#Reviews

Persona 5 – Review

3
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

After 90 hours of Persona 5 I am still not quite finished with the game, but I feel like I am near enough the end to finally deliver my review on this game. The review has been a long time coming now and I am a little bit sour that it took so long; but better late than never, right? So let’s start.

 

 

Back in the old SNES days, JRPGs were some of my favourite genres. After all, Secret of Mana was the game that brought me to game development in general and spawned my interest in programming. You could say my whole “career” started with the words “DARKNESS SWEEPS THE TROUBLED LAND, …”. But later on, I lost interest in most of them. Among the JRPGs I started but never finished were Final Fantasy X, Lost Odyseey, Blue Dragon, Tales of Symphonia, Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XV and even the wonderful Ni No Kuni. But I kept coming back to Persona 5 even after weeks of not playing it due to shortages of free time and the thought of not finishing it never crossed my mind once which is partly due to the fact that the art style of this game fulfills a very important function that most JRPGs lack: it makes the menus and the way the game is to be played easy to remember. That is the first of many strengths of the game and I can’t stress enough how important this is. Regardless how little I remembered about my last steps in the game after a longer period of time, the menu navigation was always an anchor point that I could use to get back into the game and in this regard Persona 5 really changed my perception of UI design. I knew that P5 would be a very stylish game before thanks to all the trailers, but I didn’t expect to learn so much about a topic that before was merely an afterthought I wanted to minimize as much as possible in my own designs.

 

The style of the game also helps disguising the game’s PS3 origin although its technical simplicity becomes obvious if you look close enough. Thankfully this never became a concern and it speaks volumes about P5‘s ability to be regarded as a timeless classic that the overall style negates its technical debility already. The next thing I need to praise in volumes is its soundtrack which is absolutely stunning. The last time I was blown away by a game soundtrack was probably when Bayonetta got released but P5 easily tops it. Sometimes I would just lay the gamepad aside to listen for a very specific song. Overall the audiovisual design fascinated me so much that I’m using a Persona 5 style theme on my smartphone and every alarm sound is a song from the OST. And it’s great that the design is so good because otherwise the fights would probably get tiresome very quickly despite the fighting system being the best shot at turn based battle systems that I have seen so far. Now I know people might disagree on that and would prefer a more time based approach but I love the fact that I can really take my time in battles if I want to without pressure (well, most of the time; there are one or two exceptions to this in the whole

 

 

The overarching narrative of Persona 5 is that of a pupil being sued by someone for essentially stopping an imminent rape. The protagonist gets transferred to a different school for rehabilitation and this is when things slowly start to get weird as the protagonist awakes to the power of his Persona and starts changing the hearts of bad people. The game doesn’t start with that though; it actually starts at the last quarter of the game, the protagonist gets captured and interrogated and the interrogation itself is what the player experiences and plays through up until past and present sync back and the endgame starts. The structure of Persona 5‘s storytelling – at least as far as the main story is concerned – is to get a new “big” target. Those persons’ twisted desires have created palaces in the metaverse that the player needs to infiltrate, steal the treasure of the target and change the target’s heart by doing so. If this sounds complicated, let me break it down for you: you need to play through a dungeon and defeat the dungeons boss. The thing about those dungeons is that they must be completed until a certain deadline. Within this timeframe, you are pretty much free to spent your time as you want to. Don’t want to proceed the palace but instead go learning at the diner on a rainy day? Do it. Time management is one of the mechanics that I first thought would really annoy me; but I quickly figured out that it solves a problem for me that I often have with open world games or other games with loads of side activities: it keeps my focus in check. Most side activities cause one half of the day to pass, so you could fill one day with two side activities. Exploring a dungeon however will cause the whole day to pass. So if – for example – you want to go fishing at night (because it’s cheaper) you can’t go to the dungeon that day. The time management only gets more complex as you gather more and more confidants (more on that in a moment) that you want to build a relationship with in addition to the protagonist’s own skills that you want to enhance by taking part in certain activities. You can even lend DVDs to watch at home that you need to return within two weeks. That all might sound annoying but it really isn’t; it actually helps the player prioritizing instead of getting lost in all the possible activities.

