Author Archives: Lucius P. Merriweather

About Lucius P. Merriweather

The first game that Lucius ever played was "Horace Goes Skiing" on the ZX Spectrum. Yes, he's that old.

On the trail of Ninja Theory

Do you have a favourite developer? I have quite a few – I’ll always be interested in new games by Intelligent Systems, Dontnod and PlatinumGames to name but a few. But I’ve been intrigued by Ninja Theory ever since I played the incredible Enslaved: Odyssey to the West back when this website was in short trousers.

Enslaved was one of a few games that actually made me really care about its characters, partly thanks to the excellent script and phenomenal motion capture work. Andy Serkis (who played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings) was one of the actors involved, and the whole thing reeked of quality.

Enslaved was an absolute corker of a game.

I also discovered just the other week that Ninja Theory developed another of my favourite games, back when they were called Just Add Monsters. Kung Fu Chaos for the original Xbox was their first title, and it was a wonderful maelstrom of chaotic four-player fun, with a wry sense of humour. I named it as one of the 10 games that Xbox One owners should pick up when Microsoft introduces backwards compatibility with the OG Xbox.

The wonderful Kung Fu Chaos.

But Kung Fu Chaos and Enslaved have very little in common, apart from perhaps a shared knack for comic timing. However, Enslaved is more representative of the style that Ninja Theory has become known for – high-quality motion capture, third-person combat, and a focus on bringing out the feels. Their upcoming game – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which is due out next week – is very much in the same vein, but this time they’ve really taken the motion capture to the next level.

Astonishingly, they’ve come up with a way to do motion capture in real time – so cut scenes can be performed ‘live’ by the actor, with their performance appearing in the game engine. Check out the video below to see what I mean:

From first impressions, Hellblade looks to be very much in the vein of Ninja Theory’s earlier work on Enslaved, with a strong focus on convincing performances and emotion. I can’t wait to play it.

But in the meantime, I’ve been hunting down some of Ninja Theory’s back catalogue. They’ve worked on a couple of Disney Infinity games over the past couple of years, which aren’t really my cup of tea, but in 2013 they released DmC: Devil May Cry, the reboot of Capcom’s series. I seem to recall that the game caused a bit of controversy with players owing to its ’emo’ depiction of Dante, although it went down well with reviewers. I’ve yet to play it myself, but I’m keen to see Cambridge-based Ninja Theory’s take on the very Japanese Devil May Cry games.

“Don’t call me emo.”

I also managed to find Heavenly Sword in a secondhand shop last week for the princely sum of £1. It was Ninja Theory’s first release after they renamed their studio, and one of the first titles released for the PS3.  I can’t remember much about the game from the time, except that everyone was fascinated with the main character’s flowing hair – an early sign of Ninja Theory’s growing obsession with the realistic depiction of people in games, which has culminated in the live motion capture of Hellblade. If they ever make a documentary about Ninja Theory, they should definitely call it ‘From hair to Hellblade‘.

Oooooooh, nice hair.

I’ve no idea whether Heavenly Sword still holds up as a game, or whether Hellblade will be any good. But following a developer is a lot like following a football team – they might not be dazzling all of the time, but they’ll always have some intrinsic quality that attracted you to them in the first place. For Ninja Theory, that attraction is undoubtedly their obsessive attempts to capture the nuances of human performance, coupled with their knack for storytelling.

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Corrin amiibo times two

Hooray! Oh happy day! Two more amiibo have plopped through my door!


This time it’s some double Corrin action – the Fire Emblem Fates protagonist in both male and female forms. Which one do you like best?


I think I prefer Lady Corrin. That pose just shrieks carefree cool. It’s like she’s doing an interpretive dance with a flaming sword.

Also Man Corrin’s hair is weird. Just look at it.


It sort of ends in reverse Triceratops horns at the back. Still, brave look.

Anyway, the important thing is that my set of Fire Emblem amiibos is complete – at least until Chrom and Tiki are released in the autumn, anyway. Check them out.


Obviously capes are very in right now. Although clearly Alm didn’t get the memo.

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From The Armchair: Accidental JRPG July

I only just found out about JRPG July, and it turns out I’m already participating in it – quite by accident.

The other week, after reading reviews of the just-released Valkyria Revolution, I decided to have a go on Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, the first game in the series. I got it for my birthday last year, but this is the first time I’ve played it. And whereas Valkyria Revolution has met with generally terrible reviews, Valkyria Chronicles is already shaping up to be one of my favourite games ever.

