Pixel partners: our favourite gaming duos

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, and gamers all over the country will put down their controllers in favour of red roses, boxes of chocolates and candlelit dinners for two. But there’s no reason why video games can’t feature on the day of love: in fact, some of the most emotional stories ever known have been told through the digital medium.

Below are some of our favourite partnerships – from those that will bring a tear to your eye, to close friendships that will make you laugh out loud, to those that will have you going on a rampage until your sweetheart is avenged. Some of the summaries reveal a few plot details so if you want to skip the spoilers, you may wish to move forward to the next section.

Kim: Wander and Mono from Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus, video game, man, woman, Wander, Mono

“Sometimes love can make you do crazy things, like trying to bring your deceased girlfriend back from the dead by entering into an ominous pact with a formless voice to slay 16 towering beasts. Mono is successfully revived after Wander has killed the last of the colossi, but his deeds are sadly rewarded by demonic possession and a painful death.

“Wander essentially traded his life for that of his partner and that’s an act which is as loving as it is tragic. Although they do eventually end up back together, it’s not in the way they would have hoped for. With barely a word spoken, the story in Shadow of the Colossus ends up being more powerful than a lot of the other romantic tales in video game history.”

Tim from GeekOut South-West: Banjo and Kazooie from Banjo-Kazooie

Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo, Kazooie, bird, bear, video game

“One of them is a big dopey bear, the other is a sassy birdie. Together, they make up one of gaming’s most famous friendships. With the brawn, Banjo carries his feathered-friend from place to place; and with the brains, Kazooie gets into verbal fights with their enemies and calculates how to get the duo through the dangerous spots. They’re a flying, fighting, fixing and funny partnership that will be remembered throughout all of gaming history.”

Visit Tim and say hello over on GeekOut South-West.

Kevin from The Mental Attic: Gabriel Knight and Grace Nakimura from the Gabriel Knight series

Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within

“It’s the age-old story, isn’t it? Boy meets girl, boy hires girl to be his assistant in his bookstore, greeting his customers and helping him delve into the world of savage voodoo killings.

“When Boy becomes a demon-hunter Girl goes to Europe after him, keeping him safe by annoying local Germans with snark and sass. Boy would think more of Girl, be more open about their relationship, but between werewolves, blondes and the advances of Bavarian nobles, he’s got his hands full. And that’s without even mentioning the mind-controlling vampires and sacred babies.

“He’d ask her to marry him on the spot, but as Boy always said: ‘Gracie’s like a chair… Say you see this really great chair. And you like the chair, and your mother likes the chair and everyone says you should buy the chair, but you know that if you take it home, everything else would have to go, like the chair is Louis XIV and everything else is IKEA.’

“Doesn’t that make your heart go aflutter? Such way with words Gabriel has, such way to describe the value of a loved one.”

Visit Kevin and see what he’s been up to over on The Mental Attic.

Nathan, friend of the site: Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher from the Uncharted series

Uncharted 4, A Thief's End, Nathan, Elena, man, woman, kiss

“When it comes to relationships in video games there’s a few that stand out such as Banjo and Kazooie, PaRappa the rapper and Sunny, or even Tiny Tina and her love for crumpets. However, the one that stands out for me the most is Nathan and Elena . In many of the Uncharted titles their love is tested as they’re either put at risk and have to save each other or they think the worst has happened. Naughty Dog was good at creating a realistic connection between the two characters, as well as scaring you a few times throughout the series.

“The fact that their relationship spans over four games, along with the trials and tribulations they’ve been though together, means that this is a relationship worthy of your admiration. Their love blossomed in the first instalment after Nathan ‘used’ Elena to help fund an illegal sea excavation of Sir Francis Drake’s coffin; and it’s still there at the end, when they’re married with a child and living on an island. How they get there – well, you’ll have to play the games to find out.”

Ethan, my stepson: the Boy and Trico from The Last Guardian

The Last Guardian, video game, Trico, animal, beast, phoenix, griffin, boy

“I’m going to choose the Boy and Trico, because they’ve been together for such a long time and developed a really strong bond.”