 

It’s worth pointing out that the topics that Persona 5 attends to are often heavy. The game – as lighthearted as it can be at times – deals with sexual harassment, physical and psychological abuse, working conditions, drugs, blackmailing and even rabble-rousing and murder. Games are often a way to escape reality and the problems we face in reality for a bit, but while many games chose to offer a more abstract or even ridiculous way of relieving stress (sometimes even by building a different type of stress) Persona 5 lets the player stand against those real life problems, solving them with supernatural powers and even explains that bad people are not born bad but fall victim to their own desires which are often created by defining experiences in their past. It’s unusual to find this in a game and even though monologues and dialogues are mostly delivered in a very anime, over-the-top style, I feel like Persona 5 never falls flat on the severity of its topics.

 

Of course the protagonist doesn’t fight alone. You will meet a certain number of confidants – supporters if you will – that can roughly be seperated into two types: party members and supporting characters. Party members will fight with you, you can change their equipment, chose skills of their Persona when they level up and even tell them what to do in rush more – some sort of fast forward for easy fights. Supporting characters will sell you stuff or help you enhance your skills and while party members are not missable and tied to the main story, supporting characters can be missed. I know for a fact that I didn’t forge a bond with at least one confidant and another one I didn’t get until the last story dungeon (which means I played through the game without the ability to change fighting party members in-fight; yes, those kind of abilities can come with confidants). You can strengthen your bond with every confidant by spending time with them and with some you can even enter a love relationship (you can even have more than one love relationship at the same time) but it’s not always as easy as approaching a confidant and pressing a button. Sometimes they don’t have time for you, sometimes you need to reach a certain level with a skill (Angelic Kindness is till haunting me) which means you’ll first need to spend your time on activities increasing your skills like watching movies, reading books, caring about your plant or eating fast food (sic!). With all of that the game develops a totally different kind of dynamic compared to other JRPGs and it’s this dynamic that helps countering the problem of pacing that many games in the genre often have. It creates a nice back and forth between engaging exploration with frantic fighting and interesting interaction with NPCs and more mundane activities and although the beginning of the game is very slow, this slowness is what helps emphasise the drama once shit hits the fan and the wheels start to spin faster.

 

 

I already wrote that to me P5‘s fighting is the best iteration of turn based JRPG combat so far and that has a lot to do with the way Personas work. While other party members stick to one specific Persona, the protagonist can hold more than one and Personas are acquired by negotiating with enemy Personas, trying to recruit them. You will also learn the skill to fuse two (and later more) Personas into one new Persona and it’s this variety and freedom that truly brings Persona 5′s fighting system to life especially since the combinations of elemental strengths and weaknesses, passive skills, buffs and debuffs and other special abilities like drain and reflect create a complexity that I would consider good complexity. Many games introduce complexity to their mechanics just for the sake of having said complexity but in P5 this complexity is an optional toolset that is evolves naturally but can also be largely ignored if the player wants to pull through the game by brute force. It’s another way of keeping the fights interesting throughout the game.

 

All of this doesn’t mean P5 is a perfect game however. I already wrote how the game is technically a PS3 game but it doesn’t ran smoothly on my PS4 Pro all the time either. Hickups were rare but they did occur which seems strange. Also the game takes a bit to get up to speed and the beginning hours can feel sluggish. Probably my biggest point of criticism is the way the camera behaves when using the stealth mechanic. Being a phantom thief means you will sneak through the palaces and try to ambush enemies to get an advantage in combat. This advantage combined with clever execution on the enemies’ weaknesses is what enables the player to overcome enemies that are much stronger which feels great and empowering no matter how often you do it. On the other side, being ambushed by lower level enemies can quickly result in a game over if the weaknesses of your party are exploited. This happened to me 2 times in my whole playthrough but every time it made me stop playing the game. Not because I had lost but because the ambush was only possible due to the way the games’ stealth mechanic work. As long as you’re not detected by an enemy, you can go into stealth mode at specific points in the environment and you can also swiftly jump to new cover positions without being seen and also ambush enemies that come within reach. However, the camera tries to avoid solid obstacles, forcing you to try and get an enemy into your viewport and then hitting “X” to ambush. However, if the enemy turns in the meantime or the distance changes slightly you will ambush into the empty space right beneath the enemy and if you’re seen the enemy will likely ambush you faster than you can react. It’s weird because every other aspect of the game is so well polished.