I was delighted to discover that it’s a tactical turn-based game, which happens to be my favourite genre – games like XCOM (review), Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars (review) and Fire Emblem are some of my most played. I was also delighted to find that Valkyria Chronicles stars Vyse and Aisha from Skies of Arcadia among its cast, which was a lovely throwback to that fantastic Dreamcast RPG. Seeing them again has made my yearning for a Skies sequel all the more keener.

I’ll post a full review of Valkyria Chronicles when I’m done – I’m over halfway through now, so I should be able to get it finished in time for the end of JRPG July. But it’s not the only JRPG I’ve been playing.

Valkyria Chronicles is astonishingly good.

I finally finished Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest the other day. To be honest, it was a bit of a slog after Birthright, thanks to its much greater difficulty – even playing on Casual, it got really tough towards the end. I’m glad I didn’t play it with permadeath on, like I did with Birthright, as I’d probably only have half a dozen characters left by the final level. I’m interested to play the third and final Fates game, Revelations, if only to fill in some of the plot holes, but I’ll leave it for a while – I’m a bit Fire Emblemed out right now.

I also started playing The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. First impressions? Link is surely at his most beautiful in this game. What a handsome youth he is, in all his cel-shaded glory – the game seems to hit a perfect sweet spot between Toon Link and the more gritty Ocarina Link. But aesthetics aside, I’ve loved what I’ve played so far, particularly when the cook scolded me for breaking pots. Nice subversion of expectations there, Nintendo. I’m going to get straight back into it when Valkyria Chronicles is done and dusted.

So how about you lot? What have you been playing for JRPG July?

What a good-looking chap.

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15% off Most Agreeable T-shirts!

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The Grainger Games Bargain Hunt

The other week, I wrote an article about why everyone seems to hate GAME, and I mentioned that about the only other remaining high street video game chains in the UK are CEX and Grainger Games. But I’d never actually set foot in a branch of Grainger Games until now.

Grainger Games started in 1996 in Newcastle, and now has around 70 stores across the north-east of England. Having recently relocated to the north-east myself, I was keen to see what their stores are like.

I popped into the Bishop Auckland branch earlier this week, and I have to say I was impressed. They had a great range of new and secondhand games, all at reasonable prices. In fact, I found some veritable bargains – I picked up Metroid: Other M for £3, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Overlord II for £2 each, and DOOM on the PS4 for just £8. I was pretty damn pleased with my haul. 

The staff were really friendly, and were happy to chat about games. They asked whether I wanted to pre-order anything, but otherwise there was no pushy sales talk. I enjoyed the experience so much, I went back there on Saturday to trade in a few old games for Resident Evil 6 (I thought it’s about time I caught up with the series). My trade-ins didn’t quite cover the cost of the game, but to my delight the sales person just rounded it up and told me not to worry about the difference. Now that’s customer service.


So that leads to a question: if a small independent chain can compete with the internet on prices, doesn’t need to resort to high-pressure selling, and is staffed by friendly, knowledgable staff, why can’t GAME do the same?

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The best original Xbox games to play on your Xbox One

The announcement at E3 this year that OG Xbox games would be made backwards compatible with Xbox One got me thinking. What original Xbox games are still worth playing in this future year of 2017?

Well, I came up with a list of ten, which went up on Kotaku UK today:

10 of the Best Original Xbox Games to Play on Your Xbox One

It was tricky getting it down to 10, and some eyebrows may be raised by the fact that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is missing, but I wanted to highlight some of the lesser known Xbox games, and ones that did something really unique.

Out of all of them, I’d be keen to play GunValkyrie again – boosting around and blasting giant insects was a blast.

How about you lot? What OG Xbox games do you want to play again?

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The games that should have been on the SNES mini

The upcoming SNES mini has a superb line-up of games built-in, not least the so-far-unreleased Star Fox 2, finally making its debut more than 20 years after it was finished. As a reminder, here’s the list of stone-cold classics it will ship with:

  • Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy III
  • F-Zero
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2
  • Street Fighter 2 Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania 4
  • Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • Yoshi’s Island

But even though the line-up is excellent, there are tonnes of titles that we think could or should have been included – after all, the Super NES has an enormous catalogue of utterly fantastic games. So, if memory constraints and licensing issues were no object, these are the games, in alphabetical order, that we’d like to see added to the already wonderful roster of the SNES mini…


ActRaiser

Baron Richenbaum Fotchenstein: One of the greatest games for the system, combining a god simulator with side-scrolling action and one of the greatest game soundtracks of all time, ActRaiser is a must play for any gamer.


