FAST RMX Review (Switch) – “The New F-Zero”

It has been 14 years since Nintendo released a new home console installment for their popular series, F-Zero. Thankfully, Shin’en Multimedia has been so fond of the series, they’ve taken up the task of creating their own high-speed,  futuristic racing game series, FAST. The series first started as a WiiWare title called FAST Racing League, then saw a sequel on the Wii U know as FAST Racing NEO. Shin’en has now brought FAST RMX to the Switch as a launch day title. Is this a title you should race to buy?

FAST RMX is a dramatically-enhanced version of FAST Racing NEO. It brings double the amount of tracks (30 tracks in total), double the vehicles, enhanced visuals, plenty more bumpin’ tunes, and some gameplay refinements. You will partake in the game’s Championship mode, which is broken down into 10 cups, with three tracks in each. You have three difficulty levels as well that also affect the game’s speed: Subsonic, Hypersonic, and Supersonic. Just to give you an idea of how “fast” FAST is: On the Subsonic difficulty (the game’s easy mode), you will be flying through levels at 700+ MPH; expect to be doing over 1000+ MPH on Supersonic difficulty. The team at Shin’en absolutely nailed the exhilarating sense of speed, all while being able to control your vehicle through that velocity.

If you’ve never played a FAST installment, imagine F-Zero and Wipeout combined, with a polarity twist (i.e. Ikaruga, Outland). As you’re zipping your way through tracks, you will need to switch your ship’s color polarity between blue and orange to hit specific colored boost and jump pads. Having the opposite polarity on will either slow you down dramatically or make you fall to your doom. It’s an extremely well-implemented system, and one which gives FAST its own identity.

As mentioned, cups will consist of three races, with every track providing variety to the backdrop and mechanics. Whether you’re racing through a windy desert, a perilous snowstorm, a stormy coast, or outside a space station, there’s plenty of variety in the tracks. If the speed’s not enough to keep you on your toes, the AI will; it will challenge you and have no qualms about taking advantage of you missing boost pads or boost orbs. Thankfully, FAST RMX’s refinements have adjusted difficulty curve from its Wii U predecessor, making it a feel much more fair. Also when you beat any cup, you unlock those levels from the completed cup for Hero mode (more on that below).

There are 15 vehicles to choose from in FAST RMX, most of which need to be unlocked. Each vehicle has its pros and cons with different attributes for acceleration, top speed, boost power, and weight. If you want more top speed, chances are the vehicle will be heavier to turn and have slower acceleration. If you want better control, you may sacrifice top speed for that.

Aside from the game’s Championship mode, you can grab a few buddies for 4-player split-screen action, or gather multiple Switch consoles and do 8-player local multiplayer. If that’s not enough, you can always take the action to the 8-player online mode. The online functionality ran smoothly during our tests. When jumping online, you choose your vehicle and are instantly thrown into the middle of race. If the race started, you will have to wait it to end (but you will still be able to watch what’s happening in the meantime). It’s very easy to jump into an online match. Unfortunately at the time of writing, there is no way to party up with friends. However, Shin’en has stated that the feature is in the works.

FAST RMX includes a Hero mode for you F-Zero fans out there. Your boost meters doubles as your shield in this mode, drastically ramping up the game’s difficulty. Like F-Zero, you will be focusing on balancing boost with shield, only boosting when absolutely necessary. In FAST Racing NEO, Hero mode was locked until you beat every cup on every difficulty (and due to the high level of difficulty, many never got to experience this mode). This time around, Hero mode is accessible once you beat any cup in Championship mode.

The controls in RMX feel a bit more refined than in its predecessor. This is also one of the few launch games that utilizes HD Rumble, and you certainly feel it. When playing with the Joy-Cons in separate hands, you will feel collisions coming from different directions. Hit a wall on the right and you’ll feel it in the right Joy-Con. Drive through a windstorm in the desert and you’ll feel the wind whirl through the controller. It’s a neat addition and showcases the potential of HD Rumble. The game supports every control type possible: Joy-Cons paired, Joy-Con sideways, and Pro controller. While the Pro controller did feel more comfortable for this game, the Joy-Cons still felt more than suitable. You even have the option of playing with motion controls.

Visually, FAST RMX is absolutely stunning. FAST RMX is up there with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as a visual showpiece that’ll impress anyone who sees the game in action. Its Wii U predecessor ran at 720p and 60 FPS, but RMX runs at a native 1080p and 60 FPS locked. This frame rate holds up even in intense 4-player split-screen action. This is brilliant, and something I hope other developers take note of. Levels and vehicles are superbly-detailed, with sharp texture work and terrific lighting. The sense of speed is also second-to-none, with awesome visual effects that truly make you feel how fast you’re going. The developers even implemented a feature to make the visuals even sharper in the options menu called Chromatic Aberration. This removes the softening tone of textures.

FAST RMX’s audio is also praiseworthy. From the moment you boot it up, the bumpin’ techno/electronica soundtrack will have you further immersed in the white-knuckle races. It really nails the insanely fast-paced tone and setting of the game. Sound effects are sublime as well. The menu effects, boosting, colliding, environment and announcer all truly make this audio stand out. And speaking of the announcer, F-Zero GX fans will notice that Jack Merluzzi provides his talent here as well. All-in-all this is one powerful audio package that deserves to be cranked up.

FAST RMX is a truly sublime racing experience. This is one game that’s very difficult to put down once you pick it up. Its addictive gameplay, insane sense of speed, breathtaking visuals, and superb audio really make this a phenomenal package. The amazing part is that everything here only costs $19.99 – a triple-A-quality package at a bargain price. While the online mode is missing a friends option at the time of this review, the game is an absolutely exhilarating adrenaline-rush overall. If you own a Switch, rush onto the eShop and buy this game. If you don’t own a Switch yet, this game is another reason to own one.

Overall Score: 9.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

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Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove Review (Switch) – “Pure 8-Bit Solid Gold”

With indies being a scene where developers can truly create the games they envision, Yacht Club Games sought out to release a game that’s an homage to the golden NES era of gaming. Shovel Knight was a true Kickstarter success story, and since then, the developers have continued to keep adding to the game. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove has hit the Nintendo Switch as a launch day title, containing three campaigns: Shovel of Hope (the original Shovel Knight), Plague of Shadows, and the newly released Specter of Torment. How does this compilation fare on Nintendo’s new platform, and how does Specter of Torment fare as the newly released addition?

Let’s kick off by saying, if you haven’t played Shovel Knight on any platform yet, there is no better time to experience it. Yacht Club Games is extremely passionate of their project and have literally brought it to almost every platform possible. Now, here we are with a version for the Nintendo Switch, containing the entire package plus more. As mentioned, Shovel Knight contains three campaigns, and while the majority of the review will cover Specter of Torment, we will cover the basic ground work of what’s new with the previous campaigns.

Shovel Knight’s original campaign remains fully intact, with the added features such as co-op play and Custom Knight (both of which were on the Wii U with its latest update). Additionally, there is a new feature to summon a fairy knight to follow you around and highlight where helpful items are (both in plain sight and hidden). Plague of Shadows takes the original campaign’s framework and provides players with an entirely new (and challenging) way to play by controlling Plague Knight. This has players trying to master the alchemy that Plague Knight wields, and utilizing this fully during platforming sequences. It’s a fun twist to the original Shovel of Hope campaign that’s certainly a ramped up challenge. However, the real highlight of the show here is Specter of Torment. While the original Shovel Knight (Shovel of Hope) is a spectacular game, and Plague of Shadows is a blast (literally), Specter of Torment really takes the formula further ahead.

This campaign serves as a prequel to the events leading up to Shovel of Hope. It tells the tragic story of Donovan and how he became Specter Knight. Without spoiling anything, Specter of Torment’s story is the strongest one told yet, and kept me going to see how it all connected. You will face off against all the knights from Shovel of Hope, showing how they swore their allegiance to the Enchantress. However, the levels will not be the same layouts as that from Shovel of Hope. Make no mistake, Specter of Torment feels more like a sequel to Shovel Knight (even if it is a prequel) rather than a simple addition.

Specter Knight’s platforming and combat has much more versatility than Shovel Knight and Plague Knight. Thanks to Specter Knight’s ability to run up walls for short distances, grind rails on his scythe, and “Dash Slash”, this really adds an engaging new dynamic to the gameplay. It’s not even just these new mechanics, but rather the brilliance in each level’s design. Yacht Club Games clearly provided an immense level of care to each stage, testing players with these mechanics and making them feel rewarded. Even with those tense platforming moments, the game never hits that mark of being “hard” just to be “hard”, but rather hits that perfect mark of being “challenging but fair”. Even the Dash Slash makes a big difference in terms of combat. Imagine Ninja Gaiden’s Ryu Hayabusa homing in on ememies with his air slash attack and you have an idea of what’s in place here. Whether with enemies or bosses, it feels gratifying to keep pulling off. And speaking of bosses, all the bosses have new attacks and tricks up their sleeves. Oh and the final boss battle in particular is really badass.

