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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Super Bomberman R Review (Switch) – “Blast from the Past”

When it comes to iconic retro characters, Bomberman is certainly one with quite the history. Konami has decided to bring the iconic bombing hero as a launch title for the Nintendo Switch for its 33rd anniversary. Super Bomberman R takes the series back to its roots, but is that playing it too safe, or is it a proper way to bring the series back after a long hiatus?

Gameplay: 4/5

Super Bomberman R is a return to form. The series has focused more on adventure-like elements, and while those were well-executed, the team over at Konami wanted to celebrate the character’s return with a more traditional experience. If you’ve never played a Bomberman game before, let’s briefly touch base about the core mechanics. You control Bomberman via an isometric view, and have to navigate your way through maze-like levels, blowing up objects that block your path. Naturally, there are enemies that will be in your path that can be disposed of with your bombs. You have to strategically plant these bombs, hoping to trick the enemy into the blast, and being sure you’re away from the blast radius.

The game’s Story mode will have you (and a partner) venturing through five worlds (with a sixth world being strictly the final boss) to take on the five Dastardly Bombers. You can pick from several different Bombermen, each with a different personality. Each world comprises of eight stages, followed by a boss battle stage. Throughout the stages, you will have a variety of objectives to complete in the world. For example, levels start off with just defeating all the enemies and heading to the exit. Later on, it may change up to: finding all the switches in a level to open the exit, surviving for “x” amount of time, or even escorting characters to a safety zone before the exit opens. This actually helps change up the pacing of levels quite nicely. Levels will only take a few minutes as well, making this a solid pickup-and-play style game. The game is also paced very well with new elements incorporated into levels as you progress, and new twists thrown into world (whether it be multi-tiered levels, icy platforms, magnets that pull your bombs in, etc).

Throughout the levels, you will find power-ups that either let you plant more bombs at once, increase your blast radius, let you move faster, or even carry special bomb-types. While getting power-ups like these may sound like a benefit, the strategic element to consider is that there’s more of a challenge to being fully powered-up. You will be more prone to blowing yourself up if you’re not careful. It’s almost a case of, “With great power comes great responsibility”. However, you’ll even come across power-downs, which decrease certain power-ups you may have acquired for the level. These may help you if you feel your bombs have too much blast radius or you’re running too fast and having a hard time controlling the character.

Story mode can be played in drop-in/drop-out local co-op. Just pop out those Joy-Cons and have a buddy join in on the fun. You and your partner will share lives, and can blow each other up, so extra caution is needed when playing co-op. And of course, no Bomberman game would be complete without Battle mode.

Battle mode allows for up to eight players to join in on the fun, whether local, with multiple Switches in the same room, or online. This is where a majority of the game’s longevity will come from, as this has been the series’ staple for decades. And even decades later, this multiplayer is still as chaotic and engaging as it was back in the day. You have a variety of stages to choose from, as well as more that can be unlocked with gem currency accrued from playing through the campaign. You can choose to play either four-player or eight-player battle, as well as incorporate bots to go up against. When playing Battle mode online, you can choose between League Battle and Free Battle. League Battle has you competing with others to earn BP to level up your rank in set conditions, while Free Battle lets you go up against friends and newcomers with customized parameters to your liking.

Now there are some issues to be found in Super Bomberman R. First off, the online mode. During our online sessions, every match has a half-second lag input for the controls. While you can get by and still play, it’s just not a smooth experience at all. Luckily, Konami is already aware of this and are looking into fixing it. Also, if lag input wasn’t enough, there are lag spikes during matches that we’ve come across a few times. Second, boss battles contain two phases each, with the first phase always being a cat-and-mouse bombing each other game. The problem with this is the AI is always a step ahead and you can never cleverly take them out. Instead, it just resorts to constantly planting bombs like crazy and hoping for the best. These made boss battles a bit frustrating. Thankfully, the second phase of a boss battle is significantly better and more entertaining, giving you more freedom of movement and interesting scenarios.

Graphics: 3/5

Super Bomberman R is a colorful, vibrant game, with a simplistic style that gets the point across. Bomberman and crew are animated precisely as they should be, and enemies move as they would in previous games. Bomberman was never a visual showcase, but rather relied on its cutesy, fun style. It’s got a charming look and is easy on the eyes. Backdrops look pretty solid for the levels and help flesh out the game’s aesthetic. Oddly though, the game’s main menus run at 60 fps, but the game itself is locked at 30 fps. While 30 fps is more than playable, there’s nothing happening on screen here that shouldn’t have it running at 60 fps. That being said, Super Bomberman R’s visuals are still quite good and certainly do a good job of bringing Bomberman and crew to the Nintendo Switch.

Sound: 3/5

Super Bomberman R has a catchy, chipper soundtrack that accompanies the action on-screen very well. You may even find yourself having a few tunes stick with you after taking a break from the game. Sound effects are done well too, between the icon pickups and explosions going on. The audio here is actually a well suited package…except for the voice acting. While not overly cringe-worthy, it’s certainly very campy and cheesy. The voice actors tried to do what they can to provide personality to each of the Bombermen, but it ultimately falls flat for the most part. Aside from White and Red Bomberman being the better of the bunch, everything else doesn’t fare as well. You can switch the game’s language to Japanese…but then the text is Japanese as well. Thankfully, you can shut off the voices altogether if it begins to grind your gears.

