Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Review

Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4

In the rich tapestry of games history, full motion video (FMV) is a niche chapter – dangling from the narrative along with 90s virtual reality, scratch and sniff (FIFA 2000) and Wii Fit. The advent of early CD-ROM consoles promised great things; CD quality music and…the answer to what extra Mega/SEGA CD et al brought to the table is undefined. FMV is one type of game not possible on the likes of SNES and Megadrive/Genesis and a poster boy for the iteration on the generation. There is a lot that can be said of Night Trap’s colourful history but here we are in 2017 renewing the conversation. What is this game and what is the fuss all about?

On starting the game, a short clip explains the premise. You are working with a military response team investigating a seemingly normal family house in the heart of Americana where five teens have recently gone missing. There are eight video feeds to watch from in and around the house. Pressing triangle or circle activates one of the hidden ‘night traps’ in each room – hopefully snaring some of the mysterious Augers roaming the property. Imagine being Kevin McAllister in Home Alone and you get the idea. I remember Night Trap from the furore around it in the wider press plus screenshots/articles in games media. We’re not going into bans etc but one thing that was never explained at the time was; how do you actually play it?

After giving you a quick taste of how to use the night traps, the difficulty spikes as a colour coded system is layered onto the activation system. Listening carefully to the conversations between the characters gives you clues which colours to use. Let too many augers overrun the house and you are promptly fired from your role of god in the house. Now the difficult bit.

Evaluating Night Trap is a difficult task. The gameplay is obtuse, pushing back on the player. Persistence and patience is needed to access the game beyond ten minutes or so of gameplay. Like all unforgiving puzzles though, the moment you figure out a section, understanding something you couldn’t previously, is rewarding. The game then becomes something akin to Majora’s Mask where you watch, analyse and connect the events unfolding in front of you. Each repeat play through (expect a lot of game over screens FYI) moves you a bit closer to achieving success in the game. We found ourselves edging a little further each time. Ironically considering how cutting edge it was in 1992, the gameplay is more closely related to 70s/80s arcade games – learning patterns to beat it. Having just come off a review of Until Dawn, it shows in stark contrast how much quality of life features in games narrative have evolved over the last 25 years. Anyone looking for this to compete with a Resident Evil 7 will struggle but this edition needs to exist for a different reason. It isn’t here to compete with the bleeding edge of survival horror in 2017. 

Without any doubt, the acting in Night Trap is more Sharknado than Jaws. It becomes a metaphor for what the game is; a game of its time. SEGA’s modular upgrades to the Megadrive/Genesis are too mirrors of Night Trap and its steep accessibility bar. Whilst most 16 bit games are readily accessible through retro consoles, compilations or re-releases, there is a pocket of games like Night Trap from Mega/SEGA CD, 32X and Saturn which are lost to the sands of time or the sands of eBay – with high entry barriers. Collecting these systems and games plus making them talk to modern televisions is a chore (speaking from experience). What this edition presents is the game released all of those years ago. There are options to adjust the display to be in line with subsequent re-releases or in an updated 2017 mode. There are also additional scenes as well as video content exploring the conception of the game. Fans of the original will enjoy the unlockable extras. But the big question is; should you play it? 

When Night Trap released in 1992, the types of game it was surrounded by were the (excellent) Sonic 2 and Super Mario Land 2. Mortal Kombat was also unleashed on the world that year and is perhaps the closest (graphically) to Night Trap. The aforementioned three games are required reading in the history of how this industry evolved. Night Trap should also fall into this category. If you go into this game with your Sharknado hat on or simply want to explore a niche genre with DNA from the past and future it is worth venturing into the game. I am glad this exists on PS4 and hope more of the missing era of games in between the 16 and 32 bit eras can find their way to be released. If you want to see what the future looked like in 1992, give it a go.

Until Dawn Review

Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4

Recently available to all PlayStation Plus subscribers as a free monthly game, Until Dawn is a standout, unique title in Sony’s console’s library. So if – like me – you waited to jump into this survival horror classic, here’s what you can expect. Point of note, this is a great social game. I played it with my wife over the course of about two weeks; through the ten episodic chapters. 

