Oct 22
By Matt Gander In Blog No Comments

UK studio Traveller’s Tales knew the humble Mega Drive inside and out, pushing the 16-bit system beyond its limits by tricking the hardware to produce results deemed impossible.

SEGA was so impressed with the studio’s abilities that they even let them create the Mega Drive’s final Sonic game – 1996’s Sonic 3D Blast, which is often referred to as the system’s swansong. Sorry, Vectorman.

For the past couple of months, Traveller’s Tales’ founder Jon Burton has been busy sharing coding secrets, unseen prototypes, concept art, and proof of concepts for various titles on YouTube. His channel – GameHut – has grown exponentially since launching at the end of August, gaining over 37,000 subscribers.

It’s easy to see why. GameHut’s videos are concise, informative, and well-presented. The channel is frequently updated too, with two or three new videos a week.

Recent videos detail how Sonic 3D Blast’s impressive FMV intro was crammed onto a cartridge, an explanation of the trickery behind Mickey Mania’s 3D chase scene, and an exposé on Toy Story’s cut-scenes which featured more colours than the Mega Drive could technically display.

Sonic 3D Blast has become the channel’s focal point of late, due to the surprise announcement of a director’s cut. To celebrate the 25k subscriber milestone, Jon Burton revealed plans to revisit the title, fixing numerous issues and adding dozens of improvements and tweaks.

Early footage is both impressive and encouraging. Sonic 3D wasn’t a bad game, but it certainly had room for improvement. Improvements that, some twenty years later, are finally being made.

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Oct 20
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

Super Mario Odyssey is just a week away. If you’re looking for something to tide you over, then you’re in luck – fourteen new games hit the Switch this week, many of which have a whiff of ‘short but sweet’ about them.

Good luck to anybody planning to beat Fire Emblem Warriors (£49.99 – Switch, £39.99 – New 3DS) before Mario’s arrival, though. Indeed, Nintendo’s timing on their latest Dynasty Warriors crossover is open to criticism. It seems casually thrown in alongside other their other big releases.

Reviews went live yesterday, and scores probably aren’t quite as high as Nintendo hoped – the Metacritic currently stands at 74%, with the clear majority of reviewers opting for 7/10. The Metro stands out as an exception – they felt it was only worthy of a 4/10, and called it “painfully simplistic”. If you struggle to enjoy the Dynasty Warriors games, you probably aren’t going to get much enjoyment from this.

We also have a couple of time-consuming JRPGs out this week – Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth (£34.99) on 3DS and Kemco’s Revenant Saga (£11.69) on Switch. Revenant Saga launched on a whole host of other formats, including the humble PS3, earlier this but the only review we can find is for the mobile version. It doesn’t even have enough Steam user reviews to aggregate a verdict. Odd.

The 3DS also receives demos of Nintendo presents: New Style Boutique 3 – Styling Star and Kirby Battle Royale, while the Wii U gains a single new release – the match-three puzzler Swap Blocks (£3.99).

Here’s a round-up of the rest of the week’s Switch releases. All thirteen of ‘em.

The LEGO NINJAGO Movie Videogame – £49.99
The movie itself is apparently a bit rubbish, and this tie-in isn’t much better – Nintendo Life could only muster up a mediocre 5/10 review score, claiming that it definitely feels like a movie tie-in.

Spelunker Party! – £24.99
Square-Enix invites you to explore underground caverns with friends, either online or offline. It recieved a retail release elsewhere in the world, hence the £25 price tag.

Syberia – £26.99
This cult-classic adventure really is a golden oldie, dating back to 2002. Syberia II is currently pencilled in for a 1st December release, incidentally.

ACA NEOGEO ROBO ARMY – £6.29
Contrary to beliefs, the NeoGeo didn’t have a huge amount of scrolling brawlers. Sadly, this early release wasn’t up to much despite the appealing art direction.

The Count Lucanor – £10.79 until 25th October (£11.99 thereafter)
This 2D pixel art adventure went down well on PC, becoming something of a sleeper hit. This Switch release also beats the PS4 version out the door by a good month or so.

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Oct 18
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

Just like the recently released Cuphead, South Park: The Fractured But Whole is another game that has seemingly been in development forever.

According to our pre-order dispatch e-mail, our order was placed way back in June 2015, so it has certainly been a long time coming.