Specter Knight’s overall structure is similar to Shovel of Hope. After the opening level, you will be presented to the Tower Hub where you can walk around and talk to NPCs, acquire upgrades, find hidden elements, and choose your level. Unlike Shovel of Hope, you will have access to all the levels right from the get-go (akin to Mega Man). Throughout the levels you will find red skulls. These can be used to acquire Darkness abilities in the Tower Hub. These abilities range from summoning a skeleton sniper, to recovering health, to throwing your scythe and have it slice along platforms to take out enemies. A really neat feature is that when you cash in the skulls for an ability, you are brought to an area where you must escape using that particular ability. As opposed to just having the ability and rarely trying it, or not knowing how it works at all, the developers found a perfect middle ground introducing new abilities. You can even upgrade those abilities and acquire new sets of armor to change your passive attributes. For example, there’s an armor that allows you to still live if you fall on spikes or fall in a perilous pit (which would normally be an instakill).

When you beat the 3-5 hour campaign, there’s a New Game Plus mode, as well as a Challenge mode. You can even go back and try to get 100% game completion before tackling New Game Plus. Investing in the Treasure Trove collection versus just Specter of Torment will net you the previous campaigns as mentioned. Also new in this version is Body Swap mode. Every character has a male and female altered appearance now. The Enchantress will now be The Enchanter, and all the Knights will have specified appearances and animations to coincide with their gender swap. It’s a neat little feature, and one that feels more thoughtout than thrown-in. Playing through Shovel Knight in co-op is also a great addition and something not often seen in 2D side-scrollers.

Visually, Specter of Torment (and its predecessors) is a flawless rendition of how an old-school, 8-bit game looks. The game runs at 60 fps (as many NES games did), has stunning sprite work, and excellent backdrop effects. It’s like literally popping in a high-quality NES cartridge. It’s just stunning to see how clean it all looks while maintaining the authentic old-school style. Audio wise, Jake Kaufman returns to provide a remixed soundtrack (and some new tunes of course) for Specter of Torment, and hits it out of the park. The soundtrack perfectly nails the energy this campaign has and stuck with me well after turning the game off. The entire audio package is superb and really nails the NES feel to a tee. 

It must be stated that I was a bit concerned playing this with the Joy-Con’s button pad. After going back and forth playing this with the Joy-Cons and Pro controller, I can positively say that the Joy-Con’s button pad was very natural to play with. So if you were on the fence about playing this side scroller with the Joy-Cons and can’t find a Pro controller at the moment, the button pad does a superb job.

No matter how you perceive it, the NES era was an absolutely essential moment in gaming history. Through the 8-bit era, we have come to see many iconic characters burst into the gaming world, becoming legends amongst the gaming society. From Mario, Link, Mega Man, Hayabusa, Bomberman, and countless others, there’s no denying the impact these characters made 30+ years ago, up to this very day. Shovel Knight and crew certainly ranks among these legendary characters. Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is an absolutely essential game to own on the Switch. It’s perfectly crafted gameplay and level design truly showcase a labor of love for this genre that many others cannot imitate. For $25, you’re getting a combined 10-15 hours of three campaigns, plus an additional free campaign (King Knight) releasing in the near future, as well as a free 4-player Battle Arena mode (also in the near future). Steel thy shovel and get this collection now!

Overall Score: 9.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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Aqua Moto Racing Utopia Review (PS4/PC) – “Refreshing Ride”

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Extreme sports racing games are a dime a dozen nowadays, but there are some developers trying to rekindle relatable experiences, while also aiming for a new market. Swedish developer Zordix has been establishing themselves with a series that started on the iOS/Android called Aqua Moto Racing. In years to come, they brought their series to the 3DS, and now, they’re bringing the series to home consoles for the first time ever. Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is the latest installment in the series, available on Steam and PS4 (with a Wii U release in the near future). Is this worth braving the waves of the ocean, or is it stuck in open-waters?

Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is essentially a racing game that most closely resembles Nintendo’s “Wave Race” series. You will race through a series of championship events, each with different CC engine speeds, as well as jet-ski types (sit-down and stand-up models). The sit-down jet-skis are much more speed-focused, whereas the stand-up ones excel in stunt flexibility. Before hitting the waters though, you will start off by creating your own character. This is a nice way to kick things off by giving the player a bit of customization. There are a decent amount of options to tinker with to ensure not everyone looks similar out on the waters.

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Races rely on racing alongside the buoys in place on each track. You’ll be bobbing-and-weaving your way on the water to ensure you’re on the right side of the buoy you need to pass. If you miss three of these in a race, you’re disqualified. As you progress, you will earn cash based on your placement (as well as some to earn out on the track). This can be used to purchase newer and better jet-skis, with multiple attributes that are affected. Each jet-ski can be customized with a variety of colors, whether it’s the body or decals.

Each environment has a distinct feel, with multiple variation tracks to tackle throughout the game’s championship mode. Whether it’s the lush jungles, a water filled town in China, the open-ocean around tanker ships and oil rigs, or tropical paradises (to name a few), all of these locales are as fun to ride as they are unique. Another cool aspect is the option to race in first-person mode. The way the camera handles in this really adds to the immersion, whether you’re whipping around turns or doing flips in the air.

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Any game revolving around water is reliant on its physics, and honestly, the physics in place are quite good. The jet-skis handle more or less like they should on both calm and intense waves, with an arcade-style feel to it. It may be a little less interactive than Wave Race’s water physics, but what’s in place here works great. When going off of jumps and high waves, you’ll be able to pull off tricks as well. Doing so will allow you to gain boost. You can also pull off specific tricks while on water. The tricks are fairly simple to pull off, with some more advanced ones that take some time to master. There were some instances though (more evident during trick events) when the trick inputs didn’t respond, or the trick name was displayed but the animation kicked in after releasing the buttons. It worked well enough for the most part, but this particular instance is something that could be patched.

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There are plenty of modes to explore as well. Aside from the game’s core championship mode, there are time trial and free roam modes. Time trial is standard fare, except you’re provided times to beat to go for a gold medal in each track (aside from beating your own times). Free roam has you go around any of the game’s environments, but with a twist. There are “Z Balls” to collect in each environment, as well as a hidden collectible to find. Also, there are interactive events that can be triggered in each area, which is a great little feature to incorporate here. Then there’s the multiplayer modes. The game supports both local and online multiplayer. Local multiplayer has 4-player split-screen action, whether you’re racing against each other or tackling the party games together. The party games are a blast, whether it be Aqua Moto Hockey, King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, or our personal favorite here, Duckling Mama (think Super Rub-a-Dub from the PS3 launch days…if you ever played that). The online multiplayer strangely only consists of racing against others, with no party games to be found. While the party games are tailored more for the couch multiplayer, it would be nice to get friends together online to do this as well. That being said though, we were able to test out the online amongst staff members here and can say it ran quite smooth. Oh, and there’s a fairly attainable Platinum trophy to be found in this game as well.

I think we're going to need a bigger jet-ski...

I think we’re going to need a bigger jet-ski…

Visually, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is an incredibly clean and vibrant looking game. Environments look great, with some nice texture work and immensely inviting water. The objects and jet-skis are also well-detailed and appropriately scaled. Characters on the other hand are a bit lacking detail-wise, and have some stilted animations. There’s one odd animation too when landing from a trick. If you’re not fully complete with the trick, the animation doesn’t finish and goes right to the rider and his jet-ski being perfectly leveled with the water. Is it immersion-breaking? Not entirely, but it’s noticeable. On the flip-side, the game runs at a smooth 60 frames-per-second, which is a huge feat. The audio in AMRU is also right-on. Each environment has music that matches the locale very well, and the audio effects do a good job capturing the arcade-style feel to the game. The announcer on the other hand sounds mundane and unnecessary. Honestly, just going to the options and shutting him off makes it better.

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All-in-all, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is a great game that can easily be recommended to fans of arcade-style racers, and more so, fans of Nintendo’s Wave Race series (since Nintendo still has yet to return to the series within the past 15 years). Zordix has really evolved this series since its conception on iOS, and continues to get better each time. While the $30 price tag may be a bit steep for those on the fence, it’s certainly a worthy game to add to your collection. Between its vibrant visuals, addictive gameplay, and strong local party games, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia is one wave you’ll want to ride.

Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Aqua Moto Racing Utopia! Copy reviewed on PS4.

