Has-Been Heroes Review (Switch/PS4/X1/PC): “Still-Are Heroes”

Has-Been Heroes is the latest title from developer Frozenbyte, known for their Trine series. This new title is a unique strategy RPG in the market with rogue-like elements. Are these heroes worth joining?

Gameplay: 3/5

Has-Been Heroes is unlike any other game in the genre. You start off the game with a bit of exposition, laying out the ground work of who these heroes are, and what has become of them. These old, tired heroes are tasked with one last quest: to escort the king’s daughters to school…and man, what a treacherous path it is to this school! That’s as much exposition as you’ll get, and that’s honestly fine since it’s enough to get the game going.

Has-Been Heroes is not your typical RPG, and thankfully provides you with a proper tutorial to have you understand the intricate mechanics. When starting an area, you will use the right analog stick to choose a location to go to from the map. Highlighting the area next to you will show if it contains a battle, has a merchant to buy things from, has treasure chests, or may be empty so you can just safely pass by.

Battle mechanics are very engaging. When in battle, your characters are always moving, as are the enemies. You will have to press the button that corresponds with the character you’d like to attack with (X, Y, or B), and once chosen, you will attack with the A button. Each character will have to wait before attacking again, and they each vary with cooldown timers. More integral to survival is understanding the stamina mechanics. Enemies not only have health (indicated by the red bar next to them), but stamina boxes as well (indicated as green boxes next to their health). Stamina basically works as a shield before you can chip away at their health bar. If you chip away their stamina enough to stun them, and then give them a quick attack afterwards, you will knock down their stamina capacity, making it easier to stun them the next time you attack them. Stamina does build back for enemies after attacking them, so knocking down their stamina gauge is absolutely pivotal to victory.

The same applies for your characters as well. They each have a specific amount of stamina and health that you’ll need to keep an eye on. Naturally, the knight is like a tank and can withstand the most damage. The elder monk is fairly weak, but is utilized more as a knockback character. The young rogue character has speed in her attacks and can dish out more hits in a combo. On top of this, each character has a spell that can be summoned. Spells all vary on whether they’re elemental or not, passive or aggressive, and ultimately can change the course of battle if utilized right. Combat can (and will) get very overwhelming and thankfully you can pause the time so you can carefully plot your attacks across the three lanes of battle.

So here is the thing about Has-Been Heroes: It’s difficult…insanely difficult actually. Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Nioh…you’ve heard of those games by now for their high difficulty (all of which I’ve beaten for the record). Has-Been Heroes’ difficulty is a whole new breed though. This is where gameplay experiences will vary among players. If you like your games to be easy and a walk-in-the-park, well this may not be your cup of tea. If you welcome a challenge, then Has-Been Heroes will certainly do so. All it takes is for you to get frazzled and overwhelmed in combat to quickly fall to your demise. If a single hero dies, it’s game over. No continues, no checkpoints. After all, this is a rogue-like game.

Now, Has-Been Heroes has some issues that hurt the gameplay a bit. First off, the game has a feature where the camera zooms in with certain attacks. This is nice and all, but the problem I had was that the game would glitch and the zoomed-in camera would be stuck, leaving me with no view of the battle. This happened twice during boss battles and resorted to my characters dying. Thankfully, this camera feature can be shut off in the options menu, but it’s still something that needs to be addressed. Secondly, the game’s difficulty, while more than welcome for this reviewer, feels unbalanced at times. There were times where I was able to blast through both regular battles and boss battles, and there were other times where I would falter at the first regular battle due to an absurd amount of enemies randomly generated. Boss battles are also an exercise in frustration, as some of them throw far too many enemies into the mix, making it inevitable for your characters to meet their doom. Also, it would’ve been a great feature to be able to choose a spell loadout based on the spells acquired in each playthrough. Instead, you will have to randomly come across spells at each merchant and hope for the best. Ultimately, it just feels like there are numerous times where the game relies on luck, regardless of how skilled you are at it.

Issues aside though, there’s no denying the amount of enjoyment I had playing this game. The gameplay was addictive, and no matter how many times I died, I always found myself coming back for more.

Graphics: 4/5

Visually, Has-Been Heroes is a more simplistic approach from the developer’s previous Trine series. At first glance it may appear like a mobile title, but don’t let that dismiss you. What we are treated with here are nicely drawn environments and characters, each with their own unique animations. The game does run at a solid 60 fps and the overall aesthetic is very crisp. The main gripe is the text font when playing on the TV. While on the Switch screen it’s easy to read, it’s pretty tiny on the TV. Despite that though, the overall game is easy on the eyes and quite vibrant (which is expected from the team that made the visually stunning Trine games).

