I Love Cuphead

Very seldom does a game catch my attention like Cuphead did when it graced our live-streams back at E3 IN 2015. Cuphead, a colourful homage to 1930s cartoons, stood out among grittier titles like Gears of War and Dark Souls. I wouldn’t normally jump at the chance to play a “run and gun” style game (I’m still traumatised from getting the high score in Bully’s side-scroller Nut Shots) but I was totally drawn in by the 30 second clip. The fact that the release date ended up being my birthday further cemented my choice to buy it on day one.

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The in-game map where you defeat bosses or run and gun sections to progress. There’s also a shop and a few friendly faces to talk to.

Cuphead has been compared to notoriously butt-kicking Dark Souls due to its difficulty. Other than the obvious glaring differences you could make an argument for it. If you die during a level, you have to restart the section, enemies and all, just like Dark Souls. You also die very frequently. Before you scream “UNETHICAL GAMES JOURNALISM” I did make it through the tutorial (I have video proof). However, that doesn’t mean that I have not died a million times (I have video proof). The beauty of Cuphead is that dying is how you learn. Again, just like Dark Souls.

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I died on purpose for this screenshot, don’t take my games from me

After the whole Dan Takahashi drama people have become snobby about the game and its difficulty, claiming it as some litmus test for a true gamer. Cuphead does not care if you are an experienced gamer or not. When you face one of the many bosses or run and gun levels for the first time you will not know your arse from your elbow. You won’t know if a certain enemy can be shot and killed, you won’t know if it’s better to hold off on shooting and concentrate on dodging, you won’t know if the platform you’re about to jump on will burst into flames. The list of obstacles is endless. Adding to this is the option to buy guns and special powers from coins collected in the world. Changing these around can really help with your game-plan. Still though, you won’t know if it will help until you try, and fail, and try again.

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You can change your load-out at any time when in the map

Cuphead gives you the option of local co-op which is a thing I sorely miss in today’s online obsessed world. Luckily for me, I have an on demand player 2 in the form of my little brother (like I was for my older sister). When I found myself at the mercy of a giant carrot, I turned off the game, nipped into town, came home and gifted a second controller to him. It took us a little while to get used to the addition of a player two but soon we had defeated the carrot and also cackling blimp lady Hilda Berg who he had been having trouble with when playing solo.

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Me in sadder times before I got my player 2

Each boss we have encountered has been designed so well that we look forward to seeing their multiple transformations throughout fights. Often my brother and I are shouting “WHAT?” at each other in awe and confusion. I think the greatest feat of Cuphead so far has been how captivating it is. No matter how many times we have failed we have never once felt anger or frustration. We have found ourselves almost instantly pressing retry every time and we go back in, guns blazing, probably a little wiser than the last attempt but probably not wise enough just yet.

Watch my true first few minutes with Cuphead below if you dare. I hope the Xbox One police don’t come after me for this abysmal display.

Right now Cuphead is €19.99 and is available on Xbox One and PC.

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Tekken 7 vs Injustice 2

Despite only being born in 1992, I have very fond memories of playing the first few Tekken releases with my older sister and my cousin. The main draw for us was unlocking the insane ending stories that the Tekken developers always cooked up. I have stayed loyal to Tekken ever since then (there’s some Soul Calibur thrown in there over the years too). Tekken for me peaked at the third installment. However, I do remember being in awe of the graphics in Tekken 4 once it had arrived on PlayStation 2 and I definitely enjoyed Tekken 5 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2. It was only with Tekken 6 that I found my interest in the series waning a bit as the traditional modes began to change format. I know that at some point things have to switch up a bit but the new additions just did not sit well with me.

Having some hope left, I was excited for the latest Tekken release and I bought it on day one. The problem came when I had seen so much hype for Injustice 2…which I also bought. I don’t think I touched Tekken for a good month and a half after that. Does that mean that Tekken 7 is bad? Not necessarily. You just have to be in a very particular head-space to enjoy it.

Tekken:

First of all there is no Anna Williams in Tekken 7 which is a crime.  Second of all…Tekken 7 is for you if you are a gamer that loves to grind. Tekken, with the progression of online gaming and the allure of eSports has become serious business. Gone are the days when I would bash buttons next to my sister on a Mortal Kombat arcade machine in a local fast food restaurant. I was actually extremely nervous before I entered the world of Tekken online (who knows why my body decided to do that). I saw multiple players with one hundred wins on their belts. I was like “cool” then got demolished. I did win once when I found someone as hopeless as myself. It was great when I lost after that and my win counter went down to zero. I then realised that what I saw were one hundred win streaks. I honestly wonder if these people have full time jobs because how does that happen? Special shoutout to the player who decided I was so useless they just left their character lying on the ground for a bit. That was rude.