Brain Lord

BRF: Brain Lord was basically a clone of Link to the Past, but with a bit more RPG elements thrown in and a greater emphasis on the puzzle aspect. It’s an often overlooked game by pre-merge Enix.


Chrono Trigger

Lucius P. Merriweather: A lot of people have already expressed dismay that this game isn’t on the SNES mini – it’s widely regarded as the best RPG on the Super NES, and one of the best JRPGs ever. I’ve never had the chance to play it myself – not least because it was never released in Europe for REASONS – and I’m a bit gutted I won’t be able to sample its timey-wimey shenanigans on the SNES mini. Guess I’ll have to track down the Nintendo DS version instead.


Demon’s Crest

LPM: This is sequel to Gargoyle’s Quest on the Game Boy and Gargoyle’s Quest II on the NES. In a neat twist, the games in the series have you take control of one of the baddies from Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins – a gargoyle named Firebrand, who has to save his world from someone even nastier than he is. The original Game Boy title was one of the best games on the handheld thanks to its nifty controls and levelling system – far better than the game it spawned from, in my opinion.


DoReMi Fantasy

Professor GreilMercs: Lucius mentioned this in his Skyblazer post, and by coincidence I had just finished playing through it. I’m one of the few people who was a fan of Milon’s Secret Castle, DoReMi Fantasy’s oftentimes obtuse and frustrating NES predecessor, but this game is a completely solid platformer from start to finish. The game oozes with charm and features everything you could want in a platformer, including a lovable hero, great graphics, loads of variety, and fun locales, powerups, and enemies. FYI, DoReMi Fantasy was made available on Wii’s Virtual Console and is well worth a download despite its Japanese-only text.


Earthworm Jim

LPM: As an impressionable young child, I thought Earthworm Jim was one of the funniest games EVER. The game’s best gag is that [SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT] at the start of the first level, you jump on a see saw to launch a cow into the stratosphere, seemingly for no reason. Then right at the end of the game, long after you’ve forgotten all about it and just as you’ve rescued the princess, the cow comes hurtling down and crushes her completely. Man how I laughed.


Flashback

BRF: Another essential title, Flashback was available on many other platforms, but it’s just so good of a game that I can’t go without mentioning it. It’s a spiritual successor to Out of This World (aka Another World) with many improvements on the formula, making it one of the best sci-fi action-adventure games ever made.


Mortal Kombat II

LPM: Yeah, so they made the blood green, but Mortal Kombat II was still an absolute blast on the SNES. Turning into a dragon to bite your opponent in half is still the BEST EVER MOVE IN A FIGHTING GAME. The gore was also still ridiculous and poorly rendered enough to be funny, unlike the modern games in the series – which frankly make me feel sick. Watch this video of the finishing moves in Mortal Kombat X and tell me you don’t feel queasy by the end of it.


NBA Jam

LPM: I have absolutely no interest in basketball. I don’t even really know the proper rules. But I LOVED NBA Jam. Probably because NBA Jam doesn’t really have much to do with real basketball, unless players can actually leap 4o feet into the air and set balls on fire in real life. I was lucky enough to own a SNES multitap, and 2 vs. 2 matches of NBA Jam were a chaotic delight.


Pilotwings

LPM: I was genuinely surprised that this game didn’t make it onto the SNES mini. As one of the SNES launch titles, it was a revelation – who knew that a hang-glider simulator could be so much fun? It’s an idea that came out of nowhere and left a profound mark, yet it’s only been repeated once more, with Pilotwings Resort on the 3DS. If any game is testament to the Super NES’s wealth of original titles, it’s this one.


Puyo Puyo Tsuu

PGM: Kirby’s Avalanche was the first SNES Puyo Puyo game released outside of Japan and is better-known than its Japan-only sequel Puyo Puyo Tsuu. Both games feature addictive Tetris-like puzzle gameplay with a fun and not too complex combo system, but the tweaks added to the sequel make for much more enjoyable battles. The main change in Tsuu is that you can counter the garbage blocks your opponent sends to you, which can lead to tennis-like sequences of volleys and returns in the form of attacks and counterattacks. Previously import only, Puyo Puyo Tsuu was actually released internationally at the same time as DoReMi Fantasy on Wii’s Virtual Console, and is a classic that is definitely worth a look. It or Tetris Attack would have superbly filled the puzzle game hole in the otherwise great SNES Classic Mini line-up.


Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing

LPM: What did Blizzard do before World of Warcraft? Well, back when they were known as Silicon & Synapse, they made the fantastic isometric racer Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing, in which you blitz around futuristic race tracks while blowing up your opponents with missiles, all to the sounds of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. It is exactly as much fun as it sounds.


Shadowrun

BRF: An excellent cyberpunk action-rpg. It’s not the prettiest thing on the Super Nintendo, but it makes up for it with a fascinating story and a lot of nice, tactical combat.


Skyblazer

LPM: One of the SNES’s long-forgotten gems. In fact, I myself had completely forgotten about it until just last week, when my memory was jogged by watching a video that mentioned it. Go back and read this post to see why this is a must-play game.


Stunt Race FX

LPM: The SNES mini has a few games that used the famous Super FX chip – namely Star Fox, Star Fox 2 and Yoshi’s Island – so it’s a shame they couldn’t squeeze the excellent Stunt Race FX on there, too. The chip let the Super NES to rudimentary 3D, and Stunt Race FX has you racing around in big polygon cars with blinking, googly eyes. It was fantastic fun, but it never received a sequel, and it’s never been re-released, so it’s a crying shame it was left off the SNES mini roster – I’d have loved to have played it again.


Super Bomberman

LPM: In single player, Super Bomberman was OK. But in multiplayer, it was like gamer crack. Oh the summer afternoons I lost to this game, blinds pulled against the sun, locked in explosive combat with my friends as the hours ticked on. And if I could go back, knowing everything I do now? I WOULDN’T CHANGE A THING.


Super Smash TV

LPM: The Super NES essentially had an arcade perfect port of Smash TV thanks to its canny button layout. The four facia buttons replicated the second joystick of the arcade cabinet, so you could move in one direction while facing another – something that couldn’t be done at the time on the three-button MegaDrive, much to my Sega-owning friends’ disgust. Still one of the best two-player games of all time.


Sunset Riders

LPM: There was a time when almost every game Konami released was pure gold. Sunset Riders is classic Konami – big, colourful sprites and relentless run ‘n’ gun gameplay. I lusted after it for years as a youth but never owned it – I’d really love to play it now.


Tetris Attack

PGM: One of the absolute best puzzle games on SNES or anywhere, Tetris Attack introduced Panel de Pon (aka Puzzle League) to video game players outside of Japan. The Japanese-only game Panel de Pon is included on the Japanese version of the SNES Classic Mini, but Tetris Attack would have been a great addition to the non-Japanese editions. Tetris Attack is a reskin of the original game with characters from Yoshi’s Island. The core gameplay is the same, though, and it’s super addictive and fun. The game features one of the most complex chaining systems in puzzle games, but mastering its intricacies is extremely rewarding. The gameplay saw later additional reskinning, including Pokemon Puzzle League on N64 and GBC, but many, myself included, still count the original as among the best in the series.


Uniracers (aka Unirally)

LPM: A real oddity this one – a two-player, side-scrolling unicycle racer from the studio that went on to make Grand Theft Auto. I seem to recall it really split reviewers, but it has since gained a cult following – essentially it’s a bit like Sonic the Hedgehog but with stunts. And a unicycle. However, it’s unlikely this game will ever be re-released – Pixar filed a lawsuit against DMA Design, claiming the unicycle looked too much like the one in their animation Red’s Dream. DMA lost, production was ceased after the initial run of 300,000 copies, and the game has never seen the light of day again.


UN Squadron (aka Area 88)

LPM: One of my favourite ever side-scrolling shoot ’em ups. Head over to this post I wrote way back to see why.


Zombies (aka Zombies Ate My Neighbors)

LPM: Back before we all got zombie fatigue, this game was an utter delight. It’s essentially a send up of the B movie horror genre as a whole, so there are aliens, swamp monsters, vampires and werewolves along with the titular zombies. The aim is to save your neighbours before the monsters get their hands on them, and the weapons were particularly great – I remember one was a grenade made out of a heavily shaken soda can. An awesome game from when LucasArts were in their prime. (NB. Anyone know why ‘Ate my Neighbors’ was dropped from the title for the European release?)


So there you have it, a sample of SNES classics that we’d really love to revisit. Are there any other SNES games that you’d add to the SNES mini if you had the chance? Let us know in the comments!

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