Catherine demo available from next week

Atlus fans rejoice. On July 12 a demo for Catherine will be dropping on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live – or rather, at least in the United States. There’s no confirmation yet that the gameplay glimpse will be available in Europe, adding further speculation to when (or if) the title will be released there. The erotic horror puzzle-platformer came out in Japan back in February, with the aforementioned demo being available since January.

To get an idea of what the demo will showcase, below is a walkthrough of the Japanese demo by Kotowari. He’s been kind enough to translate the dialogue and control scheme, so that you’ll be able to understand some of the insane plot.

Are you excited for the English demo? Or have you already played the Japanese version? Let me know in the comments below, especially if you’re concerned about the speculative Europe release.


Portal 2 soundtrack (Vol. 2) ready for free download

Valve recently uploaded the second part of the Portal 2 soundtrack here, throwing in a bunch of new ringtones and message notifications along the way. The best part is that all of these downloads (including the previous volume) are absolutely free.

So what are you waiting for? If you’re a serious fan of the physics based masterpiece, there’s no better way of showing your appreciation than letting your phone blare Science is Fun whilst you walk down the street. Oh, was that a little too far? Then why not pop this soundtrack onto your iPod/ iPhone/ MP3 player and listen to it from the safety of your headphones? Either way, it’s certainly worth checking out for a few reminiscent giggles.

Just to remind you why this game was such a musical treat, here’s one of my favourite tunes from the game:

Bargain gaming at ‘The Steam Summer Camp Sale’

Summer is a notoriously bad season for video games. Although this year has a few exceptions (Deus Ex: Human Revolution, The Last Story and Bodycount) the next couple of months are inevitably going to drag. Luckily Steam has got your back, discounting dozens of titles in a rather special summer event.

The Steam Summer Camp Sale started yesterday and will run until July 10th. In the meantime you can purchase a selection games at startlingly low prices, emphasised by daily deals that aim to be knock off even more dosh.

Steam users can also participate in camp ‘activities’, a special set of achievements that can be traded in for in-game items. It all sounds rather exciting and encourages players (especially school kids that will soon be on holiday) to purchase and play a variety of games.

Some of my highlights include:
* Borderlands (Game of the Year Edition): £7.50 (-75%)
* Medal of Honor: £6.79 (-66%)
* BIT. TRIP RUNNER: £1.75 (-75%)
* Recettear, An Item Shop’s Tale: £3.25 (-75%)

So what are you waiting for? Check out the sale here.

Race, trick and survival modes demoed for new SSX

The development team behind the new SSX presented their latest build at a community event yesterday. The presentation showed fans all three gameplay modes and announced that Psymon Stark would be a returning character.

SSX is still in early stages. Creative Director Todd Batty describes the title as being in a ‘pre-alpha’ stage, which means that some of the content and gameplay mechanics are yet to be put into the game. It’s refreshing to see the game’s continuous progression, but I worry that the fan criticism will disrupt the development and direction of the final product.

First up was a sneak peak at the Psymon Stark. It was only concept art at this point, but to be honest I was a little bit disappointed by the chosen styling and gear. Psymon has always been the insane maniac of the franchise, cackling wildly with spiked hair and aggressive one liners such as “Gimme Air Or Gimme Death!”. This version has seen his eccentric personality curbed significantly, with a tame tuft of brown hair and combat trousers. Hopefully some of his unlockable outfits will give players the chance to kit him out with some more of his more famous garments, such as the straitjacket from SSX 3 or the white vest in Tricky.

Todd Batty started out with the hub menu, which was sparsely populated by a rotating globe and selections for ‘campaign’, ‘explore’ and ‘global events’. It looked a little bare to be honest, although I imagine that it’ll feel more impressive once all of the online features and feeds have been put in.

