Switching Lanes

More and more devs are Switching (shnarf!) to Nintendo’s new console. Rocket League, FIFA 18 and rumours of Overwatch have raised optimism for the home/handheld hybrid. But what is missing from Switch’s lineup and what would elevate it to truly compete with Xbox One and PlayStation 4?

Injustice 2

The sequel to Nether-realm’s DC toy box fighter was released earlier this year on the two main home consoles. It featured deep customisation options as well as -like the original – a wacky, original story. Injustice 1 was released slightly down-scaled on PS Vita so there is no reason the sequel couldn’t be ported to Switch. With Arms, Ultra Street Fighter 2 and a possible Smash game, Switch could become the place for grappling fans. Arms sold more in its first week than the latest Tekken and Street Fighter did on X1 or PS4…

Crash Bandicoot N’Sane Trilogy

Recently released as an ambiguous PS4 ‘exclusive’, Crash would be at home on Nintendo’s portable paradise. The game updates the graphics and some gameplay elements to drag the bandicoot into the 21st Century. Reviewing well on PS4, a system with this, Yooka-Laylee and Mario Odyssey would rubber stamp the mini-renaissance of collect-a-thon platformers. Now we just need Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg!

Speaking of which…

Sonic Classic Collection

Last year, we got this as a humble bundle on PC for about £11. It included Sonic 1, 2, 3, Sonic & Knuckles (all with lock on compatibility), Sonic Spinball, Dr. Robotnik’s (not Eggman…) Mean Bean Machine and Sonic 3D from the Megadrive/Genesis. Also: Sonic CD, Sonic Adventure, Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Lost World, Sonic Generations, Sonic and SEGA Allstars Racing and its sequel. Missing in action were the Wii Sonic games: Secret Rings, Black Knight, Colours and the 2006 360/PS3 garbage truck on fire Sonic the Hedgehog. Put them all together though and there’s a whole lotta game there. Put it in the £30-£40 bracket and we’d be sold!

Metal Gear Solid

In the Wii era, I was convinced there was going to be a Twin Snakes-engine-with-waggle-controls remake of Metal Gear (Solid Snake v Big Boss). The HD collection from last generation was a success – particularly on PS3 where you could play all the games in the series. Konami likes money – as we know – so a Switch MGS would be an easy way to make more of it. A port of Phantom Pain (it came out on PS3 and X360 remember), a HD bundle or something new would all be welcome to play at home or on the go.

Destiny

Why can’t Destiny work on Switch? The game can be scaled as we have seen with the PC and X1X versions. Even if Switch players had to play on their own servers or had limited functionality it would be a success. Destiny takes over lives and this can be a problem in a busy household where tv rights are at a premium. We’d even take a complementary experience to play alongside the full-fat versions elsewhere. With Microsoft’s willingness to work alongside Nintendo (Minecraft, cross platform play) you never know. We might be striking and raiding in the living room before heading out to patrol missions at the bus stop.

Which games would you like to see on Switch? 

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Fast Racing RMX

Version reviewed: Nintendo Switch

Propping up the somewhat lite launch line up of Switch games is a game which is an – perhaps not the – answer to a question asked by many Nintendo fans. Fast Racing RMX is a futuristic Racer in the same vein as Wipeout or F-Zero – specifically the fondly remembered GameCube version; F-Zero GX. An updated, remixed version of the Wii U game, Fast Racing RMX aims to fill the void left by Nintendo’s last home console entry in the genre (made by SEGA FYI) which now stands at 13 years. With fans clamouring for GX 2, this game has a lot of weight on its shoulders…

In the Switch version, there is the usual offering of racing game modes such as time attack, versus and challenges. The Mario Kart-esque Grand Prix over four races is the meat of the game and that is where we’ll start. The aforementioned influences from SEGA’s F-Zero GX are clear in the track design. There are worm-like sections of track, rotating blockades and air-riding jumps which all hark back to the GameCube classic. Anyone who played that game will feel right at home with the controls, feel and structure of the game. The differentiating mechanic is a twist on the traditional boost/shield charge found in F-Zero. You can charge your boost/shield meter over strips as usual however some are orange and some are blue. A tap of the X button switches your ship’s colour between these – with matching its colour to the strip resulting in a boost or recharge. If you lose focus and head into an orange strip with a blue ship (or vice versa), you slow down as if you have gone off piste on Mario Kart. It is a fun mechanic which can be exploited in later tracks to slingshot past opposing racers. The power of the boost though requires further analysis.