 

 

Conclusion: 5 (on a -5 to 5 scale). I really had a hard time coming up with a score for Persona 5. I didn’t expect to play a game like Breath of the Wild that feels genre defining to me again so soon. And I certainly don’t want to be part of the score inflation of the recent decades although my review is merely an amateur one. But every time I picked up the gamepad to lead the Phantom Thieves to their next target, every time I chose to go learning at the diner for upcoming exams, every time I had to decide between multiple confidants asking for my time to discuss topics or simply spend time together I overdrew my videogame time limit; hard. I also know there are multiple positive points I wanted to address when I started writing this review but forgot by now; but it doesn’t matter. Persona 5 is the type of game you can enjoy on a hot summer evening with a cold Gin & Tonic as well as on a cold winter day with a cup of hot chocolate. It stole my heart, how could I not give it the best possible score?

Mafia 3 – impressions

2
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

 

+, +, +, +, + My favorite thing about the whole game was the world that it brought to life. Maybe i wouldn’t have gone with the same sepia/desaturated look at all times, but i gotta admit it worked, this being just one on top of a million other things that made this world/period/location incredibly real feeling. Even after finishing the game, as many times before I just started the game just to be in this world, the whole atmosphere, the houses, the streets, the people, the cars… everything seems to work so wonderfully together… A great world to simply BE in.

+, +, -,  + I came into this game with high story expectations from Mafia 2, particularly in the story department, and this game totally managed to live up to them. There were little bumps where it felt a bit stretched but the overall story, atmosphere and world it creates is spectacular

+, +, +, + Amazing soundtrack. Full of old classic period songs of the highest calibre. Not all my favourite but  it definitely adds and keeps a lot of mood, from the great menu music to the wonderfully responsive moody action music which adapts based on player actions and even performance, and down to pleasant background things.

+, +, – I didn’t particularly love the radios/presenters/shows, felt a bit too much of the propaganda views of our times projected into those, however it was great to have them there and a delight to hear the abundance of content, weather while driving or while walking past radios

-, + i can’t fully object to the people who called the gameplay structure a bit repetitive, but yet for some reason it never really upset me, never dragged on for too long and it was generally enjoyable.

-, – I had a section around 70% through where i just didn’t figure out what to do next… i can’t remember weather it was because some objective was not seen on the map or it had to do with taking over missions… Still, i passed it and it was okay. Still, those icons and the  way you choose them, how they’re still there after being completed and not super clear when they’re selected… gave me a bit of trouble.

+, +, +, -, + the story itself, as in the main cinematics was quite good, written with twists greys and nuances, I quite enjoyed it. Where it fell a bit short, not in content but in presentation were the dialogues with some characters where they weren’t animated/they were rigid, ingame and static, in those moments i felt it broke a bit the immersion because they were so stiff, but then there were superb cinematics both ingame and prerendered which more than made up for it. And the story overall dripped with believability.

– although i thought Lincoln was a very cool character and his story a great gangster story there was something that kept bothering me about it, this feeling of “positive racism”… like it’s all good and okay when a black guy kills self justified white people with some hints of race, but of course such a movie would be buried alive if a white guy would kill black people in these ways. In this this, the game follows the typical mainstream of our times, with branding of southerners as religious fanatics whites (there’s for example a mission like that where they have a union flag and in a church and they sell slaves). I mean I find it’s totally okay for a story, just saying that it plays to the prejudices and tabus of our times… but then again if it didn’t it wouldn’t have been allowed to come out… so I’m happy they did if this was the only way to make this game/world/story.

