Gamebox 2.0: Retro Evolution Edition

Nothing says Valentine’s Day better than video games with your special somebody. We’ve played some great co-op titles that can bring gamers together for some fun times and we played a ton of games with retro-inspired designs, waged wars between planets, bounced off walls in a new spin on a puzzle platformer, and played a digital version of a hit board game.

HackyZack (Zach): HackyZack, from Spaceboy Games and Kittehface Software and publisher Digerati, arrived on PS4 this week after PC and Switch releases and was also featured during Awesome Games Done Quick last year, where it was completed by runner Hornlitz in 8 minutes and 36 seconds.  Obviously, we are not as godlike as the AGDQ runners but I can definitely see why it’s a perfect game for speedrunning. You control Zack, who has to bounce a hacky sack into goals or destroy targets depending on the game mode.  Zack has a lot of the normal moves you would expect from a puzzle platforming hero like double jumps and wall jumps but the fact that you have to kick and bounce the ball around the level adds a brain-melting new dimension to the gameplay but tight controls allow you to always be able to do exactly what you want at any time.

You now have to figure out how to bounce the ball off the wall and then get into position to keep it going and things get more complicated as you progress through the game’s 100+ levels, adding things like switches only the sack can activate, blocks that need to be broken and different sized balls. Luckily there’s a chill soundtrack because the game is as hardcore and difficult as something like Super Meat Boy and if you’re a fan of games in that genre, HackyZack’s new ball bouncing mechanic is definitely something to check out on PC, Switch or PS4.

Worbital (Chris):  When the universe is running low on resources, the once united planetary alliance is broken and it’s a free-for-all to dominate the cosmos. Team Jolly Roger and Advanced Interactive Gaming present Worbital , a real-time tactical artillery game. Inspired by the classic Worms, Team Jolly Roger expands the tactical gameplay and intense combat mechanics by introducing an orbiting battleground. Players control a planet that must build up their offensives and weaponry while attacking enemy planets. Battles take place around a solar system, with some physics affecting the game. Planets rotate around a sun, adding a slight gravitational assist effect to every weapon. Weapon placement has to be well thought out since the spinning planet will be exposed at all angles.

Worbital has two types of modes. A campaign mode that follows a space commander and a multiplayer mode. The campaign mode lets the player select one of three commanders, each following a version of the story. Three civilizations have the alliance to share the resources of space, but with supplies becoming scarce, a panic sets in and war breaks. The three commanders have different starting weaponry and special weapons, allowing for a different combination to build on the home planet. The Lucid specializes in more offensive capabilities. The Celestials have more defensive powers available  and the Terrene have an even balance of both types of fortifications. The multiplayer mode lets players challenge each other for space superiority in single or team matches. A full match can have a crazy amount of rockets, lasers, and spaceships fill the screen. Each moment is a fight to gather credit, build and repair structures, and avoiding collateral damage.

The gameplay in Worbital is chaotic and stressful in all the good ways. A planet needs a mix of offensive weapons to launch attacks across the area, harvesters to gather credit to advance a tech tier, and defensive capabilities to protect the planet from attacks. All of this happening in real time, while looking out for enemy activity. Defeating an enemy needs lots of attacks to strip away a planet’s surface to reveal it’s core. Strike the core with enough hits and the whole planet explodes. But all the enemies will be trying to do the same thing. It’s a blend of resource management, quick calculations, and trick shooting.

Team Jolly Roger brings an inventive twist to the tactical artillery genre. Worbital’s focus on intense combat makes this title more than just a homage to Worms. The weapons are diverse and it’s really satisfying to score critical hits on an opponent. Waiting for a perfect shot to set off a laser or fire a nuke and watching it hit never gets dull, especially when using super weapons, which takes more time to get ready and can be stopped if the enemy is fast enough. Worbital is a great title for gamers looking to flex their tactical minds and don’t mind a little chaos in a fight. Worbital was released January 31, 2019, on Steam, and is coming to Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch later this year.

 

Armored Evolution (Zach): Armored Evolution actually arrived just slightly over a year ago on PC but we just now got the chance to check it out.  It’s a top-down arena shooter somewhat in the vein of classics like Robotron or Smash TV where you control a futuristic tank and battle your way across different planets on a quest for intergalactic domination.  Each level you’ll face off against multiple waves of enemies and, afterward, you’ll get a reward crate with a new tank type, weapon or power-up that you can implement into your loadout.