Like all good horror movies, the game begins with a group of teenagers and an isolated cabin setting. Throughout the game you control the teens at different times playing out parts of the story from their perspectives. If you are familiar with Telltale-style games the control method will feel familiar; including tropes such as quick time events and context sensitive button prompts. At various points in the story, you are given (seemingly) 50/50 choices which impact the story and – in some cases – the health and safety of the characters. 

Throughout the eight hours or so the story takes to run its course, we found ourselves switching which characters we were rooting for and which we found ourselves saying “hope this idiot dies soon”. Tip-toeing around spoilers, Emily, who is a whiny, egocentric brat near the start of the story, has a sequence later on where she shows her resourcefulness and resilience in the face of adversity – becoming much more likeable. The characters are flawed individuals which is refreshing to see in a video game. Until Dawn is a well written game and the plot, dialogue and direction are all major positives for it to take home. 

Among the game’s minor negatives are the overall length. By the credits, it felt like we’d spent years on this mountain listening to Emily. Also, the first 75% of the game switches between a bingo card collection of horror ghosts and ghouls – like if someone pressed ‘open all’ on the contents of the film Cabin in the Woods. Once the primary threat is revealed, the closing chapters play out a satisfying conclusion but come with reduced scares as you know what is hunting you. These by no means spoil the game experience though.

A great option in the game is the ability to replay chapters to re-try sections and re-make choices. This encourages replayability  as you (hopefully!) strive to keep all the ill-fated teens alive. It emphasises how much of a polished package this is. 

Until Dawn is near the, if not at, the pinnacle of modern survival horror and is great played with a companion with the lights off. 

Xbox Three

Unless the Switch does something remarkable, PlayStation 4 will be the best selling console of this ‘generation’ (a term which may become archaic if we get another iteration beyond the Pro/S/X). Microsoft however, need to be worried. The Switch has sold nearly 5 million consoles in little over a quarter whereas lifetime sales of Xbox One are around the 30 million mark – having had a three year head start at market. Undoubtedly part of PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch’s success has been down to a renewed focus on games. Wii U tried to invade TV (TVii) and social media which detracted from a modest yet critically acclaimed lineup. Microsoft’s initial focus on Xbox being the all-in-one box of tricks lost the generation before it had begun. The ship is still coming around but what can Microsoft possibly do to prevent finishing 3rd in the current console wars?

Firstly, Microsoft has already done a great job of reversing the PR nightmare which was Xbox One’s launch. Backward’s compatibility, Games with Gold and Xbox Games Pass have all been pro-consumer moves which have caught some ground with Sony. The Xbox One is a great console with some solid – yet un-unique – features. Unfortunately, the single most important asset missing from ‘the world’s most powerful games console’ are games. So, we decided to explore what we’d like to see to save Xbox from finishing below Nintendo.

Sony’s games-centric focus came to a head with the ‘year of dreams’ announcements like Shenmue 3, Last Guardian and the Final Fantasy 7 remake. There aren’t many of these left to go to – except Half-life 3. This phantom game – seemingly on permanent hiatus – is one of the only franchises which could be classified as on par with the above games. Microsoft would have to move heaven and earth to make Valve play nice but desperate times call for desperate measures. Other than Half-life, it is difficult to see any other series which would make the same impact from returning.

On the original Xbox – released in the wake of SEGA’s exit from manufacturing consoles – became an interesting breeding ground for what should have been the Dreamcast’s final wave of software. Games such as SEGA GT, Panzer Dragoon Orta and Spikeout were joined by ports like Shenmue 2 and Jet Set Radio. Although not defining series on the Xbox, they complimented the likes of Halo, KOTOR and Project Gotham (itself a spiritual successor to Dreamcast’s Metropolis Street Racer). SEGA appears to be open to resurrecting forgotten franchises which could be an opportunity for Microsoft to create a mutually beneficial partnership. Streets of Rage, Decap Attack and Kid Chameleon have all been dormant since the 16 bit era. Then there are series – although more recently reimagined – like Shinobi, Golden Axe and Phantasy Star which are ready for a reboot. Generating modern, innovative titles like these which carry names dripping with nostalgia would help Xbox rival a certain home/handheld console hybrid in terms of software. If Ultra Street Fighter 2 can sell near 500,000 units then imagine what Microsoft could achieve with some of SEGA’s long forgotten franchises!

