Thursday, 24 November 2016

Guns N' Boxes - Early Access Review

Shootin' peeps with exploding bananas in Guns N' Boxes...

Guns N' Boxes shoot

Much like a pixelated version of the Hunger Games, I'm stuck in a corner surrounded by crates of goodies, waiting for the carnage to begin. I can see my opponents in their respective positions - my mouse hovers over them expectantly, eager for bloodshed. As the match begins, I immediately start blasting away at crates with my pistol, hoping for a weapon drop. Success! I run over to it, desperately attempting to dodge my foes' bullets as I scoop up the precious weapon; it's a....weird lobster thing that shoots fire? Ok! 

That is Light Arrow Games' Guns N' Boxes in a nutshell. Madly scampering all over the place, shooting crates with weapons in the hope of getting other, crazier items of mass destruction, all the while trying to blow up everyone else. Sounds like my average Saturday night [note to self: stop trying to insinuate you actually leave the house once in a while and get some fresh air].

Guns N' Boxes character washing machine
If that alone doesn't persuade you to play, what will?

What the developers have cleverly created here is a top down arena shooter that's so madcap anyone can pick it up and play, no matter their skill level - even I, notoriously bad at aiming with a mouse while trying to move with WASD, did some damage with my exploding banana shooter. Everyone is so busy trying to figure out what effect their weapon has, or indeed what weapon they even possess at the time, that any sort of tactics (other than desperately pointing and shooting) go flying out of the window.

This is most certainly a good thing, as multiplayer arena shooters are meant to be fun, especially ones such as Guns N' Boxes which include local multiplayer. An element of slapstick always helps to reduce the tension of being beaten by your friends, and nothing says slapstick like being shot by a pixel art hotdog launcher. 

In fact, if I had one niggle, it would be that there aren't enough different weapons to go around, at least in the current version. You heard me - I crave more wacky launchers to blow my enemies to smithereens, with more obvious onscreen effects. While things like the railgun, which spews forth a bolt of lightning across the entire map, are awesome and obvious, other guns seem oddly generic in such a chaotic game.

Guns N' Boxes railgun

Guns N' Boxes is still in Early Access, so understandably lacks a few features which I hope would be present in the full release. There are only a few arenas to wreak havoc in, though admittedly it looks amazing (as does the pixel art style of the whole game!). Online multiplayer is an available option, yet no-one seems to be playing it; whether that's just because it doesn't actually work at the moment, or just no-one is bothering to play online, I can't tell, but it would have been nice to play against some  fellow humans. As it is, with my nonexistent social life being what it is, I had to play against some punishing ai bots - which are, again, another praiseworthy addition.

Guns N' Boxes hotdog launcher
Hotdogs, away!

I feel like when Guns N' Boxes is fully released it'll be an insane playground of destruction,  full of weird people desperately shooting crates and destroying each other as some sort of bizarre alternative to the after work pint with colleagues. Actually, I really hope that happens. At the moment, it's perfectly enjoyable to play with some mates for a little while. Early Access, as the name implies, gives you just a taste of that carnage, leaving you craving more. And I want more.

No seriously, I need more. Please?

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Pixel Assassin - Beta Review

Being all sneaky-like in Pixel Assassin...

Creeping along the top of a crumbling, grey brick wall, I spy a lone sentry at the other end facing the other way. Heh heh heh. I steadily sneak up to him. Slowly slowly, catchy monkey I think to myself - though surely, if I was actually trying to catch a monkey I'd be going extremely fast. Readying my dagger, I walk up behind him and...he goes sailing away in a downwards trajectory to land at the bottom of the wall. Eh?

Although it's not quite what you expect when you go to backstab a man, I enjoyed this somewhat bizarre introduction to Pixel Assassin's Beta, a mobile 2D platformer centered around the elimination of key figures. Admittedly, the poor guard seemed to drift into the air rather than go tumbling down at gathering speed, but you can't have everything in such an early build. It's the thought that counts.

I think his last words were 'argh...'

Indeed, that exact phrase fits quite well with Pixel Assassin at this stage in development. There is a lot of potential for a fun, rather tense mobile game where you are given a target to kill at the beginning of each level, and yet it's held back at the moment by minor niggles and annoyances.

Take, for example, the level layout and enemies. I liked the fact that there a few different enemy types to avoid and/or poke with a dagger. Guards armed with swords patrol aggressively, cutting you down without a moment's hesitation if you stray into their line of sight. Archers are irritating bastards, constantly firing arrows with pinpoint accuracy like they're in a Robin Hood lookalike contest. Get behind them though, and their ass is yours (so to speak). With Pixel Assassin's handy virtual keyboard control system, navigating obstacles while avoiding these ne're-do-wells is rather challenging in a good way.

I'm the king of the castle!

The problem is that, while the levels are indeed tricky to complete, as any game should be, the lack of a checkpoint system makes it incredibly frustrating when you die over and over again and have to start from the beginning of the level each time. I'm not sure whether the red flags dotted around are supposed to be a checkpoint system of sorts, but they weren't working in this test build. I like games to be hard, but not this hard.

The cute pixel art graphics and the appropriate-sounding  music fit well into the game's medieval theme, and the scrolling background is a nice touch which I didn't expect. Again, the issue here is that although these things are great, and praise should be given to the developers for including them, there isn't enough variation - on each level the same sprites and backgrounds are recycled. I'm taking this with a pinch of salt, as I know it is an earl;y beta, but perhaps for a future version a different background per level would be nice.

Sounds suspiciously easy...

I did enjoy receiving an objective screen with my target's details upon it, as it at least gave me a clue as to what I would face at the end of the level. A particular favourite of mine was a target named 'Donald' - just 'Donald - who kicked the bucket while tucked up in bed. Is that the definition of a good night's sleep, I wonder?

The key thing to take away from this is that Pixel Assassin has great potential. This is an early beta, and it shouldn't be judged too harshly. Sneaking up behind guards before cruelly ending their lives is fun, and the overall design is at once captivating and challenging - though perhaps slightly too much of the latter. The effort has gone into the right places; all it needs now is a lot of polish.

And, quite possibly, more opportunities to throw people off buildings.