Aug 15
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

If you haven’t heard of most of this week’s releases, then worry not – pretty much everything on the digital storefronts has flown under the radar. Even Telltale’s final season of The Walking Dead has arrived to little fanfare, despite a trial launching a few weeks ago.

In fact, we even had to double-check to see if some of the titles below had launched – tinyBuild tend to publicise their indie titles reasonably well, yet the excellent sounding Graveyard Keeper, from the creators of the cult classic Punch Club, simply appeared on the Xbox One store at the stroke of midnight yesterday. Currently, not a single review can be found online. How appropriately eerie.

As for games that have had critical eyes cast upon them, we’ve rounded up a sampling of reviews for The Walking Dead: Done Running, the cold war XCOM clone Phantom Doctrine, futuristic thriller State of Mind, and the abstract point ‘n clicker Wailing Heights. That last one looks rather hip.

New release showcase:

The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Done Running

Reviews:
8.5 – PSU: “Almost completely rediscovering the lightning in a bottle that made the first season so compelling, The Walking Dead: The Final Season is starting out as strongly as we could have hoped”

7/10 – Push Square: “It’s practically impossible to make any firm conclusions about The Walking Dead: The Final Season in its first episode, but the engine improvements have really helped step up the storytelling, while the new cast of characters seem interesting at this early stage”

6/10 – The Metro: “An uninspiring beginning to Clementine’s final story but there’s enough potential in the plot, and the more cinematic visuals, to leave hope that it’ll end better than it started”

Phantom Doctrine

Reviews:
8/10 – TheSixthAxis: “[…] this is a deep and compelling tactical strategy game that provides innovation in a stagnant genre. I’ll be playing it long after I’ve finished reviewing it, and I can think of no higher praise than that”

7.5 – God is a Geek: “Phantom Doctrine is a strange one, all told. On the one hand it’s so like Firaxis’ modern classic that it’s almost laughable, but then it throws its own blend of ideas and innovations into the mix that do just enough to produce a brand new flavour”

7/10 – Push Square: “A Cold War XCOM clone with enemy spies instead of aliens, Phantom Doctrine is a largely enjoyable strategy title. The awareness system means you have more control over the flow of combat, and the setting is well presented, rife with atmosphere and charm. However, the punishing difficulty and steep learning curve do take the edge off things every now and then”

State of Mind

Reviews:
7/10 – VideoGamer: “The originality of its vision and the thrust of its narrative more than excuse some sci-fi clichés, and you’re left with a breezy adventure game which compels with its ideas, if not always with its play”

5/10 – Push Square: “While its cast of flawed – and in some cases unlikeable – characters are interesting to get to know, the plotting ultimately lets things down by failing to get you invested in the story, and asking you to suspend your disbelief a few too many times”

2/5 – Trusted Reviews: “With only minor player agency, its replay value is restricted to trophy hunting. It’s no disaster, but State of Mind delivers only disappointingly forgettable returns on some significant pre-release promise”

Wailing Heights

Reviews:
4/5 – GameRant: “Despite having a few drawbacks in terms of gameplay, this musical adventure game manages to provide players with a stable, unique experience and thereby delivers upon its promise of a world of oddities”

5/10 – Push Square: “While it neatly repurposes some old point-and-click tropes, it doesn’t quite have enough quality to match the ambition of the classics it’s so clearly inspired by”

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Aug 14
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

Despite the popularity of American football being on the rise in the UK, EA’s Madden NFL 19 enters the chart one position lower than last year. Making #5 in the UK top 40 is nothing to be ashamed of, however. In fact, it was the highest charting new release of last week.

Team17’s freshly prepared Overcooked 2 entered at #8, with the PS4 version proving the most popular, followed shortly by the Switch version. The individual format chart suggests there wasn’t a huge difference in sales.

The Gearbox published We Happy Few managed to make #10. With reviews mostly being around the 6/10 mark, it’s hard to imagine it rising up the chart in the weeks to come. A slow descent is about as much as it can hope for.

Elsewhere, Crash Bandicoot claims no.1. for the umpteenth (seventh) week in a row. LEGO The Incredibles has also now remained at #2 for almost as long. GTA V rose up to #3 while Mario Kart 8 Deluxe dropped one place to #4.

The rest of the UK top ten then comprises of Call of Duty: WWII at #6, God of War at #7, and Super Mario Odyssey at #9.