When you activate boost – identical to F-Zero in execution – your already speedy ship takes off in an almost indistructable blur. Pretty to look at (especially compared to the Wii U version) and initially thrilling, this quickly dilutes the skill required to progress up the field. It feels perhaps a little too generous sometimes as multiple crash laps can sometimes be redeemed through hitting the orange and blue boost panels. This is a minor gripe but is the distinguishing factor between the quality of F-Zero GX. 

In multiplayer, the game excels too. Popping off the Joy-Cons and playing in split screen mode is comfortable and – most importantly – fun! We played in tabletop mode and had a smooth experience in 2 player again evoking memories of being huddled around N64s and GameCubes. 

It is worth noting this is a ‘budget’ game with a sub-£20 price tag. With F-Zero still on hiatus it snuggly slots into where it should be. The 32/64 bit era was awash with 3D platformers and futuristic racers (Trickstyle, Rollcage, Wipeout…). Now both of these styles of game seem to have fallen out of vogue. With this in mind, the question is: was this enjoyable because it is one of the only examples of the genre currently on release or because it is genuinely good? If Nintendo had granted the developers the F-Zero licence for the game and had the familiar characters and ships etc this would be heralded as a great return for the series and a worthy successor to the previous entry. The fact it is as good as it is without the boost of the iconic F-Zero name speaks volumes. This is a great game with beautiful graphics and is thoroughally recommended to anyone Jonesing for a fully fledged follow up to GX. 

Speeding Towards Adventure

First of all, kudos if you get the article title. 2017 is amongst other things the return of the mascot platformer/collect-a-thon. Yooka-Laylee, Crash Bandicoot and Mario Odyssey make up a holy trinity of games which hark back to the foggy days of PS1, Dreamcast and N64. In between these releases comes a double-edged spike ball of fury (furry?); Sonic. Could this finally be the return to glory for one of gaming’s original trend setters?

In the 90s, 2D Sonic arguably peaked with Sonic 3 & Knuckles – the ‘complete’ version of Sonic 3. The game refined power ups and level variety whilst having the best balance of furry sidekicks which would in later games get out of hand. The transition to 3D was as awkward as a human-hedgehog romantic relationship. Sonic Adventure wasn’t Mario 64 quality and is difficult to play in 2017 due to some extremely clunky 3D work. However, it was fun and had some memorable, iconic moments. The 3D games got progressively worse – always trying to shoehorn in alternate mechanics which were at odds with Sonic’s simplicity. No wonder Knuckles always loses the Master Emerald if all he has is that annoying blinking radar thing. 

Over in 2D Sonic world, there has been more consistent content. Sonic Advance and its sequels were good and were followed up with strong Nintendo DS games. However, monstrosities like Sonic 4 (both episodes) and the first Sonic Boom smart like spring jumping straight into a Buzz Bomber. 

Back in 3D land, things got weirder. Sonic became a werewolf, went to Camelot and vastly expanded his band of forgettable sidekicks. For the record, the Chaotix crew is where the line should be. Shadow, Silver and any other X the Z diluted the already diminished quality of the series. False dawns like Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 rubbed salt in the wounds of SEGA fans who had already begun to accept the seemingly inevitable. Occasionally a game gave a speck of hope. Sonic and the Secret Rings on Wii begun the ‘rollercoaster’ style game style and was built on in Colors and Sonic Unleashed. An uneasy balance was finally found in Sonic Generations which reimagined stages from all eras of Sonic, mixing 2D and 3D gameplay. It was great fun and most importantly wasn’t a chore to play. All non-Sonic shenanigans were optional. This all brings us to 2017’s offerings…

