Stardew Valley Review

Zip-a-dee-dew-dah!

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Version reviewed: Switch

How much you enjoy this game will be dependent on where you sit on the gaming/farming spectrum; more on this later but interpret as you will for now. Stardew Valley is an established indie-darling which has had great success on other platforms. Now, it reaches the golden-paved streets of the Switch eshop. It has held the number one spot on the UK download chart for over a week so let’s see what all the fuss is about.

Without spoiling anything, the premise is you inherit a derelict, forgotten farm in Stardew Valley. For perhaps the most compelling of reasons – which many pennilessdads will relate to – you begin a new life living off the land. The game adopts a faux-16 bit top-down style which charms from the outset. As the game progresses, more farming options open up to you. From humble beginnings sowing parsnips, the game quickly opens up crafting elements; the ability to raise livestock as well as join in with the village-greenesque lives of its residents. Gameplay chunks are split into days (which last around 7-10 minutes) and seasons. What you grow and do is dependent on the latter. But what are you farming for?

Again, without spoilers, the game tells you quite early on how long you’ve got to become the Apple of apples yet the game stretches beyond this boundary. Quests from residents nudge you along certain directions but you are free to ignore – if you want to forge your own path. Each day you drop off your produce to sell and collect your earnings – and so the grid begins! The loop of selling stuff to get money to buy new, better stuff is perfectly balanced in Stardew Valley. It’s loot: akin to Destiny or Diablo – always encouraging you to play just 5 more minutes to get that new shiny thingamajig you need. This is one extreme of the gaming/farming spectrum. Like the brilliant Slime Rancher; or crafting in Fallout 4 or engram farming in Destiny, the farming is almost (as fun as it is) is almost arbitrary. This game’s pull is the constant desire to improve your slice of Stardew Valley and realise your place in its world. Reminiscent of forgotten Wii gem Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles My Life as a King, you become very attached to your homestead which grows along with your pride – and earnings!

So what’s the other end of the spectrum?

One can easily walk past a game of Stardew Valley and write it off as a FarmVille 2017. This would be a great discredit but it is a possible reaction. The crafting, building and exploring this game encompasses either hooks you or it doesn’t. I love it! It’s the perfect game to hop into whilst the kids play next you. Five minutes or five hours – it doesn’t matter. They melt away regardless, making this a perfect fit for Nintendo’s console.

Thoroughly recommended!

The Greatest Games I’ve Ever Played

THE List

Top 10/100 – whatever – lists irk me slightly due to the changing nature of the industry. What was ‘the greatest game ever’ 5 years ago may now seem janky and less favourable as games evolve. This list, which is a working document, is based on the experience at the time. I wouldn’t recommend playing some of the ZX Spectrum games on here but at the time they were brilliant. Hopefully I can remember all the games I’ve ever played; they’ll be added to as and when…

