do anything groundbreaking with the genre but we had fun nonetheless.

In the end, we decided to give Infinite - Beyond the Mind the Collecting Asylum rating of  7/10.

Have you played Infinite - Beyond the Mind yet? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Thanks to Blowfish Studios for the Infinite - Beyond the Mind review code!

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Asylum Reviews: Duck Souls+ [Xbox One].

Green Dinosaur Games’ Duck Souls+ is an adorable, fast-paced action platformer in the vein of Super Meat Boy, but with a much less frustrating difficulty. You play as a cute little duck on a mission to save his species by finding all of the missing eggs.

With 100 levels to work your way through, there’s plenty to keep you busy. Some levels are harder than others but luckily most of them can be achieved fairly quickly. Deadly traps are placed throughout the levels, ready to obliterate your tiny little duck body and prevent you from rescuing the eggs. Like most games of this style, you will die a lot due to these traps. Thankfully, the reset of each level is quick and gets you right back into the action almost instantaneously, however sometimes this can leave you at a disadvantage as you are so eager to go again that you immediately die a further five times. It's so counter intuitive, but taking it easy really helped to get me through the tight spots or to time a jump perfectly. Buuut, I'm not always a follower of my own advice. Plenty of times I would just gun it and get so far successfully before turning into a panicky, sweaty-palmed mess before failing. Allan on the other hand seems to function better with the stress of going at speed, utterly putting me to shame.

Done in a bright, colourful pixel-art style, Duck Souls+ is a very aesthetically pleasing game. Levels are intricate, but laid out well enough that the pixel-art doesn’t hinder your ability to see the traps you have to navigate around. They’re also short and snappy enough to prevent you from getting bored too easily. As mentioned before, the game is very similar in style to games like Super Meat Boy, so don’t take the similarity in title to Dark Souls to heart. It was likely named as for the difficulty, however despite some frustrations at times; the game itself isn’t that hard.

From start to finish, Duck Souls+ can be completed in just an hour or two. A timer on screen continuously counts up the time spent playing, until you close the game or pause, that is. Around 70 levels in, Allan closed the game to sort out dinner and discovered it upon loading the game up again. Annoyed by the disappearing timer, he completed the rest of the game before restarting and playing from start to finish without pausing in order to have the timer there for the entire run… only to get no achievement or recognition for it. So taking too long just isn’t a factor, so don’t get yourself too bogged down by the timer looming over you. For completionists like ourselves, this game is ideal as it is quick to get through and the achievements are straightforward (aside from one secret one, but even that one is fairly simple). There's also 20 hats for you to collect, which can be equipped to give your duck a bit of personality.

Overall it’s a very simple game and one that we really enjoyed spending the short amount of time needed to complete it. And at the low price of just £4.99 on the Xbox Store, it’s a great little game for what it costs. Additionally, it is also available on Switch so if you’re looking for games that are quick and easy to get into, but similarly quick and easy to put down again, then this might be a perfect option for you. I feel that it would be a great travel companion, which is one of the few reasons I’m tempted to double dip.

In the end, we decided to give Duck Souls+ the Collecting Asylum rating of 7/10.

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

- V x

Thank you to Ratalaika for the Duck Souls+ Xbox One review code!

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Asylum Reviews: Super Toy Cars 2 [Xbox One].

Allan was a huge fan of Micro Machines growing up - still owning an old N64 copy to this day - so as soon as we discovered Super Toy Cars 2, he was intrigued. Developed by Eclipse Games, the STC games aren't connected to Micro Machines, but their similarity in driving tiny toy vehicles around normal-sized (but seemingly huge) everyday objects made it immediately appealing.

With 16 different tracks, and 20 vehicles to choose from, we were excited by the prospects laid out here before us. All too often with racing games you're landed with a pathetically small number of courses, or a decent amount but all criminally similar to each other. At first glance, the tracks here are fantastically designed with elaborate, well detailed structures but when you really look you realise that most things don't look as good as they first seemed. And where things do look good, the cars on the tracks just completely spoil the illusion, highlighting the probability that a lot of time was spent focusing on the backgrounds, and not as much on everything else. The soundtrack on the other hand is well thought out, and gives you a varied choice of genres - meaning that there should hopefully be something here for everyone.

Each of the twenty vehicles have their own stats and handle differently on the track. A game can look perfect, but if it feels bad then it might as well be unplayable. This is where STC2 threw us for a loop. Some cars felt disastrously bad. Like, floaty and uncontrollably bad. Yet others handled like a dream and would glide round the tracks with ease. Very quickly we struggled to get any enjoyment, as we'd be so frustrated with the handling that we just wouldn't want to play.

Whilst navigating the tracks, there will be items scattered around as obstacles, such as party cups and onion rings. These serve absolutely no purpose as crashing into them just bounces them out of the way, with very little to no impact on your speed. Drifting also felt horrible, with it feeling as though your car is simply going through the motions and not actually driving round the course. There doesn't feel like there is any grip to your tires, and even hitting other vehicles in a standard race felt bouncy.

