Feb 04
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

Square-Enix’s long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III has ‘done the business’ at retail, ending Resident Evil 2’s short spell at the top of the UK chart.

It’s the first ever Kingdom Hearts title to claim no.1, boasting sales double that of its 14-year-old PlayStation 2 predecessor (thanks GI.biz).

Incidentally, sales were split 82% on PS4 and 18% on Xbox One. Not a huge surprise, given the franchise’s roots.

Dreamworks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders was the only other new arrival, swooping in at #37. Due to not being wholly connected with the new movie, it may prove to be a slow but steady seller over time.

Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 dropped to #2. We were under the impression stock was running low (it was ‘sold out’ at several nearby stores) but we guess this placing proves otherwise.

Red Dead Redemption 2 and FIFA 19 moved up one position each to claim #3 and #4, while Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 fell two places to #5.

Despite falling two places NSMB.U was still last week’s best-selling Switch title, now at #6.

Mario Kart 8: Deluxe and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate swapped positions, taking #7 and #8. GTA V held onto #9, and then at #10 it’s Spyro Reignited Trilogy.

With no major releases due this week – unless you class God Eater 3 and Monster Energy Supercross 2 as such – next week’s chart is likely to carry on the battle between Kingdom Hearts and Resident Evil.

Jan 31
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

Of the 35 new releases hitting the Switch this week, two stand out from the crowd – Wargroove and Downwell. Not only have they gained some surprisingly high review scores, but they’re also generating a buzz on social media too.

Wargroove – Chucklefish’s amalgam of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars – is out on PC and Xbox One as well this week, but Switch version is gaining the highest scores, seemingly suiting the system perfectly.

God is Geek dished out a 9.5, while GameInformer opted for a similar score – 9.25. Destructoid went with a 9/10, meanwhile. In short: it’s an essential purchase for turn-based strategy fans, even packing multiplayer for up to four players, both online and local.

In an ideal world Downwell would’ve launched on Switch, as it too is a perfect fit for a system. Better late than never, it has arrived casually late. This inexpensive (£2.69) vertical platformer has a Metacritic of 88%, with no review scores below 8/10 currently. “Its roguelike structure and twitch platforming might not be for everyone, but you should really give it a chance. For our money, it’s a modern classic that should be in everyone’s collection,” said Nintendo Life.

Then we have Bombfest, a local-only party game in which wooden characters lob bombs at one another in an attempt to be the last one standing. The Indie Game Website found the lack of content a concern, but still deemed it worthy of a 7/10.

Tangledeep – a 16-bit style roguelike – was described as both “modern” and “slick” by Screen Rant, ultimately resulting in a 4/5. “Beyond the graphics themselves, the game presents an intriguing combination of charming writing and flavor text, with an above-average script full of amusing dialogue and an evolving town of characters to investigate and chat with,” they said.

The Switch also gets New Star Manager, with scored an impressive 8/10 from Nintendo Life. “It’s not at its absolute best on Switch, but New Star Manager still provides the deeply tactile Yang to Football Manager 2019 Touch’s stat-heavy Ying. It plays a more intuitive and portable game of tactical footy than its illustrious rival, and it also packs a lot more depth than its basic presentation might suggest,” was their conclusion.

Before we rattle off the full line-up of new releases, it’s worth mentioning that a ‘Weird and Wonderful’ sale is currently underway, including Snake Pass, Slime-San, World of Goo, Flame in the Flood, Pool Panic and a dozen others. Pool Panic gets our recommendation, especially at a mere £3.73.

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Jan 30
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

Thirteen years have passed since the last main entry in the Kingdom Hearts series. In that time, Square-Enix has kept the franchise alive and in the public’s eye with handheld spin-offs, prequels, and mobile titles, all of which expand the backstory by filling in the gaps.

Kingdom Hearts has seen so many spin-offs, in fact, that the storyline has become convoluted to the point where some gamers have been put off jumping straight into Kingdom Hearts III. This has been a hot topic of late, with both Jim Sterling and the AVGN recently attempting to make sense of the timeline. We dare say Square-Enix has done themselves no favours here.

The same can be said for the fact that many European outlets didn’t receive review code until launch, suggesting Square-Enix believed European gaming sites wouldn’t be quite as positive about it as those across the pond. Backing this theory up, Eurogamer was far from smitten by the 40-hour action RPG. “As Emily Blunt sings in The Poppins Awakens, “Some stuff and nonsense could be fun.” There’s plenty of both in Kingdom Hearts 3, but not enough of the kind I’m looking for,” their reviewer claimed.

