Our resident part-time Zombie, Ann Oakland fondly recounts her day spent at MCM Comic-Con
One of the things I most love about my fellow geeks is that they can, and do, enthuse without reserve.
MCM Comic Con Scotland, held in Glasgow’s SECC, was awash with Darth Vaders and Spidermen, Minecrafters and princesses, Doctor Whos and Ewoks, Ents and wizards. There was a gorgeously geeky array of t-shirts which ran the gamut from the obvious Star Wars to the most esoteric manga. Oddly enough though, in a heaving sea of cosplay there was only one Pinhead. I spent the day in his wake, being his faithful zombie minion and occasional puzzle box carrier. As we prowled the byways and highways of Comic Con Scotland, the askance glances, looks of sheer terror, double takes and the inevitable photo calls (I lost count at twenty six) made the day even more entertaining than I’d thought it would be. Cries of “Look, it’s Hellraiser” “Oh my god” and “Pinhead!” followed us; the crowds parted before us, and for most of the day I had a very un-zombie like grin on my creepy grey face.
Pinhead is, unbeknownst to most, a bit of a gamer dude. So he was quite delighted to find an epic League of Legends game going on in the eSports Zone. Luckily the gamers themselves were too busy gaming to be put off by their terrifying audience. He later commented “It’s pretty cool that MCM have incorporated all types of geekery into Comic Con Glasgow, from board games to League of Legends in the eSports zone. It would be nice for the competitive videogame content to expand next time and see some fighting games as Scotland has a very vibrant fighting game community who would eat this atmosphere up”. Pinhead can be rather eloquent when he wants to be!
One thing that I felt was lacking was interactive events. I’d have liked to see more competitions and hands-on games. Esdevium Games had their demonstration zone, which really was excellent, but we never managed to get a table or to see any of the games that we fancied in play. It would have been nice to see more areas for younger, budding geeks too, with something as simple as a colouring area or young cosplay competition. They are the next generation of fans after all.
I also had my own moment of fangirl squealing when we passed a fabulous, full sized, talking Dalek. If this thing was homemade then I REALLY want to meet the person who made it and give them a big hug.
Speaking of hugs, these too were available in abundance with many cosplayers having signs declaring “Free Hugs”. My only regret from the day was not managing to take a photo of Pinhead hugging Billy the clown. We just never ran into Billy again and poor Pinhead had to go hugless. Never mind, he got to browse the comics instead.
If you enjoy comic book art then the SECC was definitely the place to be. Not only could you buy issues of almost every comic you’ve ever heard of, but there was some wonderful original art from the comic book authors too. I particularly loved the super hero minions and was seriously tempted to get the most adorable Iron Man minion (lack of funds sadly being the deciding factor). As far as the other stalls and exhibits went, I could happily have bought Christmas and birthday presents for half of my family and most of my friends for the next decade. I had to settle for taking business cards instead as many of the folk there trade on eBay, Etsy and other internet sites.
By far the highlight of the day for me, and close to being worth the entrance fee by itself, was James Cosmo’s Q&A session in the auditorium. He has as much presence and élan in person as he does on the screen, and after thirty five minutes I’d not heard nearly enough. For an actor with fifty years of stage and screen experience, including some epic and seminal films, he’s remarkably grounded and apparently has none of that self-importance that seems to surround other Hollywood stars.
He regaled us with various stories, including Mel Gibson’s pranks on the set of Braveheart. Which involved James himself being stealthily tied to a chair by Mel Gibson. He tells the tale so fluidly that you can almost see him blethering away quite happily, thinking he’s got away with it and then standing up, walking off, chair and all!
When asked about favourite roles he replied with another sweet anecdote. Although his role as Father Christmas in The Lion, The witch and The Wardrobe was brief, it had a lasting impact on at least one young lass. Waiting at the cheese counter in Waitrose one day he noticed a young girl, by herself, staring at him. When he smiled at her she asked in an awed voice “Are you Father Christmas?” To which he simply nodded and the girl ran off. No doubt she’ll swear for years to come that she has met Father Christmas and he’s most definitely real no matter what you think.
A truly beautiful moment of the Q&A came right at the end when one of the younger audience members asked what advice he had for young actors. His simple response of “if you’re going to be an actor, you will be an actor” was made in such a way that any aspiring artiste would immediately feel heartened and determined to continue the fight and damn well make it. I went into that auditorium liking James Cosmo. I came out of it absolutely adoring him.