+ A lot of interesting characters

+, +, – the retrospective/storytelling mechanic i might not like as much as i would’ve liked a “we’re there/then” approach, but as it is it still works great to create a strong atmosphere.

+, +, +, + While (maybe through the filter of nostalgia?) i still think there was “more story” in Mafia 2 (something that probably isn’t true neither in time length or subtleties), this game does something more remarcable  in making the world open, so interesting and full. of so many lovingly crafted corners.

– , +, +, + while i felt a few moments that some content was a bit “stretched thin”… in fact there was SO MUCH content, not just the amazing world but a story that kept on giving, and giving and giving… that overall I’m very impressed with the length and quantity of this game, to tell such a great story/world and to keep it up for so long… i didn’t expect that.

 

Overall I was very very impressed with this game, even more so than I expected, and I still wonder at some of the subtleties of storytelling, in characters, in developments, and find this world one which i enjoyed every moment breathing it and I probably will find myself starting the game in years to come too just to “be there” again. In fact the game was so good that although I might not have expected with such a long and meaty game, I look forward to buying the DLC expansions, which afaik are all story oriented and i look forward to seeing their story and through their excuses to see the world again. So, despite the occasional thinness, and a world not super decorative, my impression still is a spectacular 4 (on a -5 to 5 scale) because of it’s great story, lengthy story and great realized open world.

 

ARMS – Review

10
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

The genre of Fighting Games – which is not to be confused with Beat ’em Ups – can be tracked back to 1976 when SEGA released their game Heavyweight Champ. Nowadays, Fighting Games have become a wide field of competitive sensation that even got its own popular event every year called Evo that’s a profitable championship with tens of thousand viewers watching as pro Fighting Game players compete against each other in different games. Those game can get as technical as the long running Tekken series but can also be much less about combo crafting and more about tactical mind games like Nintendo‘s popular Smash Bros. series. The genre has grown a lot since the rivalry of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and it’s terminology as well as the abstract ideas behind them can be quite intimidating for newcomers who want to get into them. ARMS tries to extract the core idea of Fighting Games and transform them into something more digestible without scaring off players familiar with the genre. Can it do to Fighting Games what Mario Kart did to Racing games? Let’s see…

 

 

The name ARMS could not be more fitting to this game that puts its fighters with their extendable arms front and center. The idea is to play a game of spacing and strategy, resulting in tactics born from action and reaction in a kind of rock, paper and scissors style. Punches can be blocked, blocks open an opportunity for throws and throws can be cancelled by punches, but there are almost always means to use those actions and trick your opponent; you could block for a prolonged time only to wait for your enemy to start a throw and then quickly punch them. This leads to many situations where the game quickly gets to its meta mechanics of risk and reward, trying to outplay your opponent with witty tactics and unpredictable behaviour. But that doesn’t mean skill is not involved. ARMS is a very dynamic game where composure can make all the difference in a close battle as you try to pull off actions as you intended and not starting to mash buttons (if playing with classic controls) or moving the JoyCons furiously (if playing with motion controls). Its also useful to have a general strategy, a battle plan, set up that you always can go back to. Such strategies would depend on the arena you are fighting in and the character of you opponent which means that knowledge of the game’s content will definitely come in handy and make you a better player. It’s worth noting that the motion controls work very well and while I prefer my sticks and buttons, this is definitely not Wii Sports Boxing 2!