While this may all sound rather damning, US critics were englamoured by Kingdom Hearts III, with some review scores being perfect 10/10s. If you’ve kept up with events prior, it’s a something of no brainer. It’s a game thirteen years in the making, after all.

There’s a decent amount of other notable new releases. Team17 are back once again with Genesis Alpha One, an ambitious mixture of genres being a first-person sci-fi survival game with construction and strategy elements. PlayStation Universe claims it’s the first must-have indie release of the year.

1st Feb sees the launch of Wargroove, the anticipated Advance Wars-style strategy sim. Reviews aren’t live just yet, but it’s looking like an exceedingly safe purchase. There’s also a Switch HD re-release of THQ’s Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, the voxel-based RTS 8-Bit Hordes, and Drowning – a slow first-person ‘walking simulator’ that deals with depression. We found that it doesn’t quite hit its mark due to basic storytelling. Other reviewers were kinder to it though, with SquareXO dishing out a 7/10.

Quasi-movie tie-in Dragons Dawn of New Ridersis also out this week. It looks immeasurably better than the last How to Train Your Dragon game, which was a horrible ‘fly through the hoops’ racer. Solve my maze, dragons!

New release showcase:

Kingdom Hearts III – PS4/XO

Reviews:
10/10 – PlayStation Lifestyle: “The developer has refined and perfected the combat. It kept its silliness in tact. It kept in the darker themes and deep moments of self-reflection that we all need every once in awhile. It’s, quite frankly, the best Kingdom Hearts game Square Enix has ever created”

9.5 – GameInformer: “While not perfect, Kingdom Hearts III is the game I’ve been waiting for. After finishing it, I was delighted by how satisfied I was with the journey. I traversed worlds with some of my favorite Disney characters, persevered through challenging boss battles, and saw a triumphant finale that only makes me more excited for the future”

8.7 – IGN: “Kingdom Hearts 3 is a fulfilling evolution and resolution of the franchise that shows it’s still full of heart”

8/10 – Destructoid: “Kingdom Hearts III might not be the best final entry possible (and knowing this series, a “Final” mix of the “final game” is easily an option), but I’ll dearly miss Sora and his friends. Despite all of the absurd twists and turns, the character missteps and the complete lack of some series-defining cast members, there are very few creations out there that make me smile this often”

4/5 – GamesRadar: “Whatever the flaws, there is nothing quite like Kingdom Hearts 3, and it’s a wild, wonderful ride as a result. Name one other game where you can watch Elsa belt out Let It Go before hammering some monsters to death with a giant key. I’ll wait”

Genesis Alpha One – PS4/XO

Reviews:
9/10 – PSU: “Genesis Alpha One is an extremely rare beast. A confident marriage of FPS, space sim, roguelike and strategy elements, it is quite simply the first essential indie title of 2019”

8/10 – PlayStation Country: “Genesis Alpha One is one of the few survival titles that blends a real sense of high-stakes urgency while also juggling several gameplay styles in the process. Even though this may seem unwieldy on paper and fraught with challenges in gameplay structure and technical aspects, Radiation Blue have managed to marry together FPS, management sim, RTS and roguelikes into a unique and compelling experience”

6/10 – The Metro: “The mix of tactical spaceship building and roguelike action is intriguing, but Genesis Alpha One suffers from a split personality and a limited development budget”

8-Bit Hordes – PS4/XO

Reviews:
7/10 – PlayStation Country: “8-Bit Armies is an enjoyable RTS that will appeal to genre newbies and fans of the old Command and Conquer games but it could do with a bit more variation and the lack of a story takes away from the game’s personality a bit”

5/10 – TheSixthAxis: “8-Bit Hordes has attention grabbing visuals but little else on offer. This is Real Time Strategy by the numbers and entirely forgettable, though other developers would do well to remember and adopt the 8-Bit series control scheme. In that regard at least, Hordes might have some of its own ideas pilfered, rather than liberally borrowing everyone else’s”

4/10 – PSU: “A voxel based console RTS that tries to simplify things for the platform but comes up short. There is a whole lotta game here but the simplistic controls and poor AI end up making the whole experience hard to enjoy unless you really love the RTS genre”

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy – Switch

Reviews:
8/10 – Nintendo Insider: “Not only does it manage to nail the essence of a good adventure title, but it provides us with entertaining abilities and puzzles that are truly a fun experience. Perhaps THQ Nordic will give this game the chance at a sequel, where it could potentially become the series it was always meant to be”