Everything can be upgraded via multiple stats as well and you can customize your tank into the best version for our playstyle.  The game gets pretty bullet-hellesque at times and things like bullets that bounce off walls add new wrinkles to the gameplay. The overall look is fairly generic and you are stuck on the same maps for four level cycles, so it can get a bit tedious even with slightly different enemy lineup but it’s solid enough that it’s engaging enough for fans of the top-down arena shooter and the experimentation and customization makes it more interesting as well.  There are much flashier and interesting games out there currently in the top down arena shooter genre but if you’re looking for a cheaper, solid entry, check out Armored Evolution.

Gunpowder on the Teeth: Arcade (Zach): Clearly taking inspiration from Broforce, Gunpowder Team’s Gunpowder on the Teeth seems like it’s somewhat imagining a world where Free Lives’ brilliant action platformer was converted to Game Boy.  Featuring somewhat similar run and gun and jump gameplay, Gunpowder on the Teeth has you playing as squad of soldiers (who you slowly unlock as you progress) who are engaging in wars across the world.  Your main objective in most missions is to destroy radio transmission trucks, although there are some levels where you just have to survive and reach the end of the level and each soldier has a unique secondary weapon, like grenades or a grenade launcher.

The platforming is pretty difficult but there is a good flow to everything once you figure out the path the developer’s setup in each level but everything else lacks the polish and general awesomeness of its inspiration. Gunpowder has reloading for its guns, which slows down the action and can get annoying when you come up on enemies and have to stand still taking punishment for a few seconds.  The game does have health, which is welcome, but there are also lots of pits and barbed wire that cause instant death. The Game Boy-inspired graphics also don’t look that great, which may be that’s the point, but it can be difficult at times to discern enemies or obstacles and that can lead to frustrating deaths at times. In a world where Broforce exists and lets you play as basically every great 80s and 90s action hero, Gunpowder on the Teeth is kind of irrelevant.  It’s inferior in basically every way and it really lacks any distinctive style besides its monochrome visuals. If you’ve literally exhausted everything you could possibly do in Broforce, maybe check out Gunpowder on the Teeth when it comes out next week but otherwise, stick with the Bros.

Hive Jump (Chris): Drop into alien territory with graphite lab’s Hive Jump, a 2D-action shooter with roguelike elements. HiveJump takes place in the 24th century, where humanity has colonized planets across space. An alien race has become an invasion, destroying planets and building hives. Human colonies are being overrun with hostile aliens. It’s up to the elite soldiers of the J.U.M.P. Corps to eliminate the hives and protect humans from being wiped out. Armed with a jumpsuit, an arsenal of weapons, grenades, gadgets, and their transponder backpack, these Jumpers tear into the enemy forces.

Hive Jump’s gameplay follows a classic run and gun mechanic, with lots of platforms to navigate and waves of enemies to take on. The game isn’t a cakewalk, there are some difficult jumps lined with traps like acid pools, fire pits, and spikes. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes, some rushing to melee or stay at a distance to shoot projectiles. The game offers a multitude of weapon options. There’s the standard machine gun, shotgun, and rocket launcher, but there are creative weapons like a poison cloud, electric orbs, and an ice beam. Grenades set off small explosions, used in traps and increase defensive. Gadgets will add some perks like making marking important locations, create a shield, and add teleportation. Defeated aliens drop goo, which can be used to unlock more weapons and upgrade features.

The game has a unique respawn mechanic. When a jumper is killed, the transponder backpack acts like a respawn point that will drop in a replacement, with the same equipment and perks. The transponder backpack has a health bar, and can only take so much damage before it breaks. But as long as the transponder backpack is functioning, there can be almost an unlimited amount of jumpers that will join the action.

The campaign mode has a turn-based element that lets the player decide to make fights harder or easier based on some tactical choices. This game can be played alone or up to a squad of four, for the real experience of intense combat. With four players, each jumper can have a different load-out for every situation and can balance out the hectic moments when the enemies pile into the screen. Levels are procedurally generated with some small rewards scattered through the area. Completing certain dungeons unlocks temporary perks that last for a single play thought like health regeneration, weapon cool-down or fewer aliens.