Replay Value: 4/5

Battle mode is clearly where the game’s longevity is going to be. Whether you have some friends over or jump online, there’s no question that you’ll have people gathering around. While the online does have lag input and spikes at the moment, there should be a patch in the near future to fix this issue. Aside from Battle mode, there are plenty of unlockables too. You can go to the Shop area and acquire new Battle mode stages, new characters and new outfits for the characters. There’s an ample amount to unlock and doing so will certainly take some time. Also, the campaign can be replayed at multiple difficulties and once beaten, you can replay any world again. There’s even a ranking system from one to three stars to see how well you did in each world.

Overall Score: 14/20 = 7.0 out of 10

Super Bomberman R is a return to series’ roots without question. Between the maze-like structure of maps and competitive Battle mode, it’s the Bomberman we’ve come to know and love. While the game has its fair share of issues, it’s still a game very much worth having in your Switch library. This is a solid return for the character and great to see the series can still pick up where it left off and play as well today. Here’s hoping though that Konami sees the potential of this classic IP and continues to further build on it (and other classic IPs they have). Maybe we can see a new Bomberman in the style of Bomberman 64 on the Switch?

Pros:

+ Easy to pickup-and-play

+ Battle mode is still as engaging as ever

+ Catchy soundtrack

+ Campaign mode progresses well

+ Plenty of unlockables

Cons:

– Dull voice acting

– Online lag input and spikes

– First phase of boss battles are an exercise of luck

– Visuals seem capable of 60 fps but runs at 30 fps

– $50 price tag is a little steep

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Super Bomberman R! 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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Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour Review (PS4/X1/PC): “Come Get Some”

In 1996, Duke Nukem 3D splashed onto the scene of PC and console gaming like a megaton. The brash, X-rated humor was breaking down the walls of traditional gaming narratives. Duke was in a class of his own with dialogue and gameplay that blasted through the standards of yesterday. Twenty years later, Gearbox Software has decided to release Duke’s best known adventure once again. The epic Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour is intended to appeal to both new comers of 3D Realms’ hero from the 90’s, as well as fans of old. Originally when it was released back in 1996, Duke Nukem 3D was one of the most significant titles in the FPS genre’s history. Its intricate level designs set it apart from its contemporaries back in 1996. What exactly makes the 20th Anniversary Edition worth trying out? Let’s dive in to find out!The great thing about this anniversary edition is that the original designers, Allen Blum III and Richard “Levelord” Gray, have returned to craft eight brand new levels for Duke Nukem 3D. The new episode takes Duke everywhere from the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, to Moscow, and finally to Hollywood for a final boss battle. However, rather than use current design technology, the pair decided to design each of these levels the exact way they would have done in ‘96. The result is amazing, playing these levels feels like they were always part of the original game. Nerve Software’s team understood what made the levels of the original game so entertaining. While these levels are not as large as the true original levels, they are still pretty large considering. Duke 3D famously had huge maze-like levels and made you want to explore each section of the map.

The gameplay holds up pretty well considering it has now been 20 years since its original launch. I feel part of the magic that kept this game’s gameplay current and not dated was its simplicity. 3D Realms created such a well put-together shooter that 20 years could not dilute it. I recently got to co-op a sizeable chunk of the game with Marcello (which can be viewed here for some good laughs). We were both reminded of how detailed and labyrinth-like the levels were. These twisty, but carefully crafted stages are not found often in today’s gaming. Too many modern day games simply create big levels, but overlook that larger does not necessarily equal a better level.

In addition to the single-player campaign, this release also features some good multiplayer action. You can face-off with others online in a mode called Dukematch, or you can team up with some friends to engage in online co-op. Much like the single-player campaign, these selections feel like a remnant from the old days of gaming mode choices. Duke’s simplistic gameplay is fun for playing single player, and is just as pleasing on the multiplayer side. The idea of playing 8-player co-op online with friends from a game released over 20 years ago is neat, and certainly adds longevity.

For the Anniversary Edition, Gearbox has given the original Duke Nukem 3D a minor restoration. Gearbox created a True3D Rendering mode specifically for Duke. The title still runs on the same game engine from ’96, however several visual aspects have been improved. The lighting has been considerably upgraded, and textures are just cleaner to look at now with my 2016 eyes. Instead of looking like a game from 1996, it can maybe pass for a game a few years newer. A feature that I love is the ability to toggle between the original’s visuals and the remastered’s visuals. Videophiles who want the original visuals can switch between the two modes with a press of a button.

The audio factor of the game also received several tweaks. Gearbox has brought the original voice actor of Duke, Jon St. John, to re-record his original dialogue, as well as record some new lines too. Even if the series of famous one-liners begin to dull after a while, St. John’s distinct voice is seamlessly right for the character of Duke. There is new music composed by Lee Jackson, which fits the heavy action that is constantly happening around you.