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Exile’s End Review (PS4/Vita): “Average Jameson”

There’s no question that while gaming technology advances, there’s still a soft-spot for old-school style games. Enter Exile’s End: a 16-bit, 2D Metroidvania game where players take controls of Jameson. Add in the fact that Keiji Yamagishi (the famous composer known for his work on the Ninja Gaiden and Tecmo Bowl soundtracks during the NES era) is on board to compose this game’s soundtrack and we’ve got a sure fire bet, right? Well, let’s see how this indie fares.

As mentioned, players assume the control of Jameson, an older, yet much more experienced worker of a mining crew. Contact was lost with a crew set out at a planet and a new crew is sent in to discover their whereabouts. However, things go wrong really quickly, leaving Jameson trying to find any survivors from his crew, as well as the ones already missing. Upon landing, Jameson’s equipment is damaged and will need to find comparable equipment to go about his search. As you explore, you start to uncover a conspiracy that was occurring at the installation on the planet, and things tend to develop more. It’s a standard fare storyline that’s ultimately forgettable, but still passable.

Now, Metroidvania style gameplay is a great start to the idea of the game. But here is where things are not as great as it sounds. Exile’s End does its best to replicate games of its stature, whether it be Metroid, Flashback, Another World, etc. The problem is the game’s slow-pacing. Upon starting the game, Jameson has no weapon other than rocks. Unfortunately, just throwing these to take out worms on the planet is a chore. You have to guestimate the distance Jameson throws the rock, and seems to have a much more overarching throw than expected. Later on, you finally acquire a handgun. However, the gun controls feel really stiff. As a matter of fact, the combat in general is just plain dull and uninspired.

The game is a bit punishing on difficulty as well, and for the wrong reason. The game constantly saves your progress every time you enter a room or area. So should you enter an area with the slightest sliver of health and then die, you will continue the game from the beginning of that room, with that exact health amount. Even ammo or any items all remain exactly as is. While I’m all for a good challenge, this issue could’ve been rectified by just having save rooms so that you’re not forced to stick with your current status in case you screwed up. Also, enemy placements will leave you firing off the screen constantly to ensure they don’t fire at you first.

Throughout the game’s 3-5 hour story, you will explore a variety of environments. Exile’s End does a great job utilizing its old-school presentation and conveying a really great atmospheric feel. Backdrops and foregrounds look really good, where some nice attention is indicated from planet life showcasing in the backgrounds. Whether you’re in the jungle, a research facility or caves, they each have very moody tones to them. Animations are a little on the stiff-end, but completely serviceable. Cutscene art looks quite good though, having a bit of a Ninja Gaiden look to them.

The game does really push atmosphere, and composer Keiji Yamagishi does a superb job lending to a dark soundtrack. No matter the location, the soundtrack really nails each area. It’s great to see such an iconic composer return and still produce some amazing stuff. It’s honestly the strongest aspect the game has going for it. Even if the tunes get a little repetitive due the game’s pacing, they’re still very memorable. Sound effects are also well done. Firearms, creatures’ audio cues, and ambiance, are all appropriate and sounds like a 16-bit era game.

Exile’s End is a solid effort at tackling the Metroidvania concept. The thing is that it’s not all that engaging to keep sticking with. Outside of the great art style and soundtrack, the gameplay itself is just serviceable at best. Die-hard Metroidvania fans may be interested in giving it a go, and fans of Yamagishi-san’s soundtrack will want to experience his work, but players will have to endure the slow-pacing and odd design choices.

Overall Score: 6.0 out of 10

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Exile’s End! Copy reviewed on PS4.

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Aragami Review (PS4/X1): “Embrace the Shadows”


Lince Works takes us back a step in the stealth genre with Aragami. With many so-called stealth games to dilute the pool (Dishonored, Thief, Styx), it would have appeared as though the formula was set in place. Luckily for us, that’s where Aragami comes in and shakes things up a bit. By forcing the player to use their wits and plan accordingly, Aragami takes a well-needed step back. So does it succeed? Or does Aragami sulk in the shadows? 

Story: 4/5

You play as Aragami, a vengeful spirit summoned by a sorceress, Yamiko, who is being held captive by the pillaging “Warriors of Light”, Kaiho, who have been at war with the “Shadow Warriors”. Beyond what you are, Aragami starts off as a mystery that slowly unfolds as you meticulously make your way through the game’s 8 chapters, for a total completion time of around 12-15 hours. You are told that in order to free the sorceress and allow her clan to take vengeance upon Kaiho, you need to collect 6 talismans, each of which are heavily guarded. As you reclaim the talismans, you are reunited with lost memories; some of which belong to the sorceress, while some belong to the person you were before your death, and consequently your resurrection. Uncovering these memories is key to the story of Aragami, but so is paying careful attention throughout each chapter. Enemies talk amongst one another and provide valuable information that can sway your perspective as to what is going on with the mysterious sorceress and where you come in as the deadly assassin (or ghostly shadow depending on your preference). 

After paying attention to enemy NPC’s conversations, I was sure I had the story figured out way before I thought I was supposed to. And then Aragami did something… mischievous. It kept me guessing. Not enough to definitively change my mind, but just enough to ensure I wasn’t sure. This was achieved by playing with the child-parent-like bond between Yamiko and Aragami in the main cutscenes. Aragami, really not sure of anything, knows he can only trust one person – Yamiko, who gave him life. However, as Aragami discovered more memories of both himself and Yamiko, he begins to become troubled and confused. Nonetheless, his faith in his creator and the knowledge of his only living purpose, revenge, keeps him moving forward. While Aragami did end how I anticipated, I thoroughly enjoyed the character development and the slight toying with my emotions throughout the story. Through the main cutscenes and small gems riddled in the gameplay through AI conversations, you are able to see all sides of this feud and you come to an understanding of how everyone got to where they are. It was almost poetic how at the last scene unfolds. And just when you think you know how it all will end, the developers throw one line – two words – to make you sit back and truly understand the struggles of these warring factions.

Gameplay: 5/5

Aragami is not like the stealth games we’ve come to know. In fact, after playing Aragami it is difficult to consider most other games as actual “stealth games”. Aragami himself has actually no combat capabilities, meaning once you are discovered you must run and hide, or carefully remove your opponents with finesse. This sort of limitation is not seen in many stealth games, as many of them offer you a chance to fight back and then flee if necessary. You are however given a small set of skills that are carefully designed for different scenarios.

You start out with the basics: shadow teleportation. It’s a simple concept to start, you can only move quickly between shadows, using up a small amount of shadow power that is displayed on your cape. This shadow power is the basis for all of your abilities. It restores in shadows and gets quickly removed when standing in light sources. You soon gain the ability to create shadows to teleport into, albeit at the hefty cost of shadow power. After this however, you are on your own to develop Aragami as you see fit. You discover cleverly (and frustratingly) placed scrolls which offer skill points that can be spent on different shadow powers. There are six of these powers in total, three are deemed as defensive, while the other three are offensive. It is an interesting classification as I personally would not consider many of them offensive (save for the kunai, which when thrown instantly kills a single opponent). A better nomenclature for all of the skills would simply be “strategic”, and that is definitely the theme of the game and I believe what the developers were trying to drive home. Almost any of the abilities can be used in a number of different ways, something that was truly a pleasure to explore and trial! My personal favorite was a shadow vortex trap, that when placed could be triggered from any location and instantly (and silently) move any number of nearby enemies into another realm. I found that in order to progress through certain situations, some skills were more useful than others. By the last chapter, I discovered uses for all skills that I hadn’t thought of before and was using each of them frequently! Some might consider these abilities overpowered but luckily there is a limitation to them. You are allowed only two uses per ability. However, shrines that restore all abilities are located throughout each level, and a particularly badass stealth kill skill can restore one use to the equipped ability. 

Like most stealth games, you are provided the option of killing everyone, no one, or somewhere in the morally unsound grey area. Unlike most stealth games, you are given natural tools to aid you in your endeavors as well. The first two talismans you acquire offer you a marking ability, which upon upgrading can track enemies through walls, and something I feel every true stealth game should have: a noise maker. Previous games we’ve seen whistling or banging your sword on objects to distract nearby guards, in this game it is a simple bangle. This small tool is revolutionary in stealth games and has a huge impact on gameplay, so I was thrilled to see it included. 

Aragami gets something else right that honestly was completely unanticipated: boss fights. Besides a rather fast-paced technical section, there were in fact three distinct boss fights and each of them were expertly handled and impressively varied. Considering the limited nature of most stealth games, it is often difficult to incorporate mechanics outside of the normal gameplay. However, Aragami’s clever abilities payed off well here. By thinking outside of the box, I was able to use my abilities in ways I didn’t even think of before in order to overcome a more challenging threat. This was truly a unique experience as many previous games that attempt this often result in an awkward encounter for the player.

