Two thumbs up to Sony for shrinking Sly Cooper

The Sly Trilogy

From: Sanzaru Games

For: PlayStation Vita

RRP: $55 (physical copy after a search of online retailers)

Before Cole McGrath, Delsin Rowe and the inFamous series came along and swept the PlayStation world by storm, developer Sucker Punch was more well-known for its game series featuring master thief Sly Cooper – a trio of games that appeared on Sony’s PlayStation 2 console.

Pint-sized criminal: Sly Racoon has been shrunk for Sony's PS Vita handheld.

Pint-sized criminal: Sly Racoon has been shrunk for Sony’s PS Vita handheld.

Although I got the PS2 late in its life cycle, I was fortunate  enough to play the Sly Cooper series – and loved them. They were the perfect mix of platforming action combined with humour and great looks. Now, all three have been shrink wrapped into one package for the PS Vita, and this could well be one of the best things Sony’s done for its handheld console.

Featuring master thief Sly and his sidekicks Bentley the turtle (the brains) and Murray the hippo (the brawns), the trio appeared in three games: Sly Racoon, Sly 2: Band of Thieves and Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves and they were great games, featuring exotic locations, dastardly villains and some genuinely funny moments. In 2010, the games were ported to the PlayStation 3 by Sanzaru Games, and went down a hit with fans of the franchise.

Of the three, Sly 1 was probably the weakest – and it’s the same here with this Vita port. Sly 1 saw Sly, Bentley and Murray having to retrieve a Cooper family heirloom – the Thievious Racoonus – from a band of rival thieves (led by a mechanical owl).

Perhaps the best game of the trilogy is Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves as not only does it look the best it also makes the most of the Vita’s touch capabilities: Namely the back touch pad to activate an in-game GPS-like ping – used so that Sly knows which direction to go. It’s simple and it works. The front screen is also used to activate Sly’s binoculars or Bentley’s tranquilizer dart.
2013-12-10-195128_1396878187The Trilogy looks great on the Vita, with the series’ trademark cartoony look vibrant and colourful on the handheld’s OLED screen. The only downside with the graphics I could see was during the cut scenes, where there’s some low resolution compression making itself present.

For a series that first appeared in 2002, Sly Racoon has become one of Sony’s most recognisable mascots, much like Crash Bandicoot, Jax and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank, and while to the cynical this could be seen as Sony just  re-issuing old games with a new lick of paint, it’s a great opportunity to play a great series for those who missed out first time around.

Oh, and as if in a nod to its heritage and how much it owes to Sly Cooper,  in Sucker Punch’s latest game, inFamous Second Son, there are a few hidden references to the Sly games. I won’t reveal where they are but if you’ve got Second Son, explore and see what you stumble across.



Fez review: Weird and mesmerising but a must-play

Fez: a game that started out on consoles and PC but seems perfectly suited to the handheld format.

Fez: a game that started out on consoles and PC but seems perfectly suited to the handheld format.

Say what you like about Fez creator Phil Fish (who spectacularly quit the game development industry last year and cancelled Fez 2 after a Twitter spat), indie game Fez is one of those games that is a delight to play, not only because of its twisted perspective but thanks to its 16-bit graphics style and some innovative game play features.

Fez was one of my most favoured games of 2012 and with the move to the PS Vita, I think it’s perfectly suited to the handheld.

The game sees main character Gomez in a flat 2D world but after stumbling across a giant gold polyhedron suddenly finds he can view the world in 3D. However, the polyhedron is shattered, the 32 cubes it’s made up from scattered about the game world and it’s up to Gomez to find them all, bringing order back to the world.

At first, Fez seems a simple 2D/3D puzzle game where the player guide’s a pixelated hero from place to place, collecting the shards from the exploded polyhedron, but then in an instant, thanks to the ability to rotate the game world 90 degrees creating a 3D playspace, the game opens up new possibilities to tackle problems.

