Apr 01
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

The beginning of a new week brings us a new UK top 40. There’s a new no.1, too. This time it’s Nintendo’s turn with Yoshi’s Crafted World on Switch. Believe it or not, it’s the first ever title starring the loveable green dinosaur to claim no.1.

Yoshi’s Crafted World isn’t a runaway success, however. GI.biz reports it only managed to sell 63 more units than The Division 2, which holds onto #2.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – last week’s chart-topper – fell to #3. It managed to remain at no.1 in the PS4 chart for a second week, though.

Most of last week’s new retail releases managed to break the top 40. Assassin’s Creed III Remastered snuck in at #9, the THQ Nordic-published Generation Zero took #19, The Walking Dead: The Final Season claimed #23 while Deep Silver’s Outward followed behind at #24.

Outward’s arrival surprises us. Even now the survival RPG is yet to obtain a Metacritic score, currently reviewed by just two outlets.

Also of note is EA’s Anthem making a swift descent. The loot shooter is down fifteen places this week, dropping to #30. We sense an imminent price drop.

Apr 01
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

Due to gamers recalling SEGA’s ill-advised Outrun 2019, social media featured more predictable jokes about jetpacks and flying cars on New Year’s Day than usual. When 2030 – the year Xenon Racer is set – comes around, we don’t anticipate jokes about developer 3DCloud’s vision of the future. Eleven years from now, competitive racing still involves burning rubber on typical racetracks.

Xenon Racer doesn’t run with the idea of being set in the future

Some creative flare is on display, but certainly, Xenon Racer doesn’t run with the idea of being set in the future. The vehicle selection entails a mixture of beefy muscle, sports and formula one cars with metallic sheens and neon rims, powered by a new energy source. This allows them to obtain top speed in a matter of seconds, as well as boost and drift around corners at high speeds.

Racetracks, meanwhile, are set in locations around the globe, consisting of the usual tight corners, hairpin bends and open straights. Indeed, track layouts could’ve been lifted from just about any generic racing game. If you’re expecting corkscrews and loops, prepare for disappointment. Due to the cars being seemingly glued to the track, there isn’t much potential for ‘catching air’ either.

Anybody hoping for weapons and power-ups will also be left wanting – this is a straightforward drift racer that has more in common with Ridge Racer than WipEout or F-Zero.

Although the drifting mechanics have been pulled off more skilfully in similar games, they’re still robust enough here. Using the e-brake, lifting off the accelerator for a few seconds before reapplying, or braking then accelerating commences a drift, and unlike many other futuristic racers, proficient braking is required to prevent collisions when cornering.

The exceedingly shiny vehicles are surprisingly fragile, only able to withstand a small number of bumps and shunts. Even scraping along barriers will eventually result in an explosion, setting you back some distance after respawning. It doesn’t help that some tracks have immovable trackside clutter – such as barrels and barriers – on which it’s easy to become snagged.

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Mar 30
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

With a digital, cloud-based, future on the horizon, preservation is a hot topic within the gaming community of late. If you’re all for ensuring videogames both old and new are available for future generations, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection has probably caught your attention already. It’s a package full of early SNK classics and oddities, each presented and showcased at their best.

Having worked on numerous retro collections in the past, developer Digital Eclipse is no stranger to rounding up and revitalising vintage titles. This much is evident even before picking a game to play. It’s a collection presented in a lavish fashion, featuring just about every option you can imagine. A choice of screen sizes/filters and the ability to save anywhere and rewind gameplay is just the tip of the iceberg, as Digital Eclipse has gone out of their way to not just include the US and Japanese ROMs of certain titles (where available), but the NES versions too.

A few other features, such as a jukebox and a museum full of scans and inciteful titbits, round the package off nicely, making it feel like a labour of love.

To really appreciate SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, though, you need to understand what it is. An odd statement, perhaps, but this isn’t a collection of SNK’s biggest and most popular titles such as Metal Slug, Fatal Fury, and King of Fighters. Instead, it’s a collection focusing on often forgotten games from SNK’s early years. The Ikari Warriors trilogy is the most renown, with Time Soldiers perhaps being the second most, if only because of its numerous 8-bit microcomputer adaptations.

The remaining 19 titles date as far back as 1979. Vertical shooters are the most predominate genre, which impacts the collection’s variety somewhat, but this is no fault of Digital Eclipse – it was simply SNK’s line of output at the time. Alpha Mission, Chopper I, Bermuda Triangle, and World Wars do at least have different mechanics, while Bermuda Triangle also has the blessing of fabulously oversized sprites.

