A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
Up until about 1994 you could barely move for games like A.R.E.S. You'd wake up and there they were, hogging the duvet. It didn't matter if you were the piratey Amiga type or a high-rolling SNES or Mega Drive owner, the side-scrolling platform shooter was king. And then the PlayStation came along, turned everyones heads with its fancy-pants 3D and kicked games like Turrican and Metroid to the kerb.
In these more confusing times, it's like the last 16 years never happened. The Tories are back in power, Take That are ruling the charts and developers like Extend can slap down its pollution-ridden vision of the late 21st Century. And no one bats an eyelid.
A.R.E.S. envisions a world (one that exists exactly 100 years after the release of Super Metroid, appropriately) in which we rely on funky robots who take style tips from Samus, and still have time to save mankind from its own stupidity. What this means for the more grizzled gamer is, hopefully, a beautiful retread of past glories - but the game doesn't quite shower us in retro-flavoured joy.
It starts off impressively with beautifully rendered backdrops, stirring soundtrack, suitably chunky weapons and screen-filling bosses. But the game quickly undoes all of its good work with a hopelessly pernickety jump system that turns routine platforming negotiation into a tiresome war of attrition. What a shame.
If the team can perhaps fix a few niggling issues via an update A.R.E.S. will be well worth a look, but until then this is a case of try before you buy.
Alt-Play: Jason Rohrer Anthology
By the time you get to the end of Jason Rohrer three game 'anthology', you almost expect him to lovingly serenade you in the style of a pixellated Julio Iglesias. Sadly, there's just the confused silence of an experimental purchase gone bad.
Some commentators have heralded some of Rohrer's work as an artistic statement, beautifully expressed. Take 'Passage', a five minute journey, where you essentially guide a super-pixellated man through a journey around a narrow top-down environment. You meet a girl, she follows you around for a while, you click on things. You get old. She dies. You die. The end. Ah.
It's an artistic statement alright. It's slightly touching if you've got the January blues. But is it worth paying money for? Hardly.
'Gravitation' is similarly thought-provoking by design, but only slightly more interested in being a videogame. This time, you start off playing ball with a child (Rohrer's kid, apparently), and once there's enough love between you your hair bursts into flames.
At that point, the playing area expands and you're able to soar into the sky and collect stars, before limply coming back down to earth to push the stars into some sort of furnace. And so it goes on. Regardless of whether you buy into the work/life metaphor, it's just not especially engaging.
The third and final title, 'Between', is equally uncompromising, and even demands a second DS is connected wirelessly before you can get started. Once hooked up with a partner, you're greeted with a tower made of coloured blocks, and have the ability to select and shift small coloured blocks into a construction area.
What you're supposed to construct, or why you're constructing it, or what effect you have on the other player's tower isn't apparent: you just have to stick with it. Experiment, mix colours up, compose a jazz flute symphony in your head and see what happens. If patience is eventually rewarded, I'm not sure how.
I'm all for artistic-minded developers that push the boundaries of convention and dare to try new things - I just want to be entertained along the way. Is that too much to ask?