Sound: 4/5

The audio design is incredibly well done in Has-Been Heroes. Outside of the narrator, characters have minimal voice acting, but what is here is completely fine. Sound effects are strong and capture the intensity of battles. When entering a level, the narrator actually sounds almost reminiscent of that from the Gauntlet games. The majestic score is great here as well. Whether advancing through the land, in combat, at merchants, or the spell gambler, the tunes all fit the setting superbly. I found myself really getting into the soundtrack and humming it outside of playing the game.

Replay Value: 5/5

For the $20 price tag, there is an insane amount of content and unlockables to be found here. Has-Been Heroes contains 10 different endings, a ton of additional characters to unlock and play as, and countless spells and enemies to discover. As mentioned in the gameplay segment, this is a game that was very addictive no matter how difficult it was. The Switch version in particular really shines in this department, as it is a perfectly suited game to have on-the-go. There’s a lot of bang for your buck here and it will keep you coming back for a long time.

Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Has-Been Heroes may seem like a simple, mobile style game from first glance, but what’s here is an incredibly difficult, yet very rewarding game. The engaging combat system, crisp visual art style, strong audio and plethora of content makes Has-Been Heroes a great package for the asking price. Again, this game may not be for everyone. Even with its unbalanced difficulty curves, it never discouraged me from trying again repeatedly. For those who do appreciate the challenge and invest the time into it, there’s a very deep game overall that will have you coming back for quite some time.

Second Opinion
Written By Karl Upman

From the developers of the Trine series comes a very different, very new experience. Has-Been Heroes tells the tale of old, retired heroes who really shouldn’t be put in charge of guarding anything but their own front lawns. But nonetheless here we are, guiding our time-worn travelers through treacherous terrains. Accompanied by a third member of the group, an aspiring heroine, the unlikely lot set out to deliver the king’s two daughters to…school. If that doesn’t set the precedent for the game, I don’t know what will. Has-Been Heroes is set up to be funny, and in many cases it succeeds! However, the amount of laughter quickly died out for me because I kept…well…dying.

Has-Been Heroes is a rouge-like, strategy, dark souls-esque game where you have a starting and end point, and in between are procedurally generated pathways and “rooms”. I tend to like this set up; give me a dungeon with areas to explore and I’ll be content for hours. But this is a different formula and the key to enjoying it comes down to one thing – luck. In my first two hours of the game, I couldn’t beat a single enemy encounter. It was only after playing for a bit longer and really understanding the mechanics that I realized I had been totally getting screwed over! I was getting loads of enemies thrown at me when I had no clue what was going on and I was expected to just learn. After a few frustrating attempts at making progress, I finally faced a relatively easy mob, only two handfuls of enemies compared to the waves upon waves I had faced before. This allowed me to finally learn the mechanics and progress… until of course I was overwhelmed time-after-time again.

I don’t mind the mechanics of battling in Has-Been Heroes, it’s unique, clever and requires a lot of planning – which the developers clearly recognized since you can pause the game to think of your next move at almost any time. What it comes down to is the consistent “enjoy-ability” of it. From the start, you’re incredibly overwhelmed with just the system alone, but you’re treated as though you’ve been playing it for weeks right when you jump in! It also would have been nice to get some recognition for making any progress at all, but the unlocks you get are seemingly useless other than to learn what you may or may not pick up in a future adventure. This was partially beneficial however, because the text is incredibly small and smooshed together, I could barely read anything during a playthrough. I did manage to defeat the first world boss once, and naturally was thrown into an impossibly difficult first battle in the next playthrough – so back to square one! Personally, I don’t get much out of games where your only goal is to see how well you can make it through an ever-changing labyrinth of suffering and frustration, only to walk it out with some new text to read.

That being said, I did take a few things away from Has-Been Heroes. The art style was playful and stimulating, and the music was a great balance of intense and out-of-the-way, allowing you to really focus on what was going on. When I could read the dialogue (playing in handheld mode on the Switch), I found the humor quite enjoyable. Although after dying so many times, it did tend to get repetitive.

I think some people will find satisfaction in Has-Been Heroes, but it’s definitely not just a game you can jump into and expect to enjoy – you’ll need to work at it and appreciate it for what it is: a rouge-like dungeon crawler that hands out dull consolation prizes and wants you to die…a lot.