Gran Turismo Sport and Rogue Trooper Redux are also turning heads this week. The same can’t be said for open-world RPG Elex, which is arriving with very little support from publisher THQ. WWE 2K18’s launch doesn’t appear to be generating much of a buzz either. We wonder if NBA 2K18’s shady loot boxes have something to do with this.

A trio of titles with PSVR support also launch this week – Raw Data, No Heroes Allowed!? VR and The Invisible Hours – while the Switch gets yet another big hitter in the form of Fire Emblem Warriors.

New release showcase:

South Park: The Fractured But Whole – PS4/XO/PC

Our first impressions of this superhero-dressed sequel are positive, but not overwhelmingly so. The first three hours feel rather familiar, forcing you to run a few errands around town for Cartman while rummaging around the homes of South Park’s citizens. Finding sex toys in Liane Cartman’s bedside table and in Big Gay Al’s bathroom isn’t anywhere near as funny second time around – it’s a bit like being told the same joke twice, and being expected to laugh both times.

Still, we’re only three hours in – the new grid-based battle system is beginning to show signs of evolving and coming into its own, and the story hasn’t kicked off yet. It seems we aren’t alone in feeling that it’s an uneven experience, though.

Reviews:
8.5 – IGN: “South Park: The Fractured But Whole’s excellent combat system pairs well with its true-to-the-show comedy”

7/10 – VideoGamer: “The longer South Park: The Fractured But Whole went on, the less I laughed. Exploring the mountain town, however, is a delight, and the battles are a marked improvement on the original’s combat”

2.5/5 – Digital Trends: “For South Park fans and players desperate for a Stick of Truth sequel, this is a foregone conclusion. If you aren’t a die-hard fan of the show and the game, though, The Fractured But Whole is not the best way to dip back into South Park”

Gran Turismo Sport – PS4

Reviews of Polyphony long-awaited racing sim are starting to surface now, echoing the feelings felt by those who played the recent demo. To wit: this isn’t the glorious return Sony’s flagship racing series deserves, hampered by a lack of content and the new found need to appeal to a wider audience.

While review scores aren’t shockingly low, bear in mind here past GT games gained full marks whilst setting the bar for other racing simulations.

Reviews:
8/10 – Worth Playing: “If your focus is on multiplayer, then GTS is just right for you. You’ll have to learn how to drive like a professional and not hit things, but the game provides you with all the necessary tools to achieve that”

4/5 – GamesRadar: “Gran Turismo Sport is a bona fide virtual motorsport and that’s awesome. But single-player modes are lacking and it’s demonstrably outshone by Forza Motorsport 7 in virtually every area”

3.5/5 – Trusted Reviews: “Gran Turismo Sport is worthy of the name and a great driving simulator, but a lack of content compared to what the series usually offers makes it a curious beast. If you love Polyphony Digital’s approach and cars, however, it will still tick a lot of your desired boxes”

Elex – PS4/XO/PC

German developers Piranha Bytes are no strangers to open-world RPGS, having created both the Gothic and Risen franchises. While both fared well on PC, the consoles conversions of the Risen series left a lot to be desired. In fact, they became progressively worse – Risen 3 ended with a laughably poor 36% Metacritic score.

There’s a reason for this – the Risen games were made with high-end PC graphic cards in mind; as the PS3 and 360 grew older, it became even more of a struggle to get Piranha Bytes’ games running smoothly on console. The jump to PS4 and Xbox One seems to have helped, as scores for Elex are higher than Risen 3. Not hugely so, but it’s a step in the right direction for what’s likely to become a trilogy.

Reviews:
7/10 – GameSpace: “Part of me feels guilty for liking something that’s such a mess in many ways, but the bottom line is that ELEX is a game that grows on you. I just wish they’d spent another 6 to 9 months working on it. Still, given enough time and attention, it may become something truly special”

3/5 – Windows Central: “It needs more work on the console, but if you can look past the occasional problems, it’s a rewarding role-playing game”

60% – GameSpew: “Despite my issues with the game though, my time with Elex isn’t over just yet. I do enjoy the world and the concept, so I am willing to see what else the game has to offer in this respect”

WWE 2K18 – PS4/XO/PC/Switch

Despite the Metacritic for WWE 2K18 being higher than WWE 2K17 – 74%, compared to 69% – many critics feel somewhat disappointed with 2K Sport’s latest, resulting in a sea of 7/10s.

