Category Archives: Xbox One

LocoCycle Review – Xbox One

LocoCycle is quickly making a name for itself as the most despised game of the Xbox One launch lineup.  Twisted Pixel Games is known for their “unique” concepts, but playing as a sentient combat motorcycle for 5-7 hours of repetitive button mashing and reflex-testing QTE’s might be considered a little last-gen for this next-gen hardware.  Alarms started sounding as soon as the game opens up with a rather lengthy and poorly acted live-action cutscene (the curse of death in 90’s video games), but I could never really tell if the acting was intentionally bad or just a byproduct of a low-budget production.    They obviously spent some money on talent with actors like Robert Patrick, Freddy Rodriguez, Lisa Foiles, and Tom Savini, and those two custom motorcycle builds had to cost a pretty penny.

The premise is as shallow as the gameplay.  It seems a big weapons manufacturer has developed two combat-ready motorcycles – think KITT without the accent.  We have I.R.I.S. and S.P.I.K.E.; the former a sleek and sexy crotch-rocket with TRON-like lighting and the latter, a rough and ready chopper with chains and razorback spine.  I.R.I.S. gets zapped by a bolt of lightning and much like Johnny 5, is now alive, assuming you call a corrupted AI “alive”.  She is taken to Pablo, a stereotypical Spanish-speaking mechanic, for an overhaul.  After checking out a biker mag and seeing a commercial for an upcoming biker rally in Indiana, I.R.I.S. now has only one mission…get to Scottsburg, Indiana.

That is all the setup you get for the next several hours of non-stop chaos and mayhem.  Poor Pablo has gotten his pant leg stuck in I.R.I.S. so she is literally dragging him from Mexico to Indiana.  The designers casually overlook the fact she would be dragging a fleshless skeleton before the end of the first stage, but any hints at realism were long ago forgotten in the pitch room at Twisted Pixel.  For as absurd the premise and mindlessly repetitive the gameplay, I still couldn’t help but fall in love with LocoCycle; even it if was only a weekend romance.

When you think of a combat motorcycle you think of guns and rockets and I.R.I.S. certainly has those, but most of her combat abilities are in her upgradable list of melee attacks – YES, melee attacks.   I.R.I.S. can leap off the asphalt and hold her own with Jet Li as she flips, kicks, and otherwise bashes her enemies into pulp.  Her unique design and twin set of rear tires act as legs and attacking merely requires you to mash the X button and occasionally watch for a yellow target that indicates an incoming attack, at which point you tap the A button to counter then resume your X bashing.   It’s a watered down version of the Batman combat engine, and it’s not that challenging to score triple-digit combos time and time again even before upgrading, which means you spend a lot of your drive time hovering in the air bouncing from one enemy to the next as traffic flows beneath you.

You can mix up the combat a bit when you factor in Pablo.  When he’s not being dragged at 200mph screaming in Spanish that I.R.I.S. continually mistranslates due to faulty circuitry she can throw him like a boomerang with the Y button.  Later, as you upgrade this ability he can bounce between up to five targets before returning.  And then you have the actually shooting parts of the game; easily the worst part since I.R.I.S. has some of the worst driving controls since Pole Position.   Her steering is way too twitchy so you end up bouncing off side rails or other cars.   Thankfully, a bumper upgrade will negate any collision damage, and your guns can be upgraded to widen the spread negating accuracy issues.  Once you get the rockets near the end of the game it is simply fire and forget.

LocoCycle is constantly mixing up the gameplay variety with waves of melee combat, shooting, endless QTE’s that involve buttons and stick movements, and even throwing in a dash of water craft combat and aerial bombing runs on a fleet of Navy ships.  I.R.I.S. can do it all, and when she isn’t kicking corrupt corporate butt she makes all sorts of great pop-culture references, recites movie quotes, and pines for the biker rally in Scottsburg, IN, which is only 145 miles from our office by the way.   I might have to check this out.

But the simple fact is that if you love dumb humor and dumb fun – and apparently people do; they just released Anchorman 2 – then you are going to love LocoCycle.  I always wanted to see the next live-action movie between each chapter, and even though the combat was mindlessly repetitive I was always trying to best my previous combo record.  There is also a modestly complex tech tree that lets you customize I.R.I.S. along the way with new abilities unlocking at each chapter, but you can pretty much max out the tree in a single game, so it’s not about choosing your skills as much as choosing the order of your skills.

The presentation is all over the place.  The movies look like they were shot with consumer level cameras and the game’s graphics barely begin to tap the power of the Xbox One.   This could (and probably should) have been released on last-gen systems, but I still enjoyed it for the six hours it kept me mindlessly distracted from my other AAA launch titles.    The chapters change up the scenery going from south of the border to the southwest deserts, the bridge linking the Florida Keys, the Midwest, and even a final aerial boss fight over the city of Chicago.  The animations are fast and fluid with fun Matrix-style slow-motion moments.  I love the variety of cameras and game types, and the dialogue was hilarious.  Spanish-speaking gamers are going to have a much better time since they will be able to understand everything Pablo is saying.  Yes, they do have subtitles but you can never take your eyes off the gameplay long enough to read them.

LocoCycle is a goof; perhaps an intentional poke at the game industry or gamers saying, “You’ve just bought the most powerful console on the market.  Now play this crappy game on it.”  Well, the joke’s on them because I actually enjoyed this “crappy game”.  Truth be told, my review code was provided by Microsoft, so LocoCycle might be easier to swallow when my $20 is still safe in my wallet.  Personally, I would never pay more than $10-12 to play this, so you can always wait and hope for a sale or just watch all the amusing clip videos on Xbox Live.