  1. Zelda: Breath of the Wild Switch
  2. Fallout 3 Xbox 360
  3. Zelda: Ocarina of Time N64
  4. Super Mario 64 N64
  5. Resident Evil 4 Wii
  6. Skyrim Xbox 360
  7. Super Mario Allstars SNES
  8. Super Mario World SNES
  9. Zelda: Wind Waker GameCube
  10. Destiny 2 Xbox One
  11. Destiny PS4
  12. Super Mario Galaxy 2 Wii
  13. Bioshock Infinite Xbox 360
  14. Super Mario Galaxy Wii
  15. Zelda: Twilight Princess Wii
  16. Metal Gear Solid 2 PS2
  17. Metal Gear Solid PlayStation
  18. Fallout 4 PS4
  19. Zelda: Link Between Worlds 3DS
  20. Pokemon Gold/Silver Gameboy
  21. Pokemon Fire Red Gameboy Advance
  22. Pokemon Yellow Gameboy
  23. Pokemon Red/Blue Gameboy
  24. Super Mario Bros 3 NES
  25. Metal Gear Solid 5 PS4
  26. Dead Space Xbox 360
  27. Assassin’s Creed 2 PS3
  28. God of War PS2
  29. Sonic Mega Collection GameCube
  30. Sonic Jam Saturn
  31. Sonic 3 & Knuckles Megadrive 
  32. Tetris Gameboy
  33. Donkey Kong Country SNES
  34. Metroid Prime GameCube
  35. Arkham Asylum PS3
  36. Bioshock Xbox 360
  37. Firewatch PS4
  38. Arkham Origins PS3
  39. The Beatles Rock Band Xbox 360
  40. Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D 3DS
  41. Stardew Valley Switch
  42. Zelda: Skyward Sword
  43. Pokemon X 3DS
  44. Metal Gear Solid Twin Snakes GameCube
  45. Super Mario 64 DS
  46. Metal Gear Solid 3 PS2
  47. Sonic 2 Megadrive 
  48. F-Zero GX GameCube
  49. Arkham Knight PS4
  50. Mario Kart 64 N64
  51. Super Mario Kart SNES
  52. Yoshi’s Island SNES
  53. Banjo-Kazooie N64
  54. Bioshock 2 Xbox 360
  55. Guitar Hero 3 Wii
  56. Rock Band Xbox 360
  57. Mario Kart Double Dash GameCube
  58. Final Fantasy X PS2
  59. Mario Kart Wii Wii
  60. Doom PlayStation
  61. Bloodborne PS4
  62. Smash Bros Melee GameCube
  63. Sonic Generations Xbox 360
  64. Earthworm Jim Megadrive 
  65. Need for Speed 2 SE PC
  66. Sonic 1 Mega Drive
  67. Resident Evil 4 PS2
  68. Mario Picross Gameboy
  69. Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag Wii U
  70. Zelda Picross 3DS
  71. Arkham City Xbox 360
  72. Tomb Raider PS4
  73. Grand Theft Auto Vice City
  74. Guitar Hero World Tour Xbox 360
  75. Smash Bros Brawl Wii
  76. Donkey Kong Country 2 SNES
  77. Oblivion Xbox 360
  78. Pokemon Black DS
  79. Pokemon Black 2 DS
  80. Zelda Wind Waker HD Wii U
  81. Zelda Twilight Princess HD Wii U
  82. Sonic Advance Gameboy Advance
  83. Star Wars Ep1 Racer N64
  84. Zelda: Majora’s Mask N64
  85. Zelda: Link to the Past Gameboy Advance
  86. Super Mario Bros NES
  87. Final Fantasy 7 PlayStation 
  88. FIFA 18 Switch
  89. FIFA 10 PS3
  90. Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 PS3
  91. FIFA 11 PS3
  92. FIFA 12 Xbox 360
  93. Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 PS3
  94. FIFA 13 Xbox 360
  95. FIFA 14 Xbox 360
  96. Mario Kart 8 Wii U
  97. Megadrive Ultimate Collection PS3
  98. Zelda: Link’s Awakening Gameboy
  99. Wario Land 3 Gameboy
  100. Pro Evolution Soccer PS2
  101. Gears of War Xbox 360
  102. Sonic Adventure Dreamcast
  103. Donkey Kong 64 N64
  104. Jumping Flash PlayStation
  105. Pro Evolution Soccer 2 PS2
  106. International Superstar Soccer Pro Evolution PlayStation 
  107. Tetris DS
  108. Street Racer SNES
  109. God of War 2 PS2
  110. Transformers War for Cybertron PS3
  111. Rare Replay Xbox One
  112. Grand Theft Auto San Andreas
  113. Football Manager 2005 PC
  114. Pro Evolution Soccer 5 PS2
  115. Gears of War 2 Xbox 360
  116. Pro Evolution Soccer 4 PS2
  117. Pro Evolution Soccer 3 PS2
  118. Football Manager 2006 PC
  119. International Superstar Soccer 64 N64
  120. International Superstar Soccer 98 N64
  121. International Superstar Soccer SNES
  122. Super Mario Sunshine GameCube
  123. Project Gotham Racing 3 Xbox 360
  124. Goldeneye N64
  125. Ridge Racer PlayStation 
  126. Mortal Kombat 2 Megadrive 
  127. Streets of Rage 2 Megadrive 
  128. Aladdin Megadrive 
  129. Donkey Kong Gameboy
  130. New Super Mario Bros U Wii U