It’s been known for a while now that the SSX team are using data from NASA to recreate some of the mountain ranges and snow conditions. However, this presentation was the first time that I recognised the scale of the data and just how influential it will be on the level design. It won’t mean that each level is a boring, real life depiction though. The developers used this technology to construct the core of each mountain, later sculpting and changing them into the surreal, over the top courses that we have come to love in the SSX franchise. Todd Batty promised that each mountain range would be extremely open and have specific themes that make them unique.

The race event was set on Kilimanjaro, pitting Kaori against Mac and Elise in a quick descent. The starting gates are gone this time around, replaced by various drop points that bring each rider together. What ensued was classic SSX gameplay, encouraging players to earn boost by tricking along the way. A section through an underground cavern felt particularly impressive, offering multiple paths and jumps. Todd Batty stressed that he wanted the speed to feel like ‘Burnout on snow’, edging players to a point where they would always feel slightly uncomfortable. For the most part it seemed to work, although I would stress that the race felt very short – nothing like the all peak rides found in SSX 3.

Unrealistic and mind blowing stunts are a staple of the SSX franchise. The trick segment of the game took place on a mountain with the great wall of China, allowing Mac to take each obstacle at his own pace. The character animations and flow of the game looked particularly impressive, although a minimalistic HUD seemed to play down the role of uber tricks. Todd Batty later explained that there would be a series of signature tricks that could be unlocked after ubers, taking influence from past iterations. Fingers crossed for guillotine, eh?

‘Survive it’ is the new mode for SSX this time around. It represents the trend toward big mountain riding and peak descents in modern snowboarding, acting as ‘boss stages’ throughout the campaign. Players are pitted against extreme environmental conditions, such as cold, darkness, thin air, gravity, snow, rocks, trees and white out. The demonstration showed off snow, launching the rider in front of an avalanche in North America. A reverse camera angle was used to show off the scale and atmosphere of the disaster, which was undeniably impressive and over the top. The viewing angle meant that it looked quite hard to control the direction of the character, although I’m sure this will be addressed before shipment.

The feedback section brought up a whole host of smaller announcements such as custom soundtracks, new riders and organic snow models. Although none of these would make headlines, I recommend checking out the Ustream above if you’re interested in the game. I came away from the presentation happy, but not blown away by the how the game is developing. The development team has a lot of great ideas, but I’m sceptical that they’ll be able to execute them all in the final product. The colourful personality of SSX (or lack of) was what concerned me the most, with characters and levels looking subdued and reserved. There’s still plenty of time for development though, so hopefully these issues will be addressed in the coming months.

An update long overdue

It’s been a very long absence, I know. Hopefully it’s somewhat justified though, as I shall try and explain in just one moment. My journalism degree has finally come to end and with it a sense of relief, sadness and excitement.

As a reward for finishing my education I recently joined Hannah in a trip to America, visiting the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It was a fantastic (and extremely hot) experience, especially after all of the post-E3 buzz.

Above is a small memento from Las Vegas. Shot in Fremont Street, this panelled roof was a fantastic tribute to nostalgic 80’s gaming.

So as I apply for a real journalism job, I promise to be back at the keyboard updating this blog. I’ve got a couple of exciting video game related projects in development, including a new podcast spearheaded by Daniel New (host of The BGM Show) and my own website, We Heart Game Art. Expect more news on that in the very near future.

So for now, my sincerest apologies for being out of action (a 10,000 word dissertation doesn’t write itself y’know?) and a promise of more hard labour in the future.

Game on.

A fond farewell to NoobToob

Few video game podcasts can make me cry, laugh and rejoice in the space of a single episode. Even fewer can build a following of more than 28,000 followers and a forum with more than 12,000 active members. NoobToob was all of this and more. After almost five years and 231 episodes, Tobin Coziahr and Yuzo Watanabe have decided to call it a day on their popular YouTube show. Although it’s sad to see such a great production end,  I can’t help but thank them for all of the stellar work that they’ve done.

