Picture of John Walker

John Walker


Bookworm Adventures 2

Another spell of good fortune.

The magic of spelling is a lost art in the European isles. Technology is now so advanced that if you say a word incorrectly it appears with wobbly red lines in the speech bubble above your head. Young people tweeting pods from their mobile Xboxstations care not a jot for the inclusion of vowels. Local Spelling Stations are closing down all around the continent. Spelling is going the way of the apostrophe.

Retrospective: The Dig

A world away.

I like to take my time. I'm not in any rush. I don't need to be hurried along, pushed from behind, or told time's running out. Let me wander at my own pace, I'll get there in the end. Adventure games let me do that. They're in no hurry. They've a story to tell, and they'll tell it to me in my own good time.

It's the difficulty levels. That's what I love most about Thief. Looking Glass's genre-exploding first-person sneaker epic is an incredible work for many reasons, but I think it's best summarised by the difficulty levels.

Overlord: Dark Legend, Overlord: Minions

Evil's heading for the family consoles.

Cross-platform development is perhaps finally coming out of its slump of the last few years. Each platform has born the brunt of sloppy ports, but developers are beginning to show signs of taking far more care when they intend their game to appear on 360, PS3 and PC at once. This gets trickier when you want to catch the Wii and DS market, mind you, and often the result is extremely compromised versions of the original, possibly with a couple of lazy hand/stylus-waggling mini-games. Or there's Codemasters' approach with Overlord, making three completely different games.


On track.

Codemasters has really made a name for itself in the driving genre. 2007's DiRT and 2008's GRID set the bar high for accessible, solid racers. Continuing the obsession with capitalised four-letter words, FUEL takes things to a bigger, louder and more light-hearted place: to the other side of the apocalypse.

Retrospective: Mafia

It's a hit, man.

This article is a tribute to the phone box repairmen and women of Lost Heaven. The work they put in behind the scenes, without credit, is only outshone by my dedication toward driving into them.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

War's a serious business.

Remarkably it's been eight years since the release of the original Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis. The ultra-realistic tactical shooter veered drastically from the route the FPS was taking, aiming for hardcore realism and extreme difficulty in a gaming world that was about to ditch the ubiquitous medpack for regenerating health. Since then the original developer, Bohemia, has released an updated sequel, ArmA: Armed Assault, and is currently working on ArmA 2. In a much-publicised split, Bohemia retain the rights to make sequels, but publisher Codemasters has the rights to the game's name. Hence their unofficial sequel, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. Confused? Just forget about it all, and focus on being excited about what OPF:DR has to offer.

Retrospective: Dark Forces

"You're not authorised in this area!"

I went back to Dark Forces with two things in mind. First, to see if it could still give me vertigo. And second, to find the map of Max's head. This was intended purely as a nostalgia trip, a brief look at an antiquated shooter that I'd once loved. What I'd forgotten was that it's really, really good.

Casual games used to fall into three camps: the Bejeweled clone, the Diner Dash clone, and the Mystery Case File clone. It was and still is a clone-based market, and few are better at producing successful incarnations than PopCap. Its version of the Mystery Case File games began with Mystery P.I. - a hidden object game in which you're tasked with finding particular objects in an extremely cluttered scene. That sort of thing seems perfect for the DS, and it's surprising there haven't been hundreds already. Now PopCap has released two at once.

Thank goodness, yes it is. There's a horrible tension when you return to a game that's entered legend. What if it was hype? What if things have moved on so far that it creaks and you feel silly trying to play it? Worst of all, what if you've been desperately hoping for an oft-suggested sequel, getting excited at the prospect of its existence, and then you discover the original wasn't what you remembered? Thank goodness, Beyond Good & Evil is still every bit as wonderful.

2D Boy's Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler

The history of World of Goo.

2D Boy, creator of indie hit World of Goo, is made up of just two people. Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler met at EA, where they were both struggling to function within the then-enormously-corporate machine, and both bursting with ideas that couldn't get out. Later they escaped, and made World of Goo, which we adored on the PC and loved even harder on Wii.

The premise is magical. The screen is a yellowed, unfolded piece of paper, and your mouse cursor is a crayon. What you draw on the paper comes to life. Draw a circle and it will roll down a slope. Draw a line between two points and it becomes string. Attach a hurriedly drawn square to one end, and something you want to lift to the other, and you've made a primitive rope and pulley system. Draw a box with two wheels and there's a little vehicle. The miracle of Crayon Physics Deluxe is that all this works. Like some kind of amazing wizard, you get to draw objects and then immediately see them animated in front of you. What a treat.

World of Goo

Squishing well.

Little round blobs that form slightly elastic bonds when they're held up to one another. There's your core puzzle mechanic. From these beginnings, you can build a tower, or a bridge, or the means to escape from the belly of a giant creature and float, hearts filled with hope, on helium-filled eyeballs into outer space.