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Me when I won

The closest you get to the older “ending movie” structure in 7 is a single fight as each character which ends with a short clip of them talking to their defeated opponent in the context of that particular fight. Still, I miss the hijinks between Law and Paul. The confined story in Tekken 7 is quite challenging as each fight seems to have something extra you have to keep on top of, e.g. dodging a soldier shooting at you at certain intervals, quick time events or even multiple enemies. It is a very sneaky way of getting you to grips with the mechanics of the game without you having to slog through a tutorial. They also added in something called “Story Assist” which you access by holding down RB on Xbox One to bring up a list of hotkeys for combos that would otherwise take multiple button presses. It is a great help in the story mode but I always find my hand cramping very quickly despite doing apparently less work. I think the biggest help I ever had was playing as Lars who had his own gun, but then I had no need to go hand to hand with anyone.

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Story mode has its entertaining moments

Tekken 7 customisation leaves a lot to be desired. Which is odd considering the focus on online gameplay. You get some items specific to each character and then really random bits like tank tops and deer masks for everyone. Some of these have to be paid for with in game money. However, more things can be unlocked through Treasure Mode and Arcade Mode which again, you will have to grind for. I know many people aren’t that interested in playing dress up so it really is not a deal breaker. Still, it would be nice to have the same level of freedom that Soul Calibur customisation has allowed in some of its installments. Saying that, if you’re looking for a really cute health bar and player card panel, Tekken 7 has you covered. My personal favourite is the neon pumpkin one. Very seasonal.

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Injustice 2:

Injustice 2 definitely has a wider appeal. It has enough to keep both beginners and veterans entertained even before they become their best Injustice selves.

The very few times I chanced my arm and went online were very pleasant experiences. One person who demolished me for ages before I eventually beat them messaged me to say they had fun! Of course I’m nowhere near as good as a lot of online players but the nature of Injustice is that things can turn around at any second. This is due to the two health bars you have, the second never draining until the first is completely gone. So if you use a strong move while your opponent is still on their first bar, you won’t be able to affect their second. In turn your meter you built up for special moves will be depleted and your opponent can use what they have in theirs in a “clash” which you would definitely lose and they would gain health back. Even the best players have to be careful of this!

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Just gals being pals

The story of Injustice basically revolves around Superman being a dick and Batman being a good Batdad to everyone except his own son. It’s great. You get no choice as to who you play as throughout however some sections allow you to choose between two fighters. If the completionist in you gets itchy about this, you can return to chapters to complete them as the second character. If you want to view the alternate ending to your initial choice, you will have to complete 75 out of the 76 available fights. If my counting is correct, around 31 of those involve single fighters so there is not awful lot of grinding to do on top of one playthrough. I found this a good way to decide who I liked playing as without any experience other than the tutorial. Turns out I’m a dab hand at Harley Quinn and Black Canary.

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I picked Superman in the end first because even though he’s stupid (spoiler) I can use him better

Customisation is very fun. You can earn what are called “Mother Boxes” which you get in various ways and open them to get gear. You can take part in timed Multiverse events (which I love) and earn items that way too. Each item carries with it a level and stats that affect a fighter’s strength, ability, defense and health. Of course, the character has to be the correct level to equip a piece. If there is a better bit of gear that you find ugly you can use some of the resources you earn to put the stats on something you prefer. The Multiverse events come in a variety of difficulties and may have certain stage elements (random earthquakes etc.) and customisation offers you a chance to change up your tactics through costume if you’re finding a particular event tricky.

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There is a lot more to Injustice than Tekken which has upped the playabilty for me personally. Tekken is what it is and I am just a filthy casual. Until I muster up the courage to delve back into the Tekken mess I will be happy deciding if Catwoman looks better in purple or black and punching Green Lantern in the face (he’s very annoying).

Bonus burn:

 

Adventures in Andromeda

I am going to be honest. I know I don't remember the original Mass Effect trilogy with the same voracity as some others do. So forgive me if I can't give the lowdown on how different the shooting was in each game or if I cannot list what lovely RPG goodness was added following on from the first instalment. The point is, I remember the Mass Effect trilogy as a solid space opera with some firearms and biotic powers thrown in for good measure. I laughed, I cried (how predictably feminine of me) and my heart nearly gave out when I heard the bloodcurdling screech of a banshee.

By the time I was happy to wrap up Mass Effect 3, people were already in meltdown over it on the internet. Thankfully I did not see too much of this before I got to experience it myself. It was fine. I had a certain expectation that it would be near impossible to end it in a way that would fully satisfy all individual choices made in the games. However, as people discussed it more, I was left a bad taste in my mouth.

