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Alan MacMillan

  • ThumbnailHeavy Bullets is a one life procedurally generated dungeon crawler with a fresh twist. Oh noes, another Spelunky type game I hear you cry! Well not quite. Heavy Bullets takes form in a heavy neon washed FPS. The […]

  • Hohokum-1-1280x905This strangely named game is in essence rather strange. It’s also very colourful, whimsical and musical. Hohokum is a unique collaborative effort between developers Honeyslug (you may have played their rather fun mini-game fest ‘Frobisher Says’ on the Vita) and artist Richard Hogg. It’s a playful game of relaxing exploration and mild puzzle solving.

    In Hohokum you take control of a snake-like creature as you explore strange and colourful worlds. Although each one differs to the last in terms of art and soundtrack, they are mostly on the same vein. You might say it’s an elaborate game of hide and seek as each level poses you with a different set of challenges in order to find your other snake-like friends who are hidden here and there. But explaining exactly what these challenges and puzzles might entail would completely ruin what Hohokum seems to be about – exploration.

    hohokum-screen-4-us-10jun14The levels, their ingredients and inhabitants will react to you in various ways as you fly around them. Hovering over a flower might make it bloom or you might pick up someone and drop them off somewhere else to trigger another part of level. It’s up to you to explore and see how things react to you. Essentially there is little more to the gameplay than that. It does sometimes utilise this in inventive ways but it’s mostly quite simple. And that’s fine. The simplicity of the game allows for a relaxed experience that I think the creators were aiming for. There’s no overly complex or head scratchingly confusing puzzles, no difficult boss fights or precise timing button execution. It’s a floaty, whimsical, ambient experience that’s a pleasure for the eyes and ears. An art game I can almost hear some people grumbling. And well, yes, it is. A very good one at that.

    The different worlds of Hohokum filled me with joy. The theme park world and the kite flying one in particular had me smiling all the way through. The theme park was filled with dozens upon dozens of vibrant little characters all waving and dancing, jumping on your back as you fly past and joining you on your adventure. It was levels like this that really reminded me of LocoRoco Cocoreccho, a short network game on PSN that is often described as an interactive screensaver. The kite level looked fantastic and seeing my little dudes flying their weird and wonderful kites atop little green islands in the sky was almost magical. And you’re free to traverse these worlds at will as well. You don’t need to complete one before moving on to the next. Portals exist in each level that will transport you somewhere else. Some of these worlds you enter will simply act as a hub to another handful of proper worlds. That freedom of exploration is important to what Hohokum is.

    hohokum-screen-10-us-10jun14For me there are three main elements at play in Hohokum. First off there’s the wonderful vibrant art from Richard Hogg. It’s beautifully colourful and full of character. The first time I saw the game previewed (at E3 I think it was), I was immediately interested. The art style just grabbed me and I was so content cruising the games levels as though I’m taking a gliding tour through someone’s doodle book. After looking into Richard Hogg’s artwork further I realised I’ve had a picture of his saved on my computer for some time. If I could marry this guy’s work I would.

    Secondly there’s the music and sound effects. I put the two together because they do actually go hand in hand in that typical way that a lot of music/rhythm games do (see Lumines or Vib Ribbon). Various interactions with the levels will add little sounds to the background track, enhancing it. And the background tracks are immense, I truly put this down as the best soundtrack I’ve heard since Hotline Miami. It’s beautifully ambient and features artists from record label Ghostly International such as Tycho and Com Truise. If you’d like to listen to the soundtrack this website is kindly streaming it. As with the games visuals, I’m equally content putting the Vita down and just listening to the music. Although, it is much more fun to combine the two as they go wonderfully hand in hand. And as mentioned earlier your little interactions with the level adds to the track as well. I have to say I found the sound effects to be expertly done; it’s not often I find myself thinking about the quality of a games sound effects but I did in this case.