When playing through the collection more than a few themes become apparent, and not just within the games themselves. Foremost, SNK put out a boatload of military-based shooters. Guerrilla War holds up well, being slightly more advanced than Ikari Warriors. 1988’s POW is a simple scrolling brawler that manages to entertain, while top-down tank shooter T.N.K III still provides a stiff challenge. This is especially the case for the NES version. In fact, most of the NES versions are far tougher than their arcade counterparts, originally intended to take weeks of practice to complete. The ability to rewind makes them much more palatable nowadays.

As somebody only mildly familiar with the Ikari Warriors series, it was fascinating to discover that the series evolved from a typical vertical run and gunner, to a far-fetched sci-fi shooter with digitised speech, and finally a fisticuff-based brawler with colourful and chunky sprites. Speaking of fisticuffs, there’s Street Smart – SNK’s first beat’em up. It’s an odd thing, with characters sliding along the ground as if it were covered in ice. It’s also one of the easiest games present, turning a blind eye to button bashing. The 1990 NES action-RPG Crystalis is easily the most time consuming, meanwhile. It’s a shame SNK didn’t pursue this genre – it’s a pretty decent Zelda-alike, pushing the NES hard.

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Mar 28
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

Switch owners with a passion for retro gaming will be in their element this week, with more re-releases than usual on the eShop.

Stone cold classic Final Fantasy VII is getting the most attention. It not only introduced countless western gamers to the Final Fantasy series, but JRPGs in general – the genre was seen as somewhat niche before FFVII waltzed in with its swanky cut-scenes, impressive visuals, and instantly likeable battle-hardened heroes.

At £12.79 it’s a no-brainer, but expect a few rough edges – Square-Enix doesn’t put much thought into these conversions. They’re known for peculiar bugs and sound issues.

Master System classic SEGA AGES Alex Kidd in Miracle World has also turned up out of the blue, launching alongside the cult Mega Drive RTS Gain Ground.

Miracle World is easily the best of the pre-Sonic mascot’s outings. Due to the ability to purchase items and use them wherever and whenever it’s more complex than your typical 8-bit platformer. Vehicle sections add variety, too. Gain Ground, meanwhile, has gained a cult following over the years, being a strategic shooter set over different time periods. At £5.99 a pop, both come recommended.

There’s also Cel Damage HD – an early GameCube car combat game, originally published by EA. That’s joined by a remake of The Bitmap Brothers’ Amiga side-scroller GODS – which boasts both original and remastered graphics – plus Arcade Archives Armed F, a vertical space shooter released by Nichibutsu in 1988.

Yoshi’s Crafted World is easily the biggest Switch re-release this week. The Metacritic currently stands at 80%, including a 9/10 from Nintendo Insider, an 8.25 from GameInformer, and an 8/10 from GameSpot. Filled to the brim with creativity but light on challenge is the general consensus.

“Its most interesting ideas never evolve past their first introductions and are frequently confined to one or two levels, but individually, those levels both reward your curiosity and your willingness to slow down and look at what’s around you–and it’s those simple pleasures that provide the most joy,” said GameSpot.

Xenon Racer has parked up too, priced at an eyebrow-raising £44.99. Despite being set in the future, there are no WipEout style loops or F-Zero style corkscrews – it simply features high-powered muscle and sports cars on typical race tracks. This makes it feel more like Ridge Racer than anything else from the golden era of futuristic racers.

You’ll also find Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid – a glorified mobile conversion which is currently review shy (never a good sign), the apparently middling JRPG The Princess Guide, impressively presented space shooter GALAK-Z: The Void: Deluxe Edition, and the addictive FTP match-three puzzler Gems of War.

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Mar 27
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

This week’s assortment of new releases are an odd bunch, mostly being games that have had a moderate budget – available both at retail and on the download services – yet nobody is talking about them on social media. In fact, Argos has already cut the price of two new releases – Generation Zero and Outward – which presumably means they’ve had very slow launches.

For the uninformed, Generation Zero is an open-world sci-shooter set in 1980’s Sweden, favouring online co-op play. It’s from the minds behind the Just Cause series, re-using the Apex engine. It doesn’t appear to be going down quite as well as their previous titles, however, with complaints of sparse environments and a poorly paced, unrewarding, gameplay loop. Review scores are subsequently mixed so far, with only a few critics able to see its potential.