Hive Jump is an over the top action game with lots of fun details that makes this game a complete package. There is great pixel artwork, capturing the retro look and feel while having it flow very nicely with the fast pace combat. Mowing down aliens with a full squad is satisfying, especially when swarms of enemies come barreling from all directions. This is a great title that deserves any sci-fi action fan attention. Hive Jump is now available for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Steam.

Odallus: The Dark Call (Zach):  Odallus: The Dark Call and the next game we’ll talk about in a bit, Oniken, where both developed by Joymasher and both are heavily inspired by games from NES era.  Odallus: The Dark Call first hit PC in 2015 and is now on Switch and coming soon to PS4 and Xbox One and it draws inspiration from Castlevania, Demon’s Crest and Metroid where you play as a hunter named Haggis who finds his village destroyed by demons while off on a hunt.  His son is taken and he sets out to battle the evil forces and rescue his son. The game features some excellent pixel art with sprites that seem much larger than anything you would have seen on NES and the levels are sprawling areas with tons of secrets to uncover and hidden paths to explore.  In true Metroidvania fashion, you gain items in later levels and you can backtrack to earlier levels to open up new paths to find items and money. There’s a wide variety of enemies and you get a bunch of different Castlevaniaesque sub-weapons to use against them along with your sword, like torches and axes.

The main thing holding Odallus back from being a 100% recommend, for me, is the controls. They feel stiff and sluggish at times, forcing you to be very deliberate when attacking and there’s a climbing mechanic where Haggis can hang from ledges and either drop or pull himself up but it never feels smooth and there are points where you have to perform precision drops or hangs that I feel like the game is not up to handling.  I was playing on a Pro Controller for Switch, so I feel like that controller should be up to snuff, especially compared to if I was using the Joy-Cons in handheld mode. The presentation and gameplay, especially the exploration, are all top notch and you can get used to the controls after a while but if they were smoother and more responsive, this would be a no-brainer must check out on Switch.

Oniken: Unstoppable Edition (Zach): As mentioned above, Oniken also comes from developer Joymasher and is also a retro-inspired action platformer, except Oniken takes its inspiration from games like Ninja Gaiden and Strider.  You play as Zaku, a ninja mercenary who is recruited by the human resistance in apocalyptic future to take down an evil corporation and it’s army of robots that have taken over the world. Zaku’s main weapon is a sword that is very reminiscent of the sword from Strider, where it makes an arc in front of you that lets you have more distance between you and the enemies and you can unlock a power-up that lets the sword actually fire an arc of energy out for even further distances.  Zaku also can get grenades that you can toss to deal more damage enemies but you have to take into account the distance and arc they come out on, which is always the same.

The graphics and music are fantastic and are easily on par with some of the best games in the genre that were on the NES but, again, like Odallus, the controls don’t feel as good as they should. The controls feel stiff just Odallus, especially when trying to platform, and there are times when it almost felt like Zaku hit some sort of wall in mid-air and just dropped, resulting in very frustrating lost lives that didn’t seem like anything I did was the issue.  Grenades are also mapped to Up and attack, which considering there are numerous other buttons that could be used, is more annoying than it should be. I believe they are trying to have an authentic “two buttons plus D-pad” NES control scheme but I will take smoother and more responsive controls over authenticity any day of the week. Much like Odallus, the controls give me some reservations about a 100% recommend but if you can get a handle on them, Oniken should satisfy your old-school action cravings. It’s out on Switch now and should be out soon on PS4 and Xbox One.

(Chris): With its retro graphics, controls and old school difficulty, JoyMasher’s Oniken comes to the latest consoles with Oniken: Unstoppable Edition. Oniken is a 2D side-scrolling adventure title, design as a tribute to 8-bit ninja games such as Ninja Gaiden and Strider. Players take control of Zaku, a mercenary swordsman, who is recruited by a resistance army to fight against the cybernetic force known as the Oniken. Zaku will cut his way through to rescue captivates, ride hover bikes and destroy gigantic weapons. In this updated version, the graphics have enhanced and support a wide screen format, make it look like its being displayed on a CRT monitor.