Another great feature added into this edition is developer commentary that has been placed in various points throughout the game. Several members of the Duke team recorded their views on it. It’s pretty interesting to hear some of their thoughts two decades later with a retrospect from the people who actually created Duke and launched him into gaming history. You will find some funny stories in these commentaries as well. Whether they’re discussing the making of it or the game’s impact, these little bits of commentary are fascinating. For those looking for a lengthy commentary spanning the entire single player adventure, you will be disappointed. Unfortunately, these audio logs are only found in a few levels. I am by no means expecting all the levels to have commentary, but it would have been great to have more great stories from the developing pioneers of 90’s gaming to listen to.

While today’s gamers may be turned off by the very basic gameplay Duke provides, they need to remember that this title is part of the forces that ushered in today’s modern day shooters. Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour is a nostalgia trip that recalls many memories for gamers that were around when this hit the stores. The fast-paced, crazy shooting is as strong as ever, and the extensive level design is still exceptional. For those that have never experienced the classy charm-filled Duke “sarcasm”, this is a tour worth experiencing.

Overall Score: 7.5 out of 10

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour! Copy reviewed on PS4.

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Mark McMorris Infinite Air Review (PS4/X1/PC): “Shreddin'”

Snowboarding games in the past decade have been very few and far in-between. Yes, we’ve seen EA reboot SSX (yet still no mention of a new one this generation), and we’ve also seen Ubisoft attempt it with its mediocre Shaun White’s Snowboarding. Developer HB Studios, known for their golf simulator title, The Golf Club, is giving the much needed snowboarding genre a try with their latest title, Mark McMorris’ Infinite Air. Is this the definitive snowboarding simulator?

Gameplay: 4/5

Infinite Air is not your SSX-style snowboarding game, so let’s clear that up right away. Instead, HB Studios aimed to make a physics-based snowboard simulation game. Essentially, it’s the “Skate” of snowboarding games…and that’s a good thing. Infinite Air has players immediately start with a tutorial to get a feel of the control scheme. It starts simple and gets more advanced as that progresses, from simply learning how to turn, to how to do flips. It is a necessary tutorial to have since the controls are all physics-based. Now you may see some comparisons to Skate being made with this game, and again, that’s because this legitimately aims to set that precedent…but with snowboarding. Controlling the boarder feels responsive and fairly smooth, giving a weight and feel that’s authentic to snowboarding.

Infinite Air has you partake in Circuits as the main campaign mode. This consists of four varied events across six tiers. Each event has five objectives that can be completed, whether it be to score a set number of points, pulling off a specific trick, placing 1st in an event, earning a certain grade during a competition, etc. It keeps each event fresh and will test your skills in a variety of areas. Naturally, as you progress up to each tier, the challenges will increase in difficulty. There are different style events as well, whether it be slopestyle, big air, backcountry, etc. Each event style does change up the flow and really lends to keeping things fresh and varied. The final event of each tier has you going up against another famed snowboarder, those of whom can be unlocked.

There are several big name snowboarders to be found here. However, if none of the characters are to your liking, you can create your own character. While the customization isn’t enormously in-depth, there’s plenty of clothing types and accessories to choose from. Not all of these customization items are unlocked from the beginning. You unlock more by completing more challenges in the Circuit mode.

The controls will certainly take time to get a feel for. For example, jumping in this game won’t be a simple button-press. You will have to emulate the jump using the right-analog stick by holding down and then pushing up, or vice-versa (depending if you want to ollie or nollie). Granted, you can also hold down both L2 & R2 simultaneously and release to jump. Timing is important too, because you can’t pre-wind your jump early or too late if you want to get the most air. You can control spins using the L2 & R2 buttons (or LT/RT on X1) and like jumping, you’ll need to time your pre-wind just right to get the most spin. You’ll control the direction of the flips and spins, as well as where to grab the board with both analog sticks. Grabbing the board utilizes the L2/R2 buttons as well. Grinding rails occurs naturally and automatically, dependent on how you land on the rail itself. Is this sounding like Skate’s trick system at all? Again, not to say it’s copying directly from it, but rather incorporating it in similar fashion. After all, it’s an entirely physics-based game, as Skate was. Landing tricks will net you various statuses as well: Buttcheck, Sloppy, Ok, and Clean. Honestly, the trick system is very challenging to grasp at first and will take a solid amount of time. However, stick with it for a while and you’ll start pulling off some sick tricks. There’s an immensely gratifying feeling pulling off a 2160 roast beef flip (that’s a legit trick name apparently) while getting some crazy air. 

Now one of the biggest features that sets Mark McMorris Infinite Air apart from its competition this year (Snow and Steep) is the World Editor mode. This lets you create an entire mountain to your liking. This where things get really impressive. There are roughly 100 set pieces to place on the mountain. You’ll fly the chopper around the mountain, finding spots to tweak to your liking. You can sculpt the snow, whether you want to just smooth it out or grade it. There are a variety of ramps, rails/jibs, buildings, nature and other objects you can utilize. You can scale objects, adjust the height and tilt of them, snap them to the mountain (or have them float above ground if you’d like), and rotate them to any degree. You can even use a ruler tool that gives you an in-depth breakdown of distance, angle degree, width, etc. It has an intricate degree of depth for sure, and one that sets a standard in this genre. Furthermore, you can create your own runs on the mountain for others to try out. This is truly a fully fleshed-out mode. Publishing a mountain gives players an entire mountain of your creation to explore, as well as runs to tackle. There’s even leaderboards for your runs, adding some competition and activity to your mountain. It’s easy to lose hours upon hours creating a mountain that lives up to your imagination.

