Monday, 27 July 2015

Bucket List Games

Bucket List Games

This is MonkeyBoxGaming. The place where games go to be loved up and down. And because of this, I thought I’d go through some games that should be on a proverbial bucket list of games that you should play in your life, preferably before you die. Hence – Bucket List Games.

Now there are a lot of games that would make many others lists, games that I thought about but ultimately decided against, and games that I just haven’t played. But the list is as follows.

Super Mario Bros 3

Now we start with a classic. Essentially, without Mario and the popularity of Mario, a lot of people wouldn’t be playing games today. The premise is quite frankly, the stuff of a mad man’s drug induced hallucination. A pair of Italian plumber brothers end up in a fairy tale land of aggressive turtles and peaceful mushroom people, and have to rescue a princess from a weird humanoid crocodile/dragon hybrid. Instant winner right? Well…right! Platform gaming at its finest, colourful, iconic music, replayable and fun from start to finish. A game that spawned a generation of gamers, myself included.


This one almost slipped my mind. After chatting with the wife (Carriecakes) this game immediately came to her mind and rightly so. Open world gaming at its simplistic best, and again a game with a premise that – on paper – seems strange in a gaming world of blockbuster Hollywood-esque titles. The premise is that there is no premise. Just go and build, mine, build, mine and try not to get killed by the mobs that come out at night and in the dark. Yes there are bosses, such as the Ender Dragon, but defeating it is no sign of completion. It’s as addictive a game as has ever been made, and proof that graphics don’t necessarily make the game. Another game that has spawned a generation of gamers, but also potential architects in the process.

The Secret of Monkey Island

Aaah now here is a game that does have a good premise! You are Guybrush Threepwood, aspiring mighty pirate and all round…erm…how appropriate! You fight like a cow! Now that’s not right. In a golden age of Lucasarts Adventure games including The Dig, Indiana Jones and Maniac Mansion to name a few, Monkey Island came along jam packed with gags and broke the fourth wall so often that it was reduced to a small pile of bricks and dust. Point and click adventure games were all the rage, and rightly so, they illuminated the 90’s gaming scene and seemed like they’d be with us forever. And after many years in the wilderness, have been resurrected pretty much single handed by TellTale Games. But that’s all beside the point. From complicated but ultimately hilarious puzzle quests and a fighting mechanic based on insulting each other, Monkey Island showed us that games could be funny, while also being playable. Classic characters like LeChuck or Stan and a game that consistently hit you with gags and funny lines set in the pirate infested Caribbean makes this game timeless. The HD remaster took nothing away from the game (so much so you can switch seamlessly between HD and Classic with the only difference being the graphics) this is one game that you need to chuckle your way through to the end.

Wolf 3D

I’ve mentioned Wolf 3D numerous times on this blog, and with good reason. Now there are lots of firsts in gaming. First game with a female protagonist (Ms Pac Man), first motion capture game (Rise of Robots), first electronic RPG (m199h) and many more. However the modern era of gaming can owe a lot to Wolf 3D. Called the “Granddaddy of the FPS”, this game is where modern blockbusters including Call of Duty and Battlefield can trace their roots. Set in WW2, you are BJ Blazkowicz, and you are being held prisoner in Castle Wolfenstein, until you overpower your guard and with a pistol and 8 bullets, you must now fight through waves of Nazi’s to escape. Well that’s Episode One. You need to run-and-gun your way through floor after floor of enemies and battle evil bosses such as Hans and Gretal Grosse, Doctor Schabbs and even Adolf Hitler himself. A game that must be played at some point in your life to truly understand the FPS genre.

Candy Crush Saga

Right let me explain. Candy Crush is a game, and is the only casual game you’ll see on this list. The reason it is on there is because it’s a game that keeps pulling you back into it, and is quick and easy to pick up and play whenever you want. On the bus? Play some Candy Crush. Walking to work? Play some Candy Crush. Having a dump? Play some Candy Crush. Simple to play and frustrating as hell at times, you need to play this if only to see why most people seem to be playing it.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

KoTOR for short, this game is epic in scope and set so far away from the movie franchise (almost 4,000 years in fact) that being a fan of the films is not necessarily a pre-requisite requirement. A game of huge scope, friendship, betrayal, love and loss, this Star Wars game is storytelling done right. Expect to take anywhere between 25 – 40 hours to complete, this is undoubtedly one of the jewels in the Bioware crown. Wield and customise your lightsaber (or sabers – plural) hone your Force abilities and walk the line between the Light and the Dark Side.