Consensus has it that the visuals have seen a huge upgrade, and the character roster is packed, but some areas still need attention.

Reviews:
4/5 – Hardcore Gamer: “Longtime fans of the series will enjoy a more robust experience, while newcomers will get the best-playing incarnation of the franchise yet”

7.5 – God is a Geek: Whilst there are some changes, it doesn’t feel that different from last year, and the technical issues hinder enjoyment somewhat”

7.0 – IGN: “Under the better-than-ever graphics and great-as-ever core wrestling gameplay, WWE 2K18 is a largely disappointing iteration”

Rogue Trooper Redux – PS4/XO/PC/Switch

Whereas most remakes and remasters tend to be of last-gen games, Rebellion has dared to turn the clock back to the PS2 era. Unsurprisingly, then, Rogue Trooper does feel rather dated, especially when it comes to storytelling. It still offers a fun and frantic trip down memory lane, but this hasn’t stopped some critics from wondering why Rebellion bothered in the first place.

Reviews:
6.5 – The Xbox Hub: “Quirky controls (at the risk of being kind) and guns which lack both a decent feel or noise rob the game of a lot of impact. Sadly, Rogue Trooper Redux feels its age”

3/5 – GamesRadar: “There’s still life in this old Rogue Trooper yet, but the limitations of its time makes Redux a fun but inessential addition to your library”

4/10 – The Metro: “Quite why this earnest but repetitive comic book adaptation has been called back from retirement is a mystery, but despite a decent remaster it’s very much feeling its age”

Fire Emblem Warriors – Switch/3DS

Early reviews of this Dynasty Warriors/Fire Emblem crossover dropped just as we were finishing off this round-up. Seems that it’s even more niche than Hyrule Warriors, and without a change in the age-old Dynasty Warriors formula, some critics claim that it’s not particularly fit to bare the Fire Emblem name.

Reviews:
Recommended – Eurogamer: “A harmonious meeting of two traditions, Fire Emblem Warriors explores a different, yet no less beguiling, type of battlefield strategy”

6/10 – GameSpot: “There are signs of potential left unrealized, and the thought of what a Warriors game with truly dramatic character relationships and permadeath could have been lingers”

4/10 – The Metro: “Fire Emblem has the potential to make a great partner, but this badly made and painfully simplistic crossover is as disappointingly dumb as all the other Dynasty Warriors games”

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Oct 18
By Matt Gander In Blog 1 Comment

There’s nothing more magical than a Sunday night. A few sacred hours to wind down and relax, and perhaps reflect on the challenges the past week has posed. Then as you slip into bed for an early night, with a roast dinner and an unhealthy dose of nan’s homemade trifle in your belly, you awake Monday morning ready to tackle the next seven days. It’s a scenario many are likely familiar with.

That’s unless you’ve been “logging on” to YouTube to watch Mr. Biffo’s Found Footage. A Kickstarter-funded collection of weird and wonderful skits and shorts, purposely designed to fill your headspace with images of absurdity and tuneful melodies dedicated to computer industry pioneers.

Airing 9pm Sunday for the past six weeks, choice cuts from past episodes include an animated short of 2001: A Space Odyssey, musical homages to Clive Sinclair and Steve Wozniak, and parodies of GamesMaster’s consultation zone presented by Goujon John – a reoccurring character that ties episodes together in the darkest, and daftest, imaginable way.

Presented in ‘80s VHS-o-vision, Found Footage is much more than it initially appears. Amongst adverts for spoof products, music videos, clips of faux video games – including a couple of graphical text adventures with unfortunate endings – and cameo appearances from the likes of Danny Wallace, Robert Popper and Iain Lee lies something deeper and darker still – a slowly unravelling conspiracy.

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Oct 16
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

History tends to repeat itself. In 2014, FIFA 15 managed to prevent Shadow of Mordor from topping the UK chart. Skip forward three years, and we find FIFA 18 at no.1 for the third week running with Shadow of War being forced to settle for #2.

We doubt Warner Bros. are too concerned – they now have three games in the top ten, with LEGO Worlds at #9 and The LEGO Ninjago Movie Videogame at #10.

