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Guns, Gore and Cannoli Review

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Platforms: PC/Mac, Steam (Summer: PS4, XboxOne, WiiU) | Developer: Crazy Monkey Studios/Claeys Brothers Studios | Publisher: Crazy Monkey Studios | ESRB: T | Controls: Keyboard/Gamepad

Note, we received and played through our copy of Guns, Gore and Cannoli in very early April, but were asked to hold the review until release. The game may have changed in that time, so treat our review as that of a beta.

I’m going to make you an offer you may not be able to refuse… I’m going to give you gangsters, guns and gore. Then I’m going to give you zombies, and I’m gonna put ’em together.

“Welcome to Thugtown circa 1920, the height of Prohibition. “

Guns, Gore and Cannoli is the genre mash-up that you never knew you wanted, featuring 20’s style gangsters and zombies. The game comes our way from Crazy Monkey and Claeys Brothers Studios. Taking place in Prohibition-era 1920s, GGC is situated in the fictional city of Thugtown. It uses classic, if somewhat limited, arcade-style platformer/shooter gameplay to tell it’s story in a simplistic comic-book-like presentation. The title features, as you may have guessed, guns, gore and cannoli, with a healthy does of zombies.

Our story opens on main protagonist, Vinnie Cannoli, who also serves as our narrator. He’s relaxing below deck, recounting the story of how he came to be on this ship headed for the harbor in Thugtown. As an enforcer for the mob, Vinnie is occasionally called upon for the odd job. Mr. Belluccio, a mob boss with more than a passing resemblance to Don Corleone from the Godfather, has sent him on this trip to collect a guy named Frankie. This wiseguy will be the main target for the duration of your time with the game.

Reports out of Thugtown suggest a violent uprising of rioters and a loss of control by the police. Still, Cannoli makes the slow trip into the harbor. The ships communications let him know that all is not well as the crew above deck are quickly overrun by “rioters”. The game wastes no time, jumping right into the action. Vinnie starts by kicking the door to his cabin down. The kick is essential for breaking down doors and windows and creating distance from zombies that get too close.

He then faces his first zombies, the standard, shambling kind. Within a minute or two, all of the main gameplay elements of an arcade-style action platformer are on display. Exploding barrels can help conserve ammo and clear out zombies. A standard pistol is your base weapon, with unlimited ammo. You’ll quickly pick up a shotugn, a quicker kill, but a much slower reload time and lower clip capacity. Soon the standard zombie is joined by runners, which can quickly close the distance and swarm Vinnie.

The game continues on like this, in a standard progression. Various firearms have differing speeds and capacities, and each usually has a specific strength against individual zombies types which increase in number as the game rolls on. All the while Vinnie cracks wise like a caricature of a gangster. Which is a reminder that, Vinnie’s goal here is to complete a job for a mob boss. So expect to see human enemies as well. Rival gangsters, police, and even the military are spread out across Thugtown, just hoping to make sure that Vinnie Cannoli sleeps with the fish… err zombies.

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It’s all setup in sort of a B-movie kind of way. The graphics are a nice mix of cartoon and comic, giving off the feel of a high quality flash game, but it seems a bit muddy to me. A sharper presentation mixed with some dynamic lighting would have made the style pop out more. Still, the design is consistent from area to area and nothing feels out of place.

The gameplay doesn’t share the same consistency as the design choices do however. Whether by choice or necessity, there are some mechanics that are head-scratchers. For starters, Vinnie has no ability to shoot above him, or at the angles. This probably helps to prolong what is a fairly short game on standard difficulty, but it doesn’t make sense for a modern game in this style to not feature a wider range of shooting.

The game also seems to have some quirks with regards to depth. Moving into a doorway is easy enough, but try walking up or down a staircase a few times and you’re bound to get frustrated. Often times I found Vinnie continuing in a straight line on a top plane, rather than walking down the stairs I wanted to descend. Similarly, you’ll want to jump up stairs, rather attempt the walk up most of the time.

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I also found it quite easy to get semi stun-locked by swarming zombies, but that may just be a result of how I was playing the game. I found the zombie runners and football players to be the most difficult to deal with for that reason. Vinnie’s short jump distance and height make it difficult to get away once surrounded, but I guess that fairly standard in zombie-lore… don’t get caught by a horde.

The minimalism found in the variety and design extends to the music and sound work. All of the voice acting is of the cartoony, Italian-American caricature style, which I have no real problem with in cutscenes. Vinnie’s fairly cliche one-liners get very repetitive when matched with levels that feature a dearth of music. When presented, the tunes are appropriately old-timey, but there is not enough in the game, leaving the background aurally sparse.

I know it was you, Vinnie. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!

The length of your time spent with GGC will largely depend on play-style and difficulty selection. I found it to be just long enough that I was fine with the game being fairly short, as after awhile, any variety that was introduced was more of an iteration than a revelation. It’s hard not to find myself disappointed with the game. It’s not a bad experience by any stretch of the means, I guess I just expected more from the concept.

Only Single Player is, of course, focused on the single player experience. However, I suggest if you are picking this game up at its $9.99 price, that you do so with a friend, as co-op for up to four players is available. Playing with some friends, and at a higher difficulty level, may provide you with a better experience. Guns, Gore and Cannoli blends two interesting genres together and does so well from a design stand-point. However, some key functionality seems to be missing — lack of depth, and design quirks keep it from being a really good game. I would love to see this idea polished and refined into something with the quality of say a Metal Slug game.

The story is fairly simplistic, but you get a dose of gangster warring factions and double-crosses to go with your standard zombie apocalypse flavor. There probably isn’t anything to bring you back to the game after completing it, unless you’d really like to finish on the higher difficulty levels. In short, I know it was you Vinnie, your broke my heart.

Guns, Gore and Cannoli was provided to OnlySP for review from the developer.

[taq_review]

Freelance writer and used-to-be artist based out of the Pacific Northwest. I studied Game Art & Design in college. I have been writing web content for the last 6 years, including for my own website dedicated to entertainment, gaming & photography. I have been playing games dating back to the NES era. My other interests are film, books and music. I sometimes pretend to be great at photography. You can find me on Youtube, Twitch, Twitter, 500px, DeviantArt and elsewhere under my nick: JamesInDigital.

Review

Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average

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Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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