GTA: Vice City

Realistically a list such as this couldn’t go by without a GTA game involved. And after some soul searching, including thinking about GTA III where the 3rd person GTA’s started, or San Andreas being quite simply one of the best games of all time I had to go with Vice City. Set in the 80’s, it’s bright, hard hitting and GTA all over from start to finish. Tommy Vercetti is the name, and Scarface is the game. Impossible to play without nodding your head constantly to the amazing soundtrack and a storyline with such a good backbone to it you’d be mad to bypass it – even though it is easy enough to do with San Andreas and the most recent iteration of GTA V both being world beating games. Well worth your time and well worth being on this list.

Red Dead Redemption

Another Rockstar game, this time set in the dying days of the Old West. A magnificent and beautiful game that has a storyline worthy of a multiple award winning movie blockbuster. John Marston is forced by the Federal Government to do their bidding by hunting down and either bringing in or killing his old gang-mates in exchange for the safe return of his wife and son. Revolutions and cattle ranching sit alongside his story and the DLC – Undead Nightmare – has to be included in this entry as it’s an outstanding additional story that could have easily been a standalone game (when you consider some games that are released standalone this is better than a lot of them). Classic GTA style gameplay, with horses and carts replacing motor vehicles and enough side quests and places to explore to keep you hooked and keep you coming back for more.

Heavy Rain

Out of any game I’ve played, Heavy Rain is the most like playing through a movie that I’ve ever experienced. Children are going missing, and then being found in random locations, drowned with a piece of Origami placed in their hand. You play a father still coping with the loss of his oldest son, whose only other son is the latest to go missing. You also play a private investigator who is looking into the murders himself and looking for the likely culprit. Oh and you also play as a drug addict FBI agent, who is drafted into the city to assist in the investigation. And finally you also play as a freelance photojournalist who suffers from insomnia and night terrors who ends up looking into the murders herself. The game doesn’t follow the usual path of games – whereby if you make a mistake, just load your last save and try again – no it’s a lot harsher than that. You make a mistake with a character, a mistake that could even kill that character, and that’s it. That character is now dead and out of the game. Because of this, there are multiple endings for each character, which then results in multiple overall endings when put together. Compelling and incredibly drama filled, this game needs to be played by most gamers if only for the snap decisions you are forced into making especially when you put yourself in each characters shoes.

Plants vs Zombies

A lighter note. PvZ is another game on this list with a ridiculous premise. Zombies are overrunning the world, so your obvious choice of defence is some sunflowers and pea-shooters. Aided by Crazy Dave and faced with multiple types of enemy, including the standard zombie, and harder zombies that might have a bucket on their head or holding a screen door, or zombie American Footballers or even zombies on the back of zombie dolphins, this game is as ridiculous as they come. And it’s also one of the most satisfying games to play and complete that you will ever play. Simple and easy to understand gameplay, it’s easy to learn but can be quite hard to master. The song at the end will have you randomly singing in a zombie voice “There’s butter on my head” for months.

Civilization II

Civ II is a masterful game of turn based strategy greatness. Start off with nothing but a unit of nomadic settlers around 3000 BC and start your empire. Research technologies wage war, make peace, create wonders and vie to be the greatest Civilization on the planet. Play through scenarios, or play on a map of our world, or play through randomly generated maps, just play this game and prepare your body for the lack of sleep that it will bring. One of the cornerstone games of the 90’s, its popularity deserves an HD remaster with no extra bells or whistles attached to it. The close second in this series of games is Civilization V – well worth the outlay as well.


I suppose not strictly a FPS in the sense that what you’re shooting is a gun with bullets or lasers or some other projectile meant to harm. What you’re shooting is a Portal gun. Create 2 portal holes on the walls, floors or ceilings to create a doorway through the dimensions so you can enter here -> () and come out…

()-> here. Work your way through the Aperture Science lab being guided by GLaDOS and work your way to the elusive cake at the end of the Portal Tunnel…it won’t take you long to play through, but some puzzles will seemingly take forever. Another game with a wonderful post-game song, and required playing for sane gamers looking for a slice of insane thinking in order to get through.


