Apr 05
By Lauren Relph In Reviews No Comments

The Tropico series is well established, with players mostly enjoying their forays into running a ‘banana republic’ paradise as El Presidente. Pick the way you want to rule – a despotic capitalist, a benevolent commy or just someone in between, but the fun comes from picking sides.

You begin as the ruler of a few tiny islands called Tropico. The lands are fertile and lush, perfect for your many new crocodile ranches. Tropicans arrive at the island looking to their new leader for security and prospects of a better life. El Presidente must provide jobs, food, and entertainment for his citizens, and setting up these things is almost effortless – if you have the capital to spend.

Having said that, the developers may have taken new players for granted a little. The building menu and other functions work well and are generally easy to navigate, but only if you know what you’re looking for. Older players might find it obvious how certain elements of the game work, but for a new player, it almost becomes a trial by fire when you consider some of your tasks require completion within a certain amount of time. In fact, the finer elements of the game are tucked away in submenus and aren’t immediately obvious without some serious poking around. One example of this was placing the bus garage, and not knowing where to find the bus stops so we could make a route for the Tropicans to take a ride. It wasn’t immediately clear that these types of item placements come from within the building itself, opposed to within a building submenu.

But before long, there was our very own mini-Metropolis, complete with high-status buildings such as opera houses, radio stations and theatres for my (free) bus-ride loving citizens.

The first couple of story-based levels ease you in nicely, but it seems after that, everything seemed to fall apart. The bank balance was dropping quicker than an over-burdened banana tree, and my allies were bailing me out every other month. Having just achieved separation from The Crown, we almost felt embarrassed for El Presidente. Trying to find out exactly why money was haemorrhaging was another story. The on-screen notifications tell you when a freighter comes in, how much money it was worth in trade and how many new migrants it bought in. But the outgoing costs continually sink the books. Once the economic sub-menu was discovered, we didn’t really feel any more enlightened – running an empire is just expensive, everyone needs paying. Eventually, it stabilised after building power stations and material processing factories, but we spent the remainder of the time playing cautiously, as though the next expenditure could see El Presidente being deposed for being an overzealous spendthrift.

The Crown, citizens, revolutionaries, the other factions – all their needs stack up. The Crown wants more resources from you, and in return they’ll let you ‘play’ at being El Presidente a bit longer, the Revolutionaries want you to help build an uprising, and other allies you make along the way all want a little slice of your own special brand of corruption-tainted sunshine benevolence – should you last long enough as ruler to do so, as helping one side often comes with a consequence of losing trust with another faction.

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Apr 04
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

Things are a rather quiet on PS4 and Xbox One this week, with Borderlands: GOTY Edition being the only major new release. Jolly camp Nintendo is a whole lot busier, thankfully.

As per usual, the system gains another batch of belated conversions. From THQ Nordic comes the Zelda alike adventure Darksiders Warmastered Edition, which reportedly not just holds up well despite its age, but performs smoothly on Switch. Perhaps not a huge surprise, seeing even the Wii U had a competent version.

Then there’s Hob: The Definitive Edition, from the creators of Torchlight and its sequel. This conversion comes from specialists Panic Button. The first review to appear is an 8/10 from Nintendo Life. “Hob: The Definitive Edition retains all the qualities of the original, with only a reasonable downgrade in its visuals serving as a caveat. With a cel-shaded art style helping negate the effect of this aesthetic sacrifice and all the improvements genuinely helping elevate Hob’s overall quality, Hob becomes the latest 3D platformer to secure a well-earned place among Switch’s most exciting new additions,” they said.

As for newer titles, there’s Mechstermination Force – a colourful boss rush shooter from the creator of Gunman Clive. Nintendo Life also awarded it an 8/10, although warned that with Cuphead around the corner you may want to wait.

Nintendo Insider opted for a 9/10, meanwhile: “It may not have the usually expected run-and-gun Metal Slug action to fill the gap between boss fights, but when those boss fights are this good it doesn’t really need them.”

We’re also pleased to report that competitive airship shooter Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing is worth a look, gaining an 8/10 from TheSixthAxis. They did however note that Pro Controller support isn’t due until a later date. [“…despite the game’s origins as a VR game, this is a sci-fi battler that will likely draw you in without too much trouble,” was their verdict.