After months of silence, Bethesda finally started to promote The Evil Within 2 during the end of last week – just days from launch. Although it managed to make #3, Eurogamer reports sales were less than a quarter of the 2014 original. Seems it needed more than a last-minute promotional campaign.

At #4 and #5 it’s a double-whammy of Forza Motorsport, with Forza 7 at #4 and the popular Xbox One bundle pack-in Forza Horizon 3 at #5.

Activision’s Destiny 2 fell to #6, its lowest chart position yet, while GTA V dropped two places to #7.

Then at #8 it’s good old Crash Bandicoot. Still no official word on the Xbox One version, despite it having an alleged 7th December release date.

Outside the top ten, the retail release of Friday the 13th: The Game puts in a strong showing at #15 while Battlefield 1: Revolution made #29.

Curiously, Nintendo controls the lower echelon of the chart this week. Splatoon 2, Mario + Luigi, Layton’s Mystery Journey, Super Mario 3D Land, Pokken Tournament DX and the re-release of Luigi’s Mansion 2 occupy positions #34 to #40. Not bad going.

Oct 12
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

Eleven games make their merry way to the Switch eShop this week. While there’s certainly a lot to consider, with Sine Mora EX and The Flame in the Flood standing out as highlights, many of this week’s releases launch at eyebrow raisingly high prices.

88 Heroes and Tiny Barbarian DX, we’re looking at you here. There does appear to be a reason for their lofty asking prices, though – both have received almost-full-price retail releases elsewhere in the world. It doesn’t make their prices easier to swallow, but at least there’s logic behind it. Well, sort of.

Here’s what you’ll find on the UK Switch eShop this week:

Touhou Kobuto V: Burst Battle – £29.99
An anime influenced 1-on-1 ‘bullet hell’ battler, similar to SEGA’s Virtual On series.

Sine Mora EX – £24.99
THQ has given this underrated side-scrolling shooter a complete makeover, bringing it up to current-gen standards. It’s more than deserving of a second chance to find a new audience.

Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure – £22.49 until 18th October (£24.99 thereafter)
Imagine a typical 32-bit era platformer only on a far larger scale and with wackier, more unpredictable, physics and a sprinkling of internet memes. That’s Unbox in a nutshell.

88 Heroes – 98 Heroes Edition – £29.99
88 Heroes (plus 10 of their friends) attempt to defeat Dr. H8 with only 88 minutes left until doomsday, and only 88 seconds to complete each of the 88 levels.

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Oct 10
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

Big game season is well and truly upon us. No, this isn’t a reference to a new Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts (mercifully, Activision appears to have put that series to rest) – the ‘AAA season’ is underway, with Middle-earth: Shadow of War and The Evil Within 2 out this week.

Starbreeze’s RAID: World War II joins the big hitters on store shelves. We suggest approaching this shooter with caution – Polygon described it as “an unfinished Half-Life 2 mod with slightly higher resolution textures.”

Steam users reviews are mostly negative, too.

This Friday also sees a perfectly timed retail release of Friday the 13th: The Game, along with the New 3DS XL SNES Edition and a trio of new budget-priced 3DS Selects – Luigi’s Mansion 2, Super Mario 3D Land and Kirby Triple Deluxe.

Retailers tend to get competitive with their prices for these, bringing them down to around £15. We really enjoyed Luigi’s Mansion 2, awarding it an 8/10 back in 2013. In fact, all three are recommended.

Sticking with Nintendo, we’re also going to give Sine Mora EX on Switch a shout-out. This surprisingly lavish shooter is more than deserving of a current-gen revamp, having passed many gamers by.

New release showcase:

Middle-earth: Shadow of War – PS4/XO/PC

While review scores for Shadow of War have been high, many critics chose to skirt around the fact that loot boxes are heavily promoted.

Polygon and GameSpot were the exceptions, pointing out that the game’s second half feels like it has been purposely made to be a grind to provoke players into coughing up cash. To get the true ending a powerful orc army is also required, again putting the focus on time-saving IAPs.

While we don’t doubt that the core game is sound, it probably would have been even better if Warner Bros. wasn’t as greedy.

