Dec 27
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

Some of the bigger gaming sites have come to standstill over Christmas, even ignoring such news stories at the Christmas no.1. We’re still here though, which is fortunate as Nintendo’s eShop line-up is now live. Despite what you may expect, there are a fair few big hitters due before the week is out.

New titles for Switch include the dubstep rhythm shooter Aaero: Complete Edition – which we wholeheartedly recommend – the content-heavy Dynasty Warriors 8 Definitive Edition, sandbox survival game JCB Pioneer: Mars, and the sci-fi Overcooked alike Catastronauts.

Also, the monochromatic single-button auto runner Odium to the Core – which we reviewed yesterday – the pixel art survival platformer Rain World, and ANIMUS…which looks highly similar to Dark Souls. At £7.99 though, we aren’t expecting much.

Then for those hankering for an arcade fix, there’s King of Fighters 2002 and Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Heavy Barrel.

Here’s the full release list. You may notice a few other familiar faces, such as belated conversions from BigBen (Tetraminos and Brick Breaker), along with Digerati’s pixel art adventures Uncanny Valley and The Aquatic Adventure of The Last Human.

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Dec 24
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

This single-button auto-runner isn’t one to play when mentally drained. The concept may sound simple enough, tasking you with keeping Odium – a demonic glowing red eye – airborne by tapping and holding the A button, but you’re constantly made to learn by mistakes and start anew. It’s definitely best suited for early morning game sessions, played after a large cup of coffee and a well-balanced nutritious breakfast.

The challenge lies not within keeping Odium afloat – although there is a slight learning curve to mastering the technique, which the tutorial allows for – but rather within the level design. Odium seeks to destroy the power cores found inside sprawling, clunking, mechanical machines full of spinning gears, pistons, spikes, crushers, and objects on which he can be easily snagged.

There are environmental hazards to contend with as well, such as waterfalls that push Odium downwards and thermal jets that send the spike-covered lead skyward.

Presumably to stop complacently, a few other sneaky tricks have been employed. The camera occasionally pans in and out, Odium’s speed can alter on a whim, and most stages feature layouts that twist and turn, or become extremely narrow.

Death comes quickly. Fortunately, this is a rather forgiving experience – each stage grants infinite lives, and there’s no punishment for failure. A few additional checkpoints per stage may have made for a slightly easier time, though. Some are so far apart that we found ourselves punching the air in jubilation after finally overcoming tougher areas. Often by this point our thumb would start to feel sore, brought on by bouts of button bashing. The ability to use the right trigger instead would’ve been most welcome.

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Dec 23
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 has claimed a second consecutive week at no.1, making it this year’s Christmas chart topper. Their last Christmas no.1 was GTA: Vice City, back in 2002.

The coveted Christmas no.1 position is usually taken either by FIFA or Call of Duty, both of which can boast of eight yuletide chart toppers each.

Perhaps to celebrate this break from the norm, chart holders Ukie have compiled an infographic detailing all Christmas no.1s from 1984 onwards, starting with Activision’s Ghostbusters movie tie-in.

FIFA 19 held onto #2 while Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 remained at #3. Battlefield V rose to #4, presumably helped by a minor price cut, while Super Smash Bros. Ultimate moved down to #5.

The family friendly Spyro Reignited Trilogy took #6, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at #7 gives Nintendo their second Christmas top ten entry, Marvel’s Spider-Man crawled up to #8, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy gives Activision their third top ten entry at #9, while Microsoft takes #10 with Forza Horizon 4.

Elsewhere in the chart, Starlink Battle for Atlas is back at #27 thanks to a hefty price cut – the toys to life title could be found for as low as £17.99 last week. Detroit: Become Human re-entered at #34, while 2K’s Carnival Games made a belated top 40 appearance at #38.

Expect to see FIFA 19 take the top spot next week. The FIFA series tends to see a sales spike the week after Christmas, fuelled by gamers braving the Boxing Day sales to spend their Christmas money and GAME gift vouchers.