Join the discussion and let us know about your favourite video game partnerships in the comments below. We hope you have a lovely day tomorrow – lots of love! ❤

Liebster and Cthulhu’s Blogging Apocalypse Awards

After being very kindly nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by the awesome PIXELDUMP at the end of last month, we were extremely humbled – and surprised – to find out that we’d been nominated for two other awards also*.

The WordPress community is one of the best to be in and we’re very thankful to everyone for welcoming us back here: there are so many amazing writers around and it’s inspiring to see all of this talent.

The Liebster Award from Hundstrasse

If you’re not already following Hundstrasse, you should be. Author Luke has some interesting insights on video games, being someone who has seen many generations and genres, and his way with words makes his posts a joy to read. In fact, we like him so much that we recently chose his site as one of our Sunshine Blogger nominations.

As part of the Liebster Award, the recipient has to answer questions set by their nominator in order to reveal more about themselves. Unfortunately Ben wasn’t available (or was he scared?) so let’s see how I fare with this little lot on my own…

  • If you came to visit, the one place I’d take you to locally would be the arcades at Southend-on-Sea. They’re full of retro classic and there’s a place nearby that does an amazing chicken-katsu burger for dinner.
  • The game I like, despite it having serious shortcomings, is Typing of the Dead: Overkill. I should hate it for its crassness, profanity and terrible characters – but it’s just so addictive!
  • An aspect of video games I feel is under-appreciated is the emotions they can evoke and how much they can make you feel. It’s something the gaming community itself gets but outside of that, gaming is often still considered as mindless entertainment.
  • That word you just made up, ‘klirturting’? It’s that embarrassed feeling you get when a blogger who’s way more awesome than you nominates you for an award.
  • If I was to imagine I worked in a mysterious sci-fi futuristic facility, the thing I see happening on the fifth floor is the IT Department. Although in the real world we’re more likely to be shoved in the basement.”


    The Cthulhu’s Blogging Apocalypse Award from Falcon Game Reviews

    Shelby from Falcon Game Reviews was recently nominated for an unknown award, so what did he do? He rebranded it in the visage and splendor of everyone’s favourite old-god and world-ender: Cthulhu. The Cthulhu’s Blogging Apocalypse Award is about expanding each other’s visibility and seeing talented bloggers recognised for their work.

    Shelby definitely deserves to be recognised – if you aren’t following him already then you should head straight to Falcon Game Reviews and do that now. His For Honor beta impressions was his 100th post, and we’re looking forward to reading the next 100.

    As part of our nomination we need to give some advice for new bloggers, and this got me thinking: what’s the most important thing I’ve learned since starting blogging a few years ago? It’s hard to sum it up here because there’s so much you could say; so instead I’ve written a separate post dedicated to the subject in order to do it justice, which will be published in the next week or so.

    Our nominations and questions

    The hardest part of any award is nominating other blogs to receive them also: there are so many amazing sites here within the WordPress community that whittling them down to just a few can be quite a challenge. It’s taken us a while to come up with the following list but we hope it’s a celebration of sites both old and new – and we’ve even picked out some posts to get you started on exploring them.

    Liebster Award nominations:

  • Geeks Play GamesGeeky Ink: Don’t Judge a Person by Their Fandom
  • I Played The Game!Modern Gaming Is Actually Pretty Good
  • OverThinker YFirst Test [CC3]
  • Way of the GeeksCartoons You’ve Probably Never Watched

  • Cthulhu’s Blogging Apocalypse Award nominations:

  • gamingatheartIndie: Lost Ember
  • GeekOut South-WestTop 10 ‘Useless’ Protagonists
  • geeksleeprinserepeatGeekly Review #168
  • The Mental AtticPuzzle Design – Narrative vs Challenge

  • Here are our gaming-related questions for our lovely nominees:

  • How would you describe yourself if you could only use gaming terms?
  • If you could visit any location from a game, where would you go?
  • Who would be the worst video game character to be stuck in a lift with?
  • If a video game was made based on your life, what would the title and genre be?