The World Editor mode is so simple to use and incredibly intuitive.

Additionally, the game does have a traditional multiplayer mode known as Live Ride. This has you inviting your friends onto the mountain to shred together. Unfortunately, during the time of our review, we were not able to test this feature out properly. There is also no split-screen multiplayer support.

The game does have a few issues that slightly takes away from the gameplay experience. First off, when you bail and “get up”, the screen refreshes with you getting back on your board. As opposed to getting you back on track, it literally respawns you right where you bailed. The issue with this is if you collided with the wrong side of a ramp or in between two objects, you will find yourself struggling to get out of that spot. The other issue is a few times I found myself facing the uphill direction when respawning. When this happens, it can be pretty frustrating. However, it doesn’t heavily hurt the overall gameplay experience, and is something that can honestly be patched.


Graphics:
3/5

Infinite Air’s visuals are quite nice and crisp. Environments have a clean, sharp look to them, with nice looking textures. Lighting effects here are solid, but there are some jagged-looking shadow effects on the snow at times. The snow looks great overall, with backcountry snow deforming as you shred through it and snow park graded snow being more compact. Riders animate smoothly as well, providing very believable animations whether carving, spinning, grabbing, or bailing. Since the environment generates, you will notice trees in the far distance popping up. The game does run at 30 fps, but there were a few instances where it dropped to the low 20s. It didn’t impact the control input much, but did take away from visual presentation a bit when that occurred. Interestingly, the developer allowed players to tweak visual settings such as draw distance effect, texture quality, etc. Although, even switching all the settings either to off or low didn’t seem to boost game performance. Despite some technical performance hiccups, Infinite Air is still a nice looking game without question.


Sound:
4/5

The audio presentation is certainly strong in Infinite Air. The sound of the wind as you speed down the mountain, the snow being carved, the board landing after getting some big air…it all sounds like you’re on the mountain yourself. When you get air, the music becomes more subtle to give a more dynamic feel. Even bailing has the music take a subtlety with an airy tone. The soundtrack definitely does a great job keeping you in the experience. Consisting of a mix of rock and techno music, it’s a very adequate selection of tunes that nails the game’s pacing. All-in-all, the audio department is very well done and keeps you drawn into the experience.


Replay Value:
4/5

Infinite Air’s title has the word “infinite” in there to convey the sense of seeing endless things on the mountain. Whether it be your creations, other’s creations or just seeing what the game procedurally generates before editing a mountain. While the game’s online mode seems to rely on inviting a friend to your mountain, and no public matchmaking, this limits you a bit in this aspect. Despite that though, between the game’s Circuit mode, browsing runs others make, tackling Daily Challenges, or creating sweet mountains, there is plenty here to keep you coming back for quite some time.

Overall Score: 7.5 out of 10

Mark McMorris Infinite Air clearly aims to be the Skate of snowboarding games, and certainly does a great job achieving that. What’s here is a snowboarding simulator that is very skill-based and challenging, but incredibly engaging to keep coming back to. Despite a few technical qualms, this is a much needed snowboarding game this generation. Snowboarding fanatics, as well as fans of Skate, will definitely want to give this a go. With the great amount of content, challenging yet gratifying trick system, and amazing World Editor, this is certainly a mountain worth shredding on. Hands-down, this is snowboarding’s answer to Skate.

PROs:

+ Skill-based, realistic trick system
+ Plenty of variety
+ Appealing visuals
+ Strong audio
+ World Editor is sublime

CONs:

– Occasional framerate dips
– Respawning is wonky
– Multiplayer doesn’t have public matchmaking

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Mark McMorris Infinite Air! 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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Resident Evil Revelations 2 Review – “Back on the Right Track”

RE Revelations 2 Wallpaper

The Resident Evil franchise has been around for approximately 2 decades and we have seen the series blossom into some of the most memorable games, giving you the feel of scavenging for items, weapons and ammo. However, we have also seen the series recently take a turn for the worse, with the horrendous spin-off, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, and the absolute mess known as Resident Evil 6. It has been roughly 2 and a half years since a new Resident Evil has released to the market, and with Resident Evil Revelations 2, the team over at Capcom is trying to appease fans like it did with the first Revelations. Does it bring the franchise back to its roots or does it continue to slap fans in the face with obnoxious helicopter piloting and tank chasing sequences?

Story: 4/5

Resident Evil Revelations 2 takes place between the events of Resident Evil 5 and 6. A special unit known as Terrasave is formed, which acts similar to the BSAA except that they’re more about curing the viruses rather than being a special military unit. While at a company party, Claire Redfield (who is now part of Terrasave) is seen entering and looking to meet the new recruit, Moira Burton. However, the party is suddenly crashed by a mysterious group and knocks everyone out by injecting them with a tranquilizer. Claire suddenly wakes up in a prison cell of some sort, finds Moira locked in another cell, and together they must find out where they are, what’s going on and how to escape this nightmare. Claire and Moira have a fairly believable bond interacting with each other. Moira as a character though has some of the most forced swearing ever in gaming history. Seriously Moira, what the f*** is with you and f***ing technology? See how forced and pointless the swearing was there? That’s how she speaks in-game.