Boss fights aren’t the only thing Aragami does different than its “not-so-stealthy-anymore” predecessors; it also does co-op. You can play through the entire campaign with a friend on a separate console and vanquish your enemies (or not) in all-new and exciting ways! Tag teaming using different abilities in conjunction actually works very well, and having two sets of eyes on the playing field can result in a much smoother run – so long as you’re both on the same page!

Completion of the main story allows your character’s progression to persist so there is plenty of replay value in Aragami. Whether it’s going back to collect all of the scrolls; completing missions with different objectives; or simply going through it cooperatively, this is by far not a single playthrough game.

Graphics: 3/5

Aragami’s simple nature of shadow-versus-light is an easy contrast to play with, and the developers at Lince Works executed it very well. Aragami himself takes on a very satisfying form, changing from tones of black, grey and vibrant red when in the light, to a terrifying all-black when in shadows to let you know when you’re in better hiding. Environments are well decorated but sometimes can feel un-blended depending on the level. There were frequent instances when upon moving the camera, the point of view would jump out of bounds and then suddenly back in; and quite frequently the framerate would drop massively. This led to experiences of stuttering or input lag that in more than one instance resulted in death. Unfortunately, all the careful timing and planning in the world cannot hold up to random spikes and dips in framerate, and in a game where timing can be everything, this can be quite an issue. Luckily the game didn’t seem to suffer any additional consquences of playing online and most deaths are easily recoverable. The animations of various abilities were well thoughtout, smooth and satisfying. I could watch Aragami’s shadow snake coil an enemy and bring him to the shadow realm over and over again and never tire! There was only a handful of clipping cases and overall I felt it was a smooth experience playing through each of the levels, save for a few light intensive ones.

Sound: 4/5

Not only do you have to watch your surroundings and enemies’ movements, you also need to listen to them and the environment. Something that can be overlooked at times in stealth games is carefully handled in Aragami and that is the ambience of the game. The soft and delicate soundtrack plays lightly in the background of each mission. If you didn’t focus on it, you wouldn’t know it was there – and that is exactly how it needs to be to allow your complete, undivided attention to the matter at hand. Only when you are discovered does the music quickly escalate to the heart-pumping chase track that will ensure you’re filled with panic as you realize your mistakes. Footsteps from all sources project well; small light fire sources glisten in your ear and conversations from enemies are clearly heard. Interestingly, the main characters are not completely voiced, relying on text to comprehend any dialogue, but the emotion is there. Regardless, Aragami succeeds in the delicate addition of important sound balancing.

Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Aragami is a unique and enjoyable stealth game that succeeds in the minimalistic inclusion of its core elements. Its story was somewhat predictable, but it did a decent job of keeping me interested through a carefully crafted relationship, along with addicting skill and planning-based gameplay. While some graphical issues would occasionally remove me from the full experience, I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of actual boss fights and a well-functioning co-operative mode. With great replay value for those who enjoy proving themselves, it is well worth at least a single playthrough for those who enjoy taking their time in a game.

Pros:

+ Simplistic stealth mechanics that create a true stealth game
+ Creative abilities to aid in problem solving
+ Clever and original boss fights
+ Functioning co-operative mode

Cons:

– Some graphical issues
– Story shows its hand very soon

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Aragami! Copy reviewed on PS4.

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Bladestorm: Nightmare Review (PS4/X1/PS3/360) – “A Nightmare Worth Conquering”

Bladestorm Nightmare Wallpaper

In 2007, Tecmo Koei and developer Omega Force brought a new IP to the PS3 and Xbox 360, Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War. With the current generation currently running amok with remasters and definitive editions of game, Tecmo Koei and Omega Force decided to actually revitalize their IP in more of an expansion than a port called Bladestorm: Nightmare. Is this game worth the revitalization or is it a nightmare to steer clear away from?

Story: 4/5

Bladestorm: Nightmare contains two full-fledged story modes to experience. The first is Hundred Years’ War mode, which tells a fairly accurate historical rendition of, you guessed it, the Hundred Years’ War. Here you will create a mercenary that will take on contracts that work with either the English or French. You will aid famous characters such as Joan of Arc and Edward the Black Prince. You will see events unfold through the battlefield, as well as through diaries and conversations with soldiers in the main pub.

In the second and brand new mode, Nightmare, the developers decided to provide an alternate history with fantasy elements in place. Instead of a war between England and France, demons and mythological creatures are running rampant across the lands. The twist is that Joan of Arc, whom is known to be quite the heroine, is now the villainess commanding these demonic armies. Controlling the mercenary you created, you and Magnus (another mercenary) are both imbued with a sword that can take control of hordes of the demonic army. With this, you and Magnus are what actually stands a chance against the ever-growing army. You will be tasked with getting key characters to join your cause. Throughout Nightmare mode, you will see the events unfold in a familiar storytelling method that’s akin to Warriors Orochi 3 (Ultimate).

The stories in both modes are intriguing and promises something for those looking for a historical aspect or those looking for a fun, fantasy take on the history. In all honestly, it’s quite easy to get hooked into the game’s story and it’s cool seeing these characters care about the events unfolding.

 

Joan of Arc went through a bit of a change...

Joan of Arc went through a bit of a change…

Gameplay: 3/5

Bladestorm: Nightmare is an interesting game to describe genre-wise. It takes elements from various games where it’s part RPG, part strategy, and part action hack-and-slash. Seeing as how there are two games included with Bladestorm: Nightmare (Hundred Years’ War and Nightmare), each plays mostly similar with a few notable differences that will be mentioned. Let’s start with Hundred Years’ War.

You’ll start off by creating your own mercenary. Creating a character is fairly in-depth, allowing you to customize practically every single feature from body weight, facial structure, voice tone and pitch, skin color, etc. From there, you will enter the story and begin learning some basics to battle, such as how to command your squads, how the battle system works, and a few other elements to ensure you are off to a good start. Before actually partaking in battles, you will select your contract to accept at the local pub. This area provides to be the main area where you’ll take a break from battle to upgrade your character, buy and sell items, talk to other NPCs with information about the events unfolding on the battlefield, read diaries, and save your game. Upon taking a contract, you will begin your mission. Whichever side you choose to aide will not have any dramatic changes in the storyline, but how you play may change how missions will pan out.

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When out on the battlefield, you will have a squad follow you and listen to you on command. The type of squad varies, whether it is sword, bow, axe, etc. There’s an insane amount to choose from. Each can level up their stats so that more units follow your squad, and that their traits can improve as well. In terms of combat, if you are expecting to be a one-man army and just decimate your foes single-handedly, good luck because that most certainly isn’t happening. Combat is primarily handled by holding down the R1 button. Doing so will have you command your units to attack while your character will do the same to the nearest enemy automatically upon holding the button down. Depending on what you unit you have, they will either have an upper hand or lower hand to the opposing unit. This means that essentially certain units can deal more damage to the opposing specified unit. The game actually has a chart in-game to highlight which units go up against others best. When you form an army of squads, you can even unleash a “mass attack” to obliterate enemies with dramatic results.

Depending on the unit you control, the game’s dynamics will vary a bit. For example, if you’re part of a spear unit, you’ll most likely have a horse to ride on, which will make traversal a little faster than foot but will make you more prone to missing attacks. If you utilize the bow unit, you’ll be able to manually aim your well-placed arrows but shouldn’t take a chance leading a unit into close-quarter combat. The strategy plays a deep element into the overall gameplay in a satisfying way. Now in Hundred Years’ War, the more bases you take over on the battlefield, the more of advantage you will have overall. This will actually affect the next contract you take because the bases you took over will actually carry over. The battlefields are massive, with each feeling almost the size of an open-world in a separate game. Although, as cool and grand in scale as these battlefields look, traversing them takes forever…almost painfully so. Unfortunately, with these battlefields being massive, you’ll find yourself traversing more so than not with no enemies or NPCs in the area, leading to dull traversal.

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In Nightmare, the gameplay is essentially the same concept but is handled differently. Instead of being at a local pub to tackle contracts as a mercenary, you will progress in a straightforward chapter system. Throughout the game’s nine-chapter story (which can take between 6-12 hours depending on the difficulty you choose), you will work alongside Magnus and other key characters to form a united army to take down the demonic forces. Unlike Hundred Years’ War though, no matter how many bases you conquer on the battlefield, it will not stay that way should you return in a later chapter.

In terms of combat, it remains exactly the same but now with one key difference, you can control an army of monsters. Whether it is goblins, griffins, Cyclops, or even dragons, the dynamic switches up a bit with this. For example, you can actually ride a griffin, cyclops and dragon, which makes the scale of the battles even more grand. Actually leading a squad of these is just plain cool. It must be said that out of the two modes (Hundred Years’ War and Nightmare), Nightmare had me hooked a bit more since the progression was paced better.