  • Thank you once again to Luke from Hundstrasse and Shelby from Falcon Game Reviews. And congratulations to all of the blogs above – we’re looking forward to reading your answers!

    *NB: since writing this post, we’ve found out about another award! Rather than adding it here and making it even longer than it already is, we’ll write about it very soon.

    Five indie games to look forward to

    With the great indie showcase that is EGX Rezzed fast approaching, I thought I’d share some of the upcoming games made by independent developers that are on my radar. The community is very alive, very active and has some very exciting concepts to reveal in the coming months.

    Shadowhand

    I first came across Shadowhand at EGX 2015, where the husband and wife team of Grey Alien Games were in full costume to show off their latest project. I was immediately smitten with what I played. It’s a clever little game of solitaire-meets-RPG-meets-highwaywoman’s adventure, where you are tasked with guiding the titular Shadowhand (Lady Darkmoor by day) on her quest to retrieve a stolen family jewel.

    It builds on the successful higher/lower system from the excellent Regency Solitaire and will include the addition of weapons, clothing and special abilities in the mix. I’m so confident about this title I think it may well be the sleeper hit of the next 12 months. Absolutely worth a look when it arrives later this year on PC and Mac.

    Mighty Tactical Shooter

    Bullet-hell games have been around since the days of Space Invader and yet no-one has put the spin on it that the team at Sock Thuggery have. On the outside it plays just like any other side-scrolling shooter with a lone spaceship blasting away at alien hordes until only one is left standing. The twist here is that every move you make has been plotted, planned and executed in a clever tactical interface.

    It’s a clever blend of RPG and real-time-strategy mechanics where control of the ship comes from pausing the game, plotting out the route it will take over the next couple of seconds and choosing the right armament for the job. Helpful lines show the expected trajectory of bullets and baddies, allowing the player to determine the best route to dodge and destroy. It might sound like a slow process but the intuitive control systems means the time to the end of each level flies by.

    Even better is once a level is complete you can view a replay of the whole thing in real time as if it were a single run. It’s the most satisfying thing to see your ship zip in and out of enemy bullets like a pro, blasting to victory. Yes it’s moving slowly, and there’s no fixed release date yet but it’s bullet-hell with brains – can’t wait.

    Absolver

    I’m surprised the buzz around Absolver isn’t louder. It’s an online melee-combat RPG that sets you in the role of a Prospect who must wander the land, fighting and learning from other Prospects online. Alliances will be formed, enemies made, students will become teachers. There’s a certain (dare I say it) Jedi-like appeal to the concept.

    The team at Sloclap promise intense real-time fights, with weapons, combat styles, combos and counters to learn. There will be PvE alongside the PVP environments. Why don’t you check out the trailer above? It looks very special indeed.

    Pyre

    Did you like Transistor? How about Bastion? Chances are the answer to at least one of those is yes. Incredibly stylish games with amazing design, deep gameplay and meaningful story. Well, the team at Supergiant Games are going to be releasing another this year called Pyre, an action-RPG. Here you must lead a band of exiles through ‘an ancient competition spread across a vast, mystical purgatory’.

    Sounds cracking and given Supergiant’s past, it will look stunning. Coming soon to PS4 and PC.

    Divinity: Original Sin II

    This one’s already available on Steam’s Early Access but, as it’s not finished, it sneaks on the list by way of a technicality. Building on the excellent systems and classic RPG elements of Divinity: Original Sin it looks as though Larian Studios are making another winner, and this time with four-player co-op. I’m forever hovering over the purchase button for this sequel but keep reminding myself to wait until it’s finished. I want to experience it in all it’s glory.

    But… If you didn’t play the first one, then brace yourself for deep, deep CRPG mechanics with a modern twist. In fact, why don’t you go and play it while you wait for this one to be finished? It’s really that good.

    Which indie games are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below!

    Editorial: February 2017

    January was our first full month back on WordPress and what a month it’s been. In December we took the decision to leave our old home and move to a new sparkly place here at Later Levels for a fresh start, and we can only thank you all for being so welcoming.