MCM Comic Con Scotland 2014 was great fun. I enjoyed the atmosphere hugely, which for me was epitomised by a camaraderie, appreciation and enthusiasm for everyone else’s costumes, ideas and t-shirts. The stalls were plentiful, varied and great to look at whilst the Q&A was a delight. They could do with a few more interactive events, especially for the wee ones, but I can highly recommend heading there for a day next time they’re in town. Both Pinhead and I will certainly be saving up our hard earned pennies in readiness for a gloriously geeky shopping spree.
So, when is the next one?
Matt “grinds” out a review about a skateboarding game…
The whole skateboarding thing rather passed me by. When I finally got to see The Simpsons on my rich Sky-owning mate’s TV in the early nineties, I already identified with the lumbering pseudo-alcoholic Homer rather than skateboarding scamp Bart. I couldn’t pick Tony Hawk out of line-up. This preamble is intended to establish that skateboarding holds no special place in my heart, despite enduring most of the skating-mad 1990s as a teenager. So, how do I approach a game such as OlliOlli? Actually, with some excitement: Jamie found the original Vita release very much to his liking and, certainly, the short and snappy gameplay is a perfect fit for Sony’s sadly overlooked portable. The question for me, then, is whether the port to PS4 has been worthwhile.
Jamie’s review already explained the game’s Canabalt-meets-Excitebike mechanics, and the set-up is largely identical on PS4. The DualShock 4’s touchpad is used as a convenient means of quickly restarting a botched level, effectively simulating the equivalent, furious stabs at the Vita’s touchscreen. Otherwise, the solid control scheme of the original remains intact, while the DualShock controller arguably provides a more comfortable experience for those of us with adult-sized hands. Daily Grind challenges have also made the transition to the home console version, presenting a new level each day for you to post your best score to the online leaderboard, and providing a fresh challenge beyond the already rather punishing main game.
The title purportedly skates along at a solid 60fps on PS4 and, while this is perhaps not the technical achievement of the generation for a game once destined for mobile platforms, it’s a welcome improvement over the already buttery-smooth presentation of the Vita original. Readers may insert their own joke here about the frame rate to which the Xbox One might aspire, in the unlikely event that OlliOlli ever made the jump to Microsoft’s platform. Cursed with only the most basic of human eyes, I can’t verify the frame rate, but the action certainly clips along without a hitch. This is just as well, as the game demands fast reflexes of its players, particularly on later levels where the amount of real estate available to land your board becomes perilously scarce.
As those readers with too short an attention span to read all these annoying words will have seen when they skipped to the end, I’ve scored the PS4 edition of OlliOlli slightly lower than Jamie awarded its handheld sibling. The reason for this apparent act of unkindness is that OlliOlli on Vita was a near-perfect melding of portable form and gameplay function. On PS4, everything that made the original so great is still present and correct but, frame rate boost and a meatier controller aside, there’s little reason to boot up the home console version over its portable predecessor. OlliOlli is not the graphical firework display that will convince your gaming-agnostic significant other that it was worth buying a PS4 for: at least wait until Uncharted 4 before you pick that fight. The retro, pixelated art style lacks a little pizazz when viewed on a large-screen TV, while the subtle technical advances on display here are, for me, outweighed by the immediacy of the pick-up-and-play Vita version.
The good news, though, is that OlliOlli is Cross-Buy, so if you purchase the PS4 version to accommodate your enormous hands, you can still take it on the road with you on Vita. On PS4, this is the same great, addictive title that left me nostalgic for the skateboarding version of the nineties I never really knew: it’s just that OlliOlli’s mobile heritage begins to become apparent when played on a home console that it was probably never intended to grind, flip or spin its way on to.
4 Frontside Heelflips out of 5
Turn based strategies have a special place in my heart. I grew up playing Heroes of Might and Magic, Disciples, Warlords and King’s Bounty among other games so I naturally got interested when I saw Legends of Eisenwald pop up on the gaming horizon. A modern turn based strategy game with armies, tiered units and beautiful graphics, what’s not to love?
Legends of Eisenwald is a turn based strategy, though not in the same definition as Heroes of Might and Magic or Disciples. There’s no hero recruiting or huge army building; there’s no enemy players or AI raising kingdoms against you to meet in epic battles. Rather you’re a single lord/adventurer/knight moving from location to location, recruiting peasants and other hopefuls whilst fighting off bandits or corrupt lords that generally either follow set paths through the overworld or hole themselves up inside castles or garrisons. Basically King’s Bounty really. I’d like to call the genre a turn based adventure game but you probably get the idea by now anyway.
So what makes Eisenwald special then? Why should you get this instead of the huge sprawling King’s Bounty games? Well, it has lots of different differences that make it special in it’s own way. Not necessarily better or worse but definitely different.