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A cool feature is that both Hundred Years’ War and Nightmare are transferable amongst each other. Upon completing Nightmare mode, you can summon monster armies in areas that allow you to in Hundred Years’ War. Also, your character progression is seamlessly integrated between both games/modes. The entire game can be played in co-op, both local and online. However, if you’re playing the PS4 version, the infamously awesome Share Play feature is shockingly blocked.

As enjoyable as Bladestorm: Nightmare is, there were a decent amount of issues that hurt the experience a bit. First off, there are some bugs in the game. There have been several instances where my characters would run at a fraction of their speed and then revert to normal for absolutely no reason. I would be in the middle of an empty battlefield and this would occur, so I knew it wasn’t from some sort of enemy attack. While I understand that in reality they wouldn’t be moving that fast out on the battlefield, in a game, it can be daunting. Second, some missions have you protecting a key character who must traverse from point A to point B. The movement speed for this character is ludicrously slow that it becomes a real chore to complete these missions. Third, the final boss fight in Nightmare completely stopped at a halt during the final phase, where animations were frozen and AI wasn’t responding properly. I even accidentally broke apart my formed army and the controls wouldn’t respond at all to reform them; it wasn’t even showing the sub-menu to do so. Navigating menus can also be a bit convoluted to go through. Another issue was invisible walls. There were several times on the battlefield where my squad and I couldn’t advance at a certain point in town for no explicable reason. Despite the gripes that held back the experience a bit, I still found myself enjoying Bladestorm: Nightmare to return to it and keep taking over the battlefields.

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Graphics: 3/5

Visually, Bladestorm: Nightmare isn’t the flashiest looking game. After all, it is a revamp of a 2007 game but without a lot of effort focused on the graphics. Yes, the game is now in 1080p and depending on whether you play on the PS4 or X1, the framerate will vary. While the developers stated the PS4 version runs at 30 fps, I found several instances more so where it dropped below that. However, that’s not to say Bladestorm is a poor looking game. The lighting and environmental designs are done quite well, breathing some life into the battlefields. Trees sway in the background and grass blades lend to that extra terrain effect. Characters look fairly detailed with flashy pieces of armor. The game showcases hundreds of characters on-screen at once which lends to that “battlefield” feel. Omega Force games are notorious for displaying a ton of enemies on-screen but with tons of pop-up within the environments. Thankfully with the power of these consoles, draw distance has been dramatically improved and can continue to do so with future installments released specifically for this generation. Animations are also fairly smooth considering the amount of characters on-screen, without any animation frames dropped for characters out in a further distance. It’s not exactly a game that will showcase the PS4/X1’s prowess, but it’s not a poor looking game either. It hovers that line of solid, but not overly impressive.

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Sound: 4/5

Bladestorm’s best element may very well be its audio department. The sound of the armies advancing, the swords clashing, and enemies cries while they meet their doom all meet together to form a great audio experience. All the characters have English and Japanese voice acting that’s pretty serviceable and never quite reached “cringe worthy”. However, the real star here is the soundtrack. The orchestrated soundtrack that accompanies Bladestorm perfectly captures the game’s essence and setting. Whether you’re at the main menu, preparing for battle, or storming the battlefield, the music will go along superbly with the action at hand. It’s so memorable that I found myself thinking of the music whenever I’d leave the game and go about my daily life. The main gripe with the audio were the drop-out bugs. There were times where the sound effects completely dropped when entering a base and then would cue back in after taking it over. It wasn’t very often, but happened on a few instances where it was noticeable. Other than that, crank up the audio because this has one superb soundtrack.

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Overall Score: 14/20 = 7.0 out of 10

Bladestorm: Nightmare is a game that truly surprised me. While it has some issues that hurt the experience, it’s still a good game that people who like strategy infused with RPG and hack-and-slash mechanics should certainly give a go. While there is a learning curve, I found myself easily captivated to keep returning once grasped. There’s something about commanding your own squads to form an army, then work together to decimate anything that stands in your way that is immensely satisfying. Couple the fact that there are two games packaged in one, with progression seamlessly carried between the two, and you have a pretty solid package. It may not be for everyone, and it may not have garnered a big audience in 2007, but Bladestorm: Nightmare is a game that should be experienced by any strategy and/or RPG enthusiast.

 

Pros:

+ The original 2007 Bladestorm is included
+ Seamless progression between both games packaged
+ Enticing gameplay
+ Fun storyline
+ Outstanding soundtrack

 

Cons:

– Several gameplay bugs
– Slow environment traversal
– Average visuals
– Overwhelming menu navigation

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Bladestorm: Nightmare! Copy reviewed on PS4.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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Cubemen 2 Review (Wii U eShop): “Ready, Willing, and Able”

Cubemen 2 is slowly bringing its unique brand of tower defense gameplay to various platforms, first beginning on the PC/Mac through the Steam distribution service and later coming to mobile platforms. In each iteration, developer 3 Sprockets has done a fantastic job of not only breaking into the TD genre with their own unique twists, but also providing an extremely fun game with a ton of replay value, thanks in equal parts to its Multiplayer offerings and its robust yet easy-to-use level editor, allowing players to share their creations with others. Late last year, we reported that Cubemen 2 was slated to come to the Wii U. Now, it’s finally arrived, thanks to Sydney-based developer Nnooo, and promises to be fully optimized for Nintendo’s unique platform. However, after a several-year’s run, is this enough to keep interest, or is Cubemen 2 finally hitting a wall?

Cubemen 2’s gameplay doesn’t deviate terribly from the first when it comes down to it – you and your opponents have a base from which you can spend credits – called “cubes” – to spawn soldiers to attack your enemy’s units. Depending on the game type you’re playing, you may also spawn AI-controlled mobs from your base, making their way to your enemies and taking off a life if they reach their base. Cubemen set itself apart from other TD games in several ways; first, instead of planting static towers, you purchase and deploy units with unique weapons, with the option of moving them to different locations as the situation changes. Players battle it out in fully-3D environments, and weapons obey full line of sight physics, opening up new strategies, like placing flamethrowers behind corners and perching snipers on high ground for superior offensive and defensive positioning.

All of the core gameplay has made its way into Cubemen 2, with some added tweaks and improvements. First and foremost, the list of units has been modified to replace some under-used or under-powered soldiers with more useful ones. Both games feature Grill, a speedy pistolero with low health, Flint, a short-ranged flamethrower, Moty, a fire-support unit with a long-ranged AoE attack, Ricky, armed with a heat-seeking rocket launcher, Lazlo, a laser-firing death machine, and Sid, a sniper armed with a powerful long-ranged rifle, perfect for picking off units at a distance. Two units from the original were removed – Fred, an ice-based version of Flint who deals less damage but slows units hit by its attack, and Mike, a medic who can restore the health of your units. Fred was replaced with Larry, a low-cost unit that can slow enemies in an area around him with ice lightning. Mike is no longer a unit in Cubemen 2, but his function was brought over as regen squares present on the map, which players on either side can move their units onto to heal. Cubemen 2 also sees the introduction of three new units that completely change the gameplay dynamic. Milo turns into a mine when he reaches his destination, exploding for huge damage when an enemy passes near it. Waly brings a traditional TD element to Cubemen 2, turning into an impassable wall when he reaches his destination to close off paths or create choke points. A later patch has also added another unit which can counter Waly and Milo, re-opening paths and safely disarming mines. All of these units can be upgraded for a variable Cube cost, upping their damage, range, and fire rate, as well as fully restoring their health. 3 Sprockets has done a great job of streamlining the unit selection in Cubemen 2, making every purchase purposeful and allowing for a lot of strategic options. The unique qualities of the Wii U’s controller add a bit of extra functionality to the game as well, allowing players to simultaneously cast the screen to their TV and game pad. Not only does it make the game great for showing off to friends and family, but also has off-screen play built in without any extra user intervention. The game doesn’t look half bad on the tiny Game Pad screen, but it looks absolutely gorgeous on a big-screen TV. All of the controls can be manipulated from the touch screen as well, which makes for a nice control scheme where you can control the camera with the left thumb stick while making tactical decisions with your right hand (and optional stylus).

Finally, the long-standing feud between Knights and Luchadors is settled.