And for those interested, the Rebel Yell biker rally in Scottsburg, IN is in September.  See you there.

Screenshot Gallery

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Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Review – Xbox One

 

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is now out for the Xbox One and what a surprise this game turned out to be.   I vaguely recall seeing this title during Microsoft’s Xbox One press event at E3 this year and then just as quickly forgot about it.   Well, shame on me because Press Play’s new action-adventure game is not only one of the best platforming games I have ever played; it is also my pick for Best Xbox One Game of 2013.

The game opens with a short CG cutscene that looks just as good as anything you’d see for movies or TV – something along the lines of Jimmy Neutron.   It is here we meet Max, a young boy not unlike Jimmy Neutron with a touch of Bart Simpson, Willie Beamish, and even Andy from Heart of Darkness.  Like many boys, Max has an annoying younger brother, Felix, who he accidentally banishes to another world when he reads a magic spell off the Internet.   Realizing his mistake Max jumps into the vortex and sets off on a grand adventure to rescue his brother and quite possibly save an entire world.

The Curse of Brotherhood is a next-gen follow-up to the 2010 game, Max and the Magic Marker, but having never played that title this was a totally fresh experience for me.  I was left speechless by the stunning visual design, the colors, the textures, the smooth framerate, and the dynamic perpetual zooming of the camera that was always putting a fresh 3D perspective on traditional 2D gameplay.   And I was constantly on the edge of my seat with the thrilling and imaginative gameplay that seamlessly blends traditional run and jump platforming with some creative puzzle-solving that really had me thinking.

The first level starts off much like any standard platformer with running, jumping, climbing, and the occasion swinging rope or vine.  It is also on this level that you will meet a giant ogre-like creature that will prove to be your nemesis throughout much of the upcoming adventure.  After a visit to a crazy old lady’s treehouse you will be able to wield the power of your new magic marker; only this marker has real magic, and that is where the genius of the game design starts to shine.

As you advance through the various chapters of Max: The Curse of Brotherhood your marker will be imbued with various powers of creation.   At first this is as simple as summoning rocky columns to erupt and rise from the ground, but later you can summon branches, vines, water plumes, and even fireballs.  The game introduces each new ability in a seamless fashion then expands upon the potential of that ability with increasingly challenging puzzles, and as your marker gains new powers, the puzzles will rise to the challenge, often demanding you to mix and match your powers of creation.

The control scheme is a bit awkward at first, but you do get used to it.  To use the marker you simply hold down RT and a ghostly pen appears on the screen that you can steer to any nearby hotspot; orange for earth, green for branches, yellow for vines, blue for water, and purple for fire.  You then hold down A and move the stick to draw in real-time, controlling the angle of the branch, the flow of the water, the direction of the fireball, or even the swing of a vine (very important in some puzzles).   The height of a column or length of a branch or vine is determined by the amount of ink in your marker (unique to each spawn point) and indicated with a shrinking circle as you draw.  You can also summon the marker and tap X to crumble an earth column, cut off a branch or vine or stop or redirect a water plume.

It all sounds fairly basic, but the way the designers have woven these concepts into the gameplay and environments is nothing short of awe-inspiring, especially when you realize the unique relationship the elements share.  Branches can be set on fire then cut off and moved around for a new fire source.  Vines can be connected to branches for horizontal rope climbs or cut off at the source but still connected to the branch for a new swing point.  Water plumes can shoot you or other objects to distant ledges or used to turn lava creatures into rock.   The game even mixes up the use of these abilities by presenting some in pure puzzle form and others as critical action points in exciting chase sequences where the game will go into slow-motion giving you precious seconds to spot the marker and point and draw the object required to stay alive.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood has a look that will appeal to kids but make no mistake; this game can be challenging and will certainly delight older kids and even adults.  Some of the puzzles stumped me for a moment but most have logical resolutions once you realize how all the various marker abilities function within the limitations of each puzzle.  But no matter how small, large, or difficult the puzzle, each time I solved one I had that same endorphin rush I felt when playing games like Portal 2 or Trine 2.

The presentation is clearly next-gen quality, achieving PC quality status with rich vibrant colors, lush detailed textures, smooth animation and great camera angles that show off these amazing environments.  Each chapter has a unique visual theme that often shares an elemental identity with the latest power of your marker such as earth, water, or fire.  Lighting is particularly impressive, especially in one underground level that is mostly pitch black where you can use your marker as a “flashlight” and the mushrooms and lichen will realistically absorb this light and continue to glow when it’s time to return control back to Max.   The sound design is equally as impressive with ambient level noises, realistic sound effects, exciting music, and suitable voice acting given the material.

Collectors have not been forgotten, and there are 75 evil eyestalks hidden around the land that Max needs to find and destroy.  While these are almost always visible on the screen if you look hard enough, they usually require additional puzzle-solving and a slight detour to reach.  And there is also a Tree of Life medallion that has been shattered into 18 shards.  These are much harder to find than the eyes, but thorough gamers should have no trouble finding all of them without consulting the web.  The game has a fantastic summary screen that lists the eyes (in the order they appear) and the medallion shard indicator for each chapter, and if you do need to replay a level to find a missing item you only need play as far as that item since all collectibles are registered as you find them and not when you complete the level.

Platform adventures are the foundation of console gaming, and I had numerous fond flashbacks of playing Pitfall on my Atari 2600 back in 1982.  We’ve come a long way in 30 years, and even though I loved every minute I spent playing Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, I am sure this is only a hint of what is to come for the Xbox One.   I can’t think of a better launch window title that exemplifies this new system or the future potential of gaming as we move into a new generation of interactive entertainment.

Screenshot Gallery

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