    109 gorgeous people have followed us and we’re sending big hugs to all of you – take a look at our high scores page to make sure we’ve included you on there.

    The blogosphere has changed somewhat since we were last writing regularly: there are so many new and talented people out there, and it’s inspiring to see. We’ve made some new friends already and we’d highly recommend checking out the following awesome reads:

  • Still confused about the new console from Nintendo? Me & Nintendo have put together this helpful and humorous guide.
  • Find out what to expect from Hellion – an Early Access space-survival – in this post from geeksleeprinserepeat.
  • Wonder what would happen if the dead roamed the earth? Stuart from Forged From Reverie takes a look in this article.
  • “[I] hope that at some point [gaming] might be universally welcoming to everyone” – an interesting read on gender equality by Luke from Hundstrasse.


    Last month, Ben was…

    Doing:   formulating the perfect argument for why we ‘need’ a 4k TV
    Feeling:   silly for giving Scalebound a shout out just before it was cancelled
    Playing:   Elite: Dangerous and Overwatch
    Writing:   2017: five to look forward to

    “In between arguing with die-hard Nintendo fans (who are surprisingly more vicious than the Sony / Microsoft camps) about why the Switch is six months too early and not worth it just for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I’ve been getting stuck into time intensive games. Which might seem odd given my limited gaming hours but I’ve found the PlayStation 4 and Xbox stream extremely well to my laptop which allows for my wife to watch TV while I game. Handy.

    Elite: Dangerous and Overwatch have been taking up most of my time and I’m finding both very rewarding.

    “Like Kim says below, it’s been great getting back into the swing of writing and thank you all for love we’ve been shown. It’s flattering and awesome and wonderful. Fistbumps all round.”

     Last month, Kim was…

    Doing:   sitting in long meetings at work
    Feeling:   cold
    Playing:   The Last Guardian and Day of the Tentacle Remastered
    Writing:   Walking simulators: it’s not you, it’s me

    “In January I made a New Year’s resolution to play more video games, after buying a new home and moving to a different town left little time for anything else in 2016. So far I haven’t done too badly at sticking with it and I’ve managed to complete The Last Guardian – I just need to stay focused and concentrate on the games I’ve decided to play this year, without getting distracted by anything shiny (that’s highly unlikely to be the Nintendo Switch).

    “It has been tough getting back into writing after such a long time away from it but it’s slowly getting easier, and I’ve realised how much I’ve missed it. It’s been lovely getting to know the WordPress community once again and there are so many great new writers around: my reader is starting to fill up with some amazing blogs. Thanks for having us back!

    “Also, a massive thank you to PIXELDUMP, Shelby from Falcon Game Reviews and Luke from Hundstrasse. These lovely people nominated us for the Sunshine Blogger, Liebster and Cthulhu’s Blogging Apocalypse awards respectively in January, and we’re so extremely flattered. Your support means a lot to us.”

    Coming up this month…

    Ben is planning on dipping into the world of MMORPGs with Final Fantasy XIV and well as whittling down a list of indie games, he’s excited for in the coming months and year. Hopefully we’ll be able to get our hands on a few of them at EGX Rezzed at the end of March.

    Kim has booked her tickets for GEEK at Dreamland Margate at the end of February so expect plenty of photos from the event. She’s still stressing out over cosplay options for Kitacon 2017 in August – hopefully she’ll be able to update everyone on how her costumes are coming along soon.

    Alongside all that, we’ll be getting loved up for Valentine’s Day as well as battling it out with our friends and neighbours at other blogs in a new ‘question of the month’ series (make sure you place your vote in our poll). There’ll also be announcement about our participation in this year’s GameBlast event for SpecialEffect.

    Thanks again for being so welcoming during our first month back here – from Ben and Kim   ❤

  • Question of the Month: February 2017 edition

    Welcome to the first instalment of our new monthly series, where we attempt to answer some of the questions that have been taxing the gaming community since it first picked up a controller. We’re battling it out with our friends and neighbours at the blogs below in order to find the ultimate response in 100 words or less – and we’re asking you to decide who the winner is by voting in our poll.