Despite launching on Tuesday, reviews of Deep Silver’s Outward are yet to surface. This open-world survival RPG puts you in the boots of an ordinary adventurer, rather than a mystical being. User reviews on Steam and Metacritic are surprisingly positive, so it’s a mystery as to why review code has seemingly been held back.

Then we have Xenon Racer, a futuristic affair that feels more like Ridge Racer than Wipeout due to a focus on drifting. It doesn’t do much with its futuristic setting at all, in fact – there are no ramps, loops, weapons or anything of the sort. Just beefy muscle and sports cars skidding around typical racetracks. We’ve spent a few hours with it so far, and while it’s far from terrible, it does feel rather bland. Even the narrator sounds bored – “That’s an error” he casually says after smashing into a barrier at top speed. We’ve rounded up scores below. Look out for our own review soon.

This week also bears not one, not two, but three JRPGs. Final Fantasy VII needs no introduction. This Xbox One and Switch re-release is a typical low budget Square-Enix effort, with very little care or attention. You can however adjust the game speed by X3 and turn off random battles, which is handy. At £12 we can’t grumble too much, but still, it’s sad to see such a classic title shoved out the door with no real thought.

The Princess Guide, meanwhile, apparently suffers from terrible AI during combat. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is faring far better, even gaining a few 9/10s.

The Xbox One and Switch also receive Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid, a glorified mobile conversion. Although it packs in plenty of fan service, it’s reportedly on the shoddy side. “Unless you’re an absolute die-hard Power Rangers fan who foams at the mouth when it comes to new content (and has patience to wait for online matches), give this one a very easy miss,” said Australian site Stevivor, who warned of inactive online lobbies.

Yoshi’s Crafted World is one of this week’s bigger releases, if not the biggest. Reviews are live now, confirming what many predicted – it’s full of great ideas, but a little light on challenge. Scores are mostly clocking in at 8/10, with a few 7s here and there.

Assassin’s Creed III Remastered is also due out Friday. ACIII is generally remembered as being a bit of a mess – Ubisoft had numerous studios working on separate parts which they then stitched together, resulting in a real hodgepodge of a game. Its development is rather fascinating, with some studios even kept out of the loop on ideas that were being cut. Unless a miracle has occurred, we don’t hold out much hope.

Which brings us onto The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 4, which many feared would never see the light of day. Word has it that it’s worth the wait, despite a few shortcomings. You’ll find a smattering of spoiler-free reviews below.

New release showcase:

Generation Zero

8.0 – God is a Geek: Generation Zero combines the open world of an RPG with the shooting and looting of a battle royale, to create a rather special, 80s vision of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, where every fight feels like a battle for survival.

6.5 – PlayStation Lifestyle: I’d recommend Generation Zero to those who have a steady group of friends to play with. If not, stay away until the game goes on sale or a major patch releases that makes the single player option more manageable. I like you, Generation Zero. I just wanted better.

N/A – Eurogamer: Yes, Generation Zero may be a riot with a couple of pals (even though they don’t get to keep any of their hard-earned progress if playing in your world, and vice versa). But despite its broody atmosphere and brutal combat sequences, Generation Zero is just another open-world FPS without the content needed to meaningfully sustain – and reward – its players.

Yoshi’s Crafted World

8.25 – GameInformer: Despite a slow difficulty ramp, Yoshi’s Crafted World is a delightful adventure thanks to fun-to-find collectibles, colorful levels, and creative boss battles

4/5 – US Gamer: The visuals in Yoshi’s Crafted World speak for themselves. Every corner you turn presents something new to wonder at. The game’s a bit on the easy side, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you accept Yoshi titles are more about exploration and collecting than serious platforming. It’s a great little “spring game” that should fill out your Switch library nicely.

7.8 – IGN: Yoshi’s Crafted World is a very fun platformer that’s light on challenge or ambition, but brimming with creativity and charm.

Xenon Racer

B+ – Defunct Games: There are other minor problems, like the long load times and occasional frame rate issues. But the truth is, none of these issues, including the repetitive tracks and weird A.I., are enough to keep me from having a good time. Maybe it’s because I’m so starved for an arcade racing game, but I had a lot of fun with Xenon Racer.

6.4 – Video Chums: There’s no denying that Xenon Racer is a very promising drift-focused racing game but it doesn’t quite reach the high notes that its inspirations achieved 20 or so years ago. As a result, you’ll be better off booting up your PS1 and replaying some classics.

6/10 – GameSpew: Ultimately, while Xenon Racer‘s initially frustrating difficulty barrier can be overcome, its blurry visuals, brief campaign and awful announcer take the shine off of the whole experience.