But how?, I hear you ask. Like this: being able to change perspective on-the-fly using the Vita’s left and right shoulder buttons means suddenly a platform that was moments ago out of reach is now accessible. It’s mind-boggling and means that jumps that were seemingly unreachable before are suddenly much closer when you rotate perspective.  In a world punctuated by waterfalls, lighthouses, shacks and precarious drops, and where entering one door can lead to a completely different dimension, a change in perspective can literally mean the difference between one step closer to a wayward cube and a drop to the depths below.

Fez is a game that can be mesmerising and confusing at the same time, and often that confusion can lead to some frustration, especially when you get lost and aren’t really sure where you should go next. Some of the puzzles, too, might see you scratching your head (there’s one with a bell early on) and heading online for a walk through to help you solve them.

Minor frustrations aside, Fez was one of my most loved games when it came out on console and PC and now that it’s out on Vita, I can see it being one of my most loved and most played on Sony’s handheld. Fez + PS Vita = a gaming partnership worth discovering.



The Game Junkie week: Tearaway & Ryse: Son of Rome

Tearaway: the game this is making me use my PS Vita lots

2013-11-08-134142I’ve already mentioned Tearaway on Game JunkieNZ 2.0 before, in a preview,  but I’ve been playing the full version quite a bit lately, and I can say without a doubt that it’s one of – if not the – best game I’ve played on the PS Vita. I’ve played it during the day and I’ve played it during the night.

If you’re  a fan of platform games then I can recommend Tearaway wholeheartedly, from its cute world made entirely out paper, to its endearing lead character, its great soundtrack and not forced use of the hardware’s touch capabilities. Tearaway should be played by everyone who owns a PS Vita but sadly, I think that the game will be overlooked a little as it was released around the same time frame that the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. Part of me can’t help but feel that Media Molecule’s next big amazing game will be ignored by many gamers because they’re too busy Xbox One-ing and PlayStation 4-ing.

I’m not going to ramble on about Tearaway apart from say if you want an amazing game for your PS Vita that will make you smile and laugh then buy it. Just buy it.

Ryse Son of Rome (Xbox One)

RyseSonfRomeRyse is definitely one of the Xbox One’s showcase launch games thanks to its amazing graphics. It look freaken fantastic. It really does but it’s been getting a lot of mixed reviews, mainly because of  about it’s one-note combat and short game length.

It’s true that the combat is repetitive, made up of blocks and heavy strikes, but dammit, I enjoyed the game.

Detailing the rise of Roman general Marius Titus and his revenge against the barbarians that murdered his family, Ryse is, for the most part, an enjoyable romp, despite the fact that the story is a little ham-fisted at times. The game’s maker Crytek isn’t going to win any Oscars for story telling.

Yes, it takes liberties with history but what game hasn’t done that in the past? The voice acting is for the most part superb, with Titus voiced with conviction. Part of me can’t help but feel that perhaps many people are critical of Ryse because it hasn’t reinvented the wheel, which is what they were expecting. I don’t know. I’m probably wrong but apart from a few frustrating moments near the end, I wanted to finish the game.

Key to the success in Ryse’s combat  is blocking incoming attacks, which leaves enemies open to attack where Titus will hack and slash until a red skull appears above their head. When the skull appears, pressing the right trigger activates  the game’s cinematic execution sequences where you have to press the corresponding coloured face button (either X or Y) to match the coloured outline that has flashed around the enemy. Get it right and the executions are brutal: slow motion arms chopped off or swords through the chest. If you miss the prompts, Titus still kills the enemy anyway – you just don’t earn as many experience points.

Ryse is a linear affair – there’s chance for exploring the environment – and squad mate AI falls flat at times. Sometimes I thought Titus was the only Roman soldier fighting the barbarian hordes. During one “Stop the siege towers mission” I had to almost single-handedly take on the enemies while some of my fellow Romans just stood there. It didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the game but it did make me raise my eyebrows.

Every kill earns experience points, which can be used to upgrade Titus’ skills (health, focus, combat), but something that made me raise an eye brow again was that you can use real money to purchase gold that can be used to upgrade skills. While you’re not forced to buy gold –  you can still grind your way through killing foes – this sort of in-game micro-transactions just doesn’t sit right with me.