  131. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 Xbox 360
  132. Pokemon Snap N64
  133. Super Mario 3D Land 3DS
  134. Tekken 3 PlayStation 
  135. Soul Calibur 2 GameCube
  136. Arkham City Armoured Edition Wii U
  137. Beetle Adventure Racing N64
  138. Metroid Prime 2 Echoes GameCube
  139. Grand Theft Auto 4 Xbox 360
  140. Zelda: Four Swords GameCube
  141. Okami Wii
  142. Super Mario 3D World Wii U
  143. Sonic Gems PS2
  144. 007 Agent Under Fire PS2
  145. Tomb Raider 2 PC
  146. SEGA Rally Saturn
  147. Pokemon Platinum DS
  148. Grand Theft Auto 4 Xbox 360
  149. Grand Theft Auto 3 PS2
  150. Football Manager 2007 DS
  151. Yooka-Laylee PS4
  152. World of Illusion Megadrive
  153. Luigi’s Mansion GameCube
  154. Hyrule Warriors Wii U
  155. Super Monkey Ball 2 GameCube
  156. Spyro the Dragon PlayStation
  157. Streets of Rage Megadrive 
  158. Golden Axe Megadrive 
  159. Lion King Mega Drive
  160. Mortal Kombat 3 PlayStation
  161. Tiger Woods 2003 Xbox
  162. My Life as a King Wii
  163. Crackdown Xbox 360
  164. Resogun PS4 
  165. Pokemon Pearl DS
  166. Banjo Kazooie Nutz n Boltz Xbox 360
  167. Marvel Ultimate Alliance PS3
  168. LEGO Star Wars Complete Saga Xbox 360
  169. Motorstorm PS3
  170. Star Wars Battlefront PS4
  171. Nintendo Land Wii U
  172. FIFA 2003 GameCube
  173. Fighters Megamix Saturn
  174. FIFA 2001 PlayStation 
  175. Super Monkey Ball GameCube
  176. Rogue Leader GameCube
  177. House of the Dead 2 Dreamcast
  178. Tekken PlayStation
  179. Street Fighter Alpha Saturn
  180. Crystal Defenders PSP
  181. LEGO Star Wars PS2
  182. Worms PSP
  183. Arkham VR PSVR
  184. Marvel Vs Capcom 2 Xbox 360
  185. Star Fox Adventures GameCube
  186. Doom 3 Xbox
  187. Pokemon Stadium N64
  188. Transformers Fall of Cybertron PS3
  189. Spider-Man The Movie GameCube 
  190. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 PSP
  191. Olympic Soccer PlayStation
  192. Rise of the Tomb Raider PS4
  193. Shenmue Dreamcast 
  194. Final Fantasy 13 PS3
  195. Tomb Raider 3 PC
  196. Master Chief Collection Xbox One
  197. Super Smash Bros N64
  198. Pokemon Ruby Gameboy Advance
  199. Chu Chu Rocket Dreamcast
  200. Shovel Knight 3DS
  201. Rogue Squadron N64
  202. Panzer Dragoon Saturn
  203. Alleyway Gameboy
  204. Halo Xbox
  205. Halo 3 Xbox 360
  206. Halo 2 Xbox
  207. Sonic and the Secret Rings Wii
  208. 007 Nightfire GameCube
  209. Perfect Dark Zero Xbox 360
  210. Return of the King GameCube
  211. God of War Chains of Olympus PSP 
  212. The Fellowship of the Ring GameCube 
  213. The Two Towers PS2
  214. SEGA Rally 2 Dreamcast
  215. The Simpsons Arcade Xbox 360
  216. Zelda: Spirit Tracks DS
  217. Soul Reaver 2 PS2
  218. Sonic Adventure 2 GameCube
  219. Mario Kart Super Circuit Gameboy Advance
  220. Wii Sports Wii
  221. Power Stone Dreamcast
  222. Donkey Kong NES
  223. Fast Racing Neo Switch
  224. Disney Infinity 2.0 PS3
  225. Football Manager 2006 Xbox 360
  226. Halo Reach Xbox 360
  227. New Super Mario Bros Wii
  228. New Super Mario Bros DS
  229. Power Stone Collection PSP
  230. Mortal Kombat Deception PS2
  231. UEFA Striker Dreamcast
  232. Striker 96 PlayStation
  233. Soul Reaver PlayStation 
  234. LittleBigPlanet PS3
  235. Kirby’ Adventure NES
  236. Pac-Man NES
  237. Ninja Turtles NES
  238. Adventure Island Turbo Grafix
  239. Wii Sports Resort Wii
  240. Wii Play Wii
  241. Mass Effect Xbox 360
  242. Sonic Unleashed Xbox 360
  243. Viva Piñata Xbox 360
  244. Basil the Great Mouse Detective  ZX Spectrum
  245. Bejewelled Xbox 360
  246. Columns Megadrive 
  247. Football Manager 2007 Xbox 360
  248. Castle of Illusion Megadrive
  249. Super Hang On Megadrive 
  250. Batman Returns Megadrive 
  251. Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition Mega Drive
  252. Super Paper Mario Wii
  253. Goldeneye Wii
  254. World Cup 98 N64
  255. LEGO Batman 3 PS4
  256. Assassin’s Creed Unity Xbox One
  257. Virtua Fighter Deluxe Saturn
  258. Discworld PlayStation