7/10 – Nintendo Life: “Weaving melee combat, environmental puzzles and plenty of platforms with a fun and interesting take on Egyptian mythology, it’s an action-platformer that really holds up well, despite the years on its clock. Its camera might still be a bit rubbish, but with a new lick of HD paint, this is a hidden gem that deserves a little time in the limelight”

6/10 – GameSpew: “I wouldn’t say Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is an essential buy on Nintendo Switch. If you happen to have fond memories of the original, I’ve no doubt it’ll be fun to go back to. And if you’re a diehard 3D platformer fan (do those exist?) then you’ll probably find something to enjoy here”

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Jan 29
By Matt Gander In Blog No Comments

As revealed in the latest Argos catalogue, budget publisher System 3 is about to release a range of £9.99 code-in-a-box Switch titles. Ah, Argos. An unlikely source if ever there was.

The range includes a bunch of games already available, including Super Putty Squad, Fruitfall Crush, Rally Racers, and Stern Pinball Arcade, along with two yet to be officially announced conversions – James Pond: Robocod and Impossible Mission.

Both were showing as out of stock at our local Argos, and neither is listed on the high street giant’s website, suggesting the release dates aren’t set in stone yet.

A re-release of the fish-pun heavy ‘90s platformer James Pond: Robocod graced the Nintendo DS in 2005, after hitting both the PSone and PlayStation 2 a few years prior. System 3 has used the Amiga CD32 version for past re-releases, and so we expect this Switch iteration to follow suit.

We last saw Impossible Mission on Wii in 2008, as a reimaging of Epyx’s ‘80s hit. Curiously, this Switch re-release uses cover art from the original game. We imagine that it’s based on the Wii version though and that any changes will be minor. We’re in deep budget territory here, remember.

If either piques your interest, Argos are running a ‘two for £14.99’ deal on this range. Cheap as chips, as they say. (Sorry – we’re under contractual obligation to sneak in a fish pun whenever talking about Robocod).

Jan 29
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

Thanks to game creation tools becoming simpler and readily available, the size of a typical indie development team has significantly reduced over the years. This has allowed for smaller, more personal, experiences usually handled by teams barely into double figures. Heck, we’ve even seen some indie releases created by one-man teams.

Polygonal Wolf’s Drowning is, without doubt, the most personal indie release we’ve played. It’s a very simple and straightforward walking simulator, for want of a better description, that tells the story of a nameless high school student’s battle with depression. There are no puzzles, NPCs, or even means of failure – it’s a simple case of strolling through forests and other symbolic environments while short, often truncated, sentences appear along the path ahead.

The story lasts around 40 minutes, spread across the four years of high school. Each year is set in a different location, intended to be evocative of the protagonist’s feelings at the time.

It begins with a brisk walk through two different leafy forests, complete with purposely low poly rivers and picturesque waterfalls. It’s here the game looks its best, even if it is incredibly obvious that many assets are endlessly recycled. It also comes to light that English isn’t the developer’s native tongue – typos and grammatical errors are frequent, and we should also note that the story is told in a very basic, childlike, fashion. Given the subject matter, this was perhaps intentional.

As depression starts to take its toll, things become far bleaker. A sequence set underwater successfully conveys the sensation of drowning. There’s also a trek across a precariously narrow bridge; a stage no more linear than those that preceded it due to the constant use of invisible walls.

From start to bitter end, distractions are few. There’s a small number of collectables to look out for, as well as trophies to gain by attempting to break free of the path ahead, and that’s your lot. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how Drowning could be any simpler.

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Jan 28
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

Even though physical sales were down 18% over Resident Evil 7 – which we can likely attribute to the ever-growing popularity of digital downloads – Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 remake can be heralded a success.

It tops the UK chart this week, duly becoming the fastest selling game of 2019 so far. No surprise there. You may be surprised to hear it had a stronger UK launch than Monster Hunter World, though.

Incidentally, GI.biz also reports that sales of the PS4 version were way out ahead, accounting for a whopping 74%. To date, the original Resident Evil 2 has never graced the Xbox, giving some explanation to that gap.

New Super Mario Bros. U – last week’s chart topper – tumbled to #4. Red Dead Redemption 2 rose to #2, while Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 also moved up one place, taking #3. FIFA 19 remained at #5.

At #6 it’s another recent arrival – Ace Combat 7, which debuted at #2 last week.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, GTA V and Crash Bandicoot all dropped one position each, occupying positions #7 through to #10.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy left the top ten, meanwhile.