At the halfway point of an episode, the plot will switch over to another series’ veteran, Barry Burton. Here we see Barry heading to the last known location of his daughter Moira and upon arrival, partners up with an unexpected little girl named Natalia, who’s origins are unknown. Throughout their segments of the campaign, you will see how everyone’s paths cross into each other, while solving the mystery occurring on the island. The story is told through an episodic format much like the original Revelations, but with more effect, as the cliffhangers at the end of an episode are quite strong. The story is certainly intriguing and kept me engaged through to the end with a few twists in store (as well as two different endings depending on a specific decision you make). Also, fans of the series will appreciate the continuity brought up from various RE installments. All in all, the storyline is one of the better written ones in quite some time, rekindling the classic, mysterious feel of Resident Evil.

RESIDENT EVIL REVELATIONS 2_20150319210053

Gameplay: 4/5

Resident Evil Revelations 2 (much like the first Revelations), ditches the full-blown action with minimal scares and provides a much more refined style to its predecessor. The partner system is still in place (whether you like it or not) but works in an unexpected way that works very well. Gameplay still remains over-the-shoulder, with fluid move and strafe controls that may very well be the series’ best control scheme since RE4. Throughout the game’s four episodes, players will switch between Claire and Moira’s scenario and Barry and Natalia’s scenario, each with supporting character’s changing the dynamic a bit. For example, Moira is petrified to use a gun (even despite the fact that there are murderous creatures attacking her) due to having a certain “past”. Instead, she will provide Claire with lighting support and she’ll wield a crowbar in her defense. There are times where she may have to pry a barricaded door open while Claire will have to provide gun support against any creatures coming after both of you. With Natalia, a page was borrowed from The Last of Us where she has a keen sense of hearing and can detect where enemies are through walls. Adding another element to it, she can spot out enemy weaknesses, as well as hidden items in the area.

When taking control of the main leads (Claire and Barry), they will play as you’d expect from traditional Resident Evils. You’ll be able to wield up to four weapons to switch amongst on the D-Pad, while carefully managing your inventory like the classic installments. Ammo is certainly scarce in this game, so don’t expect to wage an all-out war with all the enemies. You will have to be careful and considerate with how to handle situations. Also, unlike previous iterations (except RE6), there will be no Item Box to actually store your items in, so you will have to make decisions on what items you’ll want to carry more of and drop on the ground. A handy element is to let your partner carry some of the supplies. For example, Moira and Natalia would be better at carrying more of the health supplies and misc. items so that Claire and Barry can focus on carrying more of the ammo. How you manage the items though is ultimately up to you. One of the biggest gripes that’s not in place here though is commanding your partner to pick up the items. Instead, if your inventory is full, you will have to switch to the character and then pick up the object. It may not sound too bad written down, but it becomes tedious to do so during the entire campaign. In RE5 for example, you could simply command your partner to pick up the items if you did not want to carry it or couldn’t. Why they haven’t implemented that here is questionable and impacts the flow at times.

RESIDENT EVIL REVELATIONS 2_20150322232454

As mentioned earlier, the controls are incredibly smooth and fluid. Shooting also feels pretty solid and reminiscent a bit to Dead Space. Whereas RE6’s shooting felt too loose and janky, this one certainly feels tighter. The evade mechanic returns from the first Revelations but now isn’t about simply timing when to press up on the analog stick. Instead, you can control the dodge with the circle button and pressing any direction you wish to evade to. Timing your dodge is still important, as you can still take damage should you dodge too early or too late. At the end of each character’s segment in an episode, you will be able to use the BP you’ve earned and collected to upgrade skills. The skill upgrades are fairly similar to those found in Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, except you actually can utilize all your upgrades, not just equip three of them. Some of these vary from farther dodging radius, better firepower when crouching, sprinting and knifing at the same time, increased health, etc. There are a ton of skills to upgrade, as well as upgrading the levels of those skills to better them. Also, returning from the first Revelations is the weapon upgrade system. You will collect parts to attach to your weapons at a workbench that can increase the firepower, fire rate, reload speed, etc. Mixing and matching the parts with certain guns is a rewarding experiment, and trying to find as many parts to really make your weapon a beast is part of the fun.

When it comes to survival horror, the atmosphere and setting lend a dramatic amount to the experience. Capcom has done their homework and provided a creepy, and at times unsettling, environment that really can be twisted at times. No corner is safe and diabolical traps await you as you try to escape the demented facilities that accompany this island. Switching between Claire and Moira, and Barry and Natalia changes up the pacing of the game a decent amount. While it kept me thoroughly engaged most of the time, the very final chapter for Barry is far too slow paced to make it feel climatic until the last 10 minutes, whereas Claire’s final chapter feels much like it should (without spoiling anything). To make Barry’s final episode more of an issue, is that there’s a certain moment in the campaign where one of your decisions will greatly affect the ending. And I’m not talking about seeing an additional minute or so to the ending or a slight variation…this decision will add an additional 15 minutes of gameplay and story to resolve everything. Unfortunately, many people may not see this if they don’t make that specific decision and it’s a shame since it is much more gratifying.

