Feb 10
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

It takes just a spark to ignite a war. The same can also be said for turning a peaceful protest into a full-blown riot. A projectile lobbed too hard, a push becoming a shove, or some looney turning up to a quiet demonstration with a backpack full of fireworks. The police take aim with rubber bullets and in a matter of seconds there’s hysteria on the streets. Who’s to blame? Well, this is seemingly something the press decides – this rioting simulator definitely makes a few bold statements.

It taps into the messy, unpredictable, nature of organised riots, making you guess as to whether the police are going to retaliate, or to contemplate resorting to violence yourself.

It’s an intriguing concept, and unlike similar games released over the years (remember State of Emergency on PS2?) the developer isn’t out to generate controversy. Very few riots entail brutality, and using harmless tactics is encouraged. You can, however, use violence to swing things in your favour. This is when things become messy and chaotic, and all feeling of being in control is lost. Riots can become wildly unpredictable in these instances, too. The police use live ammo so rarely that the first time they opened fire it left us rather shocked. Realism is favoured here, certainly.

The four short campaigns – lasting 20-30 minutes each, complete with pixel-art cut-scenes – are set in such locations as Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Spain. It’s possible to play through each campaign as either the rioters or the police, both of which have their own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities.

Rioters always outnumber the police, often three times over. Most missions – which entail protecting or destroying structures, pushing the police back (off the screen), or simply holding your ground for five minutes – put four or five groups of rioters under your control.

Now seems a good time to mention that there’s no tutorial, which made for a poor first impression. It also doesn’t help that the HUD is extremely crude, to the point that some of the item icons – particularly for the police – are hard to distinguish. This can result in using the wrong ability at the wrong time. It seems the developers really struggled with the HUD, as it’s prone to glitching too.

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Feb 07
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

THQ Nordic are currently knocking out Switch conversions left, right, and indeed centre. The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is the third from the publisher we’ve seen this year, being a fantasy point ‘n clicker first released in 2015.

Despite its age reviews are mostly positive, including 8/10 from GameSpew and 3.5/5 from Screen Rant. It seems like there was room for improvement, though. “The touch screen inexplicably cannot be used when the game is in handheld more, nor can the Joy-Con be used as a mouse pointer when the Switch is docked,” warned Screen Rant.

The Switch also gets the far newer RIOT – Civil Unrest, Away: Journey To The Unexpected, and Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 2, three titles also hitting PS4 and Xbox One this week.

We’ve spent some time with strategic rioting simulator RIOT – Civil Unrest. Like many critics, we haven’t been left too impressed. It’s very scrappy, and just like a real-life riot, it’s very hard to tell what’s going on.

Anime-influenced FPS Away: Journey To The Unexpected hasn’t been best received by the press either, despite the appealing visuals and the ‘feel good’ vibes. The Metacritic currently stands at 45% with The Metro dishing out its lowest score – a miserable 3/10. “The intentions are good, but cute graphics and some clever ideas can’t stop this ‘feel-good FPS’ from being anything but a downer,” was their verdict.

The first reviews of Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 2 on PS4 are more encouraging – even gaining a 9/10 from Gaming Trend – but we suggest waiting until reviews of the Switch iteration arrive. The original apparently had performance issues. Hopefully this sequel has received more attention.

City of Brass is a far safer purchase. This Arabian Nights-themed first-person roguelike ticks all the right boxes, coming from the creative minds behind Bioshock. Nintendo Life deemed it worthy of 9/10, calling it one of the most entertaining roguelikes on the Switch.

Then we have Observer, the cyberpunk horror mystery from the Layers of Fear devs. Being a visually demanding game some jiggery-pokery (downgrading) has occurred to get it running on Switch, but it has made the jump mostly intact. “Despite threatening to fizzle under the weight of its reverence for Blade Runner, Observer manages to craft an impressive and affecting horror experience on Switch that doesn’t outstay its welcome,” said Nintendo Life.

Nintendo World Report wasn’t quite as impressed however, opting for a 7/10. They praised the puzzle elements but felt like some areas were nothing more than filler.

Other games of note include Defense Grid 2 – one of the best tower defence games around – retro platformer Commander Keen in Keen Dreams, and Hamster’s re-release of Puzzle Bobble 2 on NeoGeo.

Odallus: The Dark Call also steps out of the shadows. This is another 8-bit style Castlevania alike, albeit one slightly more accomplished than most. Also: the protagonist is called Haggis. Nintendo World Report found it to be a “fun and challenging” throwback, which is about as much as you can ask for.

In addition to a Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn demo, the 3DS gains the very well received JRPG Etrian Odyssey Nexus too. Critics seem englamoured by this ‘greatest hits’ role-player package, with GameSpot handing out 8/10.

“Despite a few small stumbles, the grandiose adventure Etrian Odyssey Nexus delivers is a rewarding, engaging journey you’ll be glad to take,” their reviewer beamed.