You’ll find the full list of new Switch releases and pre-orders below. Who’s up for some Donkey Kong 3? Stanley the Bugman is always welcome round these parts.

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Apr 03
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

If it wasn’t for Borderlands: Game Of The Year Edition – available now on PS4 and Xbox One for £24.99 – we would be looking at the quietest week for new releases in a long time.

Borderlands: Game Of The Year Edition (which year, exactly?) was announced just a week ago, and features more than a few improvements. As well as the obligatory resolution jump to 4K it also includes all four DLC add-ons, new weapons, four-player split-screen, Borderland 2’s mini-map facility, and “new heads”.

While this may sound like a tempting package, it’s worth bearing in mind the game’s age – it’s fast approaching ten years old. Perhaps Borderlands 10th Anniversary Edition would have been a better title. This wasn’t the entry that put Borderlands on the map, either – it was the far superior sequel that fixed the faults of this original, eventually leading it to become the fan favourite.

The rest of this week’s releases are mostly belated conversions. Darksiders: Warmastered Edition makes the jump to Switch and apparently holds up rather well. FAR: Lone Sails – a slow-paced, almost meditative, post-apocalyptic adventure – ventures forth from PC to consoles, meanwhile. We reviewed it yesterday, where it garnered a well-deserved 8/10. There’s nothing else quite like it.

Vertically scrolling shoot’em up AngerForce: Reloaded also made its debut on PC some time ago. It’s one of the best examples of the genre around, packed full of homages, and so critics were rather smitten by this console iteration.

There’s also the free-to-start Zaccaria Pinball on Xbox One, which includes one table (Space Shuttle) for free. An additional 27 retro tables can currently be purchased from £1.69. Unless mistaken, it’s a glorified mobile conversion. We gave it a quick blast earlier and while the physics seem decent enough, the general presentation is lacking.

If you’re into offbeat titles, Sword & Fairy 6 on PS4 might be up your alley. It’s a long running Chinese RPG series known for having a decent story and a surprisingly deep battle system. Chinese role-players are rarely translated into English, so it’s pleasing to see it on PSN.

Finally, there’s Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing, an airship shooter based around a winner-takes-all reality show. Reviews aren’t live yet, but it looks intriguing enough to warrant closer investigation.

New release showcase:

Borderlands: Game Of The Year Edition

Reviews:
8.0 – IGN: “Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition holds up as a fun loot shooter, but the improvements made in the remaster are minimal”

7.5 – Stevivor: “Despite some design decisions that may be seen as missteps in 2019, Borderlands has aged remarkably well (and in some cases, reminds current developers that they need to reassess how they’ve tackled the looter shooter)”

7/10 – The Metro: “Not a game that particularly needed a remaster but that in itself speaks to the quality of the original and the potential of the new sequel”

FAR: Lone Sails

Reviews:
9/10 – The Xbox Hub: “FAR: Lone Sails is a trip that once you play, you won’t forget anytime soon. It’s beautiful and emotional in a raw way that very few games manage; with no words, it strikes straight to the heart. It’s a wonderful experience from start to finish, and I wholeheartedly sug”gest anyone to play it who has the slightest of interest”

8.5 – Pure PlayStation: “Far: Lone Sails is several things, including a vehicle adventure game, a vehicle managing sim and a post-apocalyptic puzzle game. It’s a strange mix, but it’s as fun to play as it is pretty to look at. Its definitely on the short side, but if you’re like me, it will be an experience that you won’t soon forget”

7/10 – Xbox Tavern: “Far: Lone Sails is a game that says a great deal without ever uttering a single word. Much like Dear Esther, it’s a journey that can be interpreted in many ways, and as such, your view of its gorgeously desperate world will constantly vary throughout. It’s a shame, however, that such a compelling canvas is slightly held back by its simplicity and its short length. Still, it’s a fascinating tale that deserves attention, just don’t expect too much from its gameplay”

AngerForce: Reloaded

Reviews:
8/10 – Xbox Tavern: “AngerForce is an accessible yet challenging shmup that frequently rewards its players whether they win or lose. Its gameplay is tight, responsive, constantly packed with action, and comes complete with diverse environments, heaps of enemy variations, and a shed-load of upgrades. Not only is it one of the best looking shmups in recent memory, it’s easily one of the most entertaining. Genre fans would do well to have this on their radar”