Players can get acclimated to the game through the included Defensive Campaign, which sees the player go through traditional tower defense scenarios on 15 unique maps. Each stage records your score on a playthrough, allowing you to go back and play the campaign again if you want to try to improve on your score. However, there’s plenty of alternative content included in Cubemen 2 to keep you busy. The game comes with an additional pack of maps which can be played on a multitude of game modes. The single-player offerings include Defense (your traditional TD game type) and Rescue, which has your AI mobs trying to rescue allied NPCs from enemy bases, requiring you to build units to protect them. Three additional modes can be played single-player against bots, in multi-player against other human players, or any mix of the two, and include: Skirmish, which is similar to Defense mode but requires players to attack as well as defend, sending out units to destroy their enemies and guard their mobs toward their bases; Territories, a spin on King of the Hill which requires players to send out units to capture most of the stage for their side; and a traditional Capture the Flag mode. Skirmish and CTF are tons of fun, but Territories is definitely the most exciting addition to the game with a ton of depth. The winner is only declared once the timer runs down, so players can either expand outward early and blitz the board, or bide their time, build up their forces, and steamroll their opponents closer to the timer. All game modes are highly configurable with options such as time limit, number of waves and opponents, solo or team options, and more.

The game’s AI is certainly competent and will put up a fair fight, but even on the highest difficulty, players will eventually find their skills are no longer up to snuff, so eventually you’ll want to spend more time in Cubemen 2’s multiplayer mode. Up to six players can face off solo or in teams on any of the 3 multiplayer modes. This is truly the way the game is meant to be played, and other players will put up a nice challenge and use tactics that the AI simply can’t do. Impressively, Cubemen 2 is cross-platform compatible with its sister versions on Steam and mobile platforms. Latency wasn’t an issue and matches ran smooth as butter, even with six players throwing down in intense battles with cubes flying everywhere.

Just like in the original, Cubemen 2 features a simple yet robust level editor, though this time it’s included out of the box at launch. The editor gives players a lot of freedom to design the level of their dreams, allowing for multiple cube heights, walls, free-floating tiles, base location, and teleporter and regenerator placement. I feel like the Wii U’s gamepad and stylus are particularly well-suited to this purpose, allowing for greater precision and control in creating levels, but this could just be the undeniably-similar feel of using a tablet and stylus with a CAD program. There are some constraints that the player needs to follow, such as a maximum of 1,500 tiles, placing all six bases on the map with at least 10 spaces between each other, as well as ensuring there is a path to and from each base. There’s still a lot of flexibility to be had while playing by these rules, and once finished, maps can be saved privately for testing or published to the internet on 3 Sprockets’ user map directory, where other players can download, play, and rate your map. Every map needs to be run through a rigorous test before publishing, so you can be sure that it will play in every game mode with any amount of human and bot participants. It’s pretty hard to get bored of Cubemen 2 with an endless supply of maps to play on, and you’d be surprised by some of the crazy ideas that can be had when the editor is fully-utilized. Players on the Wii U platform, in particular, seem to have taken heavy inspiration from Nintendo’s main franchises. If you hit the map repository, you’re sure to easily find a Block Fort remake from Mario Kart 64, as well as pixelated Link holding up the Triforce.

The level editor offers a lot of freedom to design the battlefield of your dreams, like this N64 classic.

Cubemen 2 has taken cues from the original in terms of visual and sound design, and while there haven’t been any major leaps forward in the game’s engine, it still runs at a brisk pace while presenting plenty of pleasing, voxel-based visual effects, including ambient lighting around players’ bases and light flashes when weapons are fired which help to spice up the action a bit. 3 Sprockets has greatly expanded on the options presented to the user to customize the game their way as well; while players could originally choose a color for the levels and Cubemen, as well as a basic skin for the latter, Cubemen 2 has greatly expanded on this, offering all of the classic color options as well as full-fledged skins for units and levels. There’s a pretty expansive offering here – from soldiers, orcs, and ninjas for Cubemen, to Minecraft, lunar, Egyptian, and a Tron Grid-like look for levels (just to name a few), it’s easy to customize the look of the game to your liking. There’s even a more expanded list of skins than in previous iterations, allowing players to get some of the previously DLC-only skin and map texture packs for free. The game also features a more varied soundtrack compared to the original score, sporting a different theme for the title screen and most of your units. These songs are essentially different takes on the same basic melody, but with different tonality and feel to suit each character they’re named after. Ricky’s Theme is a personal favorite of mine, but you may choose not to use it everywhere like I did and instead take advantage of the game’s sound options, letting you play a separate theme for the title screen and each gameplay mode. These songs have taken a step up since the first game too, sounding a bit more grand and dramatic, which really helps the immersion factor during a game. It’s nice to see 3 Sprockets listening to their fans and incorporating some of their suggestions into Cubemen 2’s initial release.

So, is there anywhere Cubemen 2 falls flat? Honestly, not in a lot of places. You can’t pick campaign stages to play on, requiring you to replay the whole thing if you want to get to a specific stage. It would have also been nice to be able to re-name or delete maps you’ve published online. There’s also no voice-based chat in multiplayer, which is only really an issue in team-based games. Otherwise, though, it’s very hard to find any flaws.

A friendly game of Territory in the medieval countryside.

Cubemen 2 is an excellent downloadable title for the Wii U, and Nnooo has done a great job of maintaining the fun and feel of the game’s other incarnations. Cubemen 2 doesn’t do anything radical to change the formula, but instead makes the game fresh through a tweak in the gameplay dynamics, improvements to user customization, and by featuring an excellent online mode and level editor. With plenty of updates and patches in the pipe, Cubemen 2 will only get better over time, and is sure to be a long-standing member of your Steam Library’s Favorites section.

Cubemen 2 is currently available for PC on the Steam platform for $7.99, with Mac and iPad apps on the way.

Final Score: 9.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

Special thanks to Nnooo for providing us with a review copy of Cubemen 2 for the Wii U!

inFAMOUS: First Light Review (PSN) – “A Bright Future for Add-On Content”

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InFAMOUS: Second Son has proven to be a big step forward for the super-powered sandbox series of games, bumping up gameplay, visual appeal, and storytelling across the board and breathing new life into the series’ Conduit-filled world. Sucker Punch have also proven their ability to create robust, outside-the-box add-on content with their episodic DLC, Paper Trail. Now, the inFAMOUS developer is looking to flesh out one of the more prominent characters from Second Son with First Light. The stand-alone add-on explores Abigail “Fetch” Walker’s life in the years leading up to the events of Second Son, and promises to provide a new gameplay and storytelling experience. The question is, should you give First Light a look, or is it more likely to turn you off? Let’s find out.

Warning: SLIGHT story spoilers ahead!

For the uninitiated, Fetch is one of the major characters you’ll meet in Second Son, who lends her Neon-based powers to Delsin Rowe’s fight against the oppressive D.U.P. in Seattle. However, her past is as colored as her powers – and her dyed-pink hair. Told from Fetch’s perspective after her capture by the D.U.P., the game’s story begins with Fetch and her brother Brent, on the run and taking on odd jobs to survive. When an opportunity for one last score comes along, their involvement kicks off the events that take place throughout the rest of First Light’s story. These memories are interspersed between Fetch’s training sessions in the D.U.P. compound known as Curdun Cay, where Brooke Augustine (Second Son’s main antagonist) attempts to uncover the truth of Fetch’s past and unlock her more dangerous, latent powers to turn her into a living weapon.

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First Light does a great job of fleshing out Fetch’s story.

Sucker Punch have spared no expense in making First Light’s story just as engaging as Second Son’s, if not more so. Second Son players will have hints into Fetch’s past, the hardships she endured, and the tragedy she faced, but First Light does an excellent job of not only filling in the missing details, but telling the story with meaning. Laura Bailey reprises her role as Fetch in First Light, and does a downright phenomenal job of bringing her character to life. Like Delsin, Fetch has varying ranges of emotion, and they all come through with immense detail. And much like Second Son, First Light’s facial capture technology is second-to-none, making the game’s characters incredibly lifelike.

Considering Delsin has access to Fetch’s Neon powers, you might think that she would play like a carbon copy of the Second Son protagonist, with just a quarter of the pep; thankfully, while Delsin has versatility, it’s clear that Fetch is the real master of her powers. Fetch shares some of the abilities Delsin copied from her, such as precision shooting for instant takedowns, time dilation, fast running, comet drops, stasis bombs, and a karmic super move, but she’s also got some unique tricks of her own. Her melee style is more scrappy and fast-paced than Delsin’s, consisting of rapid, hard-hitting punches. Rather than having an ammo-based charge-up beam, Fetch can instantly knock out enemies in melee.This ability is fueled by completing melee combos and using dash attacks, and sets up an intriguing push-pull mechanic where you’ll dash-attack an enemy into a stasis bubble (granting you melee energy), then using that earned energy to immediately finish off your hapless foe. Players who like to eliminate their opponents at range will enjoy Fetch’s ability to stay in “focus” mode for longer by attaining consecutive precision shots on enemies, taking out whole crowds of foes before they can even react to you. Fetch can even fire homing neon missiles at opponents, perfect for taking down big, tough baddies.

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Fetch has as much a mischievous streak as Delsin.