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Feb 05
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

Like something out of a Craig David song, Respawn’s Apex Legends was leaked on a Saturday, revealed on a Sunday, and launched on a Monday. Why the stealth launch? With EA’s own Anthem just weeks away, we guess this was deemed the best way to get the public’s attention.

Early impressions are positive. It’s a squad-based Battle Royale with a focus on teamwork, boasting plenty of smart design choices that ensure teammates communicate. Out of all the BR games available, it reminds us of PUGB the most, only with the slickness and polish of Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode and a cast of bold characters similar to Overwatch and Fortnite. It’s a shame there are no Titans and that wallr unning has been omitted, though – these two traits defined Titanfall, yet both are missing here.

God Eater 3 and Monster Energy Supercross 2 are also out this week, and reviews of both are starting to trickle through. God Eater 3 is off to a good start, with the first review score being an 8.0 from IGN Japan.

Game Revolution opted for a 3.5/5 for Monster Energy Supercross 2 meanwhile, claiming that “If you’re looking for an accurate simulation of Supercross, this is going to satisfy”. They were disappointed by the lack of modes, however.

Pixel art riot simulator Riot: Civil Unrest also heads to both retail and the digital storefronts. Sadly, despite its intriguing premise, reviews are far from favourable with more than a couple of critics confused by what it actually wants to achieve.

It isn’t the only new indie release to be called “a bit of a mess” – the first-person anime-style RPG Away: Journey To The Unexpected is also apparently both messy and a bit dull, despite the appealing visuals.

Sony’s PlayLink controlled puzzler Melbits World is gaining far stronger reviews. Etrian Odyssey Nexus on 3DS is also going down a treat, being a greatest hits package of sorts. With scores as high as 9/10, it may even end up being the highest rated 3DS release of the year.

New release showcase:

Melbits World

Reviews:
8/10 – GameSpace: “Melbits World is a charming puzzle-solver for party-time. With the power of PlayLink, you will overcome obstacles with up to three friends by using cell phones and tablets to control bridges, boxes, barriers, and beyond. While some of obstacles taking advantage of motion controls can be a bit sluggish, this approach of controls means that no one is left out of the party. Melbits World is an all-ages romp of madcap mayhem for all skill levels which places a high priority on player communication”

7/10 – PlayStation Country: “With the right friends, Melbits World is a cute and clever exercise in collaboration and coordination that offers more than just a gimmicky control system and some sweet presentation but the very young and the jaded old might not get much from it and solo players aren’t catered for at all”

6/10 – Push Square: “Melbits World is a nice attempt at creating a fun, simple puzzle game suited to PlayLink’s smartphone functionality. Its visual style is very easy on the eye, while the basic, communication-based gameplay means it’s bound to be a good family game”

Etrian Odyssey Nexus

Reviews:
9.0 – God is a Geek: “Etrian Odyssey Nexus is the perfect send off for the best DRPG franchise that honestly won’t be the same without a dual screen system”

9/10 – Nintendo World Report: “Etrian Odyssey Nexus is an elegant farewell to a series and a system. If this is the last we see of the Etrian series, this is a high note to go out on”

8/10 – Destructoid: “Atlus didn’t set out to create a new, series-defining game with this entry, but rather a recap of the everything that’s come before it. Being able to replay my favorite classes from the past is a treat, but it’s really that spirit of adventure percolating through the entire package that has me hooked”

Away: Journey To The Unexpected

Reviews:
7/0 – PSU: “Magic mushroom design, endearingly wacky NPCs and visually plush environments are mixed with simple and fun gameplay countered with patience testing level repetition adding up to a fairly unique short and sweet FPS”

4/10 – Indie Game Website: “Away: Journey To The Unexpected is a game with charming moments, but they aren’t enough to save a dull experience. The highlights are the interactions with your family, but those are at the beginning, then the end of the game. Even the end boss is incredibly easy”

2/5 – TheXboxHub: “Overall, Away: Journey to the Unexpected is a bit of a mess, and what’s even more disappointing is that the trailers of the game have made it really seem like the feel-good FPS game that the developers have aimed for”

Riot: Civil Unrest

Reviews:
3/5 – TheXboxHub: “As an experience it’s completely original; a taxing and emotional rollercoaster that questions the whole process of demonstrations from both sides of the line. As a game, and well, it all comes across as a bit of a mess while playing, and it’s really hard to control or work out what is going on at any one time, whilst controlling the police feels completely wrong, as the chaos descends into utter violence”

4/10 – PlayStation Country: “It’s quite difficult to ascertain what Riot: Civil Unrest wants to be. The dull and uncontrollable action would fit quite well as a simulator with something to say. However, the title is bogged down with gamified elements that suggest that this product was built for entertainment, with its guitar laden soundtrack and high score chasing elements. Unfortunately, it becomes a mess of both worlds that fails to be either thought provoking or an enjoyable gaming experience”

3.5/10 – Culture Vultures: “Frankly, Riot communicates nothing of importance about the conflicts it bases itself on and can barely support itself as a strategy game. I don’t predict a riot, but I do predict giving this title a miss”

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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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