    2236680-gsm_169_nowplaying_hohokum_ps3_091913_320Thirdly there is the gameplay itself. More specifically the controls and movement of your…snake. There are few controls to the game and few mechanics. This simplicity allows for a relaxing game experience in which you mostly fly around the level, sometimes going fast and rarely going slow. I’m a fan of good player controls in games, when movement feels smooth and…well, just right. Games like Pixeljunk Shooter, Eden and Journey spring to mind with this. Some games you find yourself just moving/flying/driving about not really doing anything, just enjoying the mechanics at hand.

    There’s obviously more to the gameplay than just flying around and there’s of course more to the game than the three aforementioned elements. But it’s these three elements whether solo or combined make the game a highly enjoyable and relaxing experience. It’s certainly not going to be a game for everyone but it undoubtedly resonated with me.

    4.5 hokokohohokums out of 5.

  • ThumbnailAlan finds the beauty in infographs

    You could be forgiven for taking a look at Metrico and having no idea what the hell the game is about. You could read about it and watch trailers and still be none the wiser. […]

  • Disappointed that there doesn’t seem to be a very Gaiman feel to it, outside of the aforementioned Coraline vibe. I’m more interested in something with more Gaiman-like story as opposed to a simple puzzle game.

  • LifeofPixel40Ten classic 8-bit game systems and over a thousand lives later my little green pixel has reached the end of his retro journey. He’s seen advances in graphics ranging from the Commodore 64 to the Gameboy. But it wasn’t an easy journey. In fact it was an extremely difficult one fraught with countless retries, spike falls and failed double jumps. But then is there anything better than a nice double jump?

    LifeofPixelGUI02Life of Pixel is a retro platformer that consists of Ten sets of levels, each one being dedicated to an old console system in terms of its graphics, music and sfx. This is ultimately the games main charm and it does it very well. From the monochrome ZX81 to the distinctive greenness of the Gameboy each systems levels have been created with the look and feel of that era. In fact why not peruse the list of consoles and see if your favourite is there! They include the ZX81, Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, BBC Model B, Apple II, Nintendo GameBoy, NES and Sega Master System.

    LifeofPixel12Considerable effort has also been put into the games audio. As you jump your way through nostalgia you do so to a fantastic original chip tune soundtrack made from the original sounds of each console. My personal favourite being the Atari 2600’s. I died countless times but I really didn’t care because the music was that good and I was happy to continue hearing it. Whilst other levels music is also great sometimes it got a little jarring hearing the same song over and over. But this is not a fault of the music. The music is great. Did I mention the music’s great? It’s more down to the frustrating nature of the game. As you get frustrated with the repeated deaths and difficulty of the game even the music can begin to grate, but more in the sense that it’s a reminder of your failure to progress!

    LifeofPixel22So let’s talk difficulty. Because I don’t think this would be a true retro platformer if it wasn’t stupidly difficult. For those who crave a good challenge, who were raised on precision jumps and level memorisation; this game will be right up your street. Life of Pixel is a strange one though. It often feels rather easy but even the easy levels have you messing up at some point and before you know it you’re on your twentieth attempt. This can perhaps be put down to a number of reasons ranging from slightly poor double jump mechanics, unfair level design and difficulty spikes and player complacency. Three quarters of a level might be fairly easy and straight forward and then suddenly there’s one part that takes you by surprise and is extremely more difficult than the previous obstacles. Quite often this consists of having to jump into the unknown (the next screen or off camera) with no clue as to what lies beyond. There could be spikes, water, enemies or a tiny platform that you have to jump onto. If you fail the jump, which you will because let’s face it, it’s a blind jump, then you have to start the level again and hope you fare better next time. This is where I fault the game. I can handle a high difficulty but I like it to be fair. Having to repeatedly retry just to memorise where platforms are off-screen is a right pain in the pixel.

