Xbox Mini?

Nostalgia for past consoles appear to be at an all time high with Nintendo’s licence to print money: the SNES Classic. Coming a year after the NES Classic, the recently released 16 bit bundle of goodness has flown off shelves. A like minded Gameboy Classic or PlayStation Classic should be expected over the next few years; but what about Xbox?

Entering the console space near the start of the millennium, Microsoft doesn’t quite have the rich history its competitors do. What they do have though is the roadmap for what the next generation of consoles will look like. The iterative Xbox One X will either be the true beginning of the end of distinctive console generations akin to mobile phone updates or it will be the Xbox One 32X: repeating SEGA’s expensive mistake it the 90s. What Microsoft do offer – to a greater extent than Sony or Nintendo – is choice: the vanilla Xbox One, Xbox One S and the X. With production of the original console ending, a new third pillar should be expected. Could this be Microsoft’s answer to a ‘classic’ or ‘mini’ console? Let me explain…

Since the 360 days, there have been rumblings of a discless Xbox. This may finally be a reality. Imagine if you will, a smaller, streamlined Xbox One: HD – no 4k, 500gb hard drive and packaged with some classic games. The Xbox One will soon be compatible with the full lineage of Xbox games from the original Xbox 1 to the modern Xbox One. This would enable the One family to be its own retro machine – if you want it to be. One of the biggest criticisms of the Nintendo classics has been the lack of expansion: further downloadable titles would have been another money maker for Nintendo. 

Xbox One C? Xbox One Mini? Xbox One TV? Whatever it would be called, a cheaper (£150?) Xbox One might just be the best of both worlds. For now, Sony and Microsoft are ignoring the home/handheld hybrid market (don’t quite believe that…) but the mini market may just be about to explode. We can expect at least one more retro console from Nintendo; time will tell if Microsoft can exploit their unique position and marry the past, present and future together. 

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FIFA 18 Switch Review

Version reviewed: Switch/Xbox One

*Update*

Several weeks post FIFA18’s launch, a strange phenomenon has occurred: I’ve played more FIFA then ever! Destiny 2’s weekly milestones and events are where the bulk of my game-time’s been spent but having FIFA on Switch has enabled me to play in the pockets of time in and amongst other things. For example, when the kids have their daily cartoon slot (5PM-6PM) it’s there to grind away a few games in career mode whilst still being able to sit with them. The settling in period which comes with all new football games is over and the gameplay feels comfortable – not PS4/X1 FIFA 18 – but better than the PS Vita and Wii U ‘efforts’. The control issues identified in the original article have mellowed as familiarity has grown. I’ve played the game predominantly in handheld mode; FIFA is and always will be about Career Mode for me and the Switch version is perfect for this. I dropped £49.99 for this game at the expense of some of the amazing downloadable titles a-buzz on Switch at the moment and it was definitely money well spent!

Original Article: 

Having held off pre-ordering any version of FIFA 18, I went into this week hoping for a nugget of analysis on the elusive Switch version of the game. With EA Access on Xbox One, I was able to spend some time with ‘full’ console version of FIFA 18; therefore this review will also touch on the Xbox version as well as the Switch one – just in case the sub-line is confusing! Time for kick off!

There’s a lot to unpack in a discussion regarding FIFA on Switch but we’ll start with what everyone wants to know: it plays good! The core gameplay is FIFA. In comparison to FIFA 17 and 18 the physics feel a bit more limited – especially compared to 18 on Xbox One which seems to have more frequent mis-kicks and random moments of the ball coming off your shin. Edit mode – as well as the full assortment of options are available. If – like me – you are still clinging on to Legacy Defending, there option to switch (click!) between modes is there. Whilst playing in handheld mode, the camera zooms in which can easily be tweaked in the options. However, a quality of life feature which would have been welcome is to have different option profiles for docked or handheld modes. You can do this for control set ups but the camera remained constant unless manually changed. 