Second Opinion Final Score: 6.5/10

 

 

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Has-Been Heroes! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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Mr. Shifty Review (Switch/PC) – “Shiftastic”

Mr. Shifty is a unique indie that’s part Hotline Miami, part Matrix, and part the opening scene of the X2 movie with Nightcrawler. Developed by Team Shifty and published by tinyBuild, Mr. Shifty has hit both Steam and Switch. Should Mr. Shifty shift his way to your library, or is it best to shift away?

During my time with Mr. Shifty, I can easily say that this is one immensely engaging game that was extremely difficult to put down. The game is played from a top-down view and is reminiscent to Hotline Miami (as I mentioned earlier). Mr. Shifty is a thief trying to break into Olympus Tower that contains the powerful Mega Plutonium being weaponized. His handler, Nyx, provides updates via comms (all text-based) with intel on where to go, as well as some background info. The main antagonist, Chairman Stone, becomes aware of Mr. Shifty’s presence and will stop at nothing to ensure his demise. The story in place here is just the right amount for the type of game it is. There’s enough dialogue exchange and never too much to bog down the pacing.

Gameplay wise, think Hotline Miami but without the dual-stick control or gratuitous amounts of blood. Instead, Mr. Shifty relies on his unique teleportation ability. Simply pressing the B button, you can teleport a few feet in front of you. Whether it be open area, through objects, or through walls, this mechanic is absolutely essential to survival. All it takes is a single hit for Mr. Shifty to meet his doom. This actually helps make the game so much more intense, and keeps you sitting at the edge-of-your-seat when caught in battles. You do need to be careful on your teleporting though, as Mr. Shifty can exhaust the ability. On the HUD, there are blue boxes that serve as your teleport stamina. You can teleport up to five times consecutively until you have to wait for him to cool down. However, if you space out the teleporting, you shouldn’t have this issue, as simply teleporting and waiting a second will replenish the stamina. Use it all up and it’ll take him much longer to regenerate (and this will definitely leave you vulnerable in battles).

Mr. Shifty does not resort to guns as a way to deal with his foes. Instead, he has his trusty fists, and can also utilize melee weapons in the environment. Make no mistakes, his fists pack a punch and will send enemies flying across the screen. When fists aren’t enough though, he can wield sticks, brooms, keyboards, wads of money, swords, shields, proximity mines, and much more. The weapons are all immensely gratifying to use, especially when you take out multiple enemies with a single swipe. However, it’s truly the game’s masterful design that makes combat clever. You can go into an area and take enemies out head on, teleporting between them and evading gunfire. However, if you go the more creative route, the game allows you to mess with the AI and trick them a bit. For example, there were times when enemies were chasing me and I’d teleport into a room, grab an active proximity mine, teleport back out, throw it and stick it on an enemy, and teleport into another room to watch the group of guards explode. Another time would be picking up a shield and throwing it like Captain America, taking out all the enemies in direct line of sight. You can even punch doors completely off their hinges into enemies, killing them instantly. When you take out enough enemies in a quick timeframe, you fill up a meter. Once the meter is full, you will have the ability to slow down time that automatically initiates before a bullet hits you. This gives you a few seconds to clear away from the bullet and get the upper hand on some enemies. The overall combat is creative and superb, and cannot stress enough how gratifying it is.

While doors will usually be locked until you take out the enemies in each area, the game has its share of environmental puzzles. You may need to find switches that shutdown lasers in an area, or you may need to find a way to get through a room with a switch that is in a field that doesn’t allow you to teleport (just to name a few examples). This sounds rudimentary, but I assure you, it’s done in very clever ways. The thing with Mr. Shifty is that throughout the game’s campaign, each level provides something unique to the mix, whether it be new enemies, new obstacles, or new traps. It really makes the game flow very smoothly and gives you that “just one more level” feel.

The main thing that hurts Mr. Shifty is that once you beat it (which took me just under three hours), there’s not much left to do. You can do a stage select to better your times and number of deaths, but that’s about it. There are no unlockables to be found. It would’ve been nice if there was a ranking system in place so that each level would grade you on performance. This would’ve definitely added longevity to keep replaying levels. Again, you can go for faster times and try to go for as little deaths as possible, so it is something.

