I have a (FIFA) dream

In Xmas 2013, I was eagerly expecting the birth of my first child: due in January. Booting up my beloved (third…) Xbox 360, I was greeted with a great offer on the latest FIFA and took the plunge. My wife and I regularly enter deep negotiations regarding usage rights of the big tv and so began a new chapter in the living room Wars.

Up until this point I’d been slumming it on FIFA 13 on Wii U and PlayStation Vita (yep, I know). These offscreen experiments failed to satiate my career mode desires; they fell short of the true console FIFAs. Before these, I’d even tried some cheap-yet-hopeful cinema glasses and hooked them up in standard def to FIFA 12 but inevitably failed. FIFA 14 on 360 gave me that full-fat experience but I was compromised by compromise; I needed a better solution. This was increasingly apparent especially with a new arrival on the way.

Shortly after child number one arrived, I bought a PlayStation 4 and FIFA 14 tantalised by the prospect of remote play on Vita. This proved to be another false dawn as shoddy consistency in connections along with the Vita’s control shortcomings. 

Over the last couple of years, FIFA has been relegated to the spare bedroom on a small – I mean really small – television which is barely 720p. It’s with this colourful history of broken off screen promises that I dared to dream one last time: FIFA on Switch. 

Reports from preview events clearly showed off the limitations of the Switch version: not running on the latest engine and missing The Journey. However, the game played well – according to reports – plus the career mode is on par with FIFA 17. Could this be the Cinderella story which proves to be the game which breaks the cycle of disappointment? Every year, ‘FIFA Widows’ (and widowers) are forged from the obsession millions upon millions have with this game. Less than a week away from launch, we wait with baited breath if this can truly succeed. Early reviews of the PS4/Xbox 1 versions are in yet the Switch version in conspicuous by its absence. Like many games which do not review until bang on release, an air of caution surrounds the great hope for living room harmony over the next 12 months. There has been no press release (at the time of writing) from EA or a demo on the Switch eshop. Can this game really fulfil the hopes of millions and be the best handheld football experience? It also can not be ignored just how important this series is to a console’s prospects. Dreamcast and Wii U – both epic failures – have one FIFA title between them; it is a crucial game to support the life of a console. 

We’ll find out this week. Look out for our review on Sunday. It may just be the Switch’s most important game ever. 

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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

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.

Sonic Mania Review

Version Reviewed: Xbox One

In the opening cinematic to Sonic Mania, a countdown timer goes from 1 to 2 to 3 then Knuckles before arriving on Mania. Sonic 4 (both episodes), the plethora of 3D adventures and werewolves are left at the door. The question everyone wants to know upon this games’ release; is this really the successor to the evangelised – by some – Megadrive games?

Upon booting up Sonic Mania, the nostalgia strings of your heart are pulled. The game, which begins the only way it can, follows Sonic (with or without twin-tailed sidekick) hunting Dr. Robotnik across a mix of newly created zones – some based on themes from earlier games. Hydro City- one of my most despised Zones from Sonic 3 – is present yet feels completely different from its 16 bit ancestor. As with all of the ‘remixed’ zones there are familiar traps, architecture and enemy placement which rekindle forgotten memories of yesteryear. Each feels fresh and exciting whilst have a warm sense of happy familiarity. 

The moment to moment gameplay is exceptional for two reasons. Firstly, the game understands what makes Sonic fun. When uncertain of the road ahead the blue blur throws caution into the wind and speeds towards adventure whilst never feeling on-rails. Secondly, the game removes many of the grievances of past Sonic games. Our hero’s struggles in 3D aside, the Megadrive games have not aged well – particularly the pace and structure of the levels. Sonic Mania rectifies this by ironically taking a few lessons from the Mario school of game design. In the same way the environments in Mario guide and teach you the rules of the world, Mania’s subtle design choices do the same. In one zone, Sonic can be frozen in an ice cube which can be shaken off with a few presses of the jump button or moving. Instinctive, yet a puzzle in this level requires you to use the ice to forge ahead. There’s a cleverness and confidence in the level design which has been missing from many of Sonic’s 21st Century outings. Plus it excels in one area more than others.

Without spoiling the best parts of this game, the boss fights are inspired. Fan favourites – and we mean hardcore fans’ – return in unexpected places with possibly the most creative, smile-spreading end of level battles ever created. To give examples would rob you of this but trust us; they are good! As with Sonic 3 and Knuckles, each act has a boss. Each level has you sat on the edge of your seat waiting to see what concoction of terror awaits; like a furry, sugar coated My Little Pony/Saw mash up.

As with Sonic 3 and Knuckles, players can choose different combinations of the three (best) Sonic heroes to play as. The game plays homage to the above games’ special stages and the ‘UFO’ style stages from Sonic CD. These help to vary the gameplay though it is always welcome to return to the main body of the game. Also, if you remember the Sky Chase Zone from Sonic 2 or Sonic Adventure, a brief homage is made in the Mirage Saloon Zone. Again it looks like we remember Sonic 2 but upon closer inspection extra details and better animations are present. In this review, I’ve tried to steer clear of comparisons with previous Sonic games but this is perhaps unavoidable; this is the best Sonic game to play today. 

Every corner of this game oozes with the developers’ love and passion for this series. Despite the 16 bit stylings, the game is anything but. Like Shovel Knight, the animations are detailed and sleek. The original music and backgrounds have added layers which pop in 2017 HD. Added visual effects like fallen rings hurtling in and out of the screen add to the high production values in this game. Having recently revisited Sonic 3 & Knuckles on Xbox 360/One, PC and Nintendo DS, it is worth identifying that Mania’s controls are tighter than its predecessors. No death feels unfair – another stark difference to the Megadrive games. Again akin to Shovel Knight, the addition of further remixed stages to play through as Knuckles adds value to what is already a substantial package – the game is much bigger than Sonic 3 FYI…

Having spent much of 1993 reading Sonic the Comic or Mean Machines SEGA gawping at screenshots of Sonic 3, I remember scraping enough money through odd jobs to buy the game on its release. The same buzz of popping that game into my Megadrive is felt when loading up Sonic Mania. It understands why that era of gaming is special. There is something about Sonic which appeals to the child at heart. Playing Mania for review with my 1 year old son, he too was mesmerised by every loop, spin and dash. Sonic Mania is a masterpiece which is successful in every goal it has set out to achieve. It is the Sonic 4 fans have dreamt of for decades. In the same way many DC fans say Batman V Superman is the perfect film for them, there is no better reward for Sonic-ites hungry to see his return to glory. And crucially, at under £20, it is outstanding value for money. Highly, highly recommended. If you owned a Megadrive, this game is essential! 

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…

If you disagree, correct us in the comments on the site or on Twitter @pennilessdads

Top 10 GameCube games we want remade in HD on Switch

  1. Super Mario Sunshine
  2. F-Zero GX
  3. Luigi’s Mansion
  4. Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door
  5. Metal Gear Solid the Twin Snakes
  6. Viewtiful Joe
  7. Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg
  8. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
  9. Zelda: Four Swords
  10. Mario Kart Double Dash

Honourable mentions:

  • Zelda: Wind Waker (give us the HD Wii U version)
  • Resident Evil 4
  • Metroid Prime 1+2 (widescreen as in Wii versions)
  • Star Wars Rogue Squadron 2 and 3