Aug 28
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

While sales of Codemasters’ F1 2018 were down over last years instalment, it has still sold well enough to take the UK chart top spot.

This means Crash Bandicoot’s reign is now at an end – last week the box breaking marsupial celebrated an 8th week at no.1.

Another new face enters at #2 – SEGA’s Shenmue I and II collection, which we reviewed yesterday. It also takes #2 in the PS4 chart and #4 in the Xbox One chart.

Crash Bandicoot is now at #3. GTA V and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe drop to #4 and #5.

God of War remains at #6 for another week. LEGO The Incredibles and Call of Duty: WWII both continue to slide, falling to #7 and #8.

At #9 it’s Ubisoft’s The Crew 2, up from #25. FIFA 18 has seen a sales surge too, going from #29 to #10. We spotted it for a mere £4.99 in Sainsbury’s over the weekend.

The recently discounted State of Decay 2 and Forza Motorsport 7 are back in the top 40 this week too, re-entering at #29 and #32.

Expect to see lots of new titles in the chart next Monday. An all-new top five, quite possibly – PES 2019, Monster Hunter Generations, Yakuza Kiwami 2, Strange Brigade and Naruto to Boruto are all due out this week.

Aug 27
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

Shenmue’s reveal was accompanied by a not-so-typical assortment of early screenshots, artwork and various assets. Amongst artwork of the vengeful Ryo Hazuki and screenshots of ramshackle Japanese streets was an image that really stood out, simply featuring renders of numerous TV aerials. An odd sight, for certain. One caption editor duly noted that its purpose was to show that Shenmue’s towns and suburbs weren’t being created in a cookie cutter fashion – every item and object, no matter how small, was unique.

Indeed, Shenmue was a huge undertaking. It was SEGA’s most expensive and ambitious project ever – a colossal three-part ’80s set adventure with an intricate, slowly unwinding, story. The list of features made it sound exceedingly fresh and exciting: an innovative day and night cycle with a daily routine, a combat system lifted from Virtua Fighter, a huge cast of unique supporting characters, cinematic cut-scenes, and frivolous distractions galore. Want to spend all day playing Hang-On and Space Harrier instead of locating those responsible for your father’s death? It was entirely possible.

Gaming magazines slowly drip-fed new information in the run-up to release, making every other game released in 1999 (Donkey Kong 64, FF VIII, Driver, Dino Crisis, and Silent Hill were some of the year’s the big hitters) sound ordinary. Sadly, the game’s text-heavy nature made importing a no-no – the year that passed between its Japan and European launch was almost unbearable.

Shenmue finally arrived in the west during late 2000, and while it did gain critical praise – as well as taking the covers of even the multi-format magazines of the time – it was something of an acquired taste. A game so different from everything else that many gamers didn’t know what to think of it.

When it’s good, it’s very good – the visuals, short and snappy QTEs, fight scenes and general presentation were all way ahead of the competition. The pacing, however, was all over the place. After the dramatic opening is out of the way, most time is spent…killing time – playing arcade games, gambling and running up and down the city streets until stumbling across a cut-scene trigger, or waiting for a bar or similar opens to the public.

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Aug 23
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

When United States Congress rallied against violent video games, Nintendo’s senior vice president Howard Lincoln swore Night Trap would never grace a Nintendo console. Almost 20 years later, the FMV thriller finally finds its way to the land of Nintendo.

Night Trap – 25th Anniversary Edition (£10.99) includes deleted scenes, improved presentation, two documentaries, and a playable prototype of Scene of the Crime – the title used to demonstrate Hasbro’s cancelled NEMO gaming system.

Has the once controversial title stood the test of time? Not really, no – it wasn’t all that great to begin with. The recent PS4 version gained scores as low as 2/10. A few critics did however claim that it’s a game worth experiencing, no matter how poor it is. It’s an important part of gaming history.

Earlier this week also saw the launch of a few ‘surprise’ indie releases, including Prison Architect: Nintendo Switch Edition (£24.99) – which was something of a sleeper hit on the likes of PS4 and Xbox One – and Morphies Law (£15.99), a team-based shooter with shape-shifting robots.

Scores for Morphies Law starting to trickle through now, including a 7/10 from Nintendo Life. They warned that it’s a little light on content (only four maps are currently available) but it has potential to turn into something great.