Visually, Mr. Shifty is a cel-shaded game that uses the style brilliantly. Nice lighting effects and spectacular animations make this a game that’s very appealing to the eyes. Enemies all have equal attention to animation detail, and deaths are all handled with rag-doll physics that look great. Also, the environments are quite destructible, whether it be walls you break down, windows that shatter, statues that crumble, or desks that break. Almost everything is breakable and animates very well. The framerate stays at 30 fps, but there were times when too many enemies on-screen caused it to drop. There were even instances where the game would freeze for a split-second during heavy action sequences. The crazy part is that while this can certainly be fixed with a patch, the slow-down and split-second frame freeze actually helped me breathe for a second to carefully teleport out of harm’s way. 

Audio wise, Mr. Shifty has excellent sound effects that really draw you into the experience. Enemy guns sound crisp and powerful, melee attacks sound like they pack a punch, and explosions are nice and loud. Knocking enemies into walls sounds painful, and knocking them out of window to hear them yell to their doom are great touches. Music fits the game really well and keeps the game’s pace moving nicely. It has that right amount of heist tone to it, and then elevates to very fast-paced tunes when either escaping or caught in a trap full of enemies to combat. While I do wish there were more songs, the tunes were really catchy and I found myself thinking about the music outside of gameplay. Even the stage complete tune is incredibly catchy.

Mr. Shifty is a great game that was almost impossible to put down once started. Each of the 18 levels provide something new to tackle, and keeps you wanting to see what’s next. The sleek visuals, strong audio, and enticing gameplay make Mr. Shifty a game that cannot be recommended enough. While the game’s short length, framerate drops and lack of replay value hurt it a bit, the overall experience is a heart-pounding, adrenaline-fueled great time.

Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Mr. Shifty! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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Yooka-Laylee Review (PS4/X1) – “Return to a Golden Era of Platformers”

Yooka-Laylee is a three-dimensional platform game developed by Playtonic Games and published by Team 17. It’s essentially the spiritual successor to a popular Nintendo 64 game called Banjo-Kazooie, since it shares many elements from its audio and gameplay. In fact, a few of the original members from Rare who helped design Banjo are reprising their roles to bring Yooka-Laylee to a new generation of gamers. The title of Yooka-Laylee is a word play with the ukulele instrument, in much the same way as Banjo-Kazooie was a play from the musical instruments of a Banjo and Kazoo. If you were a fan of N64 titles such as Banjo, or even Super Mario 64, then you’re going to really enjoy what Yooka-Laylee has to offer. That’s not to say that today’s gamers won’t have plenty to enjoy as well, but Yooka-Laylee is a nostalgic trip down memory lane when open-world collectibles such as this were very popular back in the 90’s.

The story of Yooka-Laylee begins when a businessman known as Capital B, and his first-hand scientist, Dr. Quack, search for a rare magical book that will bring about total destruction and aid them in their global corporate takeover. They unleash a giant device that sucks up all types of literature in order to find the magical book, which so happens to be in the possession of our heroes, Yooka and Laylee. As the magical book begins to get sucked through the air however, pages from the book, called ‘Pagies’, begin to rip free from the book and scatter around the vast area that incorporates Yooka-Laylee’s world. Yooka and Laylee now venture out from their Shipwreck Creek home and enter Hivory Towers to locate the missing golden ‘Pagies’ before they fall into the hands of Capital B.

Gameplay: 4/5

There is much to do in Yooka-Laylee, but you’ll quickly learn that not everything is available to you from the start. Many of the Hivory Tower areas are locked away, and much of your move sets are unavailable at the beginning. As you progress though the campaign however (which took me approximately 20 hours), you’ll find that there is much to explore and unlock during your playtime. There are five separate worlds located within Hivory Towers: Tribalstack Tropics, Glitterglaze Glacier, MoodyMaze Marsh, Capital Cashino, and Galleon Galaxy. Each one focuses on a specific theme, and can be entered by locating a Grand Tome hidden somewhere within Hivory Towers, which is the hub portion of the game.

Once you locate the Grand Tome, you’ll need to unlock it by having a certain number of Pagies.  As you reach newer Tomes (worlds), the amount needed to enter the world increases. What’s interesting in Yooka-Laylee is that there are two modes to each world. For instance, you can unlock the first world with only three Pagies, which opens a small portion of the level. If you spend 7 additional Pagies, you expand the world to its full extent, giving you every option to explore and locate each collectible item. I normally would expand each world from the start, but towards the end only had enough to unlock the basic fifth world. What was nice about this was that it slowly introduced you to the world without it being overwhelming, as the expanded version felt too large at times. These worlds are huge, so having a small portion to peruse actually helped me to understand the level structure a bit more and make it feel more manageable in the long run.

