Review round-up: Sonic Mania Plus, Sanrio Picross, Agony, Pocket Rumble, Lumines Remastered

Louise and I had our first daughter three weeks ago, so that’s why there’s been a relative lack of updates on the site. That doesn’t mean I haven’t managed to squeeze in some gaming though, so here’s my takes on what I’ve been playing.

In this round-up yer man Scullion:

• Jumps back in for a second helping of retro goodness in Sonic Mania Plus
• Decides whether Lumines Remastered is back with another one of those block-dropping feats
• Enjoys some 8-bit scrapping in Pocket Rumble
• Embraces his inner Japanese schoolgirl in Sanrio Characters Picross
• Discovers that Agony is appropriately named


Sonic Mania Plus

Sega / Christian Whitehead
Xbox One, Switch, PS4, PC (Xbox One version reviewed)

I’ve already reviewed the Switch version of Sonic Mania, so if you want a full recap of everything the main game offers have a gander here.

While Mania was a digital-only release Plus is a physical one, meaning you can finally own it on disc or cartridge should you so desire.

The main reason for the ‘Plus’ moniker here though is Encore, a newly released DLC pack included with this physical version (it’s also available separately for £3.99 / $4.99 if you already have the standard Mania).

The main meat of this DLC is the titular Encore mode, which is essentially a remixed version of Sonic Mania. All the stages have new colour palettes while enemies, spikes and giant rings have been moved around to make things interesting.

Meanwhile, the utterly shite Blue Sphere bonus games – which debuted in Sonic 3 and returned for Mania – have thankfully been replaced by a pinball game instead.

Most notable of all, though, is the addition of two new (well, old) playable characters. Mighty the Armadillo plays pretty much like Sonic does, except he has a downward attack (a bit like a Mario ground pound) which can be used to break newly added floor blocks.

Meanwhile, Ray the Flying Squirrel has an air glide move, which lets him fly around. It’s a different type of flying to Tails (who eventually gets tired) and Knuckles (which is more like gliding): instead it controls a bit like flying with the cape does in Super Mario World, albeit with more momentum, letting you stay in the air for longer.

In all, it’s a nifty wee addition to what’s already a fantastic Sonic game. If you already have the base version of Mania then £3.99 for a couple of new characters and a remixed main mode is worth it in my eyes. Meanwhile, if you don’t own Sonic Mania yet, there’s no better time to remedy that.


Lumines Remastered

Enhance Games / Resonair
Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC (Switch version reviewed)

For the longest time, I gave precisely zero shits about Lumines. While everyone gushed over the original PSP release, I didn’t really see the appeal.

It wasn’t until the Vita launched and I decided to take a punt on Lumines: Electronic Symphony – the ninth(!) version of the game – that it finally clicked with me and I realised what the big deal was.

For those not aware of it, it’s a fairly simplistic puzzle game where the aim is to drop coloured blocks to make squares of the same colour. These squares are then removed by a bar that moves along the top of the screen to the beat of the music.

Once you get used to the various tricks and methods used to make squares quicker and build combos, the whole thing eventually builds into a glorious zen-like experience where the music and gameplay merge together into one single body. At the risk of sounding like a hippy.

At least I didn’t go as far as the developers, who’ve added a ‘trance’ mode. A bit like the original release of Rez, which had an extremely dodgy ‘trance vibrator’ peripheral you could attach to any part of your body to have an orgasm feel the beat of the music, the Switch version of Lumines Remastered lets you sync up a bunch of Joy-Cons and makes them all vibrate along with the game’s rhythm, leaving you free to attach or, ahem, insert them wherever you like.

As the name suggests, Lumines Remastered is an HD remake of the PSP original, with all the original tracks and such. It’s shame there isn’t more to it than that – it would’ve at least been nice to have the ‘skins’ (stages) from its PSP sequel Lumines II as well – but given that it’s less than half the price it originally was on Sony’s handheld you’re still getting your money’s worth.

Speaking of which, if you live in the UK you should buy it from the US eShop instead (using my handy guide if you don’t know how). It’s £13.49 in the UK but $14.99 in the US, which works out to around £11.40 instead.