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Aside from the main campaign, that sits anywhere between 7-10 hours roughly, there is a ton of replay value. First off, you can replay the game in New Game +, replaying the game with all your earned skills and upgrades. Secondly, you can tackle two new modes for each episode. The first is called Countdown, where you’ll have to speed run through the episode and can earn time back by taking down enemies and collecting clocks. The second is Invisible, where it harkens back to the Invisible Enemy mode found in the RE Remake. All enemies will be invisible and your partner can temporarily spot them. Both modes provide quite the extra challenge for purists. However, the main extra mode where people will clock in countless hours will be the infamous Raid mode.

This installment’s Raid mode is vastly improved from the original. In this installment, we start off in the Red Queen’s Chamber as a network code character (think the green coding from the Matrix). You will be able to choose which character you would like to play as (including some iconic characters like Wesker, HUNK and Leon), as well as choose what weapons to bring with you and attributes to equip. The attributes allow you to either increase your health, allow more melee damage, survive an instakill attack with a single HP left, etc. All the attributes can be leveled up with the Skill Points you’ll earn from leveling up, so upgrading these and choosing the right ones will help tremendously as you progress. The levels are broken up into gauntlets, each carrying approximately 6 stages. Each stage will have you ultimately taking out as many enemies as possible before the exit medal appears, however it can be trickier than that. When you complete a level, there are five types of medals to earn: finishing the level, killing all enemies, using no green herbs, clearing a mission within the recommended level, and completionist. Earning a completionist medal (which is earned by getting the other four medals in a single run) will prove to be quite the challenge. Luckily, just like its predecessor, Raid mode can be tackled in co-op (local and online) and it is best to play this with a friend. There are roughly 9 gauntlets and 3 difficulties. Overall, Resident Evil Revelations 2 plays great and has plenty of replay value.

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Graphics: 3/5

Resident Evil has, more or less, been a series we’ve seen some seriously strong visuals. From the Resident Evil Remake, to Resident Evil 4, to then Resident Evil 5 (I won’t even include 6 with the inconsistencies I spotted visually there), it has usually wowed us from trailers leading up to gameplay. When Revelations 1 was released on the 3DS, it was mind-blowing to see that the handheld platform could produce visuals so close to that of a console. To this day, that is still one of, if not, the best looking game on that platform. Revelations 2, on the other hand, went a different route. Due to cutting back on budget costs, it plays it safe and brings the game over to current-gen and last-gen consoles (PS4/X1/PS3/360) with solid visuals. The main difference between the platforms are that PS4 and X1 run at 1080p and 60 fps (which may drop a bit surprisingly on PS4 but nowhere near the point where it’s as noticeable as some people have blown it up to be), whereas the PS3 and 360 versions are 720p and 30 fps. There are texture differences naturally between current and last-gen editions, but as far as how the game looks on current-gen, it never looks “great”. Not often was I impressed with the visuals, with some dull looking indoor environments at times. Some areas look neat and nail the atmosphere, but it rarely ever stood out tremendously. Character models are detailed nicely, but they don’t appear to show anything that would classify it as a generational jump up. Enemy death animations also appear a bit disjointed and choppy at times, looking almost low quality. Gripes aside, it still looks good for the most part, with some solid lighting and again, terrific atmosphere. However, it just never reaches the point of “greatness”, which is odd for an RE title.

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One of the better looking, and honestly best played, scenes in the game.

Sound: 4/5

Resident Evil Revelations 2’s audio is quite good, with enemy screams sounding vicious and creepy, which will keep you on your toes to keep moving. Gun effects all sound appropriate and effective, while ambiance help keep that unsettling feeling in check. Voice acting is quite solid, even if Claire’s iconic voice actress (Alyson Court) is no longer onboard. Thankfully, the new VA that stepped in for her role does a good job of making her feel like the Claire Redfield we’ve come to know over the years. Barry’s and Natalia’s VAs also help breathe life into the characters and make it enjoyable hearing their dialogues amongst each other. Moira on the other hand…well, while I didn’t mind her delivery at times, it was every time she threw an F-bomb or some other swear word that just…doesn’t…fit…period. Seriously, no one would swear just to swear in the middle of talking. When someone swears, it usually adds emphasis to the situation. When you swear every 4-6 words, it’s downright obnoxious and irritating. On the flipside, the soundtrack accompanies the game very well, with music picking up when enemies appear and low-key ambiance music playing as you explore this demented island. Even the Raid mode remixes the Mercenaries theme from RE6 (the only good thing I can think of from that installment) for some of the missions you’ll do.