The main goal of each world is to locate and collect Pagies, which range from easy to obtain, to incredibly challenging at times. Still, this gives players a nice balance of how they’d like to achieve their goal, as there are 145 Pagies in all. However, you only need 100 Pagies to reach the final boss. One of the gripes I had with the game, is actually about the boss encounters in each level. Unlike traditional video game bosses, the bosses in Yooka-Laylee can be found at any point during your play time. The five world bosses are all hidden at different locations, and as you search for ways to free the Pagies, you sometimes come across a boss battle. While I didn’t mind the bosses, I didn’t like how all you received from them was another Pagie. After feeling as if the boss of each world was a big deal, I thought that the reward of just getting one Pagie felt ungratifying. After all, you can acquire Pagies in numerous ways throughout your adventure, so getting another one after a boss was kind of a letdown. I would have preferred if the boss gave you something else of importance in return. But this is a minor gripe I had regarding boss battles. There is also a minor boss battle that appears three times in the Hub world of Hivory towers as well, as Dr. Quack makes you play a Quiz game before you can proceed. Very similar to Banjo-Kazooie, you’ll need to answer 10 questions correctly before you can win, so pay extra attention to the levels and characters within the game. If you answer correctly, you actually move up two spaces so you can shorten your Quiz, but you can only have three incorrect answers before being sent back to the beginning of the Quiz. Originally I thought this would be annoying, but it was an enjoyable break in-between levels. I will say though, that the final boss is quite challenging, so make sure to collect as many items and moves as possible before reaching Capital B.

There are many other items in Yooka-Laylee to collect in addition to Pagies. Quills are a basic feathery item that are scattered all around each location. The more you collect, the better the chance you’ll have at acquiring each upgraded move ability, which are needed to progress further throughout the game. The move sets can be purchased by a slithery character known as Trowzer, who can be found in each world. There are 200 Quills in each world. There are also five ghosts known as Ghost Writers in each world as well. Each one has a unique way to capture them, such as feeding them with some of the various projectiles, or using your sonar move to make them visible after hearing their laugh. The Ghost Writers are hidden very well around each world, so you’ll definitely need to keep your eyes and ears open. If you collect all five, you’ll receive a Pagie in return. Another interesting collectable in Yooka-Laylee is the Mollycool. If you locate this item (one in each world), you can then bring it to Dr. Puzz who uses her D.N. Ray to transform you into different vehicles, such as a snowplow, helicopter, or ship. This opens up the gameplay in a diverse way to offer you new ways to explore areas. One other item you can find are Play Coins, which after locating them, are handed to an 8-bit inspired character named Rextro, who then lets you play various arcade style mini-games to earn more Pagies. Finally, there are Play Tonics, which are game modifiers that help you enhance certain stats or abilities, such as giving you an extra Butterfly icon (which is the health item for Yooka and Laylee) or the ability to warn you when you are close to an item. Only one Tonic can be selected at a time, so you need to choose wisely.

As I stated earlier, there is much to do in Yooka-Laylee, and I found myself easily playing for hours without realizing how much time passed by, or wanting to come back to the game when I was away from it. But while I enjoyed the various exploration objectives of the game, there were some problematic areas as well. The camera for instance would fight you for control at times. It’s as if you had free reign of the camera but then if you neared a certain corner or obstacle, the camera would adjust itself to a fixed position. This became frustrating at times as I couldn’t see where I was going, and would get harmed or lose a Pagie challenge unnecessarily. More freedom from the camera would have been nice. I also found myself lost in the large worlds without knowing where to go, or how to reach a certain location I had found earlier. I know that Yooka-Laylee is supposed to be a throwback to earlier 90’s open-world games, but having a map of some sort would have definitely helped. Still, these are minor issues that can hopefully be ironed out if there were ever a sequel, and won’t deter you from enjoying the game itself.

Graphics: 3/5

For a Kickstarter game such as this, I’m actually impressed with the graphics. Each world is well designed, and the lighting effects definitely create the mood that each world calls for. Yooka-Laylee is a colorful and vibrant looking game, and the character designs all look great. There are some areas that affect it from achieving a higher score however. I noticed some areas with draw distance issues, and in today’s gaming world, that’s not something you see much of anymore. From far away, it was difficult to see where I was headed or which items were visible. This made collecting a bit more challenging. The water effects also looked a bit last gen as well, as they didn’t display much movement and seemed flat. At times, I couldn’t tell if something was water, or actual land. Again, this didn’t keep me from enjoying the game, but there were some graphical areas that could have been improved.