Another game on the list that can easily be described as simplistic. A platform game set in a strange dark place, inhabited by giant spiders, Lord of the Flies type kids, random machine gun turrets, gravity defying machines, and puzzle after puzzle after puzzle after puzzle with an ending that is as open to interpretation as Inception. A dark world of silhouettes and danger round every corner and over every jump, prepare to do everything you can to get your little guy to the end where he is so desperate to be.

Mass Effect

Right. Now a list that I was going to write about this kind of stuff wouldn’t be complete without Bioware’s space opera. A true action-RPG in a sci-fi universe that actually dares to be as deep and meaningful as Star Wars and Star Trek. Politics, a brilliant morality system, and a system of saves that carry’s your decisions over from one game to the next. You are Commander Shepard, and this is your story. Now Bioware, famously copped a lot of flak for the way the trilogy ended, and even more when they released a graphic stating along the lines of “It’s not the destination it’s the journey” – or something like that, but over the years that is completely true. There’s nothing like forging the strong bonds between your crew and fighting insurmountable odds all the while feeling like you’re a part of a much larger universe. A must play game (and trilogy) that I’ve probably played enough to fill up the worlds quota of play time on this game.

Right, well that’s it. For now. If I think of any others or play a game that make me immediately want to add it on, I’ll let you know. These aren’t in any particular order and these are just a handful of the great swathes of amazing games out there.


Sunday, 5 July 2015

Short Review - Child of Light

Short Review - Child of Light

Wow. I first saw a trailer for Child of Light in April 2014 (here's the post avec trailer), and I thought, "That looks like a really beautiful game. I must play that one day."

Then things happened, work, Leeds United stuff, life...and I pretty much forgot it's existence. But boy if ever there was an advert for having a Wishlist on Steam, this would be it. When I first saw the trailer, I put the game immediately on my Steam Account Wishlist - a great thing to do, as you'll then get email notifications when games on your wishlist are on sale. And I am so glad I did with Child of Light.

Massively reduced in the recent Steam Summer Sale, I had to grab it - for £1.99, it's a bargain. Less than a meal deal from the shop or just a couple of bottles of Coke. And to be honest, this is probably the best £1.99 I've ever spent on a game.

The game is a mixture of platformer and turn based RPG. You are Aurora, a young girl who has seemingly died in her sleep, in typical fairy-tale fashion, only to awake in the mysterious world of Lemuria. The fairy-tale part of this is apt, as there are nods to Sleeping Beauty, the tale of King Arthur and Snow White to name a few, and the whole game is the closest I've felt to being in a fairy-tale - which is important being a father of 2 princesses.

You embark on an adventure across Lemuria picking up companions from your light up buddy Igniculous, to the little dwarven wizard Finn from the village of Capilli , the mousey Populi trader Robert, the Aerostati jester Rubella and many more to boot. The narrative of the entire game takes place as a massive poem, even when noticing strange runes or talking with NPC's for side-quests...except Rubella, who seems to have trouble rhyming - only to be corrected by various other characters.

Another aspect that is immediately apparent, is the wonderful beauty of the game. I've played an awful lot of games in the past almost-25 years, but I must say, this is just another level. Every animation is so fluid, there is no clunky part to the graphics or the gameplay, and playing the game feels like such a natural thing it's as if I were born simply to play this. The learning curve is so small, it's barely a curve at all - this is thanks in large part due to the simple controls, and the easy to work out game mechanics. Some games are stunning and epic in scope...but are so hard to work out, and have such a steep learning curve, that it becomes something of a chore to play them - which defeats the object somewhat.

The music and sounds on the game are just as stunning, I am constantly finding myself whistling the little tune that Aurora plays on her flute (the main theme from the game) and the music can really help you lose yourself in the game for hours on end.

You travel Lemuria in the style of a platformer, exploring the lands and avoiding obstacles and encountering foes. This is where the majority of the game is spent, and this is where the movement feels so fluid. The fighting takes place in classic turn-based RPG style, with you and your enemies on opposite sides of the screen facing off.

