Aug 24
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games 1 Comment

Annual sporting update season is upon us once more, with Madden NFL 18 and F1 2017 being first out the gate.

With an all-new story mode, Madden NFL 18 is said to be the most accessible yet, gaining a 9/10 from GameSpot, a 4.5 from US Gamer and an 8.25 from GameInformer.

IGN meanwhile went with an 8.6. “The shift to Frostbite doesn’t refresh Madden NFL 18’s gameplay much, but Longshot is a memorable single-player mode,” was their verdict.

Codemasters’ F1 2017 has gained an even steadier sting of 9/10s, with most critics calling it the best instalment ever delivered. The Telegraph opted for full marks, while The Sixth Axis felt it was worth a 9/10. “From adding more R&D options to the career to having classic cars and invitational events help break up the long racing calendar, there’s a lot to keep you engaged here,” they said.

Plenty of other new releases are vying for attention over bank holiday, with the biggest by far being the less-than-full-price Uncharted: The Lost Legacy.

While it has received a few 7/10s (hello, VideoGamer) the majority of review scores are 8s and 9s. God is a Geek went with full marks, meanwhile. “The game is yet another masterpiece from Naughty Dog, and it goes to show we don’t need Nathan Drake to make a great adventure greater,” their reviewer stated.

As you may be aware, pre-orders came with Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. This means the classic platformer bounces back on PS4 this week, available for £11.99.

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Aug 22
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

It’s easy to see why Housemarque called upon the talents of Eugene Jarvis to co-create PSN hit Nex Machina. The celebrated game designer is responsible for some of the greatest arcade twin-stick shooters of all-time, including Robotron: 2084 and Smash TV.

Both are a clear influence on Circuit Breakers. Essentially, it’s an amalgamation of the two, featuring small, boxy, predominately grey arenas filled to the brim with rampaging robots ripe for wrecking.

Sadly, developer Triverske seems to have overlooked what made these games great. It doesn’t have the eccentric sense of humour or over the top violence of Smash TV, and it lacks Robotron’s ability to send players into a mesmeric trance. All told, it’s a pretty straightforward score chaser.

It does have some merits though. There’s a choice of characters, each of which has their own weapon with varying ranges, spreads, and firing speeds. They also have their own challenge cards to work through. Ticking a few impromptu challenges off the list is mildly rewarding, bringing you one step closer to 100% completion.

While spending time with each character is diverting at first, chances are you’ll find yourself sticking with just one or two. The machine gun and mini-gun carriers tear through enemies with much more haste than, say, Samson with his slow firing missile launcher. Tay’s laser only fires in straight lines, while Shelby’s shotgun lacks punch. Pun-tastic character names, we’re sure you’ll agree.

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Aug 21
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

We’re all for publishers and developers creating new IP. In Agents of Mayhem’s case however, we struggle to see why Volition didn’t give the world a new Saints Row instead.

This generation hasn’t had a proper exclusive Saints Row title yet. Moreover, the franchise is more than popular enough to ensure a decent amount of pre-orders and steady sales thereafter.

In short, a new Saints Row would have had a very good chance of taking no.1 in the UK chart. Agents of Mayhem hasn’t been as lucky, making its debut at #4.

While not a poor position, traditionally sales are slow in the summer – new releases reaching no.1 by selling just a few thousand copies isn’t unheard of during this time of year.

Case point: Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is the UK’s number one for a seventh week running, despite sales dropping 23%. 2014’s GTA V is at #2, while 2015’s Fallout 4 sits at #3. It’s that crazy time of year where just about anything can make the top ten following a significant price cut.

At #5 it’s Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which suggests Switch stock was replenished last week.

Bethesda’s DOOM and Dishonored 2 fall to #6 and #7, Rainbow Six: Siege holds onto #8, Splatoon 2 falls three places to #9, and then at #10 it’s Forza Horizon 3.

The PS4 version of Cities: Skylines is this week’s only other new arrival, entering at #20. The Xbox One version failed to make the top 40 at launch, although it did make an appearance later down the line.

Maximum Games’ Troll & I – which has received a mauling from critics – did however manage to make #6 in the Switch chart, outselling such games as Super Bomberman R, LEGO City Undercover and Ultra Street Fighter II. Oh dear.

All eyes on next week, where it’s more than likely that Uncharted: The Lost Legacy will prevent Crash Bandicoot from having an 8th week at no.1. Crash upheaved by his own creators. Why, it’s almost ironic.