A big unique point here is that each of the individual troops you recruit has their own tier path of upgrades that eventually branch out into two separate specialties per troop. Combine this with the ability to equip any troop you recruit with any item you find (assuming the types match anyway, you won’t catch a wizard wearing full plate), and you have a highly customisable army. There’s one major problem with this set up however – in my plays of the game, experience appears to be hard to come by as I’d be seeing one or two experience points per troop in the average battle, and even tier one units needed at least sixty experience to go up a tier. Combine this with the feeling that even higher tiered units felt a bit flimsy at times and the whole customisable army thing just feels a bit… unsatisfying.
The battles, like any strategy game, are where the heart of the action is. So it’s important that Eisenwald get this right and well… they’re alright. You’ll go through many small skirmishes in your journeys through the campaigns of Eisenwald, troops on either side will vary from one to twelve troops at their extremes though most often you’ll be leading a merry band of around six hopefuls. These troops all fall into one of three typical categories as well; melee, ranged and support. Melee and ranged are both self explanatory, and support will generally either buff, heal or debuff. Nothing confusing there. What’s really a bit of a let down with combat is that there seems at first glance to be a string of bad decisions that have lead to it all being over simplified. Troops can’t move into neutral spaces of their own will, they either stand still or move next to an enemy. There’s little in the way of critical hits and misses so damage is mostly static. Support troops don’t appear to have any way to defend themselves, leading to a drawn out slaughter if everyone else is dead. These aren’t exactly bugs but they make combat feel very rough and not very well thought out. It just feels like a static affair of pushing your pieces against the opponents pieces until theirs all fall over. Which isn’t great.
The first thing that really jumped out to me about Legends of Eisenwald was, as you’d expect, it’s graphics. The vibrant colours of the landscapes in the overland map are a pleasure to look at and the detail put into all the units make them really gorgeous to behold. It’s just a shame really that all this effort to make the game look so beautiful is marred by how bland the animations are. When a troop walks, either around the world map or in battle, they all have this same stock walk animation that looks almost lifeless. When they attack it’s a simple, quick swipe of their weapon with no flare whatsoever. It’s as if they’re being forced into all these conflicts against their wills and have become despondent.
So, Legends of Eisenwald. It looked so promising but it fails to deliver on so many fronts. There’s nothing horrendously bad about the game, there’s just no flare, no little details that make you go “Wow! I want to keep playing this!”, nothing to make you want it over the competition. It’s still in Early Access, so the developers could address the various issues with the game if they saw fit to and it might bloom into something fantastic, but in the state it’s in just now I can’t honestly recommend you buy it. Keep an eye out maybe, if you’re like me and enjoy turn based adventures.
Ionball 2: Ionstorm is a breakout game that claims to mix space invaders with classic brick breaking action. While I failed to see a whole lot of the space invading, the brick breaking is present in abundance, and there’s a bunch of interesting gameplay twists in there to give it a fairly unique experience. So what’s it got to offer then?
Ionball is presented to you as a series of levels divided by tiers and boss waves. Each tier of has about 10 levels of enemies in it, once they’re completed you must fight a boss to move on to the next tier. These levels all have a fairly mixed variety of bots (aka bricks) for you to take on, with more advanced ones being introduced in later stages. Your basic and most numerous enemy is the more or less harmless brick bot that comes in a variety of health point stages and serves to be cannon fodder. Beyond that you have bots that will move about, generate shields, heal others, create bricks and even some that shoot at you. It’s a pretty decent mix that is used to great effect in the levels. They can be difficult but never really frustrating, which is a fine balance.
This balance may be largely due to an interesting mechanic the devs have put in the game: the Super Beam. Survive long enough in the round and a beam will shoot down and kill off a bot and any surrounding bots, this can happen multiple times in a stage though each beam takes longer to charge up than the last. This isn’t too powerful of a boon due to the time limit between charges, and really only serves to help quicken up the last stages of a level as it becomes less of a challenge to hit that last annoyingly placed brick and more of a survival challenge until the beam powers up again.
There’s some very light RPG aspects to the game. For every brick/bot/enemy you kill, a variable amount of money falls out of its corpse. Should you catch it and survive the round you can then spend that money on power ups. These powerups are split into Passive and Active and all have 3-4 tiers of upgrade, each costing more than the last as you’d expect. Passives include all the usuals: make the ball do more damage, expand the length of the paddle, get a magnet to suck in all the money etc. All in all useful but not exactly exciting.