By the year’s end, we should have 2D retro-inspired sequel to Sonic 3 & Knuckles; Sonic Mania as well as Generations-esque Sonic Forces. Between the two games there looks to be something for everyone and – hopefully – games which finally restore the honour to Sonic’s name. Like Mario, it was once a symbol of quality and you knew exactly what you were going to get. The faux 16-bit graphics of Mania will draw the attention of lapsed gamer 30-somethings who will instantly recognise the blue blur. Plus for a sub-£20 price tag it is a no brainier purchase. Sonic Forces aims to build on Generations’ more consistent 3D environments and deliver a 2017 Sonic adventure. Interestingly the ‘build your own sidekick’ feature seems like a master stroke. No one can moan of the suspect supporting cast if they are user created. It gives big kids like us the chance to recreate great characters like those from the UK’s now defunct Sonic the Comic or more recent fan-favourites like Big the Cat. 

We wait with bated breath to see if these two Sonics can deliver after 20 years of false starts. As the Sonic Adventure theme says: 

‘Gotta open your heart!

Can’t hold on much longer!

But I will never let go!

I know it’s a one way track!

Tell me now how long this’ll last!

I’m not gonna think this way!

Nor will I count on others!

Close my eyes and feel it burn!

Now I see what I gotta do!

Open your heart, it’s gonna be alright! Yeah!’

We hope! 

N64 Classic?

Wow! A flurry of trademarks this week has resulted in soft-to-firm evidence of Nintendo’s follow up to the as-yet unreleased SNES Classic; the N64 Classic. Despite popular opinion the next venture would be a Gameboy Classic, the sole, mainstream 64-bit console (Jaguar 64 ignored) looks like it is next to appear in reduced numbers and inflated prices on eBay. But what will we get in the box?

Launching last holiday season, the NES Classic launched with 30 preloaded games and the imminent SNES Classic will have 30% less. Let’s apply that formula to the potential N64 Classic. 30% less games would – when rounded up – give us 15 N64 games. Here we go:

  1. Super Mario 64
  2. Mario Kart 64
  3. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  4. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
  5. 1080 Snowboarding
  6. Wave Race 64
  7. F-Zero X
  8. Mario Party
  9. Mario Tennis
  10. Mario Golf
  11. Pokemon Snap
  12. Star Fox/Layla’s Wars 64
  13. Smash Bros
  14. Donkey Kong 64
  15. Paper Mario

Honourable mentions:

  • Doom 64
  • Beetle Adventure Racing
  • Turok 1&2
  • Pokemon Stadium
  • Pokemon Puzzle League
  • Pilotwings 64
  • Yoshi’s Story

A huge issue with this console is a large chunk of its AAA quality back-catalogue was made by Rare – now owned by Microsoft. Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark and Blast Corps have already been retro-bundled in Rare Replay on Xbox One. So all those games are out. There are also a number of games in limbo like Goldeneye or Diddy Kong Racing. DKR was ported – by Nintendo to DS but ripped out Rare’s characters. Surely they wouldn’t do the same to the original? 

Wishful thinking:

  • Banjo-Kazooie 
  • Banjo-Tooie
  • DKR
  • Goldeneye
  • Perfect Dark
  • Jet Force Gemini
  • Blast Corps
  • Killer Instinct Gold

Outside bets:

  • Quake 2
  • Star Wars Episode 1: Racer
  • Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
  • Body Harvest
  • Earthworm Jim 64
  • Mortal Kombat 4
  • Snowboard Kids
  • Top Gear Overdrive
  • Superman 64…

The one nugget of hope here is Star Fox 2 on the SNES Classic. If that game can see the light of day then Goldeneye etc may have a chance. 

Out with the old…

2016-17 has seen an increasing number of ‘retro’ boxes released or announced; Atari’s mysterious machine, NES/SNES Classic and SEGA’s new Megadrive/Genesis. What this draws attention to – among other things – is how far the industry has travelled in a relatively short space of time. With this thought in mind, it has become apparent that much of our lexicon has become outdated. Similar to plastic guitar periphals, motion controls and Bubsy the Bobcat, certain words and phrases used everyday in gaming forums (literal and figurative) are archaic and in need of updating. 