Ryse: Son of Room doesn’t re-invent the wheel and it can be repetitive, and it seems I’m in the minority, but I really enjoyed it. I really did.  I guess that’s what makes us all different as gamers.

Next on my list of Xbox One games to finish are Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsports 5 and Zoo Tycoon. I’ve played NBA Live 14 and it’s not worth playing, believe me. 2K’s NBA series has nothing to worry about.

Tearaway preview: where paper replaces sack cloth

2013-11-08-135040Tearaway, the new game from Little Big Planet creator Media Molecule, is a game that made me smile.

My biggest smile came as Iota, the cutesy lead character in PS Vita game Tearaway that has a head that looks like an envelope (you can also play as a female character called Aoti, if you want), was riding on the back of a pig – that I was controlling – as it ran riot through the game’s brightly coloured world, a world made entirely out of paper and cardboard.

At the end of the piggy rampage, the pig spotted a female pig and the pair trotted off to a barn, a giant question mark hanging over Iota’s head. Tearaway is a game that will make you smile till your face hurts. Earlier, I’d had to make the pig cuter for its owner, attaching a false moustache to his piggy lips (do pigs have lips?)  I took all the photos in this write-up using my Vita’s image capture function but in hindsight, I wish I’d taken a screenshot of the pig.

Tearaway is a game where your face – yes, the face of the player – plays a starring role, captured by the Vita’s front-facing camera and pasted on the game world’s sun (there’s a photo here where you can see my ugly mug staring out), elevating you to the lofty heights of a god that the world’s inhabitants revere. You’re referred through out the game as “You”.

It’s a game where you use your fingers (and the rear touch pad) to punch through things to move obstacles, pull open ribbons on presents and beat drum skin-laden bounce pads that propel the game’s star, Iota to higher levels. It’s a game where you’ll use your fingertips to open presents and trap doors.

2013-11-08-135000Tearaway is a delight of a game that takes the magic developer Media Molecule crafted into Little Big Planet and plasters it liberally in a world with dancing apple cores made out of paper open and close when you approach, squirrels throw acorns at each other and paper plants unfurl their leaves when you walk through them.  It’s magical.

Iota is a messenger sent to safe the world from an unknown evil and as Iota explores, the world comes to live.  When he stands on a bounce pad (it looks like a drum skill), tapping on the Vita’s rear touch pad, propels him into the air, landing on platforms above. Bridges made out of green paper unfurl as he approaches them, carnival music blaring in the background. Paper plants pop up as he walks by, and concentric circles radiate from his feet as he walks through a stream, made out of paper.

It’s a platformer at heart, with Iota/Aoti jumping and rolling about the game world but the fact that you have to use your fingers to manipulate the game world for your character to progress is just genius. There’s combat, but it’s basic, basic stuff where you roll into enemies (Iota/Aoti can turn into an orb) called scraps, knocking them senseless, then pick them up and toss them.

I could wax lyrical about Tearaway for much, much longer but I won’t. I’ll stop here but it’s been one of the most enjoyable handheld gaming experiences I’ve had in a long, long time.

It’s games like Tearaway that make it worth owning a PS Vita, a fantastic handheld console – with an amazing screen – that has been neglected for too long by Sony, but it seems that with this year’s Killzone Mercenary and now Tearaway,  Sony are actually giving the love back to its handheld. Tearaway creates the same kind of magic that LittleBigPlanet did and for my money, Media Molecule have another hit on its hand.

Right, enough waffling: I’m off to guide Iota on his next quest. I wonder what wonders will unfold before my eyes?

Tearaway is out on PS Vita on November 22.


Sorry about this: Oh, look it's my ugly mug staring back at me (and now, staring back at you).

Sorry about this: Oh, look it’s my ugly mug staring back at me (and now, staring back at you).

Killzone: Mercenary – the review

Killzone Mercenary (PS Vita)

Looking good: a screen grab from Killzone Mercenary taken from my PS Vita.

Looking good: a screen grab from Killzone Mercenary taken from my PS Vita.

Killzone: Mercenary, where have you been all my PS Vita’s life?