The newest game, Andromeda had no chance. The fandom were hungry and this new part of the Mass Effect universe was meant to fix the betrayal they felt they experienced at the hands of BioWare. Again, I was bombarded with review upon board upon tweet about how Andromeda was the worst thing to happen to humanity (and probably whatever is floating around up in space). Despite this, I paid €69.99 of my own money in order to check it out. I mean, how bad could it really be?

Not that bad actually.

If you don't play a BioWare RPG partly because you get to customise the appearance of your main character (in this case Ryder plus sibling) then we may not have our priorities lined up. I was very happy with how my Ryder turned out. I have to give credit to the best range of female hair options in a BioWare game to date. I did feel that I could not make the face too different from the templates given, but sliders are always awkward when you play on console.

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Customisation is available for your armour also. I had Ryder running around the galaxy in millennial pink. Who needs realism when you might be kissing aliens in space? Other than changing the colour you can build your own armour based on research you acquire exploring around. It took me longer than I would like to get comfortable with this. The development screens were far too fussy. I eventually got there and managed to even craft some interesting weapons. I did like that you had the option of making armour and weapons either from the Milky Way (Ryder's home galaxy) or from new alien tech you discover.

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In terms of plot, Ryder leaves the Milky Way when Commander Shepard of the original trilogy is doing his/her thing. The mission is to find planets viable for life to house the many other volunteers who left along with Ryder. However, you wake up 600 years later and there are big problems. Most of these come in the form of insectoid aliens called the Kett who are determined to make the galaxy a home for just them. In terms of design and overall motive, the Kett are not going to blow you over. They are a familiar villain. Much of the main story also has you go into vaults where you solve a few puzzles and shoot a few things in order to re-calibrate a particular planet's atmosphere. Thankfully they don't take a long time to complete. Many know how soul destroying those Dwarven ruins in Skyrim are…but maybe that was just me.

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Speaking of exploring, Andromeda's open world-ness did not feel too overwhelming. When you were out in the Nomad (your car essentially), quests were marked very clearly and the map had visible pathways to and from most points of interest. Unlike BioWare's other attempt at open world, Inquisition, travelling distances felt more purposeful. Where the game let me down however was when quests were running thin. Believe me, moving from the ship, into the galaxy map, into a cluster, into a planet, then going to the planet, walking to your objective, getting a small dialogue, being told the next part of the quest is on another planet, reversing the steps and then starting them again was not fun. At the beginning this was not an issue because you would to have a few things to complete on one planet which made the journey worthwhile.

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Of course the worst offence Andromeda committed was apparently having more bugs than stars in the galaxy. I did get the famed funny faces albeit quite rarely and a few smaller quests did not complete for me. The latter annoyed me the most because I made the effort and got no rewards for my time. I also experienced some crashing and enemies stuck in walls and all that fun stuff. Luckily since a fateful day when my sister spent many hours working on a house in the Sims only to have her laptop die, I have been a serial saver. Some might construe it as making a game easier but if it meant I didn't have to dive into the galaxy map again, I was going to do it.

Overall do I regret biting the bullet and spending €69.99 on Andromeda? Not at all. I put a lot of time into the game and despite a few annoyances, found myself very entertained. If you are unsure about it still, there is definitely no harm in waiting until it goes down in price. Ryder's story has benefited from the lack of Shepard level fanaticism, spoilers are few and far between.

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As I played Mass Effect Andromeda on the Xbox One, all screenshots here have come from there (if you were curious).

 

Review of Batman: The Telltale Series

I was glad to receive Batman: The Telltale series as a Christmas present.  It had peaked my interest on release, but not enough for me to commit waiting from August to December to finish it. This is because originally the full game was broken into five separate episodes that were each released over the five months, as with all of Telltale’s other series. The format of the game is very different to what most of us are used to playing also. Telltale’s Batman is a point and click game, a sort of choose your own adventure, that moulds its story around the choices you make. At the end of each episode you are given a list of the most important decisions and shown the percentage of players who made the same choices as you. Adding to the pressure, sometimes a nice “she/he will remember that” pops up in the top corner of the screen to remind you that you are changing the story.

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A summary of the kind of hero I was throughout the game

I am a huge fan of other recent Batman games (Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, Arkham Knight) in which you spend stalking criminals as Batman most of the time. What made this game interesting was the fact that you had a chance to explore the persona of Bruce Wayne. Often you are given the choice of dealing with certain characters in your cape or in your business suit. I found myself picking the latter. Being able to navigate the political side of Gotham as Bruce Wayne made the Batman story feel fresh. After all, the rest of the game gives you ample time to beat down on some thugs. As the game is set pretty early on in the life of Batman, Telltale gave themselves a fairly blank slate to work with. This has meant that characters such as reporter Vicki Vale and Oswald Cobblepot have been given new coats of paint, making them more central to this particular Batman story.