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Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10

Resident Evil Revelations 2 is a game that no one really saw coming, as it was thought to be a single spin-off for the series. Instead, Capcom aimed to bring back core fans of the series by sticking more to the survival horror roots, rather than the helicopter-fighting, tank-chasing, motorcycle-riding, Ace Combat flying, full-blown action non-sense that was RE6. Ultimately though, Capcom really did a great job with Revelations 2. While the visuals are a bit rough, and Moira’s excessive and constant swearing is downright stupid, Resident Evil Revelations 2 truly is a very good game, and a great Resident Evil game. The strong and engaging story, the eerie atmosphere, the environment exploring, the tight controls and combat, plus the return of the addictive Raid mode all couple to provide a robust package. Resident Evil fans have much reason to return to the series with this latest installment. Here’s hoping Capcom sticks closer to this route with Resident Evil 7…

Pros:

+ Strong story with series continuity

+ Tight controls

+ Creepy atmosphere

+ Solid soundtrack

+ Engaging gameplay

+ Raid mode is back

Cons:

– Having to switch to your partner all the time if you want them to pick up items

– Moira’s downright stupid swearing

– Barry’s slow final chapter

– Visuals don’t do anything special and just plays it safe

– Have I mentioned how irritating Moira’s swearing is…?

Resident Evil Revelations 2 was purchased by the reviewer and tested for the PlayStation 4 system.

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Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires Review (PS4/X1): “Hack, Slash and Take Control of China Once Again”

DW8E Wallpaper

Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires (DW8E) takes command of the hack and slash world again by offering players the opportunity to take control of China, one divided land at a time. In a more strategic layout than its sister games, DW8E aims to bring the player a new experience of not only conquering, but all of the politics and tact that go with it. Does DW8E coerce its way into our blood thirsty thumbs? Or can we simply not handle the alliance right now?

Story: 4/5

Dynasty Warriors has always been known for having the same story – that is, you can’t really change history; and as this game is based on real events, it can be difficult to sway from how the unification of China actually occurred. Therefore, in traditional fashion, DW8E sets the scene for what is expected. The Yellow Turban rebellion and Romance of the Three Kingdoms make their appearances once again, however they’re handled a little differently. Like in past Empires games, they follow a non-linear storyline, which basically disrupts the entire history play from the start. Instead of following real battles, resulting in certain well-known kingdoms unifying China, you’re allowed to dictate how history actually happened.

When starting up the campaign mode, you’re able to choose from a number of different kingdom distributions. Either the traditional Yellow Turban rebellion set up with China vastly divided, or with certain powers already beginning to take hold, or even a completely random division. From here on out, it’s essentially up to you how history unfolds. You can choose to be your own Lord, starting your own kingdom as whichever character (or custom character) you’ve chosen. You can choose to pledge your allegiance to any number of different kingdoms and fight for them until the end – or you could betray them, or leave and start anew. The options really are impressive. So while it was a slight disappointment that the traditional history lesson offered by most DW games wasn’t entirely present (absent a plethora of interesting facts and mini-lessons during loading screens and the like), it is somewhat refreshing that you’re able to take the history of China into your own hands. Don’t expect anything in-depth and gripping however, as without the traditional events, we’re left with a somewhat dry and repetitive narrative of seizing land and capturing officers until there’s simply no one left. 

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Gameplay: 5/5

While the story didn’t have that “come back and play” feel to it, the gameplay certainly brought me back time and time again. The first few hours of gameplay are riddled with tutorial messages which are more than necessary. Unlike most DW games, it was almost as if the set up to each battle was more gameplay than the actual hack and slashing! On average, 70% of the time spent playing DW8E was actually utilizing planning what to do next in the kingdom: raise currency, troops, construct facilities, form alliances, participate in raids or quests, get married?! With so many options having major effects on the outcome of your story, you really had to think about what you were about to do – and what that meant many turns down the road. 

The game is set up in rotations of months. Almost everything you do takes up one month, and you’re limited to 50 years of gameplay (600 turns). As stated before, you can start the campaign in any distribution you want, but for the most part you’re either be starting with very little land owned – or none at all. As a free officer (no allegiance to yourself or any kingdom), you can travel the country and enter any kingdom you’d like. Each kingdom contains different weapons, items and quests to undertake to unlock more gear. Therefore, travelling to different locations to purchase different equipment can be very beneficial. However, once you’ve settled down in a kingdom, you’re limited to remaining there. However, you now have the options of building up your kingdom to anything you choose. Should you create your own kingdom, you can pretty much do whatever you want. However, if you join a pre-established kingdom, you must work your way up through the ranks. Performing small quests (capture a caravan, or deliver a supply chain, etc) will unlock different equipment, as well as either boost or hinder your reputation. During large scale invasions, there are also battle objectives which can be completed in order to earn positive merit. Either of these help you move up in the world to both the officers serving in your kingdom, as well as the people of your kingdom. 

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Once you’ve established some rank, you gain more responsibility which involved keeping generals healthy and people happy. You’ll have to partake in war councils where you set planned invasions to overthrow different territories, or choose to partake in multitude of other events to boost your kingdom. In the end, there are countless ways to succeed or fail in growing a kingdom, which adds a serious amount of depth and strategy to the game unseen in any title previously. 