Strategic roguelike Bad North (£13.49) has gained press attention too, with Nintendo Life and Digitally Downloaded handing out 9/10 and 4.5/5. TheSixthAxis wasn’t too impressed though, opting for a mediocre 5/10. “Bad North has a lot of potential, but it wastes most of that by doubling down on simplicity over depth,” they said.

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Aug 21
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

SEGA’s remasters of Shenmue I & II come from the studio behind the lazily compiled SEGA Mega Drive Classics collection, but don’t let that put you off – d3t has proven themselves here, giving Shenmue and its sequel a thorough buff and shine.

Fortunate too, as we have a feeling d3t are SEGA’s ‘go to guys’ for this sort of thing now. The mind boggles over what’s next on the agenda.

While both games do, somewhat understandably, feel dated and clunky nowadays both remain unique and inviting – sandbox adventures with an intricate day and night cycle, slowly expanding storylines, and a wealth of distractions. We’ve already wasted a good hour playing Space Harrier and Hang On and rekindled an old addiction to buying capsule toys.

The annual (motor)sporting updates also continue this week, with Codemasters’ F1 2018. Word has it it’s the finest instalment yet. GameInformer also notes that it’s surprisingly fun. Perhaps the recent OnRush has had a knock-on effect.

Then we have Guacamelee! 2, the colourful Mexican Metroidvania. Praise is almost universal, resulting in an 85% Metacritic. The bad news? It isn’t available on Switch or Xbox One. Not for a while, at least. It’ll no doubt happen over time.

The star of Guacamelee! 2 also appears in Brawlout, a colourful beat’em that first made its mark on Switch. Reviews weren’t too kind, with EDGE dishing out a poor 3/10, due to it clearly needing extra development time. Hopefully the past six months have been well spent, giving this week’s PS4 and Xbox One iterations a fighting chance. Just one review is currently live.

Elsewhere, the delightful Slime Rancher – one of the finest family titles of this generation – makes the jump to PS4, ahead of the incoming retail release.

The Xbox One plays catch-up too, with the cold war XCOM alike Phantom Doctrine making a tardy appearance. Distrust may also be of note, being influenced by the 1982 horror classic The Thing.

New release showcase:

F1 2018

Reviews:
9.1 – Forbes: “F1 2018 isn’t without flaw or area of opportunity, but the engine that powers its positives revs much louder than the noise made by its few skid marks. This is truly one of the best racing games you’ll ever play”

8.75 – GameInformer: “Saying that you can have just as much fun in the shop as behind the wheel seems weird, but in the case of F1 2018’s career mode, it’s true”

8/10 – Push Square: “Although undeniably similar to last season’s effort, small changes have improved the overall experience enough to merit a revisit. And, ultimately, F1 2018 takes the chequered flag as the best F1 instalment to date”

Shenmue I & II

Reviews:
9/10 – PSU: “Surely as divisive now as they were nearly 20 years ago, Shenmue I & II are not just a great primer for the forthcoming threequel, but also a great opportunity to experience one of gaming’s most pioneering series”

8.5 – God is a Geek: “Regarded by many as the pioneers for the modern open world, the re-release of Shenmue I and II is important, allowing many newcomers the chance to play games that still hold up today”

7/10 – The Metro: “Yu Suzuki’s classics remain as unique and fascinating today as they ever were, if you can tolerate the painfully slow pacing and wooden dialogue”

Guacamelee! 2

Reviews:
9.5 – Destructoid: “Not once during my playthrough of Guacamelee 2 did I feel bored or look at the clock, and once I was done, I felt compelled to hunt down everything I’d missed. It’s yet another triumph for DrinkBox and they probably have at least one or two more of these in them”

9.3 – IGN: “Guacamelee 2’s clever humor, challenging platforming, and beautiful world make for a worthy followup”

8/10 – PlayStation Country: “Guacamelee! 2 has a great sense of humour and offers a Metroidvania with precision combat and platforming that’ll leave you wanting more”

Brawlout

5.0 – PlayStation Lifestyle: “Whereas the characters, gameplay, and stages pack a fair punch, overall it suffers due to dire loading times and a stale state of a single-player experience”

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Aug 20
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

Just as the school holidays draw to a close, Activision’s Crash Bandicoot celebrates an 8th consecutive week at the top of the UK chart. They certainly picked the perfect launch date.