  259. FIFA Road to World Cup 98 N64
  260. Force Unleashed Xbox 360
  261. Quantum of Solace Xbox 360
  262. Doom 64 N64
  263. Super Scope 6in1 SNES
  264. Pilotwings Resort 3DS
  265. 1080 Snowboarding N64
  266. Theme Park PlayStation
  267. Tomb Raider PC
  268. Ridge Racer Type 4 PlayStation 
  269. Top Gear Overdrive N64
  270. The Curse of Sherwood ZX Spectrum
  271. Mortal Kombat SNES
  272. Assassin’s Creed 3 Wii U
  273. Battle Arena Tohshinden PlayStation
  274. Panzer Dragoon Orta Xbox
  275. Batman Megadrive 
  276. Loaded PlayStation
  277. Resident Evil 6 Xbox 360
  278. Halo 3 ODST Xbox 360
  279. Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz Wii
  280. Sonic 3D Saturn
  281. Sonic 3D Megadrive 
  282. Turok 2 N64
  283. Pikmin 3 Wii U
  284. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles GameCube
  285. PN 03 GameCube
  286. Rebel Strike GameCube
  287. Crisis Core PSP
  288. Medieval PlayStation
  289. Power Rangers SNES
  290. Nights Saturn
  291. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood Xbox 360
  292. Ultimate Doom PC
  293. Assassin’s Creed Xbox 360
  294. Sonic Generations 3DS
  295. Sonic Spinball Megadrive 
  296. Wave Race Gameboy
  297. Knuckles Chaotix 32X
  298. Transformers Revenge of the Fallen PS3 
  299. Ristar Mega Drive 
  300. Gex 3D Enter the Gecko PlayStation
  301. Mario Kart DS
  302. Metroid Fusion Gameboy Advance 
  303. LEGO Batman Xbox 360
  304. Metroid 2 Gameboy
  305. Story of Thor Megadrive 
  306. Lemmings 3D PlayStation
  307. Revenge of Shinobi Megadrive 
  308. Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture PS4
  309. Commandos PC
  310. Warioware Gameboy Advance
  311. Assassin’s Creed Bloodlines PSP
  312. Turok N64
  313. Arkham Origins Blackgate 3DS
  314. Horace Goes Skiing  ZX Spectrum
  315. Star Wars 32X
  316. Resident Evil Mercenaries 3DS
  317. Batman Begins Xbox
  318. Porsche Challenge PlayStation
  319. Sonic Superstar Tennis Wii
  320. Transformers Dark of the Moon Xbox 360
  321. Star Fox SNES
  322. Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops PSP
  323. FIFA 99 N64
  324. Need for Speed 3 Hot Pursuit PC
  325. FIFA 08 PS3
  326. Link’s Crossbow Training Wii
  327. Sonic Rush DS
  328. Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 Wii
  329. Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3DS
  330. Kid Chameleon Megadrive 
  331. The Flintstones Megadrive
  332. Dark Sector Xbox 360
  333. Vac Man ZX Spectrum
  334. Band Hero Xbox 360
  335. Balloon Fight NES
  336. FIFA 07 Xbox 360
  337. School Daze ZX Spectrum
  338. Wario Land 2 Gameboy Color
  339. Digimon PlayStation
  340. Alien Trilogy PlayStation 
  341. Transformers The Movie Xbox 360
  342. James Bond Live and Let Die  ZX Spectrum
  343. Sonic Heroes GameCube
  344. XIII PS2
  345. FIFA 2005 PS2
  346. Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) Xbox 360
  347. Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles Wii
  348. Resident Evil Darkside Chronicles Wii
  349. Castlevania 64 N64
  350. The Two Towers Gameboy Advance
  351. Vectorman Megadrive 
  352. Jurassic Park Megadrive 
  353. Fusion Frenzy Xbox
  354. Tiger Woods 10 Wii
  355. Grand Slam Tennis Wii
  356. FIFA 2002 PS2
  357. Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 PS3
  358. LEGO Rock Band Xbox 360
  359. FIFA 12 3DS
  360. Force Unleashed PSP
  361. SEGA Soccer Saturn
  362. FIFA 07 DS
  363. Incoming PC
  364. Metal Gear Solid Acid PSP
  365. Night Trap PS4
  366. Tiger Woods DS
  367. Sonic 2 Game Gear
  368. Celebrity Deathmatch PS2
  369. FIFA 06 Road to the World Cup Xbox 360
  370. Sonic Rivals PSP
  371. FIFA 98 Road to the World Cup SNES
  372. Guitar Hero On Tour DS
  373. Pokemon Dream Radar 3DS
  374. FIFA 64 N64
  375. World Cup 98 Gameboy
  376. Bubsy the Bobcat Megadrive
  377. FIFA 97 PC
  378. Doritos Crash Course Xbox 360
  379. FA Premier League STARS PC
  380. Transformers The Movie PSP
  381. James Bond Junior SNES 