Sound: 5/5

The sound design in Yooka-Laylee really excels. It has the same charm as Banjo-Kazooie did, and I found myself humming to some of the melodies in the game even when I wasn’t playing. The soundtrack is catchy and the sound effects are perfect for this type of game. You can easily tell that Grant Kirkhope, the composer of Banjo, tried his best to mimic the same orchestral score that they had achieved with their previous iteration on the N64. The characters themselves don’t speak, but instead have a strange mumbling sound during their conversations. This was popular with Banjo and they continued that sound design option here as well. While some may find it annoying, you can skip most of it by pressing X and just read what the characters are saying instead, which are often humorous. Overall though, I really enjoyed the various music styles of each world. Each level has a fitting musical theme that matches the environment, and sound effects for each item and character are distinguishable from each other.

Replay Value: 5/5

Yooka-Laylee is a game that you’ll think about even when you’re not playing it, and you’ll look forward to visiting the world once more to see if you can find that collectable you were looking for, or realizing you may have found a way to collect that Pagie you couldn’t originally get to. There are so many collectibles to find and areas to explore that you’ll want to come back again and again. The game can sometimes be challenging, but I appreciate the fact that Yooka-Laylee didn’t hold your hand as many games today do. You need to learn how to complete objectives on your own, explore locations by visiting every possible area, and solve puzzles with little help from any on-screen tips. There’s also a hidden character from another indie game that shows up to lend you a hand, but I’ll leave that to you to find (if you haven’t already read about it online, that is).

Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5/10

Overall, Yooka-Laylee is a great game, and despite some minor flaws, I really enjoyed playing an original IP that reminded me of games like Banjo-Kazooie or Conker’s Bad Fur Day from the Nintendo 64 days. Games like Yooka Laylee are few and far between, so I’m hopeful that there’ll be a Yooka-Tooie one day in the future!

Pros:

+ Nails the Banjo vibe

+ Outstanding soundtrack

+ Addictive gameplay

Cons:

– Camera takes control at times

– Graphics, while nice, could be more refined

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Yooka-Laylee! Copy reviewed on PlayStation 4.

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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Snow Moto Racing Freedom Review (PS4/PC) – “Stuck on Ice”

Zordix certainly has a labor of love when it comes to jet-ski and snowmobile games. Known for their Aqua Moto Racing and Snow Moto Racing series, Zordix has released the latest in their snowmobile series, Snow Moto Racing Freedom. When their previous title released a few months ago (Aqua Moto Racing Utopia), we found it to be a great title that was easy to get into. Does Snow Moto Racing Freedom have an equivalent hook that Aqua Moto Racing Utopia had, or is this snowmobile racer stuck on ice?

Snow Moto Racing Freedom is, as the title insinuates, a snowmobile racing game at its heart. There are three types of Championships to partake in: Sprint League, Snocross, and Freedom League. Sprint League has you racing opponents in vast open environments to hit checkpoints that link to the finish line. Snocross is a more traditional method of racing, doing laps on actual tracks. Freedom League is a mix of both Sprint League and Snocross races together in a Championship. Each league has about eight championships to tackle, each containing three to five races roughly.

Sprint League is an open-ended race style, approaching checkpoints that is reminiscent to something like Smuggler’s Run or Midnight Club. Checkpoints need to be approached in specific directions. However, the checkpoints are handled a bit poorly. Each checkpoint is a fairly large object that requires you to turn into it just right, and go through the gate. Worse yet, certain checkpoints have you approaching it head on, and require you to have to do 180 degree turns into these cumbersome gates. It wouldn’t be so bad if the checkpoint design was more liberating or didn’t have this massive object to maneuver around just to get into the gate. It honestly just ruins the flow of races. Some of the game’s physics are also wonky (more on that below), so colliding into the object once inside can lead to easily flipping over. When respawning on the track, the game automatically points you in the right direction to the gate. However, if you pass the gate, you may as well restart the race, because there’s no way you’ll be able to turn around, go through the gate, and catch back up to the AI. There’s no manual respawn button to get you back on track quicker either, which could’ve rectified this issue. Snocross races are more straightforward, but to be honest were definitely not as enjoyable as Sprint League races. The biggest issue here is the lack of memorable tracks to race on. Each one here feels appropriate, yet generic.