Mario Tennis Aces, Jurassic World: Evolution and The Crew 2 all dropped out of the top ten meanwhile, with Ubisoft’s open-world racer falling all the way from #4 to #25.

Aug 13
By Matt Gander In Most Played No Comments

SEGA was on top of the world in 1993. Sonic the Hedgehog and its bigger and better sequel had sent sales of the Mega Drive sky-rocketing, prompting the blue blur to become a household name almost overnight. Many predicted SEGA would release Sonic 3 in time for Christmas 1993, but with development taking far longer than anticipated, the platform holder hastily prepared Sonic Spinball to meet both demand and expectations.

Despite the pinball spin-off allegedly being created in just two months, reviews were generally favourable. To say it would have benefited from longer in development is an understatement, however – it was severely lacking in polish.

If you’ve ever wondered what Sonic Spinball could’ve been had it went through a typical development cycle, then Yoku’s Island Express should pique your interest.

It too puts a character under your control and mixes pinball with platforming, optional quests, and boss battles. It’s definitely a product of this era, rather than a ‘90s throwback, we should note – there are a few adventure game elements, with many paths and areas inaccessible until certain items are discovered. The whole game is set in one gigantic, seamless, world, too – a tropical island with numerous pinball “tables” connected by chutes, slides, pools of water, and things to bounce off.

The titular Yoku arrives on the island not to seek treasure, but to start a new life as the island’s postman. Indeed, it’s a profession not usually associated with video games. By chatting to the locals, the likeable lead soon learns that the island’s guardians are in danger, and so in addition to reducing the backlog of mail, there’s a wealth of quests to partake to restore balance and save the day.

It quickly becomes apparent that Yoku’s upgrades aren’t quite the typical assortment. They’re so outlandish, in fact, that it’s impossible to guess what plaything you’ll be given next. As the new postmaster, he’s supposed to carry a postman’s bugle. With no such instrument available, the upbeat bug resorts to using a party horn that emits a pleasingly high-pitched toot.

Then comes a slug vacuum, which features the first of many playful mechanics. The island’s slugs are explosive and must be detonated within a tight time limit, or face being propelled across the screen; something more amusing than it may sound here.

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Aug 12
By Matt Gander In Blog No Comments

The local Chinese cash and carry gives off an aroma so fragrant that it’s hard to resist popping in. Not that any extra encouragement is needed – I’m always hopeful of finding some form of videogame-related foodstuff. Various Hello Kitty confectionary is as much as I’ve discovered so far, which almost certainly doesn’t count.

This week saw a change in luck. Nestled amongst cans of strawberry Fanta and import Mountain Dew were Taiwanese Pokémon-branded ‘Ocean Bomb’ soft drinks in peach and “cider” flavour.

Initially, I thought the manufacturers were playing the old-fashioned gender card – Jigglypuff soda in a pink can for the ladies, and Pikachu soda in a yellow can for the gents. Turns out I foolishly jumped the gun – a quick Google search reveals a wide assortment of flavours and characters, including orange (Charmander), pear (Squirtle), apple (Bulbasaur), grape (Snorlax), strawberry (MewTwo), and cucumber (Pikachu again). We can only imagine what flavour Mr. Mime would represent.

The ingredient list is pleasingly slim, with no E-numbers or seemingly random vitamins – just carbonated water, corn syrup, sugar, flavouring, and good old citric acid.

Despite the high sugar content, they’re far from tasting like cheap kid’s drinks. In fact, they’re rather pleasant – the water tastes crisp due to being only lightly carbonated, and while the flavouring is sweet it isn’t overpowering. Almost delicate, even.

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Aug 09
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

It’s very much a case of ‘no gamer left behind’ as this week’s trio of big-name releases – Dead Cells, Overcooked 2 and Flipping Death – all hit the Switch in addition to other formats. There are few surprises and belated conversions to boot, too.

For those who haven’t been keeping tabs on the week’s releases, Dead Cells (£22.49) combines Metroidvania platforming and exploration with a few Dark Souls-like sensibilities. It’s fast-paced, addictive, and impeccably designed. We’re aiming to have a review ready soon.

Overcooked 2 (£19.99) meanwhile improves on the original in all the right ways, adding a new ‘throw’ ability and brunch – sorry, bunch – of refinements. As for Flipping Death (£17.99), it’s the eagerly awaited follow up to Stick to the Man, retaining the warped humour and abstract visual style. Scores for all three of these titles have been as high as 9/10, with Dead Cells in particular causing quite a stir.