Among Sony’s 1st party line-up are two types of games which are near – if not at – the pinnacle of their divisions. Firstly, in the ‘story driven’ adventure category, Sony has the likes of The Last of Us, God of War and Uncharted 4. The second are the ‘souls’ games. Sony has leant into their popularity with Bloodborne and Nioh. They read the tea leaves correctly with this type of game. However with Dark Souls now on its 3rd iteration, Sony has had plenty of time to get its ducks in order. Microsoft needs to play catch up and get engaging narrative driven games and tough-as-nails ‘souls’ games out in the wild. This means either directing 1st/2nd party studios or seeking timed exclusivity agreements by studios such as Platinum. 

In order to hit the short time frame Xbox One X has to work in, Microsoft would have needed to establish these deals around the time ‘Project Scorpio’ was announced. It is entirely possible PlayStation 5 could be announced in 2018 and an updated Switch SKU (Lite/XL/’new’) is expected by 2019. That gives Xbox One X around 18 months to catch up. 

Xbox veterans like Gears of War and Halo are no longer as relevant as they were in previous generations though both were forged in the fires of Microsoft’s push to be seated at the console war table. However, it is this kind of creativity Microsoft needs to seek out, nurture and capitalise on. Otherwise, it may be time for Xbox Gone. 

Sonic Mania Review

Version Reviewed: Xbox One

In the opening cinematic to Sonic Mania, a countdown timer goes from 1 to 2 to 3 then Knuckles before arriving on Mania. Sonic 4 (both episodes), the plethora of 3D adventures and werewolves are left at the door. The question everyone wants to know upon this games’ release; is this really the successor to the evangelised – by some – Megadrive games?

Upon booting up Sonic Mania, the nostalgia strings of your heart are pulled. The game, which begins the only way it can, follows Sonic (with or without twin-tailed sidekick) hunting Dr. Robotnik across a mix of newly created zones – some based on themes from earlier games. Hydro City- one of my most despised Zones from Sonic 3 – is present yet feels completely different from its 16 bit ancestor. As with all of the ‘remixed’ zones there are familiar traps, architecture and enemy placement which rekindle forgotten memories of yesteryear. Each feels fresh and exciting whilst have a warm sense of happy familiarity. 

The moment to moment gameplay is exceptional for two reasons. Firstly, the game understands what makes Sonic fun. When uncertain of the road ahead the blue blur throws caution into the wind and speeds towards adventure whilst never feeling on-rails. Secondly, the game removes many of the grievances of past Sonic games. Our hero’s struggles in 3D aside, the Megadrive games have not aged well – particularly the pace and structure of the levels. Sonic Mania rectifies this by ironically taking a few lessons from the Mario school of game design. In the same way the environments in Mario guide and teach you the rules of the world, Mania’s subtle design choices do the same. In one zone, Sonic can be frozen in an ice cube which can be shaken off with a few presses of the jump button or moving. Instinctive, yet a puzzle in this level requires you to use the ice to forge ahead. There’s a cleverness and confidence in the level design which has been missing from many of Sonic’s 21st Century outings. Plus it excels in one area more than others.

Without spoiling the best parts of this game, the boss fights are inspired. Fan favourites – and we mean hardcore fans’ – return in unexpected places with possibly the most creative, smile-spreading end of level battles ever created. To give examples would rob you of this but trust us; they are good! As with Sonic 3 and Knuckles, each act has a boss. Each level has you sat on the edge of your seat waiting to see what concoction of terror awaits; like a furry, sugar coated My Little Pony/Saw mash up.