Mercenary is a shooter that you’ll actually want to play. It’s the shooter that my PS Vita has been crying out for. Oh, sure developers have tried FPS games on the Vita before but let’s face it: They sucked. Pure and simple (I’m looking at you Black Ops: Declassified and Resistance Burning Skies. You were shit).

Killzone Mercenary is the real deal. And if Mercenary had been available earlier,  my Vita would have seen more action over the past few months rather than pretty much gathering dust, sitting unused.

Why, Sony, why has it taken it has taken so long for a great first-person shooter to appear on the Vita? Not through lack of talent as there are plenty of talented people in your development studios. There was really no excuse for it. I mean, the Vita has two analogue sticks: It’s made for the FPS, right?

Placing the player in the shoes of soldier-for-hire Arran Danner, Killzone Mercenary is set between the events of Killzone 2 and Killzone 3 and interestingly, in a first for the series, the player will fight alongside both the ISA and Helghan after a twist near the end. Danner is a, after all, a mercenary so he goes where the green is.

Let’s get the visuals out of the way first, though: they are stupendous. The two images with captions are screen captures I did during game play. Looks pretty good, right? It’s like the developer took the PlayStation 3’s Killzone and zapped it with a shrink ray: It really does look that good. Is is too much to say this is the best looking game the Vita because I think it is. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful and really is the best looking game on the Vita.

But good graphics does not a game  make, it needs a solid story to back it up. Well, Mercenary’s story is nothing we haven’t seen in countless shooters before (filled with betrayal and backstabbing) and you can see what’s coming a mile off but it’s a shooter, after all: It’s not a Shakespearean play filled with enlightened exposition and wonderment. It’s a game where you shoot people to earn money and complete objectives. I also found the controls took a bit of time getting used to – crouch and sprint are mapped to the circle button which makes things interesting during an intense firefight – but things fell into place soon enough.

Killzone-Mercenary-Preview-03-600x339Mercenary uses the Vita’s touch screen cleverly, too, letting you melee kill foes by tapping the triangle button then following an on-screen prompt indicating which way to swipe.

Being able to do that means you’ll use it – and I used it a lot, against both normal Helghast grunts and heavily armed heavies. In fact, I probably used it too much (and handily, many of the Helghan turn their back on you when you melee them), but there’s just something satisfying about swiping the touch screen to kill a Helghan (although, does Danner really have to stab some of them in the balls before knifing them in the head? That just made me squirm)

The touch screen is also used to set mines (placing each thumb on the screen then rotating them charges the mine) and kills earn valour, or money, which can be used to buy new weapons, ammunition, better armour and other gadgets  from black market weapons chest conveniently dotted about the game world. Every kill earns you money: headshots earning you more than a shot to the chest.

If there’s one thing frustrating about Mercenary’s game play, it’s its checkpoint system, which isn’t very good. I would have liked to have seen a more robust save system and while yes, the Vita has a good standby mode, if you quit a level mid-mission expect to have to start again from the beginning. It’s annoying.

I’ve only touched on the single player campaign here because, well, I haven’t had a chance to try any online yet. I got a code to do that but haven’t had the time. Perhaps when more people are playing it I’ll give it a whirl.

Airborne assault: Flying in a Helghast ship to assault an ISA cruiser.

Airborne assault: Flying in a Helghast ship to assault an ISA cruiser.

OK, to round up. Yes, Killzone Mercenary shows little innovation when it comes to game play (and Killzone is a stupid name for a game) and yes, the story is cliched and yes, if you hate the Killzone series then this portable version isn’t going to change your mind, but it’s a freaking console quality shooter on a handheld and it’s a good one  –  and that should be celebrated as far as I’m concerned (and if it was shit, I would tell you as much).

Not so long ago I was thinking Sony had forgotten about the Vita completely and hoped no-one would notice. Well, we did notice  but if Mercenary is Sony’s way of saying, “Sorry about the previous shit Vita FPS games. Try this for size” then I forgive you, Sony. I forgive you.

Game Junkie Verdict: buy, buy,  buy.