I first stumbled across NoobToob during my freshman year at University. The lack of heavy scripting and mix of intelligent comedy instantly caught my attention. Here were two amateur enthusiasts from California, producing an hour long podcast that was consistently better than the content of most professional websites. The setup seemed almost too simple; the pair would sit in front of a video camera at home, drink wine and review the latest games that they’d played that week. There was no professional editing and no distinct packages or features. Just simple, honest chat.

Yet it worked. The honesty of NoobToob and the clear bond of friendship that Yuzo and Tobin have for one another captured the hearts of gamers everywhere. They were gamers, talking about games. They were one of us. In a strange way, towards the end they felt like friends I really knew. Sharing jokes, producing crude swipes at one another and messing around with hilarious skits. Each episode flew by, never once becoming tired or stale.

The end of NoobToob was abrupt, but expected. Anyone could tell that the pair were struggling to produce an episode every week. The podcast became slightly shorter and many were  pre-recorded back to back. They were growing up, moving into jobs with increasing responsibilities and starting families of their own. It was never going to last forever.

The finale was brilliant. It was a great chance for Tobin and Yuzo to look back on the show and answer many of the questions that they had avoided in the past. I never would have guessed that they used to work for Microsoft, especially on voice recognition projects such as Kinect. It’s a beautiful irony that shows just how connected with the video game industry they’ve become. I wish Tobin the best of luck with OnLive (a relatively new cloud based gaming system) and Yuzo with Lab126 (a development company for Amazon’s Kindle device).

It’s been a great run and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every show. Thank you, Tobin and Yuzo.

Review: Outland (PSN, XBLA)

A distinctive art style and eclectic blend of gameplay elements makes for a compelling 2D platformer. Outland is a downloadable title that has been finely tuned with precise controls and challenging level design. Everything screams detail, from the clever use of its colour system to the intelligent and downright tricky boss stages.

The silhouetted hero is tasked with reinstating balance in the world. There is a brief introduction to gods and ancient warriors, but by and large the plot is completely forgettable. The narrative quickly slips to the background as the first locale is revealed, a beautiful jungle filled with brilliant shades of green and yellow. Stages like these are just waiting to be explored and traversed, constantly filled with scale and hidden secrets.

One of the most compelling features in Outland is its use of light and dark affiliation. Once players have gained each power (emphasised as blue and red) they can be switched on the fly with a single button press. Soon everything in the world requires a delicate use of each colour; enemies can only be dispatched with the opposing shade and waves of projectiles need to be absorbed by matching their colour.

Towards the end there are a few ingeniously dramatic moments that cause players to switch between colours in mid flight, activating platforms and avoiding damage in a single move. It’s a simple mechanic that is used in increasingly complex and imaginative ways.

Outland controls perfectly. The character is capable of being flung left and right with incredible accuracy, darting up ledges and sliding under crevices with a flick of the analogue stick. Despite the campaign’s high difficulty level, players will rarely feel cheated or let down by the game’s control scheme.

This is vital for taking on the handful of lethal boss characters scattered throughout the adventure. These are often layered with multiple stages, starting with simplistic attack patterns and then slowly building up to almost impossible windows of vulnerability. Failure will set you back to the very first stage, so finding out the secret of each boss often takes numerous infuriating attempts.

The world is divided into linked stages that can be revisited at leisure. It’s a constantly expanding experience, encouraging players to backtrack and use newly acquired skills to access new areas. These can lead to upgrade shrines, floating collectibles and in game currency. It’s not essential, but offers further incentive for completion addicts and trophy junkies.

Although the game boasts a beautiful art style and fluid animation, the sound design is mostly underwhelming. It’s by no means poor; it just never grabs your attention or adds anything new to the proceedings.

Outland also boasts a few online co-operative modes. Tackling the campaign with a partner feels a little unnatural, but playing the challenge levels and “arcade” setup is deeply rewarding.

Housemarque has taken reference from a number of older titles (Metroid, Ikaruga, Prince of Persia) and bundled them together to create a surprisingly fresh downloadable title. It’s polished to precision and will satisfy anyone with a love for exploration and old school 2D platformers.