The presentation of Oniken absolutely nails the classic NES aesthetics. Levels start with great cutscenes that play out like a campy sci-fi-action movie with beautiful pixel artwork. The gameplay is tough and requires some patience to figure out the layouts of the stages and enemy patterns. This isn’t a game that easily is picked up an played. There’s no health regeneration, no mid-level save points, and no stats to build up. It’s a challenging game that aims to be authentic to the old school experience as possible. The controls do have stiffness on the Switch that takes a little getting used to, similar to NES older games. Players will have to be careful in attacking, jumping and dodging, with little to no room for second-guessing. Oniken: Unstoppable Edition is an interesting title for gamers that have the Switch and want to revisit the classic side-scrollers of the past. The enhanced visuals and fast-paced action make this an excellent title for gamers on the go and can easily bring this title to other games to try. Oniken: Unstoppable Edition was released February 8th, 2019 with a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One release coming this spring.

The Spy Who Shot Me (Zach): Coming from developer Retro Army Ltd, The Spy Who Shot Me recently hit it’s 1.0 version after being in Early Access for a while and it’s a charming and incredibly fun homage to Goldeneye and other old-school FPS games.  You play as secret agent 7, who works for MI-69 taking on the evil organization SCUM, who have a propensity for placing nuclear weapons in various locales around the globe. 7 goes to places like Jamaica or The White House, battles hordes of henchmen, makes some quips and then finds the bomb or battles a boss and gets out.  Most of the levels feature locked doors with a 7 symbol on them and you’ll have to find another symbol somewhere else in the level to unlock that door. It’s not the most interesting or stylish objective but it works well enough and usually triggering the symbol makes a horde new enemies appear. The look, gunplay and especially the music really do a great job of evoking Goldeneye with the added benefit that you can control the game with a mouse and keyboard or a controller that has two analog sticks.  There also seems to be a bit of Duke Nukem in there as well, as there are lots of objects that you can interact with, like a snooker table in MI-69 HQ.

There’s some fun jabs at the Bond franchise, like 7’s mentor 1 being a blatant Sean Connery knock-off or the game’s Q, Smithers, being horrible at making gadgets and the voice acting is charmingly terrible. The one major nitpick is that the game features mini-game sections every once in a while, like skydiving or running from an exploding base, and they drastically worse than the standard run and gun gameplay.  The boat segment in particular that opens 7’s mission to Jamaica is particularly horrendous. I appreciate the attempt to shake up the gameplay but they probably could have been just cutscenes and have the game be just the FPS action. The Spy Who Shot Me is a great throwback to Goldeneye and other N64 shooters and also a pretty fun and funny parody of the Bond franchise as well. It’s out now on Steam.

Evolution (Zach): Evolution from North Star Games is one of the most popular and well-received games of the designer board game revolution that’s happened in the last decade or more and it now has an excellent digital adaptation for PC and Mac.  Evolution tasks you with creating species of creatures that can survive against rivals and claim the most food. You gain cards that can add different traits, like the ability to forage and gain +1 food or a long neck that gives you extra food.  You can also evolve into a carnivore that gains food from attacking other player’s creatures. Instead of adding traits, you can also use the cards to increase your population size, add new species or increase your creature’s body size, which if your body is equal or larger compared to a predator makes you safe from attack.  Each player has to add a card at the start of each round to the shared plant food pool and you can add, subtract or put in 0. The main loop of playing cards and then eating is pretty simple but all the options available make the game extremely deep on a tactical and strategic level and you have to try and guess what your opponents are going to do and adapt to counter them.

The digital version does a great job of walking you through the basics in a series of practice levels, each one adding another element of the full game and then you are able to take on the single-player campaign to find and battle legendary creatures or you can take on opponents online as well. The digital version also captures and enhances the gorgeous art style of the board game, as each match in the digital version takes place in lush watering holes that change and get greener the more food is available in the community pool.  The game is out now on PC and also Android and iOS, with the mobile version being a “try before you buy” model where you can check out the basic game and then unlock the full version if you want later. North Star Games is also doing a massive giveaway of the physical edition for the first 100 days of release, all you have to do is register in the game and play an online match to be entered into the random drawing, with 10 winners each day. If you wanted to learn how to play Evolution or if you are already well versed and just want to find some competition around the world, this is an excellent translation of the game that shows exactly why it’s one of the most critically and commercially successful board games around.

 

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