Royale Revolution?

Which games should have Battle Royale modes?

The newest in-thing in games is the ‘Battle Royale’ genre; is it a game mode or a feature which should be exclusive to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)? The premise is a 100 player death match on an island with an increasingly shrinking playing area – a bit like a digital Hunger Games. Fortnite has been one of the first ‘fast followers’ to the Battle Royale party and has been met with friction from PUBG. The term is here to stay – like Metroidvania or Roguelike – as Alanah Pearce wrote for IGN recently (http://m.uk.ign.com/articles/2017/09/22/pubg-publicly-shaming-fortnite-is-a-terrible-pr-move). But which other games would make for awesome Battle Royals modes?

Destiny 2: Trials Royale

Could you imagine this? The carnage would be incredible: especially if you could drop in as a fireteam. The weapon collecting system from PUBG would be redundant to a certain extent though placing vehicles and/or limited use weapons could make it even more interesting. Destiny 2’s open world style world maps would be ideal for a 100 player fight to the death mode. 

The Legend of Zelda: Battle of the Wild

Unlikely yet simultaneously logical. Drop 100 Links on a region of the map with nothing Eventide Island style and procure weapons on site. Throw a few Lynels in for good measure too. No, wait – let one person be the Lynel…No amiibo!

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain of Battling Royale 

This game has sat on my shelf for two years now since completion; the mechanically-perfect masterpiece is perhaps the most likely candidate for a Battle Royale shooter. Clearly the blend of stealth and bombastic, Bay-esque firepower would be an excellent template to unleash 100 Infants Terrible upon each other. 

Pokemon: Battlemon Tournament

Hear me out. Choose a starting Pokemon and acquire 5 Pokeballs. Drop 100 Pokemon trainers onto an open, full world map such as Kanto and slowly narrow the map area. Aside from your starter, all Pokemon are caught in the game world and there are no Pokemon Centres. Revives and Potions etc are procedurally dropped around the world. This is the best bit: just like in the core-game RPGs, any trainers making eye contact must battle. Once all Pokemon in your party faint, it’s game over. Only the very best – like no one ever was – will win! 

Mario Kart 8: Royale Dash

100 drivers. 3 balloons each.  Wuhu Island. Done. 

Banjo-Kazooie: Nutz N Battlez

Banjo and Kazooie’s last outing – nearly 10 years ago – suffered from not being what their fan base wanted. The construction tools in this game are simple to understand yet have amazing depth. Drop bear and bird into the battlefield and scour for new parts. Don’t be caught in the menu screens though; budding engineers need to assemble new parts quickly and efficiently. The other 99 players are made up of Banjo’s supporting cast like Bottles as well as long forgotten platform heros like Cool Spot, Zool and Earthworm Jim. Last 90s mascot standing wins. Yooka and Laylee available as paid dlc. 

Which games do you think should take inspiration from PUBG? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @pennilessdads

Firewatch Review

Version reviewed: PS4

Blowing a lot of smoke on release, story-focused digital darling Firewatch was recently picked up on sale on the PlayStation Store for around £5. The embers of conversation around this game have long died out so is it worth spending a Summer out in the wild, watching fires?