As with Sonic 3 and Knuckles, players can choose different combinations of the three (best) Sonic heroes to play as. The game plays homage to the above games’ special stages and the ‘UFO’ style stages from Sonic CD. These help to vary the gameplay though it is always welcome to return to the main body of the game. Also, if you remember the Sky Chase Zone from Sonic 2 or Sonic Adventure, a brief homage is made in the Mirage Saloon Zone. Again it looks like we remember Sonic 2 but upon closer inspection extra details and better animations are present. In this review, I’ve tried to steer clear of comparisons with previous Sonic games but this is perhaps unavoidable; this is the best Sonic game to play today. 

Every corner of this game oozes with the developers’ love and passion for this series. Despite the 16 bit stylings, the game is anything but. Like Shovel Knight, the animations are detailed and sleek. The original music and backgrounds have added layers which pop in 2017 HD. Added visual effects like fallen rings hurtling in and out of the screen add to the high production values in this game. Having recently revisited Sonic 3 & Knuckles on Xbox 360/One, PC and Nintendo DS, it is worth identifying that Mania’s controls are tighter than its predecessors. No death feels unfair – another stark difference to the Megadrive games. Again akin to Shovel Knight, the addition of further remixed stages to play through as Knuckles adds value to what is already a substantial package – the game is much bigger than Sonic 3 FYI…

Having spent much of 1993 reading Sonic the Comic or Mean Machines SEGA gawping at screenshots of Sonic 3, I remember scraping enough money through odd jobs to buy the game on its release. The same buzz of popping that game into my Megadrive is felt when loading up Sonic Mania. It understands why that era of gaming is special. There is something about Sonic which appeals to the child at heart. Playing Mania for review with my 1 year old son, he too was mesmerised by every loop, spin and dash. Sonic Mania is a masterpiece which is successful in every goal it has set out to achieve. It is the Sonic 4 fans have dreamt of for decades. In the same way many DC fans say Batman V Superman is the perfect film for them, there is no better reward for Sonic-ites hungry to see his return to glory. And crucially, at under £20, it is outstanding value for money. Highly, highly recommended. If you owned a Megadrive, this game is essential! 

Circle of Life

Earlier this year, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast live action remake wowed audiences. The Lion King and Aladdin will be quick to follow as Disney continues its trend for using modern technology to update their iconic stories. Disney Infinity is over and Kingdom Hearts 3 is still in development – leaving a mouse shaped hole in the games industry. This got me thinking; which Disney properties would transfer to common game styles? Could game remakes be as popular as the live action renaissance? To be clear, these wouldn’t be tie-ins but a ‘Disney Video Game Universe’ if you will.

Beauty and the Beast

Taking the structure of Majora’s Mask, you – Belle – have 3 days to stop the final rose petal from falling. In order to discover the secrets of the castle – and meet your destiny of freeing the denizens from their curse – Belle must interact with characters and get to know their routines etc. Perhaps Belle could even have a time travel mechanic to return to the first day as Link does in Nintendo’s dark time-themed N64 game if things go a bit…beastly?

Snow White

Set in a Grand Theft Auto 5 style open world, you play as the Seven Dwarves who can be insta-switched between on the fly. Need a medic? Zap to Doc. You get the idea. Utilising each character’s abilities would lend itself to LEGO game style puzzle solving. Add in some branching dialogue choices and we’ve got a game!

101 Dalmatians 

Throughout this fantastic tale, Pongo and co travel from London to a rural farm setting and back again. What we’re proposing are all 101 Dalmatians on screen at once Pikmin style. Narratively this would have to be show-horned in but stick with me here. Maybe it takes 5 pups to open doors or 10 to make a ladder to scale walls. Other animals join in helping too which would add variety to later levels. It could be a thing! And did somebody say bonus level stealth sections?