There are certain tactics to employ pre-fight, by using Oculi. These are gems to use that you collect such as Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald which add extras to your weapons such as Lightening, Fire and Water. So suppose you're in a fiery area, facing off against fiery foes, using Sapphire to add water damage to your weapon, and adding Ruby to your defence will add Fire resistence etc. It's quite simple, but you should really stay on top as you can craft new Oculi  for example 3 rough gems will create a tumbled gem, 3 tumbled gems will create a faceted gem, 3 faceted gems will create a brilliant gem - each getting more powerful as you go along. You can also mix gems to create other gems to add light damage or dodge abilities etc.

Finally, the Skill Trees. The above screenshot shows my current skill tree after completing the game and starting a New Game+ (once you've completed the game, you can go through again with the enemies being harder and your skill set from the first playthrough intact). It's all very simple and very easy to understand, such as adding extra physical or magical defence or hit points or magic points or increasing the power of your attack or defensive moves. Again, it's all so simple.

I would love to go into more detail about the story of the game, but I shan't. Rest assured that it's like a classic fairy-tale, a story of light vs dark, and redemption of a wonderful and mysterious land. In all honesty, out of the dozens or hundreds of games that I've played, Child of Light lends itself to a film adaptation more than any other game (including my beloved Mass Effect - mainly due to the amount of options in Mass Effect etc). The game is stunningly beautiful, incredibly easy to get to grips with and so easily playable you'll feel like you're watching a gorgeous story unfold as opposed to playing a game. Just be aware that you'll need to register (for free) with uPlay, Ubisoft's tiny version of Origin and Steam. But that's no biggy. You'll run through the game in between 14-17 hours, and it will be some of the most satisfying hours you'll spend playing a game.

Overall Score: 10/10 - Rarely does one find a diamond in the rough. This diamond shines brilliantly and beautifully.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Short Review - Age of Empires II

Short Review - Age of Empires II

If you have owned a PC between 1999 and now, and haven't played AoEII, then quite frankly there's a part of your soul missing. It's an amazing game with an even more amazing support structure - as I write, Steam is currently downloading an update for it at close to 800mb. That's support still coming 16 years after the release date - with no sign as yet of it stopping.

AoEII is a RTS (Real Time Strategy), meaning that while you're tinkering away doing your thing your opponent, be it AI or person is also tinkering away doing there thing. Anyway, enough of "What is a RTS 101", onto the game and why you should be playing it.

The single player game consists of 2 main parts, the Campaign and Standard Game. The Campaign has you battling through several different campaigns from the medieval world, from William Wallace's battles in Scotland to Ghengis Khan's horseback archers to Joan of Arc.

The campaigns are a good way to learn the basics of the game and to pass some time with missions that have varying meaning as opposed to just "Defeat the enemy".

The standard game lets you set the objectives, you can either win by dominating and either conquering all other players or forcing them to resign; win by building a Wonder and having it stand for a set length of time, win by obtaining control of all relics that are randomly dotted across the map; Regicide - where all players have a king who you must keep safe, if the king dies, you're out as well as a few other game types.

You tend to start games in the Dark Age, advancing through to the Feudal Age, the Castle Age and finally the Imperial Age. This is meant to span approximately 1,000 years of civilization. You need to do things in order to progress through the ages, such as building certain buildings and acquiring a set amount of gold and in some cases food. You do this by creating villagers, who can then mine stone and gold, cut wood and gather food by hunting, farming, foraging and fishing. By gathering these supplies you can then use your villagers to construct buildings from houses (to boost your population limit), to barracks to build infantry units to castles or Wonders from Hagia Sofia to the Cathedral or Chartres.

The game is simple to pick up and simple to get to grips with, but can be difficult to master - as is found by the amount of times I've been mercilessly destroyed online. It's a simple game that can suck you in for hours at a time if you're not careful, and the sound effects and music just go along with it all so perfectly they feel like a snug blanket, keeping you cosy while playing.

It's all simple point-and-click controls, and the only feature which I feel could have added more to the game (especially in it's 2013 HD Remaster) would be a simple zoom function.