Pocket Rumble

Chucklefish / Cardboard Robot Games
Switch, PC (Switch version reviewed)

With Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection already on the Switch along with countless Neo Geo arcade gems, it could be argued that fans of the fighting genre are already more than catered for on Nintendo’s system.

Pocket Rumble, however, is a lovely little debutant, one that sets itself the unenviable task of appealing to both newcomers and pros: and just about manages it.

With an interesting graphical style based on the Neo Geo Pocket Color – an underrated retro handheld that doesn’t often get many homages – Pocket Rumble is a simple fighting game with eight characters and two attack buttons.

Special moves are also easy to pull off. There are no quarter-circles, half-circles or Dragon Punch motions here: for the most part each involves simply pressing diagonally down-left or down-right along with one of the attack buttons.

This makes it simple for beginners to get used to the game and get stuck into the action fairly quickly. However, put more time into it – via its useful character-specific tutorial mode – and you’ll learn that each fighter’s special moves make for some extremely interesting strategic opportunities.

For example, one character –a suit-wearing chap called Parker – can drop an electrical orb that stays on the screen. At any point you can then trigger a lightning bolt to fire between the orb and yourself, meaning if your opponent is caught in the middle it’ll do them damage.

The result, then, is a game that’s immediately accessible – even if the AI can be a little tricky for newcomers – but has a surprising amount of depth for a game with such a relatively small moveset.


Sanrio Characters Picross

Jupiter Corporation
Nintendo 3DS

The 3DS eShop may have fewer visitors than Rose West these days but the fantastic Picross e series continues to roll along with undying dedication.

There have been no fewer than 11 Picross games on the 3DS to date – Picross e to e8, Picross 3D Round 2, Zelda Twilight Princess Picross and Pokemon Picross – and now we have the 12th instalment, an officially licensed one based on Sanrio.

Naturally, this means Hello Kitty puzzles a plenty, but also ones covering a bunch of other Sanrio characters, from My Melody and Keroppi to, um Kirimi-chan, who it would appear is a piece of sushi-ready salmon with a pair of legs.

There are 150 Picross puzzles in total, and another 150 more difficult Mega Picross puzzles. Disappointingly, however, these produce the same pictures as the standard ones: they’re just the same puzzles with more difficult numerical clues.

Also included are three Micross puzzles: these are larger 80×80 grids split into a bunch of smaller 10×10 grids to make up an enormous picture.

The only other addition is the ability to unlock stickers of each character: these can then be used to decorate the game’s backgrounds, which will be fun for really young kids but is otherwise a bit throwaway.

It’s a fairly run-of-the-mill Picross e game with Sanrio characters, then, but as a big fan of Picross I’m of the opinion that this is in no way a bad thing, and I happily cleared all 150 puzzles and the Micross puzzles with no complaints. It’s still better than the feature-light Picross S on Switch, too.


Agony

Koch Media / MadMind Studio
Xbox One, PS4, PC (Xbox One version reviewed)

When you give your game a name that conjures up ideas of intense suffering, you’d better make sure it’s enjoyable otherwise the reviews will inevitably write themselves. In this regard, Agony dies on its arse.

It’s a ‘survival horror’ FPS set in Hell, in which you play as a tormented soul who’s trying to find out about his past.

Along the way you can take over other people and control demons, but this is all beside the point when everything is such an absolute chore.

Levels are large with repetitive environmental designs and are easy to get lost in as a result. The occasional ‘stealth’ sections are as frustrating as the backlash I’ll get for that Rose West joke, with horrible enemy AI catching you out often through no fault of your own.

It also tries so achingly hard to be controversial: there are cocks all over the place, it’s gorier than a slaughterhouse’s cloud-stored CCTV archives and the enemies are so obviously vagina-themed you start to wonder if an anthropomorphic fanny once stole the character designer’s car.

Worst of all, though, is that the game’s got more bugs than an Animal Crossing addict’s museum. It’s constantly glitching, repeating dialogue and throwing up all manner of other problems. Even in the First Play video I recorded above, you can see that I got physically stuck in a wall just 45 minutes in.

Agony is a surprisingly realistic game, because playing it must truly be what Hell is like.


Review code for Sonic Mania Plus, Pocket Rumble and Agony provided by PRs. Lumines Remastered and Sanrio Characters Picross were bought myself.

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