Reviews:
9.0 – IGN: “Similar to the way Batman: Arkham City built on the foundation of Arkham Asylum, Middle-earth: Shadow of War is bigger and more ambitious in scope than Shadow of Mordor, with great result”

7.5 – Polygon: “If you can get past the microtransactions, Shadow Wars seems set to provide a much meatier extended playtime than Shadow of Mordor ever offered. But more than anything, that’s my biggest disappointment with Middle-earth: Shadow of War: Everything about it seems to come with a caveat, some small annoyance or two that you need to dig past to get to the still-very-fun game underneath”

7/10 – GameSpot: “It tries to be larger than its predecessor, there are more abilities, more weapons, more Orcs, yet it leaves you wanting less”

The Evil Within 2 – PS4/XO/PC

Being a Bethesda-published title, don’t expect to see any pre-launch reviews of Shinji Mikami’s latest. The original, while good, had a very predictable pattern of quiet exploration based sections followed by combat-heavy areas. The slower paced bits gave the chance to stock up on ammo, while the combat sequences saw supplies rinsed and your pockets left empty once again. Hopefully, this sequel will shake things up a notch.

[Update – We spoke too soon. The first reviews are now live]
Reviews:
4/5 – Twinfinite: “Despite its flaws, The Evil Within 2 is a thoughtfully constructed horror rollercoaster ride that strikes a delicate balance between giving the player the power to fight back, and also making them realize that sometimes, all those guns and gear won’t save you from the terrors you can’t understand”

7.75 – GameInformer: “The Evil Within 2 is a solid horror game that expands the scope of the series to extend out of the shadow of a titan in the horror genre, even if it sometimes leans heavily on borrowed ideas”

3.5/5 – GamesRadar: “Though it doesn’t outdo its predecessor, The Evil Within 2 delivers another fun, challenging, tense horror headtrip that should delight fans of the first game”

ECHO- PS4

This sci-fi stealth game has quite the pedigree, created by Ultra Ultra – a studio formed of ex-Hitman devs. An intriguing twist is put on the genre here – the greatest threat is yourself; the more powerful you become, the wiser the clones you’re up against.

Reviews:
8/10 – Push Square: “ECHO boasts a rich and well-designed sci-fi world that isn’t bogged down by plot or exposition. There isn’t much to do beyond the core sneaking, and the midpoint drags, but this is a genuinely unique and intense title that deserves to be experienced”

7.5 – PSU: “ECHO’s lacklustre story, slow pace and restrictive character control mildly detract from what is otherwise one of the most refreshing stealth titles to come along in a good while. Make no mistake; fans of the genre will find much to like in ECHO”

7.0 – PlayStation Lifestyle: “I really enjoyed Echo, but like a song played on repeat, I could only suffer so much repetition before it began to lose me”

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Oct 10
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

This single-screen shooter involves a grizzled grunt, his trusty gun turret, a garishly coloured boombox, and a seemingly endless supply of cigars. Our hero is partial to a smoke, see, sparking up a fresh one while you manage the inventory and casually flicking it to the ground when it’s time to get back to the grind.

Rock Gunar, to use his name, also seems to enjoy the task at hand – wiping out wave after wave of rampaging aliens, as they crawl along floors and walls in an attempt to reach the end of the corridor.

The only thing standing in their way is Gunar’s stationary turret. Kills earn credits, used to buy permanent upgrades, special ammo, various explosives, and stronger melee weapons. Only standard ammo is in infinite supply, so it’s wise to use special ammo sparingly. There’s no harm in being thrifty – it’s sometimes sensible to make do with standard ammo and slog through a few waves, saving cash for an upgrade that’ll make things easier in the long run.

Occasionally you’re forced to grind until you can finally afford the firepower to repel fiercer waves. It isn’t an unpleasant grind, however. At least, it isn’t for the most part – this is a game eager to please, throwing lifelines in the form of temporary perks, and giving the choice of a bonus power-up (air strikes, drones, double damage, etc) every time the combo meter is maxed.

As the game progresses – taking Gunar to new locations across a doomed space cruiser – certain upgrades become essential; a fact associated with the occasional difficulty spike. Only the riot shield can block sprays of acid, for instance, with acid spewers appearing around the halfway mark. If a certain wave is giving grief, it’s entirely possible to spend your gains on explosives and reduce all in your path to a burning mess.

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