Overall Score: 9/10 - as an RTS it's near perfect and a wonderful way to spend an evening or afternoon.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Short Review - Gunpoint

Short Review - Gunpoint (PC)

Gunpoint is a puzzle game with a difference. It's a game with simple goals, but with complex routes to achieve them. It's a game where the story is appealing and there is also a good vein of humour running through it.

You're Richard Conway, freelance spy. You've just purchased a pair of Bullfrog brand hypertrousers, giving you the ability to jump ridiculously high and land safely from those heights. You can hack computer systems and are as violent as your mouse finger dictates.

You are caught up in a murder mystery purely by chance...testing your new hypertrousers in your apartment and falling into the office across the street...

The music is just right, smooth and cool and a constant reminder that you're in a spy related game. The simple controls are quick to get used to, and the eventual upgrades that you can achieve are useful, fun, creative...and required in some cases.

In a nutshell, the game can be completed in a night but there's a wealth of new levels created by the Steam Community. Usually sells for £6, but presently (until 22 June 2015) on sale for £3. Well worth the tiny outlay (even at full price) and has good replayability. Pick it up here.

Overall Score: 8/10 - A great little game more than worth the outlay, a perfect soundtrack for what you're playing and incredibly easy to grasp and master. Timing is critical sometimes and forward thinking a must.


Thursday, 28 May 2015

Casually Hardcore Gamer?

Evening all,

Now there are certain things in life that are inevitable. Taxes and death are 2 things that spring to mind, but one of the more social inevitabilities is that of labelling.

You wear lots of black, white make-up and listen to dreary sounding rock music - you're a goth.

You have a beard and wear off-beat clothes - you're a hipster.

You are a Tory voter - you're deluded.

You support Chelsea, Man Utd or Millwall - you're brainless.

The list goes on, and that list extends to the world of gaming, usually in the form of those who are fanboys, hardcore gamers, casual gamers, noobs, retro gamers and the list does tend to go on.

Now I tend to categorise myself in a group of gamers that can only be growing in size: I'm a Casually Hardcore Gamer.

Now there are certain elements that I've thought of that put's one in this category.

Firstly: You must have a passion for gaming that is unmoveable. I have a passion for gaming, have done since I was a tiny little Toolbox. Loved them all, from old DOS games like Gorillas.bas and Digger to Wolf3D, Doom and Quake, moving on through to games like Metal Gear Solid, WWF Attitude, FIFA (minus the massive amounts of alleged money embezzlement) to Championship Manager, then Football Manager, Mass Effect, GTA and many more. Gaming is a passion of mine that just cannot be quenched. Whether it's revisiting old games again, or exploring new ones - gaming doesn't get old for me.

Secondly: As much as you love gaming, life events tend to be more important. Such is life. When I was younger, I went to school or college, then after a little bit of homework or a little bit of time with my mates - the computer beckoned. Sometimes, the mates would be fobbed off or homework left to the last minute because. hey, it's CLEARLY more important to me. But then you grow up a bit - this doesn't mean that gaming is no longer important - and things happen. You get married, you have kids, you have a more responsible job. These things inevitably...get in the way. Now that could be read wrong. My wife and kids don't "get in the way" of time that I could be spent wait, they totally do - but it's alright, cos I love them dearly and would do anything for them. So games of Toy Story Happy Families and Guess Who? or going for walks to the park or spending some quality time  with the Mrs are as, if not in a strange way MORE important than gaming. I know right, as if anything could be more important! But really, they are. I never would have thought it growing up, but there you go.

Thirdly: Time spent playing is limited - but treasured. This little nugget is so true. I don't tend to get on the computer for any "me time" until the kids have gone to play in their room before bed and the wife is on her laptop watching the tele. As much as I'd love to roll in from work, sit my fat arse down and play some GTA or Football Manger (the 2 games diving my gaming attention at the moment), that's just not gonna happen. Dinner needs to be made, the rubbish needs to be taken to the outside bin and other things need doing. But when the evening rolls round, and the kids are gone...then I'm no longer a father, or a husband. I'm Toolbox24 - gamer. The other thing though is that when I was younger, late nights gaming into the wee hours, even before work, were commonplace. I mean, I only worked at Argos, it's not like I needed to use much of my brain. Now however, I work an important job in the Civil Service, and as such, I need to go to work and actually use my brain for good. This means (unless it's the weekend) no late night gaming sesh's. So the time gaming, is minimal - especially with tea/coffee breaks with the wife - or getting the kids teeth cleaned and bedtime story read.