Tent pole modes like career and Ultimate Team play as you would expect them to. Having played the ‘dynamic’ transfer negotiations on Xbox One, the Switch version’s traditional email system was actually a welcome return. By my third transfer negotiation on Xbox One the novelty had warn off. Everything else in career mode such as training, scouting and contract negotiations play exactly as they did in 16 and 17. 

Now for the tricky bit: is this a viable alternative to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One FIFA? Clearly, this is the best portable FIFA. It is a light years ahead of the much-maligned 3DS, Vita or even Wii U versions. My purchase is justified as I think of the weekends away, train journeys and spontaneous multiplayer matches ahead. Despite the lack of Journey or online friend matchmaking, taking my career on the road is what I wanted. The one area that sets it below the ‘full’ versions is one I did not anticipate: the biggest limitation is the Switch itself.

In comparison to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers, the Joy-Con pale in comparison. The smaller analogue sticks make turns and flicks that little bit more clunky. The action buttons require a split second longer press to result in the desired player pass or shot. It is noticeable. 

However, I am still happy with the purchase purely for the portability. It will interesting to see if the control issue mellows over time with adaptability; a Pro Controller would alleviate it at the expense of full handheld mode. If you can guarantee FIFA domination on the television for the next 12 months, there is no reason to look beyond the ‘full’ versions. If you have a FIFA widow or widower restlessly hinting it’s their turn, FIFA 18 on Switch is a great option to end the war of the television. 

Hopefully we won’t see the spat of ‘Legacy’ editions with simply updated rosters each year and this solid – if imperfect- first season can be built upon for next year.

Verdict: Recommend!

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. 

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

Destiny’s Halo?

Destiny 2: the new benchmark for games-as-service, is here. Now, seems a funny time to discuss this but a convergence of events in the last week have brought me to a simple conclusion about life, light and the preservation of games such as this. The fact of the matter is simple; Destiny 1 will inevitably be shut down soon. 

Back in 2014, always online was a strange new concept for many. Now it is almost mandatory. Destiny for all its faults was amazing (note the past tense). Over the last three years I’ve had an on/off romance with it which is rekindled with Destiny 2. Always online brings with it unavoidable problems. The other night – after a long day at work – I booted up D2 only to be met with a disappointing ‘network down’ message as Bungie delivered (planned) maintenance. No Destiny porn for me then. This began the mind-wander towards a depressing question; how much of D1 will be playable when the plug is pulled? 

Logic dictates the obvious; none of it. Likeminded online focused games have drifted off to that digital farm all of our virtual pets were sent to and Destiny will probably be no different. Except – what if there were a workaround?

Always online enabled all Destiny players to exist within the various worlds alongside others. There really was nothing like jumping into a Strike playlist; finding two random, silent Guardians then carrying out your mission with surgical precision. However, the primary purpose of all our Destiny saves – for both games – is to avoid cheats and exploits. No one can manipulate game saves etc when we don’t physically have them on our hard drives. Should this still apply to D1 though? The hardcore have jumped sparrow to D2, leaving the original Tower et al conspicuously lonely. Having just clocked D2’s great campaign, a return play through of D1 – which I haven’t done since 2014 and the vanilla days – might not be a bad idea. It is currently a vague memory wrapped up in subsequent dlc and never ending grinding. I wouldn’t be doing it for engrams or gear or shards but for something more: enjoyment. This led me to my conclusion.

If Bungie – against all form and precedent – switched D1 to local saves, allowing the player to play solo (offline), a renaissance of D1 could be upon us. The core game would be preserved; you could even patch in bots for the raid. This offers up a tantalising prospect; Destiny could work on Nintendo Switch. Destiny 2, with its complex infrastructure, may be too much but a local based Destiny 1 would surely not. Three Guardians playing in handheld mode locally. It sounds logical doesn’t it? For all the improvements D2 has brought, wouldn’t it be great to take the original with you anywhere? It’s just a thought; a wish upon a star. One day, the original Destiny will be in darkness. Perhaps we can find a way of leaving the light on…

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.

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!