Dec 21
By Matt Gander In Features No Comments

There was a time when we’d use Metacritic to compile our annual round-up of terrible games. As popular as these pieces were, in terms of page views at least, we’d always hit bumps along the way.

Scores varying between formats were the least of our problems. In most instances, we hadn’t experienced the games in question for ourselves. This, of course, made them tricky to talk about, forcing us to rely on second-hand opinions. We’re also pretty sure that Metacritic’s ‘worst list’ was almost entirely occupied by casual WiiWare and DSi games one year, reviewed by just a scant handful of critics. Hardly thrilling subject matter.

And so we no longer use Metacritic as a reference, choosing to talk about our own hands-on experiences instead. Some of the games below we received to review while others we picked up cheaply, knowing full well that they’re bad.

Spare us no sorrow. Bad games often have their own dubious pleasures. Amusing glitches, terrible voice acting, typos, poorly directed cut-scenes. Between the five games below, we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing all these ‘quirks’ first-hand.

Past Cure

The third stage of this psychological stealth shooter involves a PlayStation 2-quality shootout in a multi-storey car park. To paint a better picture: the controls are clunky, the shooting mechanics feel ham-fisted and sloppy, and the cover system can’t be relied on. It’s like something from a pre-Gears of War age. We had already experienced a game-breaking glitch that caused us to fall through the floor, so you can imagine our confusion after falling through an air vent into a weird seemingly unfinished area set inside a sewer.

The textures appeared unfinished and the lighting effects weren’t behaving themselves, obscuring half the room. It appeared there was a puzzle to solve that entailed shutting off the power to cross a walkway, but after ten minutes of head scratching – and one checkpoint reload for good measure – we took to Google to find a solution. Turns out we weren’t alone in being confused. A user on Steam also found themselves trapped in this room, and likewise wondered if they’d accidentally fallen into a scrapped area.

Turns out this was a brand-new puzzle the developers added after the game launched, as they felt it needed more abstract/psychological moments. That’s to say, they patched their already frustrating game with an additional broken, seemingly unfinished, and downright confusing area. Now that’s counterintuitive.

After finally figuring the puzzle out, we found ourselves in a boss battle of sorts which entailed running away from a colossal statue with glowing red eyes. As we frantically ran, not even stopping to look behind, we made it unscathed to the doorway ahead. Inside was an open manhole cover with a ladder leading down, so we took the plunge…and landed outside the level, able to roam around freely in a white open void. Thankfully, the game behaved itself on the second (third?) checkpoint reload and the manhole took us back to the multi-storey car park as it was supposed to.

We gave up playing on the next stage – an extremely unforgiving stealth section with no radar or other stealth game fundamentals, other than a stealth kill option and the ability to crouch.

As bad games go, Past Cure has slightly more going for it than most. The visuals are appealing in places, the voice acting is more than passable, and there’s a degree of variety between missions. But with glitches galore and fundamentally flawed mechanics, only the most determined will ever see it through to the end. For us, even the lure of some easy achievements wasn’t enough.

Extinction

We have an inkling Extinction was once destined to be an all-singing, all-dancing, big budget title with way more variety than the final product. But when budget publisher Modus jumped onboard for publishing duties a spanner was thrown into the works, prompting the developers to dial down their vision somewhat. Just a theory, we should note, but one that stands to reason.

Whatever happened during development, this shouldn’t have launched at full price. Amazingly, there was even a £64.99 deluxe edition with bonus DLC. We pity anybody who coughed up full whack on day one, especially at sixty-five quid, as there’s so little content and variety on offer that even at £24.99 Extinction would’ve come under scrutiny.