Darkwing Duck

Better watch out you bad boys because everyone’s (yes, everyone’s…) favourite duck based superhero could have his own Arkham inspired 3rd person action game. Integrate Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system, a gritty art style and Gizmoduck and we’re there! This may actually fall into the next category…

Too obvious honourable mentions: 

Aladdin

Already a classic video game (Megadrive/Genesis version) and a context which has much crossover with modern games such as Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider and Assassins Creed, Aladdin is too obvious. 

Hercules

God of War re-skinned. Next!

Which Disney properties would genuinely add value to the games industry? Or are we destined for a lifetime of sometimes okay tie-ins? 

Follow us on Twitter @pennilessdads 

Netflix

Castlevania the (albeit brief) Netflix series is fantastic. My interest in the franchise has been tepid to put a label on it but last weekend I took a leap of faith (drops breadcrumb) and decided to watch episode 1. This is the kind of thoughtful, takes-itself-seriously video content that games have been crying out for. So, which other games are crying out for streaming serialisation; either animated or live action?

Bioshock – Already a movie project which mirrors Rapture and Columbia’s descent into chaos – Bioshock as a franchise has so much potential. “There’s always a man and there’s always a city” we learn at the end of the appropriately named Bioshock Infinite. Those familiar with Once Upon a Time may see the analogue in a character like Emma with Booker – both fish out of water trying to grasp the rules of the new worlds they find theirselves in. Undoubtably this would have to be an animated production due to the fantastical settings but if nothing else it might give us chance for a new Bioshock game. 

Fallout – A post apocalyptic setting would too demand animation over live action and there is lots of scope for an engaging, mature story. The standard ‘man out of time’ would also be relevent here as the viewer would learn about the world along with the character. Although it would definitely need to be for grown ups only. The series could follow the same structure of the Pokemon anime; loosely tracing the journey in the games. Flashbacks optional.

Metal Gear – Despite cricism by some fans, The Phantom Pain did the right thing by reducing the focus on story. The convoluted, complicated storyline of Metal Gear requires research and note taking to even scratch the surface. Perhaps it is time to collate these and produce it as a coherent (as much as possible) narrative. 

For many, the series truly began with the PS1 classic Metal Gear Solid however this game had many, many callbacks, nods and winks to the original 8bit games. The relationship between the ‘modern’ Metal Gear storyline and the era Big Boss was more prominent lends itself to an Arrow style structure. Season 1 could be Solid Snake on Shadow Moses with flashbacks to Zanzibar – showing how the lessons he learned in the latter impact on the former. Potentially – due to the slower paced story telling – this could be live action. All you would need is an abandoned industrial plant of some kind, a bandana and a gimp mask…

The Legend of Zelda – Recently rumoured to be in existence, this series is ripe for an adaptation. Since the so-90s-it-hurt Super Mario Bros movie, Nintendo has been reluctant to outsource its AAA characters – especially in other forms of media. The recent masterpiece Breath of the Wild is perfect for this with much more story content than previous Zelda games. Time travel is an interesting concept retconned into the series and the multiple timelines would be a unique rabbit warren to tumble down later in the series. Perhaps ‘our’ Link and Zelda could end up in different Hyrules; meeting their counterparts. This could lead to some Toy Story style Buzz meets Buzz shenanigans. Yes, Link may have to speak (note: he does actually speak in most of the games but you just don’t hear it). Either live action or animation is possible too. Hopefully the success of as well as respect shown to Castlevania will give Nintendo the confidence to give us what we want.

Speaking of leaps of faith (picks up breadcrumb), an Assassin’s Creed series is on the way in addition to Season 2 (which is longer!) of Castlevania. The games-to-series trend has started strongly. Let’s see it done justice now! 