Adventure – Once confined to 90’s PCs, ‘adventure’ games (inclusive of point and click) have enjoyed a recent resurgence. Grim Fandango along with several other Lucasarts titles have been pointed, clicked and dragged into the 21st Century. Obtuse gameplay with one linear yet baffling pathway usually defined these games – requiring the player to put together the random assortment of paraphernalia to trigger the next part of the adventure in question. The term ‘adventure’ encompasses more than these though. The spiritual successor to these games are surely the Telltale Games series which apes the point and click mechanic albeit with more choice over the story elements. Perhaps these games are more greatly defined by their slow-burning, intricate stories and the term ‘adventure’ is in lieu of saying so. Yet the label ‘adventure’ is not always indicative of this as exemplified by Sonic Adventure (cheap shot I know – love it really!). So what is an adventure game? What should we call games like Discworld, Minecraft Story Mode or Life is Strange? ‘Walking simulator’ doesn’t seem to cut it…

Arcade – This is a place we went to in our youths to pay money to play games. It is not – I repeat, not – a genre. A common tag line of certain games is it boasts ‘arcade’ style gameplay. Highly doubtful as the last game I played like this – Fast Racing RMX – didn’t create the urge to ram 50p into my Switch or make a rude username to appear in the lap time records. Perhaps this though is the spirit of the term: chasing high scores. Playing through bite size chunks of gameplay and repeating until one refined the experience. Should then, the term be ‘high-score-a-thon’? ‘Arcade’ covers too much to encompass all it consumes at present; racing, fighters, sports…the list goes on. 

dlc – The worst offender on the list. I’m not going to talk about horse armour but just think how silly this sounds. My PS4, Xbox One and Switch are crammed with fully fledged retail games which were downloaded. Fallout 4, Destiny and Mario Kart 8 all sit shackled to my consoles yet free from the constraints of physical media – safe in the knowledge they can never be traded in. They are all downloaded content. So why is an expansion referred to as ‘dlc’? Why have we not got a more elegant name for a term which – in addition – has got some quite negative connotations? Then there’s cloud based games like PlayStation Now which has games advertised with ‘all dlc included’ yet you never download the game or the additional material. Think about it. 

Indie – Taking root in the now defunct Xbox Live Arcade era and blossoming through last gen and now, smaller games (or downloadable content…) seem to be tagged with the term ‘indie’. This happens in music too. ‘Indie’ is an abbreviation of ‘independent’ meaning the band – or game – is being created sans a record label or publisher. An accurate example of an ‘indie’ game would be Thomas was Alone or Super Meat Boy. However, larger studios have got in on the act challenging the notion that all games must be £45 upon entry. These include Child of Light or Journey. They are not independent, rather the opposite. What they have in common with many ‘indies’ is the smaller game size. 

Platformer – Sonic and Mario are different. You can almost see the design meeting SEGA had when establishing their mascot. Sonic is fast and Mario is slow in comparison. Mario is red with blue clothes so Sonic is blue with red clothes (sneakers). Mario is the anti-hero, the everyman thrust into danger to save the girl, whereas Sonic is bold with an attitude. It doesn’t matter who or what he’s saving he just does it – like a Nike advert. In fact, the original Sonic 1 instruction booklet translated the back story incorrectly. Japanese players thought the Green Hill Zone took place on Earth yet in the West we believed it to be the fictional world of Mobius. I digress. The thing they have in common, is jumping on platforms. Fast forward twenty years though and the worlds – whatever they are – they inhabit are hard pushed to be described as ‘platformers’. A term which has been coined to describe the 3D iterations of these games has been ‘collect-a-thon’. In Super Mario 64 you had to collect the stars to restore power to the castle which unlocked more doors so you could unlock more stars to find more doors which led to Bowser. In Banjo-Kazooie you found Jiggies which were the missing pieces in paintings which when complete allowed you to enter said world and find more Jiggies in order to…you get the idea. In 3D Sonic games you collect Sonic Emblems just because. Anyway, the platforming elements of these games have fallen by the wayside – especially in 3D Sonic which would be better classified as ‘rollercoaster’. 2D platformer sits fine but what do we call the 3D ones: adventure games? 