The Active powerups however are far more fun and involving. Limited by one use per life these powerups range from a Pulse gun, which takes out an entire line of bots, a Missile Launcher which targets special enemies and beats them down, to the amazingly useful Minigun Barrage which slows time and creates a stream of bullets from your ball as it moves around the level – activating this while under the rare Multi-ball boon is crazy. The pacing of these upgrades is fairly decent as, as long as you’re fairly adept at juggling your ball(s) while collecting falling money, you’ll usually have something extra to buy. All the extra passive and active abilities add up to really make you feel pumped up and stronger than before.
The visuals and audio behind Ionball match up really well to help with the polished feel of the game. The backgrounds are largely sci-fi punk style mechanical zones that do little more than set the stage for the player. However when mixed with the bright, neon lit enemies and the heavy techno/dub-step themed music it all comes together nicely to keep your adrenaline up and pumping.
If everything is so well polished then all that remains to look at is the fun factor – compared to other break out games, is this game fun? Well, yes and no. There’s a really decent game in Ionball, between the high adrenaline visuals and music and the creative active abilities there’s a lot to make you feel like your money is well spent… but there’s just something about Ionball that makes it feel not -quite- as manic as other brick breaking games. Maybe it’s the rarity of the multiball or the lack of variety in the pick ups and passives, but there’s just something that makes it feel not quite as frantic as the likes of old personal favourites like DX-Ball or Block. Whether that’s a bad thing or not is up to your own personal opinion however.
All in all, Ionball 2 is a really well polished and generally decent Breakout game. There’s enough interesting ideas and customisation in the active and passive upgrades to give you a few playthroughs and still have you enjoy it every time. If you’re interested in a little bit of brick breaking action you can’t go wrong here.
4 Ionized brick breaking balls out of 5
*This review is based on pre-release code and not the final version of the game.*
Supreme League of Patriots is a point and click game in the truest sense of the term – there’s no fancy gameplay mechanics – just a story, some point and click based puzzles and an awful lot of dialogue. The story presented to you here is that of a pair of men trying to get through the day while one of them applies for a contest, “America’s Got Superheroes” or something to that effect.
As with most point and click adventures, there’s not a whole lot to talk about when it comes to gameplay. You scour your cursor across the screen until you find an object to click on, then you click it and see all the options available for it, usually Examine and Use. In typical point and click fashion however, Supreme League of Patriots takes the player through the frustrating process of finding out the very specific order in which certain objects should be interacted with in order to progress the game. This process isn’t as bad or as nonsensical as other games of the genre (I’m looking at you, The Longest Journey), but when paired up with the main characters reactions and voice acting it becomes incredibly grating.
The main characters in the game are Kyle, an overly stereotypical ‘dumb’ American and his sidekick Melvin, an overly stereotypical ‘cynical’ Brit. You only control Kyle directly, but every single object that you interact with sends Melvin off on a venomous, mocking one liner that, while sort of funny initially, quickly gets to the point where you’re speeding through dialogues to avoid hearing this overly sarcastic Brit give his opinion on some object in the room you didn’t even mean to click on. Personally I ended up resorting to the handily available walkthrough to avoid any further unnecessary dialogue.
The problem with comedy in these games is that it’s highly subjective – I’m sure some of you might absolutely love listening to unending fountains of cynicism as you stumble your way through the game, but for me it bordered on painful and put me off playing any further because I couldn’t handle the constant negativity. The other problem with the jokes specifically made in Supreme League of Patriots is that the vast majority of them rely on pop culture references. Maybe I’m just not the right audience for this stuff as my pop culture knowledge is shockingly bad, but to me most of the jokes came across as “Here’s celebrity person ‘x’, they’re infamous for this thing, isn’t that funny” feel free to replace ‘celebrity person’ with ‘movie’ in certain parts.
Visuals wise, Supreme League of Heroes isn’t going to blow your mind. That’s not to say the graphics are bad per se, rather that they get the job done and nothing more. The art style is interesting at least, though not necessarily appealing – the cartoony backgrounds and characters mix well enough together but there’s no real magic in the scenes to draw you in, nothing to make you want to explore every scene to it’s limit or to even keep you going.
Like the visuals, the audio is functional but again flawed. Every character’s dialogue has been given a full accompaniment of voice acting scores, which is nice but either due to the quality of the voice acting or the voices that have made the final cut, the voice acting gets fairly grating fairly quickly.
All in all then, I can’t really suggest you watch out for Supreme League of Patriots. If you love pop culture references, overly done stereotypes and point and click adventures then this will be just for you. For everyone else, there’s better options out there already.
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