    Without further ado, let’s reveal the quizzical quandary for February 2017…

    What’s the hardest game in the universe, ever?


    This month we’re thinking about the most challenging, viscious and downright-dastardly video games of all time: those that make us squirm in agony and still keep us coming back for more. Let’s reveal our contenders for the trophy…

    Answer 1:   Super Probotector: Alien Rebels  (aka Contra III: The Alien Wars)

    Ben says: “Hours and hours my friend Scott and I wasted trying to conquer this game. Bullets came at you from everywhere (but not enough to constitute ‘hell’), and trying to jump, duck and shoot ever-increasing number of bad guys was damn near impossible from the start. Three lives, two players, one-hit death. Even on normal difficulty this was a challenge. Ramp it up to hard and you knew you were in for the fight of your life.

    “Where it succeeded was in the gameplay. It never felt cheap. If you died it was because you hadn’t reacted fast enough or jumped at the right time to clear a gap. Tough as nails but equally rewarding.”

    Answer 2:   DuckTales  (NES version)

    Kim says: “Remember the original DuckTales from the early nineties? Using Scrooge McDuck’s cane as a pogo-stick to bounce through the levels might have been fun but make no mistake: this title was punishing and one of the hardest on the NES. I played it so much with my brother when we were kids (the Moon level was a particular favourite) and we were destroyed repeatedly – each time getting sent back to the beginning to start over. Even if my choice doesn’t win our poll this month, you’ll have the theme tune stuck in your head for at least the next week.”

    Answer 3:   God of War II  (Titan mode)

    Nathan, friend of the site, says: “My choice for hardest game in the universe will have to be God of War II on the PlayStation 2, playing the Titan mode difficulty setting. Not only did this game make me rage-quit numerous times, it was also satisfying when i finally did complete it – plus I got bragging rights for completing such godly tasks. The first boss alone was difficult on normal as you have your powers stripped from you, then to have to do that fight again on Titan mode where two false moves means you have restart the level… ouch!”

    Answer 4:   I Wanna Be The Guy

    Tim is a guy who likes to get dressed up, have a good time, meet people who are passionate about their respective geekdoms and encourage everyone to be vocal about who they are. He’s also vocal about his answer for this month’s question – check out his argument for I Wanna Be The Guy over on GeekOut South-West.

    Answer 5:   Tabletop RPGs

    Joel was raised on Terry Pratchett books and video games, designed games as a hobby from a very young age and has never changed. He’s caused controversy this month by opting for tabletop RPGs over a video game for his answer! Found out why by reading his argument on GeekOut South-West.

    Answer 6:   A Boy and his Blob  (NES version)

    Kevin is a geek and proud of it: no matter the situation, no matter the environment or the people around him, you’ll hear him discuss novels, games and films with anyone who’ll listen. He’ll also discuss his answer if you ask him nicely and you can find out why he chose A Boy and his Blob on The Mental Attic.

    So who’s got it right, and who’s got it so wrong that they deserve to spend the rest of eternity in Anor Londo getting cosy with Dragon Slayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough? Cast your votes in the poll opposite and we’ll reveal the most popular answer on Friday, 03 March 2017 along with the next question.

    Got a question you’d like to see us struggle over next month? Or would you like to join in and add your own answer into our polls on a regular basis? Leave us a message in the comments below or get in touch!



    Digital sunshine: Sunshine Blogger Award

    In December last year, after too long an absence from both writing and WordPress, Ben and I took the difficult decision to leave our old home at 1001Up. We carefully put our consoles and controllers into a metaphorical-suitcase, closed the curtains and shut the door behind us for the last time, venturing out into the blogosphere to see what new adventures await us.