If that wasn’t enough, ŌKAMI HD (£15.99) is out now as well. It may be 12 years old, but it hasn’t aged a bit. The Metacritic currently stands at 89% with not a single review below 8/10. “Still one of the most beautiful video games ever created, not to mention the best Zelda game that never was,” is The Metro’s verdict.

Minit (£8.99) is also well worth your time, gaining almost universal praise when hit the likes of PS4 and Xbox One a few months ago. It’s a monochrome adventure played sixty seconds at a time, similar to the cult RPG Half-Minute Hero. Destructoid awarded it top marks (10/10) upon release.

Then we have Toby: The Secret Mine (£7.99) and In Between (£9.99), two titles we reviewed ourselves. Toby is a decent enough Limbo alike with a similar visual style, which we described as being ‘short but sweet’ due to the fleeting 2-hour runtime. In Between couldn’t be any more different, being a physics-based puzzler with a sad story to tell. It’s challenging, but all for the right reasons.

Here’s a rundown of the other new releases hitting the Switch this week, including BlobCat – which sounds uncannily similar to SEGA’s ChuChu Rocket – and Megaton Rainfall, a first-person superhero sim developed by a one-man studio.

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Aug 09
By Matt Gander In Retro No Comments

The European release of Primal Rage for the SEGA 32X and the SEGA Master System’s Les Schtroumpfs Autour du Monde (The Smurfs Travel the World) have more in common than being amongst the final releases for their respective systems. To wit: both were manufactured in numbers so small that their existence wasn’t recognised until years after their original release.

The Smurfs Travel the World – sometimes referred to as The Smurfs 2, and also avaliable on GameGear – was released in 1995 (possibly early 1996) making it the final SEGA Master System title.

1995 was, lest you forget, the same year the PSone and SEGA Saturn launched. The 8-bit format had been long forgotten by the gaming press of the era, with SEGA Force Master – the one and only dedicated Master System magazine – going the way of the dodo in 1993.

The colourful platformer, from Parisian publisher Infogrames, only made it to a handful of Eastern European countries. Its existence was unheard of until 2000, after SEGA fan Mikko Heinonen found a copy while on holiday in the Czech Republic. A search online yielded zero results; they had discovered a game so rare that there was no documentation about it whatsoever. Move over Buggy Run and Masters of Combat – SEGA Master System collectors had a new holy grail to chase.

Once word of this mysterious title circulated around the retro community the hunt was on to track down additional copies. Mikko Heinonen was soon able to source a small handful from Prague, along with a further 10 copies one year later. These eventually found their way to collectors. For a short spell, SMS Power forum members tried to keep track of the number of copies in circulation, with the last recorded figure – in 2001 – being twenty-five. Unsurprisingly, copies were selling for as much as £300 during this time.

Entire boxes of unsold copies have since surfaced, bringing that price down, while making the number of unknown copies in existence impossible to track. Today, it’s now a relatively well-known title, at least amongst SEGA Master System collectors.

The fact that it was unheard of until five years after it first launched remains fascinating. No fanfare, no press coverage – it merely slipped into a small amount of Eastern European gaming stores, remaining there until being discovered years later.

Primal Rage for the SEGA 32X has a similar story. The US release, we should note, is one of the most common titles for the failed add-on. Indeed, the bloody prehistoric brawler was a very well-known title, gaining a release on just about every format at the time – even the Atari Jaguar CD saw a conversion. That’s to say, unlike The Smurfs 2, it’s far from obscure – chances are the US version of the 32X iteration was covered by the UK press, given the popularity of the import scene at the time.

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Aug 07
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

As per usual, Madden NFL rings in the yearly slew of annual sports updates. While critics are seemingly in agreement that it’s the best Madden in years, the Metacritic score (82%) is currently on par not just with last year’s edition, but also the edition before that. Read into that if you will.

There are plenty of other new releases of note this week. Highly noteable, in fact. Dead Cells, Overcooked 2 and Flipping Death are all worthy of both your time and money, with lofty 9/10 review scores popping up all over the place.

The 2D Dark Souls/Metroidvania hybrid Dead Cells is on track to become one of the highest rated games of the year, while Overcooked 2 improves on the already brilliant original, adding a new – game-changing – throw mechanic.