RPG – ‘Role Playing Game’ encompasses everything. When I picked up a Pong paddle, I was playing a role. When I play Virtua Tennis, I’m playing a role. To be more specific, the ‘role playing’ part is generally attributed to the development of skills and powers throughout the game. This is why many games are described as having ‘RPG elements’; open world stealth with RPG elements or sports simulation with RPG elements. So what then is an RPG if most games these days could be classified as having features of them? Skyrim: Elf simulation with RPG elements? The term has transitioned from a genre to a mechanic. What is it which defines a game with RPG mechanics – like Darksiders 2 – from a RPG like Final Fantasy 15? What is Zelda: Breath of the Wild? 
Which games-related terms would you like to see changed? What will we be describing, classifying and labelling games in 10 years time? Who decides them? Who watches the deciders? 

Re-reviewing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

On March 3rd, many of my (non-dad) friends received their shiny new Switches and began the adventure of a lifetime exploring the vast, open expanse of Hyrule. Back over here, I eagerly popped in my disc into my tired, forgotten Wii U. 85 hours later, the game was ‘completed’ (all 4 divine beasts, Master Sword, all memories and Ganon defeated). The game went on eBay, giving me a net spend of £7 for a game I had basically had an affair with for 5 weeks. However fast forward to July and my shiny new Switch needed a game meatier than Fast Racing RMX (which is awesome btw). It was time to return to wake Link up again but could a second play through – so close to my 1st one – be as enjoyable?

After an hour of play, the first thing which stood out was just how hard the opening is. Enemies which I had got used to being one hit Master Sword fodder were giving me a real run for my money. I was REALLY missing my 3 wheel stamina capabilities from my Wii U save file too. Secondly, despite telling myself there was no visible difference in graphics between the two versions, I was wrong. It is worth noting there have been several patch updates in between my playthroughs so the Wii U may have got better but this is what I found. The frame rate and slow down is better on Switch. Busy areas like Kakariko Village and Kokiri Forest ran smoother although the Switch version does seem to have more pop in. The resolution too is visibly crisper on Nintendo’s newest console. Anyway, back to gameplay…

When playing the Wii U version it was a strange sensation. Any moment not playing the game, I was thinking about it. For 20 days in a row I sunk more than an hour an evening into it; as well as ridiculous amounts of time at weekends. Although not dragging me into it’s web of addictiveness this time, playing the game again (65 hours in) is a joy. Upon leaving the Great Plateau, disregarding any sense of direction, I jumped into the unknown – just like I had on Wii U. Despite spending 85 hours previously exploring Hyrule, I found myself finding new areas and secrets which had eluded me before. I was certain I’d spoken to every side quest NPC at the stables but I obviously missed some (a few actually). Obviously the main spine was of the game has remained familiar and has not yielded any surprises but like the best of its peers like Skyrim or the Witcher 3, the weirdest, world-building quests remain off the beaten path in the side quests. Who knew that the largest, most immersive fantasy world ever created was actually even bigger? If you think you’ve seen everything the game has to offer, I’d recommend gliding back in to dig a bit deeper. This is before we’ve even begun taking advantage of the first expansion releasing last week. Many years ago, I would play through Ocarina of Time annually – enjoying every minute. The biggest compliment I can pay this game is it feels the same way. 

Top 10 Things That Switch Should Have

1. Netflix/Amazon Prime

2. Mario Maker

3. Smash Bros platform (like Killer Instinct on Xbox1)

4. Mario Kart dlc for every track ever (e.g the Mario 64 pack)

5. Mario HD Allstars (Mario Galaxy 1+2, Sunshine, 64 DS)

6. Animal Crossing 

7. Metroid Prime Trilogy HD

8. Zelda Dungeon Designer

9. SEGA free to play 

10. Virtual console