Aug 21
By Matt Gander In Reviews 3 Comments

The biggest compliment we can give Sonic Mania is that it feels like it was developed by a team who understands and loves the series more than SEGA themselves. SEGA’s once proud mascot has lost his way over the years, and Sonic’s sizeable fan base has seemingly taken it upon themselves to get the blue blur back on track. It was the fans who stuck by Sonic through thick and thin, the fans who insisted Sonic could be brilliant once more, and the fans that suggested that SEGA take the ‘back to basics’ approach.

Sonic Mania is the work of one fan in particular – Christian Whitehead. The Australian programmer did such a good job at converting Sonic CD to mobiles, thanks to his proprietary Retro Engine, that SEGA not only made the port official but also released it on Xbox 360 and PS3. Two more Sonic mobile conversions later, Christian was tasked with making a brand new Sonic game, working alongside Headcannon and PagodaWest Games – two other indie studios.

Sonic Mania is a game both by and for the fans; a passion project that has clearly had countless hours lavished on it. This was the best possible move SEGA could have made, and it’s the greatest thing to happen to Sonic in a long time.

It’s a mixture of new and old, with classic reimagined levels alongside new. It starts off with a jaunt around good old Green Hill Zone, before propelling Sonic into Chemical Plant Zone a la Sonic 2. It’s here where the developers start to throw curve balls, with the constantly tight level design presenting dozens of unexpected moments. This trend continues to the very end – familiar stages with new set-pieces intended to catch even long-time Sonic fans off guard. The result is a game that has far more personality than 2D Sonic games prior, chock full of memorable moments.

While it’s arguable that the stage roster isn’t going to be everybody’s taste (we would have swapped Oil Ocean for Hill Top, Aquatic Ruins, or Ice Cap Zone) Mania still ticks all the right boxes, with lava, underwater, snow, airborne, and whirling mechanical stages all present. New stage Studiopolis fills the Casino Night slot, complete with obligatory gambling machines, while Sonic 3’s Hydrocity is the game’s water stage. Many of the later stages are colossal in size, right to the point where on a few occasions the 10-minute time limit started to become a concern.

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Aug 17
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

Even before taking it out the packaging, our expectations for Maximum Games’ Troll & I were low. We expected a low budget The Last Guardian, but it couldn’t even meet that shameful standard.

Instead, we were pretended with a broken and blatantly unfinished mess. It’s so bad that the Xbox One achievement ratios suggest that less than 10% of players stuck with it for more than an hour.

We were hoping that the Switch version would be a marked improvement, given the extra development time and Nintendo’s quality control procedures. Alas, it’s not to be. If anything, it’s even worse. We’ve seen footage where the main character, Otto, falls through the floor just moments after an auto-save – rendering progress impossible – and another video showcasing terrible lag and a game-breaking 10fps frame rate.

At £19.99 (the current Amazon price; eShop price – £24.99) it may be one of the cheapest Switch retail games, but don’t be tempted. Put your money towards Breath of the Wild’s DLC instead.

ACA NeoGeo Magician Lord (£6.29) has something of a reputation, too. It was a NeoGeo launch title and, well, it shows. While not a travesty of Altered Beast proportions, it wasn’t long after launch that the NeoGeo started giving us the good stuff, plenty of which is already available on Switch.

From bad to good. Sonic Mania (£15.99) is off to a rip-roaring start, with the Switch version’s Metacritic score currently standing at a lofty 91%. “The occasional bug and a couple of brief and cheap areas deprive it of Sonic-style perfection, but it’s pretty darn close,” said Nintendo Life, who awarded it a 9/10.

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Aug 16
By Matt Gander In Mobile Games 1 Comment

There’s good news and there’s really good news. This is the case of the latter, as last week’s mobile re-release of SEGA’s seminal platformer Ristar showcases vastly improved emulation.

The first batch of SEGA Forever titles left a lot to be desired. In fact, they were approaching unplayable even on high-end mobile devices. Ristar however runs smoothly, has less finicky touchscreen controls and overall improved presentation. This is all thanks to a new core emulator, and word has it that the launch titles are also due an overhaul.

SEGA are listening to fan feedback, it would seem, which is encouraging for the future.

Ristar was a late (1995) release for the Mega Drive, tipped by the gaming magazines of the era to be Sonic the Hedgehog’s successor. That never happened due to less-than-great sales, and perhaps being nothing more than a marketing ploy – what good would have come from ditching Sonic? It’s not as if the hedgehog’s popularity was in decline at the time.