Thankfully, it’s not all politics and business. The core gameplay has remained largely the same with a few additions. You’re still a one person powerhouse essentially able to turn the tides of any battle, something that is absolutely necessary for any DW game. There are also an extremely large amount of different characters to choose from (with more and more being added every installment) and each containing their own weapon makes them each extremely unique. The dual weapon system has made a return where you contain a main weapon but also a secondary to switch to. Either of these can be switched out before a battle, but it’s best to stick to classes your character has decent proficiency in. A lot of the weapon attributes have been removed, leaving only random skills for weapons and a “rock-paper-scissors” elemental system. There’s also a new system called stratagems. Essentially these are commands (or spells) that affect the entire battlefield. They can be anything from short-lived attack boosts, to archery towers, to entire ambushes. While this offers a nice change of pace, often it was neglected and unnecessary, as being a one person powerhouse meant you could go into battle alone and come out victorious (at least for most of the battles).

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However, as with any new title there tend to be some omissions. The lack of the option to control voice output from the controller or TV was obnoxious, not to mention the extremely high sensitivity had no way to be adjusted leaving my character and horse control looking like a sporadic, choppy mess often in the wrong direction. The map and text was also very small, leaving me needing to get uncomfortably close to my TV at many times. While you could zoom in on the map during battles, it felt like an all-or-none, where either I could see the entire map but nothing (including my character icon) in it; or I could zoom in to see the 10 foot radius around me and nothing else. 

Multiplayer still exists in both campaign and free mode where you can set up any sort of battle scenario and play it out in a once-and-done type manner. Not only is splitscreen an option, but online was completely present throughout the entire game! As mentioned earlier, the create-an-officer is back, but more importantly create-a-horse is present! You can also customize banners and set up entire custom regiments. Beyond the campaign and free modes, there wasn’t much in the way of challenges as seen in some past entries, but there is definitely enough unlocking and conquering to keep you busy for a long time.

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Graphics: 2/5

Dynasty Warriors has never been the leader in graphical quality and DW8E follows suit “xtremely” well. While the menus are vibrant and clear, the text is quite small. Normally this wouldn’t be as big of an issue, but when the gameplay involves spending the vast majority looking at the text, it can be a very frustrating thing. It also appears Koei Tecmo has yet to understand what draw distance is. Enemy troops pop in and out drastically in a very small radius of the player. This is not something new by any means, but once would think that after so many successful titles, this would have changed from the PlayStation 2 instead of remaining quite honestly, the exact same. The environments in each battle are nothing to be proud of and have even taken a step back from previous, last gen titles. No longer do we have somewhat lush forests or colorful fall Asian backgrounds; instead we’re presented with dirty, open landscapes equipped with one time of day: grey. Lighting hardly plays a role, but even fires during night gameplay should be able to spark some illumination. Instead they fall flat and are barely seen to display on the surroundings. Enemy troops outside of well-established officers are a clearly lower graphical quality than the rest of the game. Perhaps this is due to their vast numbers on the battlefield, but then shouldn’t we see more than approximately 50 characters render at once instead of pop in and out? Even the cutscenes are nothing to brag about. Where in many games animation and details can shine, DW8E cutscenes are left in the same quality as the gameplay, with clear lines and polygons visible and distracting. The saving grace is that not once during the onslaught of death brought on by my hands was I disappointed in the flow and feel of power from the weapons. Attacks are fluid and smooth, complete with exciting effects that display how different playable officers are from the normal troops. While some of the weapons are truly ridiculous (there’s a weapon called an “arm blade” that is literally a mini canoe), the feeling was immediately overridden by the visual power of using them. 

 DW8E Gameplay

Sound: 4/5

As in any DW game, DW8E contains the always interesting mash up of rock and classical Asian music. The best thing, is that it works time and time again. The soundtrack gives you the moral boost needed to charge headfirst into battle, or sit down and strongly contemplate who to strike an alliance with. Simple selection sound effects are bold and reverberate your choices, making you feel as though whatever you have just selected is the most important thing you’ll do all day. The voice actors are all original actors, meaning they’re speaking Chinese which is wonderful immersion, but I couldn’t easily find any option to revert to English – as has been present in most past games. The lack of an ability to also turn off voices from the controller got obnoxious fast, as it also came out of the TV creating a strange sudo-echo. Yet again though, the sound of the weapons tearing through crowds of troops utterly defenseless against my battle fans or 11 foot sword created the immersion necessary to bring about a feeling of true power. 

 DW8E Gameplay 2

Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10 

DW8E brings a lot of new features to the table – most of which occur outside of what was the original gameplay. The story is different from past titles, yet the ability to make it personal creates a brand new desire to complete the campaign. While the graphics are nothing above last gen or even last-last gen in some circumstances, the fluidity and emersion of the other factors won’t pull you out of rage mode and hitting that 2,000 troops killed mark! Thankfully, the original gameplay has stayed true, allowing you to become a one-general army and in the end, is all you could want from a Dynasty Warriors game. 

Pros:

+ Impressive and addictive strategy driven campaign mode
+ SO MANY unique characters to choose from
+ One-person powerhouse of death

Cons:

– Graphics from the PlayStation 2 in cases
– Small text in a text driven campaign
– Controller sensitivity

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires! Copy reviewed on PS4.

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