It’s a hack ‘n slasher that involves protecting citizens from generic goblin foes while a rampaging giant smashes through a whitewashed city. Defeating goblins charges a meter, which once full sets the nondescript protagonist’s sword ablaze. It’s then time to take down the giant, which entails targeting body parts via a slow-mo feature. Take out their legs and they’ll fall to the floor, allowing their back to be scaled before chopping off their head – something not quite as grisly as it sounds here. If the giant destroys too much of the city, or too many citizens die, then the mission is failed.

This isn’t Extinction’s first mission, you understand. It’s the entire game. This cycle repeats from start to finish. Sometimes you must take down multiple giants, which occasionally have padlocks(!) on their armour which must be destroyed first, and a few new goblin types are also introduced along the way but that’s it for variety.

Extinction is so repetitive and slim on ideas that after around an hour of play missions become auto-generated. It’s as if the developers gave up entirely. It’s also around this point that the Xbox achievements start flagging as rare, making it obvious that most gamers simply gave up too.

Did we mention the deluxe edition cost sixty-five flaming quid?

Agony

When reviews of Agony went live – roughly a week after launch, we should note – critics stood up, leaned out the nearest window and yelled “The name Agony is apt, because it’s pure agony to play.”

Or at least, gaming sites were rife with words to that effect. Agony may look and sound enticing going on screenshots and concept alone – being a savage, gore-filled, stomp through hell – but it’s an utter chore to play. The biggest issue, by far, is that the developers seemingly made it purposely disorientating. Corridors and paths often look alike, the pace is frustratingly slow, and it isn’t long until the ability to scale walls is introduced which makes navigating the levels all the more confusing.

Then, to top it all off, the focus changes from exploration to stealth early on, throwing you straight into the deep end while still adjusting to the wayward mechanics.

Just like Extinction, the Xbox One achievement ratios are telling signs of woefulness. Even such early accomplishments as finishing the second level flag as ‘rare’ (currently unlocked by less than 31% of players), and as of yet not a single gamer on True Achievements can boast of a 100% completion.

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Dec 20
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

The Nintendo eShop truly is the gaming equivalent of a 24-hour supermarket. PSN and the Xbox One Store are about to come to a standstill, effectively closing for Christmas, but the Nintendo eShop remains open for business. Over 30 titles are lined up for this week and we can expect another 25 over the course of next week, with a few new releases even due out on Christmas Day.

You can chalk this up to developers clambering for that sweet eShop visibility – the Switch has been a big seller this Christmas.

This means we’ll more than likely compile an eShop round-up next week. Hot titles to look out for include party game Catastronauts, on-rails rhythm shooter Aaero: Complete Edition, construction sim JCB Pioneer: Mars, and the survival platformer Rain World.

Before this week is over you can expect to find the acclaimed first-person adventure Firewatch, humorous physics puzzler Donut County, Team17’s apocalyptic survival sim Sheltered, and Nippon Marathon – an eccentric Japanese party game resembling Takeshi’s Castle. Sadly, reviews for that last one are extremely mixed.

Other bits and pieces of note include the faux-retro shooter Horizon Shift ’81, ACA NeoGeo Puzzle Bobble, co-op platformer Sundered: Eldritch Edition, and Funghi Puzzle Funghi Explosion…which appears to be a Mystery Detective spin-off.

Nintendo’s Festive Sale also continues with new discounts. There are some significant price cuts, with our recommendations being Volgarr the Viking, Overcooked! 2, Raging Justice, Yoku’s Island Express, The Escapists: Complete Edition, This Is the Police, Hello Neighbor, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Thumper, and AQUA KITTY UDX and OKAMI HD. The ever-helpful Nintendo Life has compiled a full list.

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Dec 19
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

The subtitle for this fast-paced RTS is a reference to the hex-based terrain coating the game’s trio of hostile alien worlds. Under the surface dwell stripy insect-like creatures that rise from underground when a structure is destroyed. Their ferociousness makes us doubt they’d produce something as delightful as honey, but they do pack an almighty sting, attacking any soldiers in the vicinity.