The main mode of STC2 is Career Mode. Here you will find 12 cups where you can race to be the champion. Vehicles are split into classes: Whacky, Muscle, Gran Turismo, Supercars and Open Wheelers, and this is where you might be required to use some of the poorer vehicles, as there is no way to compete in a cup without a car of the corresponding class type. You play against AI characters with names like Speedy Ninja and Joe Redneck, trying to beat them to the finish line.  Cups consist of four events, and not all of them are racing. Annoyingly enough, some events appear to only have you racing alone, showing as 1st place the entire way before pinging you to another position upon crossing the finish line.

Some events are Destruction based, where you must use your car to obliterate opponents in order to win. In these rounds you go up against dummy cars that are smashed to smithereens upon you crashing into them. They don't need an awful lot of force, and whilst I know they are meant to be toy cars it just doesn't feel right when these cars are completely decimated by a slight nudge.

Super Toy Cars 2 is a fairly low priced game, at only £12.49 on Xbox, but even without paying that I feel robbed. We're always on the lookout for fun racing games to play as a family, and having couch co-op be an option here drew us right to it. It even has online multiplayer, which was a shock, albeit this is pretty poor too.

I'm hopeful for improvements further down the line, as the core idea here definitely interested us. However in its current state, I don't think we'll be playing again anytime soon.

In the end we decided to give Super Toy Cars 2 the Collecting Asylum rating of 4.5/10.

Have you played Super Toy Cars 2 yet? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

Thanks to Eclipse Games for the Super Toy Cars 2 Xbox One review code!

Friday, 1 May 2020

Asylum Reviews: Mushroom Heroes [Switch].

Redro Games’ Mushroom Heroes is a 2D puzzle platformer with 16-bit graphics, where you take control of three different characters: Jumpi, Yuppi and Dombi. Each of the Mushroom Heroes has their own special abilities which have to be utilized in order to progress through the game. Their world, Boduria has been ruled by King Bodur for 1000 years and he needs your help, as the evil Gaddar - the only poisonous mushroom in the land - has come to poison everyone to be just like him.

Previously released on Steam and mobile platforms, it has finally now come to console with a Switch release. Learning to play as three characters with unique abilities is a lot of fun, and you quickly get the hang of just which mushroom you need. Jumpi, the red mushroom, has a higher jump (duh) and can float longer in the air; helpful when you need to get past spikes on a lower level. The green mushroom, Yuppi, has a bow and arrow that he can use to take down enemies as well as detonate bombs. And finally, we have Dombi the blue mushroom, who has a shield that can be used to block enemy projectiles. He can also push/pull objects to clear the way, allowing you to reach other areas throughout the levels. All three mushrooms can be stacked on top of each other in order to gain access to other places or reach necessary items which adds another element to the puzzles.

Art style is very pretty, with bright poppy colours and a very simple aesthetic. Everything is well defined, and it is easy to see everything going on on screen. Sound design is fairly well suited too, and quite catchy. Learning how to navigate levels and when each character is needed is a lot of fun, although sometimes you'll find yourself stumped as you think that you need to use arrows to get past a block, when actually you need to push them (and vice versa) but this just adds to the challenge.

Controls are very simple, with trigger buttons allowing you to switch between the three mushrooms. Utilising all three characters and learning where best to use their abilities is a big part of playing, and gives a great challenge to the levels as you figure out how to progress on your quest. Being able to quickly switch back and forward is great, and with each character only really having two buttons required (one to jump and one for their abilities), you won't find yourself getting too confused when switching.

With 38 levels spread across multiple worlds, there’s an okay amount here to keep you occupied, but I would definitely have liked to have seen more variety in the worlds. The ability to team up with two friends is a missed opportunity too, as having this be a co-operative mission would have worked so well. I don't see them ever doing any massive upgrades to this game, but if they do, that's one thing I'd like to see - whether it is online or couch co-op only. At just £5.50 on Switch it’s not overly expensive, so organising with a couple of friends to chip in for a copy if playing together would have been an absolute steal. Either way, it is a cheap and cheerful game so the price isn't anything to be annoyed about.

It’s definitely more of a casual game to play to pass the time than one that completely sucks you in for the story or anything as there's no dialogue between characters, but we still had fun here. It's a great choice for kids too, as the puzzle elements keep it challenging enough to hold their attention but without too much difficulty of some other retro-inspired titles.

In the end, we decided to give Mushroom Heroes the Collecting Asylum rating of 7.5/10.

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

- V x

Thank you to Dolores Entertainment for the Mushroom Heroes Switch review code!

Asylum Reviews: Neversong [Xbox One].

Atmos Games’ Neversong, formally known as Once Upon a Coma is a fantastic little title. You play as a young boy called Peet, who awakes...