Haven Review: The Howler

maxresdefaultFirst up is our disclaimer.  We received this game for review purposes only, and as such all views in this article our are own. No monies have been tendered for this review.

The Howler is an indie platformer that combines the distance/perception skills of Angry Birds with the hopping and landing of Super Meat Boy. The game is loosely based on the steampunk novel Hour of the Wolf by Lithuanian author Antanas Marcelionis. The novel is a must read for those who love 19th century political intrigue. In this alternate history, it seems the Russian Empire has fallen into debt with the Rothschild family of bankers…not a good thing…and must make reparations, or face the consequences.

The Howler offers a lighter take on the events portrayed in the novel. Players simply glide a hot air balloon from one point on a small map to another, sometimes avoiding dangerous obstacles, and other times delivering packages or dropping bombs.

VoiceModeEach map is introduced with a case number and a description of the current mission. Before play, you can choose to enable “voice mode”, where you softly grunt into your microphone to cause the balloon to rise, fall and deliver packages. If you don’t enable this feature, you can simply press and release your mouse button to rise and fall, respectively. The alternate method of package delivery is to click the “red box” icon at the top of the screen. Personally, I find the mouse easier to use than voice commands.436aAs your balloon rises, you’ll notice directional arrows along the left-hand side of the map. These indicate which way the wind is blowing, and therefore how the balloon will respond to your rise and fall actions.

In early maps, use the arrows to clear small buildings and towers. Flat roofs  accommodate balloon landings. Tower spikes on the other hand, will cause the balloon to explode upon contact. Later maps require you to pick up packages and drop them off at designated landing spots. At first, I attempted to release packages in mid-air, often missing the drop spot and having to restart the mission. I soon realized that you can actually land on the delivery spot and click the red box icon to release!DropTwins2As you progress, other types of items become available. There are bombs for instance, that you must hurl at hapless targets. Also, as the 19th century gives way to the 20th, your balloon itself will (whoops…no spoilers here). screen568x568At certain points, your balloon will enter treacherous interiors. This is where the game more resembles Sonic the Hedgehog (or Freedom Planet), rather than a love-child between Angry Birds and Super Meat Boy. Things get tediously challenging here; really only for those with a steady hand and steadier nerves. A self-proclaimed moniker is “The Game of Touch and Scream”. Aptly so.
shotbig5Overall, if you like platformers with highly sensitive controls, you will love The Howler. On the other hand, if you’re easily frustrated with games in this genre, you may want to spend the money on something less confounding…like a nice book about political intrigue!

-Chris Roberts-
Howler Scale

Haven Review: Particle Mace

Title2First up is our disclaimer.  We received this game for review purposes only, and as such all views in this article our are own. No monies have been tendered for this review.

Particle Mace is an arcade-style romp that combines the destructive tactics of Asteroids (Atari, 1979) with the multiplayer experience of Space Wars (Cinematronics, 1977). Created by Andy Wallace, this game succeeds in capturing classic arcade action, while at the same time providing something new.particle_mace_4As you maneuver your ship among deadly rocks and spry enemies, you must use centripetal force to swing a retinue of tethered particles (maces) into all that obstruct your way.

The first thing you’ll notice when you begin a game is that your ship is surrounded by a blue dashed circle. Also within the circle is a small “X-cursor”, which is actually your mouse pointer. This is important to understand early on. You do not move your ship and retinue directly, rather they automatically follow the X-cursor as you move your mouse around the screen. The farther away from your ship you move the mouse, the faster your ship will fly.BlueCursorSmallAs you advance through the levels, enemy ships will appear, attempting to crash into you. Move your mouse in such a way as to cause your particle retinue to swing into the enemies. The same goes for the yellow rocks that float about the map. If you clear the map of all such obstructions, you advance to the next level.

1422907045827Some maps feature bonus goals, beyond simply purging the screen. If you see a large white encircled area, this is called a hill. To earn the “King of the Hill” bonus, you must remain inside the white circle for a specified amount of time. If you fail, play continues without awarding you the bonus.

Particle Mace offers four modes of play:

1. Arcade: Classic single-player action. Progress as far as you can
2. Mission: Complete the game’s built-in story line
3. Co-op Arcade: Join a team (up to four players) in Arcade mode
4. Death Match: Use your particles to destroy your friends’ ships in addition to everything else on screen

Whichever mode you choose, you’ll experience the thrill and nostalgia of coin-operated machines gone by. Progression is not without reward. While you start off with a fairly simple space ship, there are nine different ships in the game. Can you unlock them all?

maxresdefault3Overall, Particle Mace delivers what you’d expect from a genre-specific indie game. It’s very challenging…maybe too much at times! But if you’re in the mood to master its intricacies (and perhaps cold-calling your friends to help you), you’ll surely enjoy hours of highly addictive, mace-swinging action.

-Chris Roberts-Particle Mace Scale

Pick up Constantine: The Hellblazer

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Arguably clunky title aside, Constantine: The Hellblazer is one of the best new comic series for newbies and seasoned readers alike to pick up. Co-written by Ming Doyle and James Tynion (art by Riley Rossmo), the new series offers a sense of fun to entice newer readers while also having an edge fans of Hellblazer might have missed since its cancellation.

The main plot of the story thus far is Constantine trying to figure out what has been killing off his ghostly entourage and how to stop it. It’s a compelling story that promises a good payoff. A minor plotline also deals with John’s flirtatious banter with a local restaurant owner named Oliver-a real treat for fans who have wished for John’s bisexuality to be more explored over the years. The ending of the second issue had me practically begging to know what was going to happen next.

Though the dialogue and John’s inner monologue all work well, the way the series deals with cursing can get a little irritating. While John was over at Vertigo he could say whatever he fancied, here the more naughty words get covered up with pentagrams. I don’t blame the creators one bit, but am a little annoyed DC can’t just doesn’t slap a stronger warning on the series and let it be for mature readers only. It’s confusing as to why certain words have to be censored but John can be having sex with a demon in just the next panel.

The series art can also be a potential turn off for some fans but personally speaking I really like it. I love the look of the backgrounds and think Rossmo’s able to capture John’s facial expressions. I also really appreciate the use of bright colors on occasion, from the beautiful two page spread of different levels of hell in the first issue to flashes of spirits haunting a house John’s walking through in the second one. Just because the series deals with horror doesn’t mean it has to look drab. I appreciate any series that’s going for a unique style rather than just sticking to convention.

Fan reaction to DC’s New 52 launch has been a mixed bag-some titles have been well received while others have been used by fans to argue that DC’s relaunch was a mistake. Constantine: The Hellblazer seems like it’s trying to be the best of both worlds: edgier than New 52 Constantine to appeal to bitter Hellblazer fans (a position I entirely sympathize with-by the time I finally got into it and almost caught up to what was currently selling, its cancellation was announced), while also offering less daunting continuity for newer readers and more stories for writers to explore. There series is still in its infancy so there’s no telling where John will end up, but I got enough genuine enjoyment out of it so far to fully recommend it to fellow comic nerds and hope they like it as well.

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