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Aug 16
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

The ‘AAA’ drought comes to an end with the arrival of Deep Silver’s Agents of Mayhem. This vivid and colourful shooter has more in common with Crackdown than the studio’s own Saints Row series, thanks to a focus on destruction and over-the-top weaponry.

Review scores are wildly mixed, ranging from GameSpot’s 4/10 and an equally critical mauling from GameCritics, to 8/10s from Push Square and God is a Geek. While we don’t doubt that it’ll manage to break the UK top ten next week, it may have a hard time remaining there.

Arguably the biggest release of the week is Sonic Mania. We spent a few hours with it last night and so far it’s nothing short of excellent – a triumphant return to the hedgehog’s glory days. As noted during our round-up, reviews are full of praise. It may even be the greatest Sonic game of all-time.

We’re slightly concerned that Sonic’s arrival will impact sales of Undertale. Toby Fox’s hit RPG comes to PS4 and PS Vita this week, at the bargain price of £11.99. Toby made a name for himself by creating hacks for Nintendo’s Earthbound, and so – somewhat unsurprisingly – Nintendo’s cult RPG is the biggest influence here. Don’t let the lack of visual prowess put you off – it’s lovingly crafted, full of likeable characters and quirky humour.

Then we have Cities Skylines on PS4. While we can’t vouch for this belated PS4 conversion, the Xbox One version is very good indeed – a contender to Sim City’s throne, streamlined in all the right places to make it far easier and more enjoyable to play. It’s a demanding game, too, with your city’s citizens always requesting a new school, police station or similar.

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Aug 14
By Matt Gander In Blog No Comments

What goes around comes around. It’s an apt phrase to use when talking about Sonic Mania, given the blue blur’s passion for loop-the-loops. Some twenty-five years later, we’re back at the beginning once more with 2D pixel art Sonic game.

Why has it taken this long for SEGA to go back to basics and give oh-so loyal Sonic fans something they’ve long hankered for? We imagine the positive reception of Christian Whitehead’s 16-bit Sonic conversions were the catalyst, as the Australian programmer spearheads Sonic Mania’s development team, working alongside Headcannon and PagodaWest Games.

As many critics rightly state, this is a Sonic game for the fans by the fans – a love letter to the games so many grew up with. Not only this, but it may also be the greatest Sonic game of all time.

Not convinced? Take a look at some of the scores Sonic Mania has garnered:

‘Essential’ – Eurogamer: “1992 is alive and well. Christian Whitehead and team turn in a beautiful rewrite of the 16-bit Sonic games with all-new stages”

10/10 – The Sixth Axis: “Sonic Mania surpasses the Mega Drive/Genesis originals. It not only incorporates what made Sonic great, but has the inventiveness to shatter what was possible in a 2D platformer”

9.5 – The Jimquisition (video review): “Sonic Mania is a brilliantly staged celebration of the past that acts as a true sequel to the Genesis line of games”

93/100 – VentureBeat: “Sonic Mania isn’t just a great game for old Sonic fans. It’s a great game. This inspiration from the past should be Sonic’s future”

9/10 – The Metro: “A touching, and highly playable, a labour of love by fans that understand Sonic The Hedgehog better than Sega ever has in the last 20+ years”

9/10 – GameSpot: “An excellent 2D platformer, Sonic Mania goes beyond expectations, managing to be not only a proper evolution of the series’ iconic formula, but the best Sonic game ever made”

8.7 – IGN: “It truly is the classic throwback longtime series fans have been clamoring for, but there’s plenty to love here even if you didn’t grow up with a Genesis. Sonic Mania is a stellar example of a retro revival done right”

8.5 – GameInformer: “Sonic Mania succeeds in paying homage to the classic ’90s entries that so many fans remember fondly, and in the process delivers the best Sonic game in decades”

4/5 – US Gamer: “Sonic’s first true 2D, pixelated outing since 2004’s Sonic Advance 3 was well worth the wait”

8/10 – God is a Geek: “Sonic Mania is both fluid and fun, and reminds us all of what a Sonic game should be. This is a game by Sonic fans, for Sonic fans”

8/10 – Destructoid: “Sonic Mania is short but sweet. It even functions as a proper Sonic 4 if you don’t count the episodic Sonic 4 (remember that one?)”

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