    LifeofPixel38Another area of annoyance is the seemingly random move patterns of enemies. Sometimes they look to be on a set pattern moving this way and that. You stay still biding your time and checking their movements before deciding on the optimum time to move. Then suddenly their pattern completely changes and they hit you. Now you might be thinking that’s a good thing and I can see why you might think that. But trust me, it’s not. When you’ve carefully navigated a level (for the twentieth time) only to get screwed over by a sudden change in enemy behaviour, it’s somewhat infuriating. There are even times when the enemies seem to have glitched on the restart and start in a slightly different position than normal. So, say you have four enemies moving in unison across a long path and you need to jump over each one, only to find that two are bunched up close together making the jump impossible. It’s rare when it happens but it happened enough to make it noticeable. I cursed out loud, I threw my arms in the air and I don’t think I’ve ever shouted “OH COME ON!!” and “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!” so many times at a game. And I love the Souls series! But the game was still enjoyable and I kept at it. Though I would not wish the ‘floating pools of death’ level on anyone.

    In terms of level design Life of Pixel doesn’t really offer anything truly outstanding. The obstacles and layouts are a pretty standard affair and there’s nothing going on here you haven’t seen before. This can be the case with platformers but they often give you something that makes you go “ahhhh that’s pretty cool!” Life of Pixel doesn’t have this but it’s not something I particularly fault the game for. Its trick is nostalgia and it’s a trick it performs well. Developers Super Icon clearly want to take you on a nostalgia trip through the 8-bit ages and you’re likely to smile all the way through. Provided you grew up during these era’s or at least have some interest or experience in them. I grew up around the Atari, Amiga and BBC Micro and so these sounds and visuals are all familiar to me and it’s great to experience them again.

    LifeofPixel03It would have been neat to see some form of progression of gameplay though. For example when did the double jump actually enter platforms and when did we start to see certain obstacles or level features. It would be a nice progression seeing how platformers have evolved not just in graphics and sound but also in gameplay. As it is Life of Pixel is a pretty standard affair throughout. There is the odd gravity flip switch or jet pack but they’re few and far between. Something for the future perhaps? I would certainly be keen to see what else Super Icon offer up in the future.

    For now though they have focussed on what is perhaps the most distinct and recognisable era. The 8-bit era. We all love a bit of 8-bit don’t we? While it can certainly be said that we’ve been in a retro throwback phase in the industry for the past few years, Life of Pixel still manages to come across as somewhat original in its execution.

    3 pixels out of 5

  • Have you played Dungeon Petz Mike? I was mildly reminded of it through this.

  • Alan MacMillan changed their profile picture 3 years, 3 months ago

  • ThumbnailAlan MacMillan goes retro, sci-fi cyber spy in Jazzpunk

    As soon as Jazzpunks intro loaded up I knew this game was a winner. Colourful, stylish and striking. Think Catch Me If You Can’s intro but fast paced and […]

  • Sounds like a great game. Love the Witches in Discworld so going to have to give this one a shot.

  • Alan MacMillan’s Game of the Year List

    1. The Last of Us
    Hands down the greatest game this year and perhaps this console generation. The Last of Us pushed the boundaries of story-telling and characterisation. […]

  • Despite my massive distaste for the show I quite enjoyed this game. After later playing Cards Against Humanity it was clear the two are very similar but the added Bazinga mechanic was very good at mixing things up […]

  • ThumbnailAfter the controversial announcement of the XboxOne we saw how loud and powerful the collective gamer voice could be. We saw how through sheer will and vocal outcry we were able to change the shape of the console […]

  • This saddens me. Those cards look terrible compared to the originals. The fantastic artwork on the original cards was one of the things I liked most about it. I think it some of it was done by Tomacz Jedruszek […]

  • Have to say I am not too into the idea of Baron buff getting a buff! Sounds like it will just snowball to the team that gets it to victory. A bit OP one might say. Especially considering that one of the easiest […]

  • Oh man, I forgot about the Vita cross-platform saves. That shit is beyond good.

  • ThumbnailMen’s Room Mayhem may sound like a George Michael song, but it’s actually a neat little line drawing bathroom management game from the remnants of the sadly now defunct Studio Liverpool team (now Sawfly Studios). […]