Your time with First Light will mainly take place in two locations: The free-roamable city of Seattle, and the wave-based battle arenas in Curdun Cay. Seattle presents a similar experience to Second Son, allowing Fetch to freely explore the city, and like in the main game, go for map completion. “Tagging” returns as one of these activities, but you’ll have Fetch performing other actions as well, not the least of which is First Light’s new “Lumen Race” mini-game. When reaching designated areas in Seattle, Fetch can initiate a race, requiring her to use her speed running to catch a runaway ball of neon energy while passing through neon clouds to give her a boost of speed; it’s fast-paced and extremely fun. You’ll just wish you could replay them, because once you complete them all, there’s no way to start another one. That being said, Seattle represents the majority of the story-driven content in First Light; the arenas in Curdun Cay are what will keep you coming back for more. Players are able to face off against waves of thugs, D.U.P. soldiers, or even holographic demons while rescuing hostages and taking advantage of environmental weapons, such as hackable D.U.P. turrets. Along the way, you’ll be presented with dozens of challenges that will allow Fetch to unlock skill points to make herself more powerful and unlock additional abilities. Combining this with First Light’s myraid trophies (culminating in a Platinum!), these battle arenas will keep you playing First Light for a while after you’ve completed the story (and, indeed, Fetch’s strongest powers will only unlock once you beat the campaign). The only real downside to these modes is their simplicity – you go into each arena as Fetch (or Delsin, if you own Second Son) with whatever powers you’ve accumulated up to that point. There’s no currency, no power-ups to buy (though there are some present in the levels), and no real strategy to speak of. The goal is simply to eliminate waves of enemies and rescue hostages while staying alive. However, global leaderboards will give you a goal to reach for.

Visually, First Light boasts the same technical chops as Second Son, including an expansive city to explore, phenominal facial and model animations, and scintillating special effects (especially from Fetch’s Neon-based powers). It’s simply a gorgeous game to look at. First Light’s sound direction is good as well, if only by the virtue that it’s largely identical to Second Son’s soundtrack and effects library. There are a couple of new Fetch-themed tracks mixed in for key story moments, but you’ll quickly recognize familiar tunes while exploring the city and running Lumen Races. Considering how good Second Son’s soundtrack is, though, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still, it does make it a little harder for First Light to stand on its own, rather than in Second Son’s shadow.

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For $14.99, First Light proves to be a solid bargain for all of the content provided to the player. The story is well-written, the gameplay is tight, and the graphics and sound are triple-A quality. The Curdun Cay battle arenas provide good replay value as well. While First Light does feel a bit stripped-down compared to Second Son, it’s hard to complain for everything you get at a quarter of the price, and serves as a great example of how to make DLC feel like a full-featured experience. First Light is definitely worth the purchase, whether you’re new to the series or a die-hard veteran.

Overall Score9.0 out of 10 = Buy it!

This has been an unsolicited review for inFAMOUS: First Light on PS4. Game purchased by reviewer.

OlliOlli Review (PS4/PS3): “A Near Perfect Run”

OlliOlli Logo Landscape

Decades ago, the sport of Skateboarding took storm across the United States. Over time, we’ve seen the sport make it’s way around the world. It’s popularity didn’t soar until roughly the time when legendary Tony Hawk wowed people from all over pulling off the first ever “900 Spin”. In the 80s, there was a retro skateboarding game called “720” that was quite the hit back in the arcades. During the 90s, the NES had a specific series called “Skate or Die”, which had two installments: the first being strictly about skateboarding events, while the sequel was an outlandish adventure. In 1999, we saw one of the most rewarding and groundbreaking skateboarding titles release, Tony Hawk Pro Skater. The game was a critical and public success that skateboarding itself really gaining a significant amount of attention. Since then, we’ve seen other game developers bring about their renditions of skateboarding titles, with the next biggest success residing with EA’s SKATE series. Back in January, UK-indie developer Roll7 released a reinvigorating skateboarding title exclusively for the PlayStation Vita called OlliOlli. Now, the developer has ported the hit title to Sony’s home consoles, both the PS4 and PS3. Does the developer pull off a perfect run on consoles?

OlliOlli is a 2D skateboarding platformer that meshed together the arcade style feel of Tony Hawk Pro Skater, while providing a complex and rewarding trick system that the SKATE series achieved. Remarkably, the game takes those two styles and perfects the mechanics in a way where it sets its own bar. OlliOlli brings you immediately into the gameplay, offering a tutorial that brings you up to speed in minutes. You’ll learn that OlliOlli is one of those games that’s simple to pickup-and-play, yet incredibly complex to master. Controls and tricks are mostly handled with the left analog stick (or D-Pad if you prefer), while kicking off for speed handled with the X button. The Vita’s analog sticks worked great for this but now with the DualShock 4 analog sticks, it provides more precision than ever to pull off tricks. Pulling off an ollie is simply done by pushing the analog stick down and letting go, while tricks are done by pushing the analog stick in a direction or rotation. Pressing the L2/R2 buttons will result in you pulling off spins to your tricks, as well as nollies. To grind, you’ll simply press down on the analog stick, without any worries of balancing. Although you will have to be concerned on the amount of speed you can lose while grinding, which if you come to a halt, you’ll fall off your board and bail. Pretty straightforward so far, right? Well, now comes the intricate mechanics.

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Pulling off tricks and linking them together, between grinding and proper flip tricks, is quite intuitive and engaging to grasp. However, if you want all those hard-earned points to count, you’re going to have to land perfectly. That’s right, landing is actually a whole additional mechanic that can make or break your run…literally. To land a trick, you’ll have to press the X button, but at the proper timing. The time you press the X button will determine the rating you’ll receive, which also factors the amount of points you’ll earn. The rankings are as follows: Sloppy, Sketchy, Ok, Sick, and Perfect. Sloppy will net you only a few points, while Perfect will earn you thousands of points. Pulling off a Perfect landing is immensely rewarding and once you nail the timing, it’ll become second nature to achieve. Even when grinding, you’ll have to press down on the analog stick at the right time to earn a “perfect” grind. Doing so will actually affect the speed you maintain to grind. Maintaining a solid line and earning a perfect combo is what it’s all about if you want to rack up a ton of points.

The Career Mode will have you tackling 10 levels within five environments: Urban, Junkyard, Base, Port and Neon City. Five of the levels are handled on Amateur difficulty, while the other five are for Pro. Each level contains five objectives to complete, whether it be earning a high score, earning a high combo, completing a specific gap or line, collecting items, etc. To advance to the next level, you need to only reach the end of the run, even if you don’t complete any objectives. However, achieving all the objectives in a level will unlock the Pro level of that run. The levels will ramp up in difficulty and intensity nicely, without making the player feel degraded from what they’ve learned. Should you bail, it’s back to the beginning of a run. Luckily each run lasts for about 30-90 seconds. You’ll have to watch out for various obstacles, including grass, snow, stairs, spikes, barricades, etc. Now should you completely every objective in every level (both Amateur and Pro), you’ll unlock RAD Mode. RAD Mode will test out the most skilled players by success only being achieved solely through Perfect Grinds and Perfect Lands. Anything else will result in a seriously painful, run-ending bail.

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Aside from the Career Mode, there are also 50 spots to take on. Every level you complete in the Career can be tackled in Spot Mode afterwards. Spot Mode has you doing a specific run in the level where it’s all about pulling off the highest score you can, all within a single combo. Your score will then be posted on the leaderboards, so you’ll be able to see where you rank amongst your friends and other players around the world. Additionally, Roll7 incorporated a Daily Grind Spot, where everyday you can partake in a single event against all players. You’ll be able to practice the run before posting for a score, and the reason you’ll want to do this is because you only get one shot at the run. Whatever score you get, even if you bail, is all that counts…no do-overs. Upon completing the run, you’ll see what rank you achieved worldwide throughout the 24 hour time period of the Daily Spot. It’s a terrific mode that has you coming back constantly. No matter which mode you’re playing in OlliOlli, you will certainly find yourself coming back for more, time and time again. Even after taking breaks from the game, I was always eager to jump immediately back in and try to perfect more runs. One new feature brought to the console versions is the Friends Leaderboard (which will also be available via patch on the Vita at the release of the console versions). This is certainly a welcome addition, but would’ve been nice to see a true multiplayer feature incorporated here. On the flip side, thanks to the PS4’s “Share” button, players will now be able to post their runs for everyone to see online. This is definitely the type of game to share runs of and even stream live due to how gratifying it is to witness someone doing a sick run.