Like many of its peers, Firewatch is in the difficult to classify genre often described as ‘walking simulator’ or ‘interactive adventure’. Regardless of the classification, Firewatch can be described as a first person game which mixes exploration of a vast outdoor environment with dialogue tree decisions. The vast majority of conversation is between you – a newly appointed firewatch tower…erm watcher called Henry – and your boss Delilah. All interaction between the pair is via radio and it is this area – conversation between the two – where Firewatch becomes something special.

Whilst exploring the wilderness of 1980s Shoshone National Forest, Henry is encouraged to contact Delilah to report in curios he finds. The chemistry and banter between the two strangers is well written, generating investment in the characters from the start of the game. Through clever environment design and storytelling, the player is ushered in the right direction to further the story, which has various threads to follow. Going into further detail would spoil the experience but it had us hooked like a good book.

Firewatch is a game with stylised graphics which are used to great effect to create various atmospheres which benefit the story. On PlayStation 4, we did experience some slow down but is certainly not game breaking. The story lasts around 5 hours which is exactly the right length. Even right now though the back of my mind is mulling over the choices which may be made differently on a second run through. Although ‘I’ played the game, my wife became hooked on Firewatch’s mysteries too. Going from pretending to read her book – peeking out at the witty interactions between Henry and D – to being sat on the edge of the sofa is a notable milestone in games (for us!). Rarely does she play games but this one got her. 

Overall, this is an essential experience which is worth the asking price – never mind the bargain price on sail. I have a feeling the five hours spent on Firewatch will be replayed again and that’s before we get started on the extras. A game everyone should play! 

Sonic Mania Mania

What next for the blue blur?

After 20-so years of hurt, Sonic Mania delivered the true sequel to the 16 bit trilogy (& Knuckles). We deemed the game a “masterpiece” (find our review here), which is an accurate description. But where will Sonic go next? With so many false dawns, can we really expect something which has evaded the series for so long; consistency?

For every breath of hope like Sonic Generations or Sonic Advance, we get a Boom or Unleashed. The semi-sequel to Generations – Sonic Forces – comes with careful optimism but what will we see next in the vein of Mania? Time for us to spin past the future signpost a la Sonic CD…

Sonic Mania 2?

The obvious choice it seems. However, consider the following. Between Sonic Mania, Sonic Generations (PS3/X360/PC) and its Nintendo 3DS counterpart many of the ‘original generation’ (OG) Zones have been reused already in recent games. Plus add in that Sonic Adventure 2 is pretty much a 3D version of some of Sonic & Knuckles’ Zones. This means the creativity pool – and therefore future throwback Zones – are limited.

Going from the OG 16 bit games, the unused Zones are: Marble, Springyard, Labyrinth, Starlight, Scrap Metal, Emerald Hill, Aquatic Ruin, Casino Night, Hill Top, Mystic Cave, Metropolis, Sky Chase, Wing Fortress, Angel Island, Marble Garden, Carnival Night, Ice Cap, Launch Base, Hidden Palace and Doomsday. If they were grouped thematically, the scope becomes even narrower:grass/rural, lava/underground, pinball, element-based and mechanical. Arguably the most memorable moments have also been plundered. The epic downhill snowboard set piece which opens Ice Cap Zone was repeated in Sonic Adventure plus the Sky Chase Zone format was aped in Sonic Mania. In other words, would a different direction be a better option?

Sonic Maker?

After Mario’s successful foray into user generated content, one wonders if Sonic could do – as has been seen many times throughout gaming history – the same as Nintendo’s mascot? Mario gets a kart-racer, so does Sonic. Mario gets a board game, so does Sonic. Why not a creation game too? As with the afore mentioned, just imitate. Have a selection of possible ‘skins’ and a collection of level themes (see above). Let the – evidently – hungry Sonic maniacs do the hard work then of creating endless challenge rooms and hard as nails Green Hill variants.

Sonic Mania Adventure

When revisiting the OG games recently, it was clear they haven’t held up well. Mania has done the remarkable job of updating them whilst still feeling modern and relevant. Could SEGA do this for the 3D games? Despite their flaws, some of Sonic’s 3D games have provided some memorable moments. Could these be a source of inspiration for future 2D games? Sonic Advance was heavily inspired by Adventure (and a certain long-armed yellow star sub-mascot…) and was one of the leading lights for 2D Sonic in between Knuckles and Mania. Also, one of the stranger features of the console/PC version of Generations was the 2D white overworld which could be traversed and explored. Could the 3D stages become inspiration for some Metroidvania style exploration within   Zones? Sonic’s seemingly eternal struggle with the 3rd dimension could be sidestepped or – more excitedly – finally be mastered. The collective team behind Sonic Mania understand Sonic is more than just speed, perhaps they could apply this to the sometimes too speed focused 3D titles.