Sudden onslaughts from these nameless insects – simply referred to as ‘bugs’ – are one of Hellfront’s more random features, helping to keep players on their toes. In fact, it’s the only randomised feature. In the name of keeping battles balanced everything else runs like clockwork, so to speak.

What we have here is a hex-based RTS condensed to its absolute purest. That’s no exaggeration: battles last around 2-3 minutes and take place on a single-screen, and there are only two buildable objects – a barracks that generates soldiers, and an automated gun turret – which can only be placed on marked locations. Keeping with the theme of simplicity, the controls are remarkably simple too – one trigger is used to shoot, allowing hostiles to be engaged directly by twin-stick shooting, while the other orders troops to move directly in front of your position.

As long as a player has a barracks somewhere on the map, they can respawn. Once all enemy bases are destroyed, the battle is over. The deathmatch mode uses a best-of-three structure, and you can either play on randomised maps or pick a favourite. Some feature bug eggs that erupt when shot, as well as breakable walls that separate rival factions. Other maps have locations to place a handful of structures in close proximity, while others force you to space your turrets and barracks far apart.

dropping a building on an enemy is a legit play tactic

It only takes a few matches to become familiar with Hellfront’s balancing. Place a turret near an enemy barracks and it’ll be reduced to rubble in seconds. Soldiers can make short work of a turret, but if you engage it directly you’re likely to come worse off. The unpredictable alien swarms, meanwhile, will tear their way through your soldiers unless distance is kept. And if you place a shiny new turret next to another newly erectly turret, they usually explode simultaneously. Time to try something new.

The alien swarms prevent players from re-erecting buildings the moment they explode. There’s another, slightly more amusing, mechanic in place – orbital frags. Air dropping a building on an enemy is a legit play tactic, which we imagine was naturally introduced during development. Be warned though, as it’s also possible to kill your own captain this way. It’s akin to blowing yourself up during a heating bout of Super Bomberman.

That comparison is apt because in terms of content and due to the game’s single-screen nature, Hellfront is highly reminiscent of the Super Bomberman series.

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Dec 19
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

This week sees the last of 2018’s retail releases, in the form of the not-very-exciting Fitness Boxing for Switch.

We aren’t best convinced that the final digital releases of the year are upon us though, as we know for certain that the rhythm action rail shooter Aaero: Complete Edition and the intriguing JCB Pioneer: Mars are due on the Switch eShop on Christmas Eve.

The few games out this week are a curious assortment. There’s the colourful Japanese party game Nippon Marathon (think along the lines of Takeshi’s Castle), the single-screen RTS Hellfront: Honeymoon, a belated XO/Switch release of Donut Country, and a PS4 re-release of R-Type Dimensions EX – which includes R-Types I and II with new 3D visuals.

They’re joined by Big Bash Boom on Xbox One, a full price(!) cricket party game(!) that appeared out of nowhere on Monday.

Depending on which country you live in, Atari Flashback Classic Vol. 3 may, or may not, be available now too. It hit the Xbox One last week, and it looks like it launches in the US today. Don’t quote us on that, mind. VideoChums posted a review earlier this week, calling it the strongest volume so far.

Finally, there’s a slew of new DLC, including Marvel’s Spider-Man: Silver Lining, Shadow of the Tomb Raider: The Pillar and the currently free HITMAN 2 – Holiday Hoarders pack. That last one sounds worthwhile, with a mission involving Agent 47 preventing thieves from stealing presents at a Paris fashion show. There’s a bunch of new achievements, contracts, and story missions too.

It’s nice to see at least one publisher in the spirit of giving this Christmas.