Visually, OlliOlli is a nicely hand-drawn, retro-style game that harkens back to the classic days of gaming. The main enhancement here is that now OlliOlli is in full 1080p HD from its jump on the Vita to the PS4/PS3. You notice immediately the crisp and cleanness to the game right from the get-go compared to the Vita version (which already looked excellent). Animations are fluid and detailed, while retaining the old-school vibe. The skater himself moves quite smoothly, even when bailing. The more he bails, the more of a beating you’ll notice on him where clothes will rip and blood will run down him. It’s nothing “too” bloody, but it’s a noticeable detail for added effect. Environments are nicely detailed as well, with numerous objects pertaining to specific areas. The Base area will have tanks and airplanes to grind on, while Neon City will have a bullet train speeding by in the background with neon signs and purple Godzillas to grind on. OlliOlli’s soundtrack is very suitable, accompanying the gameplay and setting very well. Added in the PS4/PS3 version of the game is the ability to also skip music tracks. This is a very nice addition so that you can get to your favorite song that’s your jam during a run. The sound effects are top-notch, with every audio clip perfectly matching the skateboarding and boarder perfectly. Whether you ollie, grind, land, trick, bail, or collect an item, it all sounds precisely like it should.

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OlliOlli was an extremely well-polished, superb title for the PS Vita, and the transition remains precisely the same on consoles. Much like the Vita, this is the PlayStation 4’s first skateboarding title to grace the console, but it also one of the best indies to release on it as well.
Roll7 has delivered an amazingly rewarding and addictive skateboarding title that truly should not be missed. In the way Tony Hawk Pro Skater kept me coming back for more back in the day, OlliOlli achieves the same feel and experience that’s very much needed. Add in the fact that the game has Cross-Buy and Cross-Save functionality across the PS4, PS3 and PS Vita, there’s almost no reason not to pick the game up. Here’s hoping we see an OlliOlli sequel in the near future. Until then, back to perfecting lines I go.

Overall Score: 9.5 out of 10 = MUST BUY!

A special thank you to Roll7 for providing us the review copy for “OlliOlli”! Copy tested on the PS4.

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Jett Tailfin Review (Wii U): “Giving Your Wii U a Fishy Smell”

Jett Tailfin Logo

When the Wii U was approximately 5 months away from releasing, there was an article I covered showing the potential possibility of how the Wii U game box arts would appear. While the box arts ended up not becoming that design (which was awfully too similar to Wii box arts anyway), the game that was shown for the box art was Jett Tailfin. At the time, there was little to no information about the title, other than the possibility of the game being a launch title. Approximately 21 months after the system’s launch, developer Hoplite Research’s title is now on Nintendo’s latest console as a digital-only game, no longer releasing in retail. Is this fish worth biting into or is it best left as shark food?

Jett Tailfin is a family-friendly underwater racing game akin to Mario Kart, where you race along coral reefs, pirate ships and Atlantis, using items against opponents as you go for the gold. The story to Jett Tailfin is simple, but there to carry the reason for the races and introduce some of the characters. Basically, Jett is challenged to showing off if he has what it takes to be the fastest fish around. Apparently, there’s a rival that Jett’s friends aren’t fond of, so it’s up to Jett to show off that he can beat him in races. It is clichéd but it’s still an effort to bringing together some semblance of a story. Regardless, it does fall flat and feels incredibly tacky. Realistically though, you’re not playing this to experience an intricate story…you’re here to race.

Jett Tailfin Gameplay 1

Jett Tailfin is a racing game at heart, and the concept of underwater racing (as fish) definitely sets it apart from a majority of racing titles out there. Unfortunately, what sounds good on paper isn’t executed as well in this game. The first main issue resides within the controls. Racing games need a specific precision to them, and while Jett Tailfin doesn’t overly demand precise movement, it feels like you’re maneuvering a tank underwater as opposed to a nimble fish. You’ll collect items to fire away at other racing fish, whether it’s electric eels, blowfish or octopus. Using the items feels absolutely pointless and has barely any indication of whether you’ve hit someone or not, other than the emotionless taunt your character says. When an item is fired at you, you can press either left or right on the D-Pad (which is displayed on-screen) to “dodge” the attack. I use the term loosely because this mechanic is tremendously finicky and feels very cheaply utilized. For example, every time you’re about to be attacked and the dodge button appears, you’ll press it and it’ll turn green to show you succeeded in pressing it. However, there will be absolutely no animation to indicate a dodge, making you take the hit without the hit actually affecting you. There’s no satisfaction or “feel” to dodging attacks or incoming obstacles. During races, there will be other sea creatures to avoid, such as jellyfish, stingrays and sharks that can eat you (giving opponents a few seconds to pass you). The sense of speed is pretty decent, especially when going through jet streams. Jet streams will make you boost at insane speeds and you’ll get a solid feel of that. You can even fill up your own boost meter by swimming through air bubble vents. The problem with how this is handled though is that the camera attempts to zoom in a bit much and actually becomes nauseating to follow. However, even when not boosting, the camera can get really out of whack and obstructed. Several occasions it’s either too close up the fish’s rear end, while there are other times the camera gets caught on objects.

"Under the sea"...lies this overpriced game.

“Under the sea”…lies this overpriced game.

When you’re not tackling the game’s campaign, you can either do single races playing as a variety of Jett’s friends on any of the 16 courses, or you can bring your friends in for some 4-player multiplayer action. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here, and quite frankly, since the game is quite a chore to control, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want them to endure the exercise in frustration. You can use the GamePad and the Wiimote, but there’s no Wii U Pro Controller, Wiimote with Nunchuk combo, or Wii Pro Controller support at all. With the GamePad, the game is entirely playable with Off-TV support. The button layout on the other hand is far from comfortable or ergonomic. Generally, racing games use the left and right triggers to accelerate and brake (on the Wii U, it would be ZL and ZR buttons). Instead, the developers have mapped the accelerate button to R and the brake button to L. This forces you to place your fingers at the very top of the GamePad as opposed to comfortably (and logically) resting them on the back triggers (ZL and ZR). The speed boost and item use buttons rest on the triggers instead, which would feel more suitable as either face buttons or even the L and R buttons. Interestingly, navigating the main menus require input on the touch screen with the GamePad, yet the manual states you can use the buttons and D-Pad/Analog Stick to navigate which isn’t the case.

Visually, Jett Tailfin looks like an early Wii game with an HD coating of paint on it. Originally released for iOS devices, the visuals have transitioned to a bigger screen. Environments look somewhat decent honestly, with water reflecting from the surface to the bottom, as well as other underwater objects (such as pirate ships and coral reefs) within the tracks. Texturing seems to be a mixed bag, with some being ok, while others being washed out. All the sea creatures on the other hand look amateurishly designed, with modeling that looks like an early PS2 era game. Animations are also sluggish and stiff, with the fish turning sometimes with zero animation. Framerate tends to be erratic, going from occasionally smooth to commonly rough. It’s playable, but shifts in framerate far too often that it becomes annoying to deal with. Also, if you’re looking to post screenshots on the Miiverse, here’s the kicker: you can barely do so once during every play session. If you hit the Home button, the screen usually freezes at the moment in time in case you’d like to screenshot it. In Jett Tailfin, if you hit the Home button once, that’s the only time you can post the screenshot. Even if you didn’t post your screenshot, went back to gameplay, then hit the Home button again cause you had a better screenshot to capture, you will not be able to post it. This aspect is incredibly broken. Audio wise, the soundtrack is awfully generic and unmemorable, doing absolutely nothing to enhance the experience. Voice acting is also atrocious, with Jett shouting the same annoying thing over-and-over when boosting through tracks. Even all the other characters deliver zero emotion in their lines and sound like bored drones. The sound effects are kept to a bare minimum and feel like stock effects, with no ambiance effects either. While being underwater is normally quiet, you’d hear the water moving around you or muffled moving objects. In here, you’ll never hear that. You’ll only hear the bubbles that appear in the area or when turning occasionally. There’s nothing in the audio department that enriches the experience by any means.

Cluttered HUD on GamePad with the map overlapping the position and lap...not to mention the in-your-face camera.

Cluttered HUD on GamePad with the map overlapping the position and lap…not to mention the in-your-face camera.

After being announced for the Wii U approximately 2 years ago and making its way to the console, it’s a shame to say that the development cycle has not been kind to it. The worst offender is the fact that while the iOS version is only $1.99, the Wii U version is going for a whopping $34.95 on the eShop. This is borderline nonsense and looks like a game that should cost no more than $10 (and even that’s a bit much). There’s not even a physical copy for the game so the rationality to even charging this much makes no sense. Mediocre visuals, dull audio, grating voice acting, horrendous controls, and subpar, glitchy gameplay result in Jett Tailfin to be an overpriced fishy title that’ll stink up your Wii U. Want to go to a lobster dinner or maybe some all-you-can eat sushi? Use the $35 for that instead.

Overall Score: 3.0 out of 10 = DON’T BUY IT!

A special thank you to Hoplite Research for providing us a review copy for Jett Tailfin!

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