One thing which is for sure though; excitement for the blue blur has not been this high for a long time. Whatever SEGA cook up next, they have a tough act to follow. We look forward to seeing where we’re hed(gehog)ing next…

Sorry.

Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Review

Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4

In the rich tapestry of games history, full motion video (FMV) is a niche chapter – dangling from the narrative along with 90s virtual reality, scratch and sniff (FIFA 2000) and Wii Fit. The advent of early CD-ROM consoles promised great things; CD quality music and…the answer to what extra Mega/SEGA CD et al brought to the table is undefined. FMV is one type of game not possible on the likes of SNES and Megadrive/Genesis and a poster boy for the iteration on the generation. There is a lot that can be said of Night Trap’s colourful history but here we are in 2017 renewing the conversation. What is this game and what is the fuss all about?

On starting the game, a short clip explains the premise. You are working with a military response team investigating a seemingly normal family house in the heart of Americana where five teens have recently gone missing. There are eight video feeds to watch from in and around the house. Pressing triangle or circle activates one of the hidden ‘night traps’ in each room – hopefully snaring some of the mysterious Augers roaming the property. Imagine being Kevin McAllister in Home Alone and you get the idea. I remember Night Trap from the furore around it in the wider press plus screenshots/articles in games media. We’re not going into bans etc but one thing that was never explained at the time was; how do you actually play it?

After giving you a quick taste of how to use the night traps, the difficulty spikes as a colour coded system is layered onto the activation system. Listening carefully to the conversations between the characters gives you clues which colours to use. Let too many augers overrun the house and you are promptly fired from your role of god in the house. Now the difficult bit.

Evaluating Night Trap is a difficult task. The gameplay is obtuse, pushing back on the player. Persistence and patience is needed to access the game beyond ten minutes or so of gameplay. Like all unforgiving puzzles though, the moment you figure out a section, understanding something you couldn’t previously, is rewarding. The game then becomes something akin to Majora’s Mask where you watch, analyse and connect the events unfolding in front of you. Each repeat play through (expect a lot of game over screens FYI) moves you a bit closer to achieving success in the game. We found ourselves edging a little further each time. Ironically considering how cutting edge it was in 1992, the gameplay is more closely related to 70s/80s arcade games – learning patterns to beat it. Having just come off a review of Until Dawn, it shows in stark contrast how much quality of life features in games narrative have evolved over the last 25 years. Anyone looking for this to compete with a Resident Evil 7 will struggle but this edition needs to exist for a different reason. It isn’t here to compete with the bleeding edge of survival horror in 2017. 

Without any doubt, the acting in Night Trap is more Sharknado than Jaws. It becomes a metaphor for what the game is; a game of its time. SEGA’s modular upgrades to the Megadrive/Genesis are too mirrors of Night Trap and its steep accessibility bar. Whilst most 16 bit games are readily accessible through retro consoles, compilations or re-releases, there is a pocket of games like Night Trap from Mega/SEGA CD, 32X and Saturn which are lost to the sands of time or the sands of eBay – with high entry barriers. Collecting these systems and games plus making them talk to modern televisions is a chore (speaking from experience). What this edition presents is the game released all of those years ago. There are options to adjust the display to be in line with subsequent re-releases or in an updated 2017 mode. There are also additional scenes as well as video content exploring the conception of the game. Fans of the original will enjoy the unlockable extras. But the big question is; should you play it? 

When Night Trap released in 1992, the types of game it was surrounded by were the (excellent) Sonic 2 and Super Mario Land 2. Mortal Kombat was also unleashed on the world that year and is perhaps the closest (graphically) to Night Trap. The aforementioned three games are required reading in the history of how this industry evolved. Night Trap should also fall into this category. If you go into this game with your Sharknado hat on or simply want to explore a niche genre with DNA from the past and future it is worth venturing into the game. I am glad this exists on PS4 and hope more of the missing era of games in between the 16 and 32 bit eras can find their way to be released. If you want to see what the future looked like in 1992, give it a go.