The Top 10 Games 2017

Back in the N64 era, I noticed my games collection was slightly imbalanced. The vast majority of games on my shelf were football titles. My teenage self set the target of addressing the balance and making sure I had – in loose terms – one of each genre. What resulted was a mini-golden age of gaming. I could only have one shooter (obviously Goldeneye), one football game etc etc and through trading in and careful curation I made sure I only had the cream of the crop. I have 188 games on my PlayStation 4 through carried over purchases from PlayStation 3 and Vita, PlayStation Plus and hoarding in flash sales. In the download era it would be impossible to purge these games from my account but it got me thinking; what are the best games to play today? Top ten/hundred lists usually start getting predictable near the top, dominated by the likes of Mario 64. So, we are aiming to do something different. What are the best games to play in 2017? Nostalgic feelings and historical impact (we’ve got another list for that) on the industry are not applicable. Yes, San Andreas was important in 2004 but we’ve come a long way since then. Genres are defined by pennilessdads and we’ve also ignored sports titles as we felt that was too broad a heading. We aim to update this list at least 3 times a year. Some genres are unrepresented – sorry in advance!

2D era inspired game – Shovel Knight

The last ten years has seen a resurgence of 2D games and the tip of the spear is Shovel Knight. Riffing on sooo many games of yesteryear, this polished platform – which now has 3 campaigns – is great value. We await to see if August’s Sonic Mania can challenge Shovel Knight’s title. 

First person shooter – Destiny

Since 2014, the question I have asked when playing every game with a hand and a gun is: does it feel like Destiny? This is testament to the quality of Bungie’s epic online playground. As the journey of the original Destiny comes to an end, there’s one last chance to experience this great, genre defining experience. Will Destiny 2 overthrow it?

Racing – Mario Kart 8

Once upon a time, racing games like SEGA Rally, Daytona, Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer were tentpoles of console line ups. These days ‘serious’ racers are no longer at the forefront. The Forza series is arguably the best of these but the Switch’s recent deluxe version of Mario Kart 8 conquers all.

Story based action game – The Last of Us Remastered

There are so many games which could feature here. However, The Last of Us is a standout title and perhaps the game which elevated Naughty Dog to the highest tier of games designers – keeping company with the creme de la creme of games developers.  

3D collectathon platformer – Super Mario Galaxy 2

Following last gen’s trend of semi-sequels, an uncharacteristic Nintendo sequel to the fantastic Super Mario Galaxy is a varied collection of creative challenges which will change the way you think of a Mario game. Yes, Super Mario Odyssey will probably knock Galaxy 2 off its perch but we’ll have to wait until October for that. 

Crafting game – Fallout 4

Controversy! Minecraft inspired this element in many, many games but Fallout 4 has a – much maligned- base crafting feature which gives a nice change of pace with the rest of the game. Every settlement in Fallout 4 I come across now has a much refined plan to create an armoured, impervious foretress (concrete block the perimeter, guns intermittently around, robot protectors). A great aside to a great game which has unfair criticism in my humble opinion. 

High fantasy adventure – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It was a three horse race between this, Skyrim and Witcher 3. BotW changes everything. This is as close to a perfect game as there has ever been. The end. 

Puzzle – Puyo Puyo Tetris

Harking back to the Gameboy game which catapulted tetrominoes into popular culture, this quirky crossover has a great array of modes and a manic story mode. Multiplayer puzzling has never been as much fun. An honourable mention would be The Witness. 

Turn based role playing – Persona 5

Final Fantasy 13 ushered in a lapse in quality of Square Enix’s epic series. Persona saw the gap at the top and grasped the opportunity. The latest Persona has caught public opinion dominating conversations in and around various games podcasts. Style and substance combined make this the current pinnacle of JRPGs. 

Horror – Until Dawn

The 32bit era sewed the seeds of survival horror with Resident Evil, refining it the point of (then) perfection in the fourth iteration in the next generation. Between 2005 and 2015 though, the genre suffered as the balance between action and scares became more one than the other (clue: it’s not horror). 

Enter Until Dawn. Recently available on PS Plus as one of the free games on PS4, this seemingly by the numbers teen horror movie matters so much more when you’re calling the shots. Within five minutes of starting, you’re already wishing one of the douchebags dead. A great twist on the Telltale style experience and great for couch co-op. 

Mike drop…

If you disagree, correct us in the comments on the site or on Twitter @pennilessdads