Snow Moto Racing Freedom’s physics engine works decently enough, but there are some odd instances that are hard to avoid. First off, rocks serve more as a ramp than actually colliding with them. It’s a bit comical and while I wouldn’t normally complain about something that doesn’t ruin the flow of gameplay, it actually does mess you up more than help. There were also numerous times I’d land upside-down off a jump, but I’d still drive for a second upside-down and the rider would shoot out of the ground. Again, comical but wonky. Also, the game’s control are a tad on the sensitive side. This is more noticeable during Snocross than Sprint League races, but it makes for some very difficult times with Snocross events. There were even times when the snowmobile would do an almost 180 degree turn when landing from a jump because the vehicle’s tracks were slightly off-center (and I mean slightly). It just felt like if I lost a race that I was holding the lead in, it was usually due to inconsistent physics.

Aside from the game’s Championship events, there are also Single Events you can do like Time Trials, Freestyle, and Leisure events. Time Trials have you going for either a bronze, silver, or gold medal to get the fastest track times. Freestyle has you competing for medals by pulling off as many tricks as possible on specifically designed levels. Tricks are handled exactly like the developer’s previous game, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia. You pull off tricks using the right analog stick, and can use the L1 button as a modifier for more complex tricks. Leisure lets you ride on three of the game’s open-environments: Scandinavia, Rocky Mountains, and the Alps. You have plenty of terrain to freely ride around and explore. However, unlike AMRU where there were easter eggs and items to collect while free roaming, this game has zero of that. Nothing to collect, nothing hidden to find. It’s just a basic free roam in environments devoid of personality. It wouldn’t be so dull if there was more to the environment, but there’s ultimately not much.

The game does have both local and online multiplayer. While we were not able to test out the online multiplayer due to servers being empty at the time of review, we did test the local multiplayer. Similar to Aqua Moto Racing Utopia, the game supports four-player split-screen multiplayer. You can do any of the race types, freestyle events and even free roam in Leisure mode. Unfortunately, you cannot choose your vehicle, nor can your buddies customize their character. You just drop right into the game. That’s the thing too. You can customize your character…but only their gear color. There’s only one outfit and one helmet, so the only difference from everyone is color variation. Lastly, the game is lacking any mini-game modes that Aqua Moto Racing Utopia had. Overall, it just lacks the personality and identity that AMRU had.

Visually, the game looks pretty solid for the most part. The most impressive thing visually is that it runs at 60 fps, which is always a huge plus. Riders animate pretty well, as do the vehicles. The cool feature that returns from AMR Utopia is the first-person view, and the detail put into that to really simulate the feeling of riding these beasts. The sense of speed is also very well done. On the flip side though, there is a good amount of screen-tearing happening. It’s not immensely distracting, but it’s certainly very noticeable. Weather effects are in play and all looks good, including the lighting for night races. It would’ve been nice to see some wind effects though. This would’ve helped breathe some life into the environments in an otherwise lifeless world. The other issue was the gamma in the visuals. Many times I found determining the depth and level formation to be difficult due to washed out snow detail. Funny enough, if you pause the game, the screen dims slightly and then I can actually see the snow terrain better. There’s no gamma option to tweak either so this just made some races difficult to determine the terrain. In terms of audio, snowmobiles sound as they should and the music here, if a bit generic, accompanies the game pretty well. Nothing overly memorable, but gets the job done.

There may be a lot of comparisons made here with the developer’s previous game, Aqua Moto Racing Utopia, but it was very difficult not to compare the two. While AMRU was a game we rather enjoyed, Snow Moto Racing Freedom feels devoid of what made AMRU great. The gameplay is mediocre, the environments are lifeless and the game just lacks personality. The overall package doesn’t seem as energetic and creative as AMRU. If you’re looking for a snowmobile game, there’s some enjoyment to be had here, but not enough to fully recommend it.

Overall Score: 5.5 out of 10 = Wait for a Price Drop…

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Snow Moto Racing Freedom! Copy reviewed on PlayStation 4.

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Snake Pass Review (Switch) – A Ssssssslithering Good Time

Sumo Digital is no stranger to the gaming industry. Their highly prolific releases like Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast, Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (as well as its sequel, Sonic All-Star Racing Transformed), and LittleBigPlanet 3 are just a few to mention. This time around, they’ve decided to create a brand new IP of theirs called Snake Pass. Is this new IP a slithering good time, or an exercise in frustration?