You have opportunities throughout to team up with or reject the help of each and every character in the game. The most fun duo to play as was definitely Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle (Catwoman). Unfortunately what starts off as a good representation of the Bruce/Selina dynamic turns extremely cringe-worthy if you pursue a romance with her. I found myself laughing at many serious moments in the game beyond Catwoman also. I do dislike a Batman that takes itself too seriously though, so it did not ruin the game too much.

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A dynamic duo (sometimes)

Gameplay-wise I was not blown away. I played Batman: The Telltale series on Xbox One and as with those who played on PC, I experienced some lagging issues. Especially at the beginning of the final episode. Although not game breaking, it did make fight sequences using quick time events a lot less immersive. I also was excited to use Batman’s arsenal of gadgets to solve crime as the world’s greatest detective. Mainly all you get are CSI type sections where you link correct pieces of evidence together. I found these tedious as by the time Batman talks through everything and tells you the story out loud at the end, you have already figured it out in your own head ten minutes prior.

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A high tech flip phone

Overall it is not a  bad way to entertain oneself, especially if you are looking for something short and simple. The story kept me interested especially since Bruce Wayne had a more active part in the narrative. As I have played some other Telltale series, I thought I had the decision formula down. Batman definitely has a more nuanced decision making system. Although when you are familiar with Batman lore, it can make some decisions  seem pointless.  I was also very glad I played all episodes in a chunk, unlike Telltale’s Walking Dead there was zero emotional connection to the game, so I probably would have grown bored playing one episode a month.

 

Under the Sea (Again)

A good while back I had decided that if I had to choose any game to be remade for current gen consoles, it had to be BioShock. Mainly because it has always been one of those gaming experiences that stuck with me. So much so, that I even read (most of) Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in order to get a better understanding of antagonist Andrew Ryan’s objectivist vision for his underwater city.

The universe must have been listening because all three games have just been released in an updated collection that also includes all of the DLC. What was a girl to do but ask for it for her birthday? I have had it for about a week now and I finally got a chance to sit down with it for a short while today on my Xbox One.

I always remember the BioShock series first and foremost for its visuals. Even back in 2007 I was astonished by the art deco detailing of the city of Rapture which was set off by the glow of neon lights through deep sea view windows. Unfortunately, these art deco interiors are also splattered with blood amid the chaos you find the city in. They have done a great job with the remaster. The first thing I noticed was the light and shade of the environments. I am particularly enjoying the very scary dark corners set off brilliantly with flickering light bulbs that cast brief moments of shadows from enemies. I also have quite a thing for water in games, and the water that protagonist Jack lands in at the beginning is stunning. I would insert a picture here, but I only discovered today that screenshots have been blocked on the Xbox One. I am very disappointed with this as I was looking forward to documenting my return to Rapture.

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Here is a very professional example of how nice the game looks. Trust me.

For me to purchase a remastered game it takes more than just wanting to see if it looks any better than it did nine years ago. In the small amount of time I played today, I was harshly reminded of how atmospheric BioShock is. Let me paint the picture for you. You (as Jack), survive a plane crash and have to swim through burning rubble to a lighthouse whose door closes behind you as you enter, leaving you in complete darkness until a few lights decide to switch on. Spooky right? Not the worst of it. Once you reach the city of Rapture the first thing you see from your bathysphere (the transport used to get under the sea) is a person being literally ripped apart in front of your eyes. The murderer in this case then starts to attack the glass of the bathysphere and all you can do is stand and watch. It is the worst. You get out eventually and have to navigate your way around the mostly dark entrance with random voices and the interjections of Garry Schyman’s biting string section from the score niggling at your ear. Did I mention that you have no way to defend yourself at this point? Also that the first weapon you eventually get is a wrench? You are very exposed first few moments of the game. Eventually you do cool get powers (like bees shooting out of your hand) and some guns. They might make you feel a tiny bit more secure, but there are many shadowy corners for enemies to hide (toilet cubicles are the living worst for it).

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Here is a professional photograph of Jack’s first weapon.

I will motor on with playing the collection even though I have many other things I have started already (The Witcher 3 being the longest). After all the first BioShock clocks in at twelve to twenty one hours depending on how thorough you want to be. It is also October. What better way to spend this spooky month than fighting off murderous addicts to Perry Como’s “Papa Loves Mambo” (also a real thing in these games)?

BioShock The Collection is out now on PS4 ,Xbox One and PC. I would definitely recommend even buying a cheap second hand copy of the individual games for the PS3 or Xbox 360 if you have not sold your soul to current gen just yet.