    Later Levels has now been up and running for just over a month. It’s great to be back within the community and things have changed since we were last here: there are so many new writers around and it’s motivating (as well as a little intimidating) to see all of this talent. It’s therefore humbling to be nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by PIXELDUMP, given to those who ‘are inspiring and bring sunshine into the lives of their readers and fellow bloggers’. I’m completely and utterly flattered.

    If you haven’t yet visited the PIXELDUMP website, I’d highly recommend heading over there straight away – this post about cooperative gameplay is a great place to start. From one ale-drinking-IT-working-mint-icecream-loving gamer to another, I salute you sir.

    PIXELDUMP’S questions

    One of the rules of Sunshine Blogger Award is that the recipient has to answer questions set by their nominator in order to reveal more about themselves. I’ve already vetted those posed by PIXELDUMP and there isn’t anything too graphic or gratuitous (phew) so on with the answers.

    Question 1: What was the first game you remember playing?

    Like many of my generation, the first titles I remember playing were Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt on the NES back in the 1980s; but the first I played for myself was The Secret of Monkey Island on the Amiga 500 after receiving the machine as a Christmas present. My nine-year-old mind was blown after realising that worlds I thought only existed in books could be brought to life in video games. That day begun a two-decade-long crush on Guybrush and I’ve been a huge fan of adventure games ever since.

    Question 2: What is your most memorable experience of playing video games?

    My answer for this one was an experience in ‘real life’ rather than in video games themselves, so I hope I haven’t broken the rules here…

    Rezzed, expo, event, video games, Martin Bruusgaard, Kim, Ragnar Tornquist

    I had the opportunity to chat to Ragnar Tørnquist and Martin Bruusgaard from Red Thread Games when they were at Rezzed 2013 to present a developer session on the progress of Dreamfall Chapters. Well, I say ‘chat’ but it was in all likelihood incoherent mumble as I was completely star-struck, having loved The Longest Journey for so long. They then remembered me when I saw them the following year and invited me to the pub for a drink, and Martin sent me an email the following day; they’re such lovely guys.

    Question 3: Who is your most hated in-game character?

    I really struggled with an answer here as there aren’t any characters I’d say I ‘hate’, so I’ve instead gone with one I ‘dislike’: Nicole Collard from the Broken Sword series. I know many people will disagree with me on this! Don’t get me wrong, I admire her spirit and desire to always seek out the truth, and it’s awesome to see women in video games who aren’t simply damsels-in-distress. But she’s just so rude and sarcastic all the time – and who in their right minds would let George Stobbart jet off around the world and have all the fun while they sit in their apartment?

    Question 4: Which game has your all-time favourite soundtrack?

    My favourite song from a game is Everything’s Alright by Laura Shigihara, taken from To The Moon by Freebird Games. It’s such a beautiful track and I’m really looking forward to Finding Paradise coming out later this year.

    My nominations and questions

    And now comes the hardest part of the award: nominating other awesome blogs to receive the award also. In just a month back on WordPress, my reader is already becoming full of amazing sites and it has therefore been really difficult to whittle it down to only a few. I’ve enjoyed reading the following so far and have picked out a post from each as a good place to start exploring them.

  • Luke from HundstrasseCharacter Gender Equality: Are We Just Treading Water?
  • Tom from Me & NintendoA Parent’s Guide to the Nintendo Switch: A Dramatization
  • Nick the Gent from Deconstructing Video GamesMario Kart Wii Retrospective
  • The Well-Read MageWhat I Learned from the Best and Worst Video Game Parents

  • I’d also like to add a ‘worthy mention’ here: Stuart from Forged From Reverie. The only reason I haven’t given him a proper nomination is because he was nominated by PIXELDUMP too! If you haven’t read it already, go check out his post on what would happen if the dead roamed the earth.

    Here are my four gaming-related questions for my four lovely nominees:

  • How would you describe yourself if you could only use gaming terms?
  • If you could visit any location from a game, where would you go?
  • Who would be the worst video game character to be stuck in a lift with?
  • If a video game was made based on your life, what would the title and genre be?

  • Thank you once again to PIXELDUMP, and congratulations to all of the blogs above. I’m looking forward to reading your answers!