Killzone Mercenary: Is that a Helghan in your pants?

Killzone Mercenary: Here Helghan, Helghan, Helghan ...

Killzone Mercenary: Here Helghan, Helghan, Helghan …

For a handheld title, Killzone: Mercenary on the PS Vita is pretty impressive.

And Lord knows, the Vita needs impressive titles to bolster its fortunes. It has few must-have titles (and some desperately don’t get titles like Resistance Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Declassified, anyone?). Mercenary could well be the first-person shooter that makes you proud to own a PS Vita.

Set between the events of Killzone 1 and Killzone 2, players take the role of a mercenary called Danner, who has contracted his services to the ISA in an effort to wipe out the Helghast on their home planet of Helghan. And being a mercenary is where this Killzone pops up its first difference to the console editions of the game: money.

Each kill earns Danner money – the more kills he makes, the more money he makes. Making a headshot will net more cash than just pumping a Helghast with lead. Even picking up dropped ammo earns cash. Earned money can used in-game to purchase better weapons using black market lockers (why they’d be dotted around a Helghast base, I’m not sure). You can also unlock a variety of other things but some of them cost huge amounts of cash.

Visually, the game looks superb, and while not on par with what the PlayStation 3 can generate, it shows that developer Guerilla Cambridge (formerly known as Sony Cambridge, the studio behind the Medievil series) are pushing Sony’s handheld to its limits, with dynamic shadows and volumetric lighting. It really is impressive.

The game opens with Danner and a colleague (he’s shot down mid-glide so he’s not even worth mentioning) gliding from an ISA dropship down to a looming Helghan base where you have to deactivate two radar dishes that control the giant cannons causing problems for the ISA ships orbiting Helghan. It’s up to you (Danner) to finish the job and turn the tide of war.

OK, so the premis isn’t very original at all and while I was a little disappointed that the opening sequence was on-rails (I wasn’t able to steer Danner at all) it’s a powerful way to start the game, with rockets and enemy fire flying around as Danner glides towards the base, finally landing on top of a cable car.

So far, so good, and Killzone Mercenary has a hell of a lot going for it, especially for a handheld title, but that said, it ticks all the boxes that a Killzone shooter should so if you’re not a fan of Killzone, chances are you’ll find little to like here.

Stabby, stabby: Yep, you can stab Helghan in the neck.

Stabby, stabby: Yep, you can stab Helghan in the neck.

While the preview code was only one level long, I was able to mix it up a little with both stealth and full-on frontal assault (the former thanks to Danner’s silenced pistol and knife) and the game throws in some hacking for good measure (using the touch screen to match on-screen icons while racing against a timer). Talking of touch screen controls, it’s used wisely throughout the campaign with the rear touch pad letting you zoom in and out with weapons and the main screen used to finish off silent kills of unwary Helghan using a quick time event after you’ve tapped the triangle button.

The Helghast showed some smarts at times during my  play through – after being spotted by one soldier while assaulting the barracks, he called for reinforcements – but other times, stupidity was evident, with more than one not noticing I was in the same room as them (just before I filled them full of lead). Perhaps that’ll be tidied up come September, when the full game’s out. The only time stealth didn’t work was during the what seems a mandatory element in shooters these days: the hold-this-position-until-ordered-where-to-go-next sequence.

So far, so Killzone, which will please fans of the series, and the closing moments of the preview mixed it up a little with Danner having to hold off a barrage of Helghast using a Porcupine missile system, which fire missiles at what ever you tap on-screen (assaulting Helghast, a hovering dropship). One thing I’m not certain about for Mercenary is the multiplayer, as the feature was disabled for the preview.

Killzone Mercenary is looking extremely solid for a handheld shooter and while I’ve no idea how the story holds up throughout the rest of the game or whether it turns all formulaic in the sea of brown-on-brown that the Killzone series is famed for, this handheld title has piqued my interest. Perhaps it is possible to have a decent FPS on the Vita and have a Helghan in your pocket.  Here’s hoping.

PlayStation New Zealand provided a download code for the preview version of Killzone Mercenary.