Skate It

Skate what?

You know that bit in the old black-and-white movie where the guy has the hose and he tries to squirt the other guy in the face, and no water comes out? So he holds the hose to his face to see the problem, and squirt! All over him. That's how I've spent too much of my time with Skate It.

Disaster: Day of Crisis

Ever had one of those days?

A quick tip for when naming your game. Try to avoid using words like "Failure", "Atrocity", and "The Worst Game I've Played In Years" (although I double-dare someone to use that one). It doesn't matter how good your game might be - it still invites every critic to lazily turn it against the product. So "Disaster: Day of Crisis" was Nintendo really pushing its luck.

Pic Pic

This year's Slitherlink!

Let me tell you a romantic story. There was once a man who loved puzzle games. He bought a DS, and then played puzzle games on it for about 90 per cent of his waking life. The end.

TrackMania DS

Can the DS handle it all?

On the journey to Glasgow to visit TrackMania DS's development team, Firebrand, I couldn't see how it was going to work. TrackMania - until now an exclusively PC game - is reliant on a couple of key features: speed and immediacy. The DS just didn't seem like it could be a natural home for this.

Rhythm Tengoku Gold

Drawn to the rhythm.

Possibly the most important thing to tell you about Rhythm Tengoku Gold is that I adore it despite not being brilliant at it. That's a wonderful achievement for any game. Best of all, its being on the DS, and a resolutely one-player, on your own, hidden from embarrassment sort of thing, you don't have to be not-brilliant at it in front of anyone else. You can keep Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and whatever else, because I've got my onion flipping, ghost rock band playing, robot filling, iguana wooing, Easter Island burping, pencil sketch singing festival of gibberish, and I'm delighted with it.

City of Heroes

Is there still power in the Midnight Hour?

I remember those thronging streets. Towns where you couldn't walk a foot down the sidewalk without bumping into a collection of uber-powered folks, ready to fight crime in all its forms. I remember staring at the vast crowds gathered around Ms Liberty in Atlas Park, a sea of the brightly coloured, winged, robotic, muscular and lithe. Paragon City was a thriving metropolis.

TrackMania Nations Forever

There is such a thing as a free launch ramp.

At 1.30am last night, I couldn't tell you whether I loved or hated TrackMania. What I can tell you is that I was playing it. Or more specifically, playing one track. Again and again. Determined to beat it. Increasingly tired, and as such increasingly unable to make the perfectly timed turns to get that Gold medal that sat between me and sleep.

Magic Made Fun

Because it was such a serious business before?

There are two types of people when it comes to magic tricks. (Well, three - there's those miserable sods who don't enjoy them at all, but we'll ignore them for now). The first sees a trick, is baffled by it, and feels entertained by the mystery. The second sees a trick, is baffled by it, and must know how it is done at all costs.

Jack Keane

Missed the point and click.

Push your finger here. No, it's ok. Just give it a little poke. That's my soft spot for Ankh. German developer Deck 13 showed a genuine love for the classic 90s adventures, and for once demonstrated an understanding of how they worked. It was imperfect in many ways, but for a bright, cartoon point-and-click adventure, it stood out from the crowd by not sucking out loud. We got a slightly inferior sequel, and now we have Jack Keane.

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

Another Ace up their sleeve.

There are some reading this who want to know nothing about Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, the fourth game in the AA series and the first to see Phoenix Wright's name removed from the box. But they want to know whether to buy it or not. To them, the answer is: yes. But, well, just don't expect all your wishes to come true. Read no more.

Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law

I'll take the case!

I took a break from ploughing through the latest Ace Attorney game, Apollo Justice (review so very soon, do not fear), to spend a short amount of time with its PSP brethren, the Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law game. And when I say "short", I mean, "Inch High Private Eye after being shot by Myron Reducto's shrinking ray" short. There - if that reference made no sense to you, then neither will Harvey Birdman on PSP. Problematic. If it did, then you're certainly one of the better people, but this may not be enough.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village

Curiouser and curiouser.

The title is enough to let you know everything about this game. It's gorgeous, elaborate, and silly. It's a game that can only work on the DS, and celebrates all that's engaging and esoteric about the medium.

Japanese DS Roundup

Taking a closer look at the games we never see here.

The Nintendo DS is a phenomenon almost beyond our understanding. Sales in the UK are stunning, with the device proving appeal across all of gaming's traditional boundaries. But it as nothing when compared to its success in Japan. It's frankly bewildering.

Crayon Physics Deluxe

IGF Finalists 2008: Back to the drawing board.

We've done Audiosurf and World of Goo, two of the Seumas McNally Grand Finalists at the Independent Games Festival next month, and now we come to our early favourite, Crayon Physics Deluxe. Drawing is best.