Fourthly: You sneak gaming in wherever and whenever you can. I work in an office. Sometimes I need to photocopy a ton of shit. While I'm stood over the photocopier waiting for it to do it's thing I could do 1 of 2 things. I could stand and wait, maybe check the stationary cupboard...OR I could whip my phone out and play some games. This sneaking of gaming in is where casual gaming comes into play. I generally wouldn't spend my evening playing Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, or Criminal Case. No, no, no...I would however play them whilst sitting on the porcelain throne or having a tea break. And in doing so, I have played over 500 games of pool on 8 Ball Pool on Miniclip, completed pretty much every Angry Birds iteration out there and am steadily approaching level 800 on Candy Crush Saga to name but a few. Gaming is somewhat of a way of life, and it's one I am immensely happy with - be it with "proper" games or casual ones.

Fifthly: You don't play just one type of game. This one is important now, it's important for anyone who wants to really appreciate the art, sophistication and subtle nuances of gaming. Someone who just sits and plays CoD or Battlefield all day - no matter if they spend most of their days and nights doing so, can't really be called a hardcore gamer. They fit more snugly into the Fanboy category, along with the people who bicker over the superiority of the Playstation or Xbox. It's just not going to happen. I figure that you need to regularly play and enjoy at least 4 different types of game, to be embedded into the hardcore gamer fold. Now herein lies a caveat - no matter how many casual games you play, they cannot count towards the 5. The following game types can:
  • First Person Shooter (Call of Duty, Battlefield, Portal etc)
  • Role Playing Games (Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Fallout etc)
  • Sports Simulator (FIFA, NBA, Madden etc)
  • Real Time Strategy (Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, Starcraft etc)
  • Other Strategy (Civilization, Hearthstone, etc)
  • Management Simulator (Football Manager, Prison Architect, Cities: Skylines etc)
  • Action/Adventure (The Witcher, GTA, Batman Arkham series etc)
  • Platform (Mario, Limbo, Terraria etc)
  • Survival / Horror (DayZ, Resident Evil, Dead Space etc)
The list does go on, but I would say that you need to be an aficionado of at least 4 genres - including the bonus indy game genre. Which of course is a mixture of all genres, but independently made. FTL, Game Dev Tycoon, Plague Inc: Evolved, Gunpoint to again name a few.

Roll those 5 elements together, and you have a hardcore gamer, who hasn't got time to be a hardcore gamer - so he does it casually. The usual type of gamer that this will end up being is a parent.

So yeah, I play casual games, I play proper games too. And I don't pretend that I'm some kind of divine Über gamer - I'm alright, I'm pretty decent and I occasionally have moments of greatness but overall, I'm pretty average. But that doesn't diminish how much I bloody love to play. When I get the chance. I mean even writing this, I've gotten one daughter a carrot, the other one a milk, sorted a tablet out that had disconnected from the wifi and had an incredibly brief chat with the Mrs before she went out to read her book.

So yeah. In summary, I'm a Casually Hardcore Gamer. I'm proud of this, and I won't pretend to be anything that I'm not. And I would imagine, that guys and gals who are in their mid-20's to late-30's who grew up on some awesome games in the 90's and early naughties, probably fit quite snugly into this category as well.

Nighty Night.


Sunday, 17 May 2015

Guess Who's Back...

Evening All,

It's been a tumultuous 12-13 months. Some personal issues, a new job, and new education for the kids. As well as a little bit of gaming here and there.

I never wanted to leave MonkeyBoxGaming, and I never wanted to take my hiatus this long.

To all none of you who read this, I'm sorry, but I'm here to make a conscious effort to try again - firstly, by cancelling the Mass Effect serialisation - I enjoyed doing it while it lasted, but it was taking so much time and with kids and work etc it didn't leave any time for some actual gaming. Also, looking back, meh - twas ambitious, to convert a 30+ hour game into a detailed written word story. Maybe if I win the Euromillions...


I'm going to start again, some retro reviews, some new reviews, posting trailers, opinions and other bits and pieces.

But, MBG, you were never forgotten, I love you. I always will.