3.5/5 – Vooks: “I had a blast with AngerForce: Reloaded… until I realised that to finish the game I’ll need to spend a lot of my time grind missions over and over to get anywhere. I felt like 5-20 minute play sessions at a time were enough to rack up points, buy a power-up or two and then tap out for a while. Which is perfect for playing on the go – provided you can make the most of that vertical perspective”

Darksiders: Warmastered Edition (Switch)

Reviews:
8.5 – Nintendo World Report: “If you’re craving classic 3D Zelda, Darksiders is the game for you. Despite originally releasing almost 10 years ago, it has held up remarkably well”

8.0 – God is a Geek: “While not the definitive version, Darksiders: Warmastered Edition is no slouch on the Nintendo Switch. Whether played in graphics or performance mode, docked or handheld, it’s still an outstanding version of an already outstanding game”

7/10 – Nintendo Life: “While still the inferior entry in the Darksiders trilogy, this first outing is still a robust action-platformer full of satisfying melee combos, open-ended levels and a suitably over-the-top story. Easily one of the most underrated franchises to appear in the previous generation, Darksiders is a solid port that finally unleashes the Apocalypse in handheld form”

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Apr 02
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

Mad Max lead us to believe that if our seas and oceans dried up, whoever possesses the largest petrol supply would hold the most power. FAR: Lone Sails shares the theme of a post-apocalyptic world with dried-out seabeds, only here the survivor’s vehicles are equipped with engines that can turn any solid matter into hydro energy. Wooden boxes, bundles of books, and even explosive barrels – shove it in the compressor and you’re good for another few miles on the clock.

FAR: Lone Sails simply requests you come along for the ride. The destination remains a mystery throughout; it’s just you – a nameless young girl in a breezy red dress – exploring a desolate wasteland in a rickety vessel. It’s a game full of intrigue, as you trundle across a mixture of terrain never knowing what lies ahead. The pace is slow, and there’s no story to take in. Instead, some light environmental storytelling fills in the blanks.

Piloting the vehicle is a demanding experience. It’s a colossal motorhome of sorts, filled with glowing red buttons to push (and headbutt). As it slowly traverses the landscape the engine must be stoked, sails raised, steam vented, and the brakes applied in a timely fashion. The engine will catch fire if too much damage occurs, requiring you to grab a hose and consume valuable hydro reserves to tackle the blaze. Damaged equipment must also be repaired via the welding tool.

The only means of failure is from neglecting fires for so long that the vehicle eventually explodes, sending you back to the last checkpoint.

Mother nature is your one and only enemy here. Over the course of the experience, you’ll face high winds, heavy rain, lightning, and a few other surprises that we won’t spoil. Often during these instances, you’re forced to juggle a few things at once, piling on the pressure as you try and escape storms while topping up fuel reserves, putting out fires, and keeping an eye on the path ahead.

Often the path ahead will be blocked by a gate or similar, requiring you to leave the vehicle and solve a puzzle or find a workaround. Puzzles are mostly of the physics-based variety, similar to those found in LIMBO or Inside, with the most demanding set inside a disused mine with movable minecarts. Ingeniously, the vehicle is tied into puzzle solving as it’s equipped with a winch and a few other items that can be used externally. In a few instances, brute force is also needed, smashing through barriers at full pelt. If in doubt, give it a clout.

Mother nature is your one and only enemy here

Some pitstops feature new upgrades, often requiring manoeuvring the vehicle into the correct position so new tech can be fastened. The most helpful of these is a vacuum that’ll inhale the consumables used to stoke the engine. We love the fact some items are a little too nice to recycle, prompting us to deliberate what to incinerate next. Thankfully, the fancier items – trinkets, if you will – can be used as decorations. You can even burn the radio if it’s random warbling starts to grate.

Speaking of which, the sound design is nothing short of superb, heightening the atmosphere no end. The bellowing wind, the flapping sails, the sound of hail hammering a metal roof, and the thunderous roar of the engine all help to make this experience a memorable one. Visually, it’s slick too, featuring backdrops reminiscent of watercolour paintings, and bright colours used sparingly.

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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 2 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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