Snake Pass is a puzzle-platformer that has you controlling a snake named Noodle. Noodle’s bird companion, Doodle, notices the land suddenly shifting and breaking apart, and wakes up Noodle from his nap to warn him that they must do something about it. Here is where you will begin to get your bearings on the game’s control scheme. The catch here is that Noodle moves and handles like that of a real snake. You will not be simply moving freely and jumping across as you do in other platformers. You must move Noodle by holding a button to move forward, and using the analog stick to slither left and right to gain speed. If you just move straight, Noodle will eventually be unable to move since snakes can’t actually move straight. When climbing up surfaces, you will need to coil up with the left trigger. This allows Noodle to tighten his grip and gain more traction to further work your way around poles. If the bottom of your tail starts to add more weight, you can also press a button to have Doodle pick it up and assist with your weight distribution. It’s a very interesting premise and something that’s never been done before.

Throughout the game’s four worlds, Noodle will have to collect three gate keys to advance to the next level. Aside from those, he can also collect the 20 blue orbs scattered throughout the level, as well as five secret coins. These are not mandatory to collect, but allow completionists to be fully tested on the game’s challenges. That’s the thing about Snake Pass; The challenge is in figuring out how to collect everything in each level. The game starts out relatively approachable, and continues to ramp up in difficulty based on each world’s environmental hazards. Whether it be spikes, fire or wind, the environment will pose as Noodle’s main obstacle. There are no enemies that actually attack you or vice versa. This is a pure collect-a-thon platformer with a heavy emphasis on snake-like physics.

Slithering your way through environments will take some time to adjust to. The game’s controls are done well and if you rush your way through some areas, failure will certainly take hold. There are checkpoints scattered, but some levels have them few and far in between. I found myself occasionally getting frustrated after spending minutes carefully coiling Noodle around a pole mid-air to get a key or coin, to only then fall to my demise shortly after succeeding and have to repeat getting to the area over-and-over again. While the challenge in place is fine, it’s the repetition of getting to areas to only tackle the trial-and-error gameplay that got a bit tedious at times. Also, the biggest issue during my playthrough was fighting with the camera. While you can control the camera with the right analog stick, it is stiff and slow to maneuver. A camera sensitivity option would have greatly helped here as it somewhat slowed down the flow of gameplay.

Despite some gripes, there is an undeniable sense of charm to be found in Snake Pass. Noodle and Doodle are incredibly likeable characters, and seeing Noodle’s facial expressions (which you can change ala LittleBigPlanet with the D-Pad) will certainly bring a smile to your face . Even hearing his expressions are quite funny. Level design is also very well done, with nice amounts of variety to each level.

Visually, Snake Pass is a very nice looking game that’s easy on the eyes and vibrant. Powered by Unreal Engine 4, Sumo Digital has showcased that a game built originally for PS4 and X1 in mind can look incredibly similar on Nintendo Switch. While the resolution takes a bit of a hit, the game does have some nice anti-aliasing happening to help smooth out the edges. Noodle animates sssssssmooothly (sorry, had to do it) and texture detail is very well done. There are a ton of grass blades on-screen throughout levels as well, and really help flourish the lively environment. The main visual hit would have to be the inconsistent framerate. While the game does aim for 30 fps, it tends to drop to about 25 fps in areas. This does happen quite often and while the game is at the visual level of a PS4/X1 game, it could use just a bit more optimizing for smoother gameplay. That being said though, don’t have this issue turn you away from playing the game, as it still is totally playable regardless of the frame drops.

In terms of audio, Donkey Kong Country composer, David Wise, takes the helm and provides a great soundtrack that hits all the right notes for the type of game Snake Pass is. There’s an atmospheric tone to the tunes, each fitting the world you’re in. It really helps engage you into the game and does a superb job of accompanying the platforming. Sound effects are also well done, with some subtle voice work (mostly reaction noises) from Noodle and Doodle, as well as nice audio cues when collecting certain items. When swimming underwater, music also gets subdued a bit which is a nice effect. All in all, the audio package is very well done and the soundtrack is very catchy.

Snake Pass is a game that takes a risk in a generation that needs more risk-taking. Cultivating the ideas of a platformer and incorporating a control scheme that fully coordinates with the character itself is bold and unique. While it will certainly take time for players to master Noodle’s control, it’s still simple enough for anyone to pickup and play. It does have a few issues that are hard to ignore, but what’s here is a very endearing game, full of charm and complexity. If you’re looking for a unique, vibrant platformer that provides something new to the table, definitely give Snake Pass a look. Hopefully we see more of Noodle in the near future.

Overall Score: 7.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Snake Pass! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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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.

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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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.

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

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.