The Princess Guide

6/10 – TheSixthAxis: The Princess Guide is an adorable, energetic game. It has gorgeous art and fun, well-written characters. It’s just marred by grinding through messy and poorly designed combat. The AI squad-mates that are so integral to the action have terrible AI that make it impossible to consistently coordinate any of their actions. There’s massive heart and care put into the narrative and visual design of The Princess Guide, but that is weighed down by how frustrating it is to play the game.

6/10 – Nintendo Life: When it’s firing on all cylinders, The Princess Guide is a somewhat deep, satisfying action game with vibrant visuals and humorous, whimsical storytelling. Unfortunately, it’s bogged down by trying to shove overengineered combat through a thick UX fog. After yet another “mission” that consists of moving on the map to intercept three enemy skirmishes to completion, a reasonable player might wonder: Is it worth $40 to praise-or-scold each Princess through a couple of hours of sword-swinging?This quirky game may meet the particular sensibilities of some, but others should probably pass on this one.

5.5 – Destructoid: The Princess Guide is a game I enjoy less and less the more I play it. There is a sound structure here and some really clever ideas, but the weight of all its small issues really burden what should a fun and frivolous experience.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

9/10 – PSU: Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a sprawling epic of a game. With satisfying combat, incredibly well defined characters, and enough story to satisfy the most demanding visual novel fan, Trails of Cold Steel has earned its place in the JRPG Hall of Fame. It’s time to call it like it is: Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is a classic.

9.0 – God is a Geek: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel on PS4 is everything I wanted in a remaster of one of my favourite RPGs this decade and more.

8/10 – Push Square: Between its brilliant world building and fantastic cast of characters, this is a slow-burning story that refuses to let you go. While the game does plod at points, it’s hard not to sit back and appreciate just how much effort has gone into making this world feel so rich and interesting. Add a rock solid turn based combat system to the mix, and you’ve got all the makings of a genre classic.

The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 4

4.5/5 – ATOF: ore could have been done to give this season as a whole the feeling of conclusion it strives for and somewhat reaches in this finale, but those who stuck with it this whole time will come away satisfied. Now we all just have to hope that The Walking Dead has one last resurrection left in it, if we want to explore the ramifications of the ending presented here.

9/10 – Cultured Vultures: Take Us Back caps off The Walking Dead: The Final Season on a pitch perfect note with the goodbye that Clementine and Telltale themselves deserve.

6/10 – The Metro: If you’ve stuck with the series to this point, the last four episodes are worth playing despite having to make it through the technical problems and head-shakingly misconceived action sequences, but if Skybound wants to continue the franchise, it’s going to need an almighty reboot.

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Mar 26
By Richard In Reviews No Comments

The gaming industry sucks at preserving its heritage. Take Super Mario Bros. for example. It’s one of the most important games ever made. Gaming’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Gaming’s Pet Sounds. A creation of genius design and perfect mechanics. The gaming landscape would look completely different it had never come along. And yet, Nintendo treats it like any other NES game.

Its ROM is just dumped on the NES Online platform, a piece of content floating around in a morass of content. There’s no celebration of the history on the eShop. No extra features. No videos and nothing to put this landmark achievement in gaming into context. It’s just a ROM on a server, ready to be selected next to Temco Bowl.

Why am I talking about this? Because Commander Keen in Keen Dreams (ComKKeeD for short) has similar problems, being an odd arrival on Switch. It’s actually the fourth game in the franchise, but the previous three aren’t on the eShop. More than that, it’s a straight port. There’s nothing here to put this game into context at all. There’s no developer interview to talk about why this game is important or different.

At least Super Mario Bros. has the rest of the NES catalogue and the enduring popularity of Mario to somewhat put itself in perspective. ComKKeeD has nothing. It’s a DOS platform game from 1991. Off you go…

As it happens, ComKKeeD is interesting. It was created by John Carmack and John Romero, the minds behind DOOM. It also implemented a version of parallax scrolling, something consoles of the time could do, but the PC couldn’t. And you can also download the source code for the game, which is cool.

Keen Dreams sees you venturing through the vegetable (not mushroom) kingdom, jumping on platforms, riding mine carts and avoiding enemies. The combat mechanics are less typical. You can’t stomp on foes – you must collect flower pellets which, when fired at an enemy, will briefly stun them. Enemies also don’t just roam on fixed paths either, as with most games of the time, they will sense your presence and ‘home’ towards you. This makes platforming much less predictable.