Just Cause 4, PlayStation VR Worlds, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and Astro Bot Rescue Mission all made top 40 reappearances this week too, with Just Cause 4 leaping back in at #22 due to price cuts. We didn’t even notice it had left the top 40.

Jan 24
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

The surprise launches of the outlandish sandbox sim Goat Simulator: The GOATY, 2D action-adventure Unruly Heroes, and the physics-based construction puzzler When Ski Lifts Go Wrong have made a busy week for the Switch eShop even busier.

These unexpected arrivals haven’t overshadowed Pikuniku though – reviews of this colourful, oddball, puzzle platformer went live earlier this week and were full of praise. GameSpot awarded it an 8/10, claiming that “Pikuniku is more gripping than its simple aesthetic and playful tone would suggest. It’ll make you feel like a kid again”.

After launching in the US just before Christmas, Atari Flashback Classics is now in the hands of European gamers. The compilation contains over 150 titles, making it one of the largest and most exhaustive retro collections around. Some critics felt that it was a case of Quantity over quality, but generally, the reception from US critics was positive. As for other retro re-releases, we’re on the receiving end of two classics – Bomb Jack, and Data East’s Joe and Mac Caveman Ninja.

They’re joined by THQ’s The Raven Remastered, a point and clicker set in 1960’s London. Despite originally launching in 2013, it seems that it’s a perfect fit for the Switch. GameSpew awarded it an 8/10, calling it “one of the best point and click style adventures available right now”.

Another adventure launching this week is My Memory of Us, set during WWII and voiced by Patrick Stewart. Scores are high for this too, even gaining a 9/10 from GameSpace. “My Memory Of Us is a fantastic blend of storytelling interwoven with enjoyable puzzles, intelligent stealth mechanics and refreshing cooperative player-controlled play,” they said.

The 3DS also gets a look-in, with an extended remake of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey. Scores for this one are high, but not quite glowing. Nintendo Life felt that Bowser Jr.’s Journey is just an ‘okay’ addition, while Hardcore Gamer noted of a few missed opportunities.

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Jan 23
By Matt Gander In Features No Comments

The mid-‘90s were a rough time for Marvel. Losing money hand over fist, the comic giant filed for bankruptcy before laying off one-third of their staff. This is the reason why dozens of Marvel games launched during this time. Desperate to stay afloat, the cost of licensing one of their characters or properties was incredibly low. It was a free for all buffet, and every publisher was invited.

It’s no secret that Marvel was eventually able to turn their fortunes around. 2008 saw the release of Iron Man, the first instalment of the current MCU. It was such a huge success that a second Iron Man movie followed just two years later, and the buzz surrounding the upcoming Thor and Captain America adaptations was starting to build. Superheroes were ‘in’ and Marvel was leading the way.

When SEGA picked up the Marvel license, the deal turned heads. Alas, the only decent thing to come of it was the barely above average Captain America: Super Soldier and a mildly diverting Thor tie-in for Nintendo DS – the best of a very bad bunch. Arguably, THQ’s Marvel Super Hero Squad series from 2009 found more success, aimed at younger gamers.

These games, while of dubious quality, are all well-remembered. The cost of Marvel licensing was starting to rise, and so publishers were pushing their superhero tie-ins heavily. There was, however, another Marvel game released around this time, which came and went with barely a whisper.

Marvel Superheroes 3D: Grandmaster’s Challenge was released exclusively on Wii in December 2010, published by European outfit BigBen Interactive and developed by Parisian studio Neko. The Wii was very much in its prime – some of the year’s biggest releases included Super Mario Galaxy 2, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Metroid: Other M, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn – yet Marvel Superheroes 3D was able to elude the press and slip into stores with next to no fanfare.

How and why this happened is open to good old speculation. The ideal place to start is with the game’s quality – the few gaming sites to give it the review treatment were left far from impressed. It was an on-rails shooter of sorts, viewed from first-person and heavily reliant on motion controls. A board game-style hub acted as the overworld, with the ultimate goal being to work your way to the middle and smash the giant blue dome protecting the titular villain.

Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Wolverine and Spider-Man were playable characters, while Dr Doom, Juggernaut, Lizardman, Green Goblin, Red Skull and the Grandmaster himself filled the enemy roster. Mister Fantastic and Nova showed up as supporting characters, meanwhile, appearing mid-battle to dish out bonuses and hints.

Reportedly, the incredibly simple action sequences lasted for mere minutes, and everything on offer could be seen within half an hour. It was, without doubt, a budget game that had been knocked up quickly and cheaply.

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