Activision-Blizzard are also responsible for the rest of this week’s new entries – World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth at #3, and Overwatch: GOTY Edition at #17.

Sadly, the retail release of Dead Cells didn’t get a look in.

Don’t expect Battle for Azeroth to stick around for long – WoW titles tend to chart high at launch before vanishing swiftly. Loyal fans tend to purchase new expansions on day one; it’s unusual to see many latecomers, such is the dedication of the fanbase.

Will Crash Bandicoot be able to claim another no.1? As much as we’d love to see Shenmue 1 & 2 take the top spot next Monday, F1 2018 stands a better chance.

Elsewhere in the top ten, GTA V moves up one position to take #2, while Mario Kart 8 Deluxe remains at #4. LEGO The Incredibles sees a sales dip, dropping to #5.

God of War rises to #6, Call of Duty: WWII falls to #7, Super Mario Odyssey moves up to #8, and Zelda: BotW re-enters the top ten at #9.

EA’s Madden NFL 19 then falls to #10 during its second week on sale.

We Happy Few and Overcooked 2 weren’t as lucky, both dropping out the top ten – the former is now at #21, while the latter can be found at #25.

Aug 16
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (£13.49) is a Switch conversion more belated than most, making its debut as a PSVR launch title in 2016. On Nintendo’s platform, however, it reaches its full potential – it’s a party game like none other, tasking one player with defusing a bomb while others call out information from a bomb disposal manual. The twist? Your teammates can’t see the bomb, so it’s a case of using good old communication skills.

The first review in is a respectable 9/10 from Nintendo World Report. “The constant participation along with the ease of pick-and-play make Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes a terrific game to bring to a party,” they said.

Curve Digital’s Manual Samuel is somewhat newer. It’s an adventure game with a sprinkling of innovation – rich kid Samuel strikes a deal with the devil, resulting in having to do everything manually for a day. This Switch conversion throws two-player co-op into the mix. “The joke risks wearing thin, but Sam’s adventure is brief and self-aware enough to hold your interest,” was Nintendo Life’s verdict.

Then we have Cosmic Star Heroine (£9.89), a 2D RPG from the creators of Cthulhu Saves the World, recalling 16-bit classics such as Phantasy Star. It’s another than suits the Switch perfectly, with God is a Geek going as far to call it the definitive version. They awarded it a stonkingly high 9.5.

As for new “new” stuff, there’s the futuristic thriller State of Mind (£35.99). Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be quite deserving of that high price point – reviews are mostly clocking in at 6/10. Pocket Gamer – who awarded it a lukewarm 5/10 – complained of “confusing story, simple puzzles, poor controls.”

Other bits and pieces of note include Zen Studio’s CastleStorm, the low-poly FPS Polygod, and Tiny Hands Adventure – a 3D platformer starring a bright blue dinosaur. While that last one has potential, looking similar to Crash Bandicoot, it’s apparently marred by a lack of polish.

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Aug 16
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

Unlike Dead Cell’s plucky protagonist – a failed alchemist, incarcerated under mysterious circumstances – developer Motion Twin has successfully managed to forge solid gold by skilfully combining all the right raw elements. It takes ideas from games as old as Metroid and Castlevania, mixes them with modern-day classics such as Dark Souls, and adds a few innovations of its own.

The amazing thing about this, is that every single element feels like it has been tinkered with, refined and then polished to perfection. If Motion Twin told us they had spent just as much time playtesting and fine tuning as they had programming and coding, we’d believe them without question.

At its heart, it’s a 2D action platformer with randomised levels and permadeath. One shot to escape the constraints of the town’s prison, and its equally dank surrounding areas, is all you get. Once you die, it’s a case of starting all over again. It may sound like an impossible task, but with each new weapon, secondary item and passive skill purchased, chances of survival increase. For instance, after investing a small number of souls, sorry – cells, it’s possible to start a new adventure with a weapon other than the basic rusty sword, along with a moderately sized bag of cash.

It doesn’t take long for the Metroid and Castlevania influences to show. From Metroid it borrows the labyrinth-like level layouts and permanent upgrades that allow access to new areas, with the first being climbable vines. As for Castlevania, a few whip-like weapons soon become available, while the most common enemies are festering zombie-like creatures. Also like the later Castlevania games, combat is fast-paced and delightfully crunchy, with enemies exploding into a shower of guts and gore. If you’re lucky, they’ll drop a nifty new weapon, or perhaps a blueprint, too.