New release showcase:

R-Type Dimensions EX

Reviews:
9/10 – The Metro: “The best 2D shooters of the retro era return once again, with a good value package that has plenty for new fans and old”

9/10 – GameSpace: “R-Type Dimensions EX brings you back to a golden era of games without loot boxes or DLC. You were able to enjoy a game in the fullest and know that you got your money’s worth on a full game”

8.2 – VideoChums: “R-Type Dimensions has been around for almost a decade and this EX edition doesn’t really add anything substantial to the compilation. That being said, these are still two of the best shoot ’em ups ever made”

Nippon Marathon

Reviews:
3/5 – VideoChums: “Nippon Marathon is a ridiculous bakage game that’s a ton of fun with friends but its annoying gameplay is only tolerable in short bursts”

4/10 – Push Square: “Some might enjoy the off-piste humour and Japanese influences, but it sadly limits the game’s appeal, and at the end of the day, the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. The frantic gameplay feels too clumsy and disjointed to remain fun for very long. The janky nature of the game is part of the joke, but the joke isn’t particularly funny in this case, and others have told it much better than this”

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Dec 18
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

This crowd-funded action platformer is a remarkable collaboration between a father and his young daughter. A spiritual successor to Capcom’s seminal Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, it borrows more than a few ideas and mechanics, only here the relentless spear lobbing is accompanied by a side-line of elusive childhood innocence.

The storyline is especially twee involving the titular Princess and her ghostly canine companion out to recover the scattered pieces of a rickety time-altering robot.

Don’t let the child-like nature of the game’s premise fool you. Battle Princess Madelyn is for battle-hardened gamers weaned on the likes of the aforementioned Capcom classic, offering an arcade mode with ‘old skool’ sensibilities and a more involving story mode with light Metroidvania elements.

Both are as tough as their inspiration, if not tougher. The slow-burning story mode requires a degree of commitment, being surprisingly time-consuming, while the shorter arcade mode demands level layouts and enemy locations be consigned to memory.

Both modes begin in the best possible fashion – with a glorious homage to Ghouls ‘n Ghosts opening graveyard stage, complete with ghoulies that spring out from behind tombstones, and a rousing musical score. Compared to what’s to come this stage is relatively straightforward, giving chance to acquaint with the controls and the three-strike damage system. Take too many hits and poor Madelyn is forced to run around in an old-fashioned nightdress. We guess polka dot underwear would’ve been a step too far.

The arcade and story modes soon reveal their own unique foibles and peculiarities. The biggest problem with arcade mode is that it’s authentic to a fault. There’s no save facility, so all progress is lost when returning to the main menu. That’s to say, it must be completed in one sitting. Each level – which are arrangements of the story mode stages – grants a handful of lives, and there are no additional 1-UPs.

Madelyn does at least begin arcade mode with a few additional skills, including a double-jump not unlocked until story mode’s second boss battle. Fitzy, Madelyn’s canine chum, can also bite enemies from the outset; another skill not gained until later elsewhere.

Once the stockpile of lives has been depleted, you’re placed back at the beginning of a stage… which is what you’d expect for an arcade-like experiance. Indeed, for the most part, it’s akin to playing a long-lost arcade game, albeit one that requires considerably more time and effort. This isn’t something you’ll breeze through in an hour or two.

a demanding experience in more ways than one

The biggest obstacle to bear in mind is that Battle Princess Madelyn uses the universally disliked knockback feature. When Madelyn takes a hit she’s propelled backwards, often into harm’s way. While it definitely helps BPM feel quintessentially retro, it’s also the cause of much frustration. The second stage in arcade mode, for instance, entails traversing dozens of lily pads – take a hit, and you’re almost guaranteed to end up in a watery grave.

All but a minor hiccup when it comes to the game’s third stage – a colossal cave filled with dozens of stalactites to leap across. Some of these have projectile spitting snakes wrapped around, causing Madelyn to be knocked back and halting progress until the location of every snake has been memorised and the safest route found. To be blunt, we’d gladly never step foot in this cave ever again – it took us two entire evenings of play to overcome. There’s also a puzzle to solve here, requiring buttons to be pressed in sequence, which is off the beaten track and in the opposite direction to the few signposts guiding towards the exit. Particularly when taking on this stage in story mode, more than a few peculiar omissions come to light.

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