We’re slightly worried that Flipping Death – which retains the quirky visual style of Stick it to the Man – will be overshadowed by the above. If you like your adventures on the silly side, do give it consideration.

Currently, we’re waiting on reviews of We Happy Few – from one of Microsoft’s big E3 acquisitions, Compulsion Games – which is mildly concerning. The 1960’s set adventure has undergone a radical overhaul since it was first revealed, going from a survival game to a Bioshock style endeavour. Under Gearbox’s wing it also went from being a smaller ‘AA game’ to a fully-fledged full price release, deluxe edition and all. Hopefully it has survived its somewhat turbulent development cycle.

Finally, if you were put off by Atari’s pricing of Tempest 4000 then you’re in luck. Well, sort of – it’s available as a retail release from Friday. Shop around online and you can easily find it for a few quid less than the digital version. Now there’s a thing.

New release showcase:

Dead Cells

Reviews:
9.5 – EGM: “Its excellent melding of roguelike mechanics with tight platforming controls in an odd and quirky world is just what I love. I’ll be playing this game for years, and I can’t see it missing the mark with other fans of the genre once they get to play it”

9.0 – GameInformer: “Dead Cells is one of the more approachable and rewarding roguelikes I’ve encountered. Dying is never fun in games of this ilk, but the well-designed reward loop softens that blow and bolsters all subsequent runs, making the experience more about exploration and time committed than just player skill”

8/10 – VideoGamer: “Dead Cells is, at times, constrained by the genres it so heavily draws from, but its vibrant pixel art, furious combat, and rigorous execution make for a winning formula all its own”

Overcooked 2

Reviews:
9/10 – The Metro: “A delicious mix of old school multiplayer gaming and modern convenience, with a sequel that improves the original recipe in all the right ways”

9/10 – Destructoid: “If you enjoyed the original or skipped it purely because you needed online multiplayer support, Overcooked 2 should be a no-brainer. While the sequel runs the risk of being slightly too familiar and lacks any big surprises, it’s still a winning formula. Co-op gaming doesn’t get much better than this”

8/10 – GameSpot: “Overcooked 2 undoubtedly shines in local co-op and the versus arcade modes. New recipes and obstacles provide a fresh challenge for veterans, but it remains approachable for new players with simple controls and short playtimes”

Madden NFL 19

Reviews:
4.5/5 – GamesRadar: “A stunning return to form for the annual football franchise – and one of the finest all-round Madden packages in years”

8.9 – IGN: “Madden NFL 19 finds a new foundation for football gameplay on the back of its feel-good player handling”

8/10 – Push Square: “You’re right to be sceptical of EA Sports’ buzzwords by now, but Madden NFL 19’s headline Real Player Motion really does result in a more fluid game of football. The presentation may be familiar, but the game feels great on the field, and that consequently enhances all of its headline modes”

Flipping Death

Reviews:
9/10 – Nintendo World Report: “Flipping Death is Zoink’s best game to date. The humor is top notch like usual, but the game is such a refined product. The puzzles are clean and easy to grasp, there is some solid replay value, and every character you possess does something unique”

9/10 – Nintendo Life: “Flipping Death does share plenty of DNA with Stick it to the Man! – ranging from the floatiness of its platforming to the ability to read the minds of other characters – but that doesn’t stop it from being a far superior offering in almost every way”

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Aug 06
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

Just one new title shows up in this week’s top 40 – the PS4/Switch release of Hello Neighbour at #16. Upon release, the Xbox One version only managed to make the lower echelons of the chart.

This means it’s a no-show for THQ’s Titan Quest on Switch. The remastered RPG didn’t even break the Switch top 20.

It’s a case of business as usual in the top ten. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy celebrates a 6th week at no.1, followed by LEGO The Incredibles once again.

At #3 it’s Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, up from #5. Incidentally, it’s no.1 in the individual format charts, both by units sold and value.

Ubisoft’s The Crew 2 takes #4. GTA V moves back up to #5.

Call of Duty: WWII holds onto #6, God of War falls three places to #7, while Super Mario Odyssey re-enters the top ten at #8.

Jurassic World: Evolution and Mario Tennis Aces then remain at #9 and #10 for the second week running.

Sonic Mania Plus leaves the top ten, meanwhile, falling from #8 to #13.

As for other recent releases, Go Vacation climbs one place to #22. The PlayStation Hits re-release of The Last of Us Remastered wasn’t as fortunate, dropping three places to #28.

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