It’s tough, but also respectful of your time and efforts

Loosely sticking with the theme of luck, Dead Cells isn’t a game that constantly stacks the odds against you. It’s tough, but also respectful of your time and efforts. After spending an hour or two with it, you’ll soon start to notice subtle twists Motion Twin has implemented to keep things fresh, as well as additional ways to give you a bigger shot at success. Even when sprinting through the first few stages some half-a-dozen attempts later you may come across a new backstory-expanding set-piece.

Alternative paths help speed up progression, meanwhile, making it possible to avoid areas that have previously lead to your demise (the Toxic Sewer isn’t particularly newcomer friendly), and sometimes just went you think the fight is over, an enemy may drop a high-level item or a much-needed health pick-up. Occasionally optional risky endeavours are thrown your way too, in the form of curse-bestowing treasure chests. Do you play it safe, or risk it all for a bumper booty?

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Aug 15
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

If you haven’t heard of most of this week’s releases, then worry not – pretty much everything on the digital storefronts has flown under the radar. Even Telltale’s final season of The Walking Dead has arrived to little fanfare, despite a trial launching a few weeks ago.

In fact, we even had to double-check to see if some of the titles below had launched – tinyBuild tend to publicise their indie titles reasonably well, yet the excellent sounding Graveyard Keeper, from the creators of the cult classic Punch Club, simply appeared on the Xbox One store at the stroke of midnight yesterday. Currently, not a single review can be found online. How appropriately eerie.

As for games that have had critical eyes cast upon them, we’ve rounded up a sampling of reviews for The Walking Dead: Done Running, the cold war XCOM clone Phantom Doctrine, futuristic thriller State of Mind, and the abstract point ‘n clicker Wailing Heights. That last one looks rather hip.

New release showcase:

The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Done Running

Reviews:
8.5 – PSU: “Almost completely rediscovering the lightning in a bottle that made the first season so compelling, The Walking Dead: The Final Season is starting out as strongly as we could have hoped”

7/10 – Push Square: “It’s practically impossible to make any firm conclusions about The Walking Dead: The Final Season in its first episode, but the engine improvements have really helped step up the storytelling, while the new cast of characters seem interesting at this early stage”

6/10 – The Metro: “An uninspiring beginning to Clementine’s final story but there’s enough potential in the plot, and the more cinematic visuals, to leave hope that it’ll end better than it started”

Phantom Doctrine

Reviews:
8/10 – TheSixthAxis: “[…] this is a deep and compelling tactical strategy game that provides innovation in a stagnant genre. I’ll be playing it long after I’ve finished reviewing it, and I can think of no higher praise than that”

7.5 – God is a Geek: “Phantom Doctrine is a strange one, all told. On the one hand it’s so like Firaxis’ modern classic that it’s almost laughable, but then it throws its own blend of ideas and innovations into the mix that do just enough to produce a brand new flavour”

7/10 – Push Square: “A Cold War XCOM clone with enemy spies instead of aliens, Phantom Doctrine is a largely enjoyable strategy title. The awareness system means you have more control over the flow of combat, and the setting is well presented, rife with atmosphere and charm. However, the punishing difficulty and steep learning curve do take the edge off things every now and then”

State of Mind

Reviews:
7/10 – VideoGamer: “The originality of its vision and the thrust of its narrative more than excuse some sci-fi clichés, and you’re left with a breezy adventure game which compels with its ideas, if not always with its play”

5/10 – Push Square: “While its cast of flawed – and in some cases unlikeable – characters are interesting to get to know, the plotting ultimately lets things down by failing to get you invested in the story, and asking you to suspend your disbelief a few too many times”

2/5 – Trusted Reviews: “With only minor player agency, its replay value is restricted to trophy hunting. It’s no disaster, but State of Mind delivers only disappointingly forgettable returns on some significant pre-release promise”

Wailing Heights

Reviews:
4/5 – GameRant: “Despite having a few drawbacks in terms of gameplay, this musical adventure game manages to provide players with a stable, unique experience and thereby delivers upon its promise of a world of oddities”

5/10 – Push Square: “While it neatly repurposes some old point-and-click tropes, it doesn’t quite have enough quality to match the ambition of the classics it’s so clearly inspired by”

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