Like the recent Turok re-release, ComKKeeD comes across as more of a historical curiosity than a game. It was created to settle a contract dispute and you can tell. As someone who used to play quite a bit of DOS shareware, it doesn’t stand out nowadays. The pixel persuasion required for some jumps is sometimes unreasonable and the controls don’t feel as responsive as early NES games.

I admire, however, the efforts to preserve ComKKeeD and make it available on modern systems. But more thought needs to go into making sure that games are presented with context and care. At the moment, all we have is a quick-turnaround DOS game from 1991, and seven quid less in our pocket.

Mar 25
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

It was a close call between Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and The Division 2, but ultimately, Activision’s stealthy Souls-alike managed to conquer the UK chart.

It becomes FromSoftware’s second UK no.1, with the first being 2016’s Dark Souls III.

The Division 2 dropped to #2 during its second week on sale. The fact that the battle for no.1 was a close-run thing suggests sales haven’t tailed off significantly.

FIFA 19 and GTA V each dropped a position, now at #3 and #4. RDR2 fell to #5, while Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shifted to #6.

After enjoying a small boost from the belated Switch release, The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame is on the descent, resting at #7.

At #8 it’s a re-entry – the popular Xbox One pack-in Forza Horizon 4.

Despite retailer promotion, Far Cry New Dawn also travelled down the top ten, now at #9. Then at #10 for a second week running it’s New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe.

Capcom’s Devil May Cry 5 has left the top ten this week, diving from #6 to #13. Metro Exodus is also on a slippery slope, it seems, going from #15 to #27.

Mar 21
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

Acclaim’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was an N64 pioneer. Not only was it the first major third-party release for the system in the west, launching just a few days after the system itself in the UK, but it also proved that the N64 was ideal for first-person shooters; a genre not associated with consoles at the time. It also saved Acclaim’s skin, helping to fill their coffers with cash during a troubled time.

Current rights holders Nightdrive Studios gave both Turok and Turok 2 digital re-releases on Steam and Xbox One late last year. Now it’s the Switch’s turn, receiving the original Turok this week. Thanks to new HD visuals and a wealth of options, it apparently holds up rather well. “Turok influenced a lot of first-person shooters that came after it, and it’s still very enjoyable in 2018—thanks in large part to Night Dive’s boatload of options,” said Nintendo World Report before handing out an 8/10.

Nintendo Life opted for a solid 7, meanwhile. “It’s arguably more interesting as a piece of history than it is an FPS shooter in 2019, but Turok is still worth a look if you’re a fan of the genre.”

You may want to hold out for its vastly improved sequel – we have a feeling it isn’t too far away. We can also expect Shadowman and Forksaken at some point, it seems.

As for stuff shiny and new, there’s the Dynasty Warriors alike Fate/EXTELLA LINK, the sequel to 2017’s Fate/EXTELLA: The Umbral Star. Scores are a mixture of 8s and 7s and so far. “If you’ve never much been a fan of mindless hack ‘n’ slash games, we’d say this is a great way to test whether this genre is for you, and if you consider yourself to be a Musou nut, this is one of the best distillations of the concept we’ve yet seen” said Nintendo Life.

“It takes the ideas of the original and executes them all even better than before,” formed part of The Sixth Axis’ conclusion, meanwhile.

EA is back with a new Switch release as well – Unravel Two, which received a surprise Xbox One/PS4 release during last year’s E3. The general consensus at the time was that it’s a decent sequel, albeit one lacking the spark of the original. It should suit the Switch rather well due to its focus on co-op puzzle solving and its simple control scheme.

Bargain Hunter sounds like of this week’s more innovative offerings – it entails rummaging around yard sales and thrift stores looking for antiques, which are then sent off for auction. It’s possible to head to the beach for a spot of metal detecting, too. Consider us intrigued.

System 3’s Impossible Mission and James Pond Codename: RoboCod re-releases have also showed up, priced £9.99 a pop. Impossible Mission includes the C64 version and a new re-skinned iteration. It’s hard for us to tell which version Robocod is based on. We’re hoping it’s the Amiga original, but it looks like it might be the PSone rejig.

If that wasn’t enough, this week’s Nintendo Direct dished up two surprises- side-scrolling/top-down hybrid action-adventure Blaster Master Zero 2 and Vlambeer’s top-down roguelike shooter Nuclear Throne.

Here’s the full list of new releases and demos, along with a single new title for 3DS.

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