The Top 10 Games 2017

Back in the N64 era, I noticed my games collection was slightly imbalanced. The vast majority of games on my shelf were football titles. My teenage self set the target of addressing the balance and making sure I had – in loose terms – one of each genre. What resulted was a mini-golden age of gaming. I could only have one shooter (obviously Goldeneye), one football game etc etc and through trading in and careful curation I made sure I only had the cream of the crop. I have 188 games on my PlayStation 4 through carried over purchases from PlayStation 3 and Vita, PlayStation Plus and hoarding in flash sales. In the download era it would be impossible to purge these games from my account but it got me thinking; what are the best games to play today? Top ten/hundred lists usually start getting predictable near the top, dominated by the likes of Mario 64. So, we are aiming to do something different. What are the best games to play in 2017? Nostalgic feelings and historical impact (we’ve got another list for that) on the industry are not applicable. Yes, San Andreas was important in 2004 but we’ve come a long way since then. Genres are defined by pennilessdads and we’ve also ignored sports titles as we felt that was too broad a heading. We aim to update this list at least 3 times a year. Some genres are unrepresented – sorry in advance!

2D era inspired game – Shovel Knight

The last ten years has seen a resurgence of 2D games and the tip of the spear is Shovel Knight. Riffing on sooo many games of yesteryear, this polished platform – which now has 3 campaigns – is great value. We await to see if August’s Sonic Mania can challenge Shovel Knight’s title. 

First person shooter – Destiny

Since 2014, the question I have asked when playing every game with a hand and a gun is: does it feel like Destiny? This is testament to the quality of Bungie’s epic online playground. As the journey of the original Destiny comes to an end, there’s one last chance to experience this great, genre defining experience. Will Destiny 2 overthrow it?

Racing – Mario Kart 8

Once upon a time, racing games like SEGA Rally, Daytona, Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer were tentpoles of console line ups. These days ‘serious’ racers are no longer at the forefront. The Forza series is arguably the best of these but the Switch’s recent deluxe version of Mario Kart 8 conquers all.

Story based action game – The Last of Us Remastered

There are so many games which could feature here. However, The Last of Us is a standout title and perhaps the game which elevated Naughty Dog to the highest tier of games designers – keeping company with the creme de la creme of games developers.  

3D collectathon platformer – Super Mario Galaxy 2

Following last gen’s trend of semi-sequels, an uncharacteristic Nintendo sequel to the fantastic Super Mario Galaxy is a varied collection of creative challenges which will change the way you think of a Mario game. Yes, Super Mario Odyssey will probably knock Galaxy 2 off its perch but we’ll have to wait until October for that. 

Crafting game – Fallout 4

Controversy! Minecraft inspired this element in many, many games but Fallout 4 has a – much maligned- base crafting feature which gives a nice change of pace with the rest of the game. Every settlement in Fallout 4 I come across now has a much refined plan to create an armoured, impervious foretress (concrete block the perimeter, guns intermittently around, robot protectors). A great aside to a great game which has unfair criticism in my humble opinion. 

High fantasy adventure – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It was a three horse race between this, Skyrim and Witcher 3. BotW changes everything. This is as close to a perfect game as there has ever been. The end. 

Puzzle – Puyo Puyo Tetris

Harking back to the Gameboy game which catapulted tetrominoes into popular culture, this quirky crossover has a great array of modes and a manic story mode. Multiplayer puzzling has never been as much fun. An honourable mention would be The Witness. 

Turn based role playing – Persona 5

Final Fantasy 13 ushered in a lapse in quality of Square Enix’s epic series. Persona saw the gap at the top and grasped the opportunity. The latest Persona has caught public opinion dominating conversations in and around various games podcasts. Style and substance combined make this the current pinnacle of JRPGs. 

Horror – Until Dawn

The 32bit era sewed the seeds of survival horror with Resident Evil, refining it the point of (then) perfection in the fourth iteration in the next generation. Between 2005 and 2015 though, the genre suffered as the balance between action and scares became more one than the other (clue: it’s not horror). 

Enter Until Dawn. Recently available on PS Plus as one of the free games on PS4, this seemingly by the numbers teen horror movie matters so much more when you’re calling the shots. Within five minutes of starting, you’re already wishing one of the douchebags dead. A great twist on the Telltale style experience and great for couch co-op. 

Mike drop…

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