 

 

ARMS‘s cast of characters consists of 10 different playable fighters that differ in weight, speed, special abilities, design and ARMS available from the start. Most of them are iconic and well designed, easily noticeable and will without doubt spawn interesting cosplay in the future. Like the characters in many other Fighting Games though, they lack deeper personality and so it’s difficult to see them as more than fancy tools that you want to get familiar with. Part of this is the lack of proper and interesting single player content, especially compared to something like Injustice 2‘s great campaign mode. The only reasons to keep playing the single player tournament is the AI – which is quite capable in the middle levels and is able to destroy you at the higher levels – as well as the fact that you need to beat the tournament at least on difficulty level 4 (of 7) to unlock the competitive ranked online mode. Other than that the only thing I got out of the mode so far are coins which you can also get by playing other modes like the online party mode where a lobby of up to 12 players will be thrown at each other in combat scenarios of 1vs1, 2vs2, 3vs3, 4vs4 or even player vs boss AI. The single player mode can be played cooperatively though which is a great way to ease your friends into the game! Combat modes range from classic fighting to target destruction, basketball (where your goal is to punch or throw your enemy in the basket) and volleyball. It’s a much more interesting and fun mode to learn about different ARMS and characters and to farm coins. And farming coins you will do. A lot. Every character starts with a set of 3 different ARMS that you can select from before every battle for your left and right arm separately. Those ARMS are mostly fine for learning the basics of each character but once you found your main character you will want to get more to broaden your selection and thus your strategic options. Acquiring them is done by playing a mini game in which you will need to destroy targets and once in a while get the chance to punch a box which will grant you a new ARM for one of the characters. This mini game can be played in a short, medium and long variant and playing them will cost you 30, 100 and 200 coins respectively.

 

 

The problem with that is this: not only are the ARMS itself random, the character they are for is randomly chosen as well (although the chance is increased to get an ARM for the character you’re playing the minigame with) which means you will spend a lot of coins to even unlock a complete set for the character you want. The number of ARMS you unlock is also tied somewhat to your performance in the minigame and also the maximum amount of boxes that will appear differ, which leads to the next problem: I have seen 3-4 ARM boxes in short, 8-11 in medium and 18-22 in long variants of the minigame. This means one ARM will cost you between 7.5 and 10 coins in short, 9 and 12.5 coins in medium and 9 and 11 in long variants (according to my own experience, other players may have different numbers). To me this means that the short variant is pretty much the best one which I also have to save up the least for and it overall reduces the danger of completely messing up because with one bad run, you only waste 30 coins instead of 100 or 200. To me, it’s not a good adaptation of the system used in Mario Kart 8 especially because you’re not exactly awash with coins. Technically the game is very solid, with great use of color and specular materials and it runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second which is absolutely key to such a fighting game; the exception is the 4 player splitscreen where the game has to compromise with 30 frames prer second but this mode is only good for casual party gaming anyway. The arenas are varied and the soundtrack is quite catchy but still not nearly as good as Mario Kart 8. The game’s mechancis work great and are a lot of fun to explore and apply and the depth of this game becomes apparent after the first few fights. It’s certainly the most unique fighting game available which says a lot when you have other fighting games that are brutal or cute, have Superheroes and -villains fighting each other as well as over the top Anime characters and even drawn stick men.

 

 

Conclusion: 2 (on a -5 to 5 scale). ARMS is one brilliant idea flawlessly executed but not backed up with a lot of content. Nintendo has already promised future free content updates and the first new character is about to be released, probably with a new stage as well since every character has its own signature stage. The unlocking mechanic is something that I feel holds ARMS back although it means to keep players engaged. We will see if ARMS has some legs through its updates (like Splatoon) and I hope it will get enough attention from the fighting game community so this can become a returning franchise for Nintendo. Right now its a great game to enthrall new players interested in the genre but only features enough to keep veterans around. It gets better with every hour played but probably loses a lot of players in the process. It’s like a very tasty sausage, cut down at both ends.

Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed (WiiU game)

10
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Remember Sonic? A cult figure of the 90´s, surely the most famous hedgehog across virtual reality and the main star of the SEGA game factory. For some of us, there is no need for description: we know Sonic, we basically grew up with him, playing the fun speedy games on those vintage SEGA consoles. Back then, you just had one or two arcade games, the luckiest of us maybe even more, and you were either a Nintendo or a SEGA kid. For all those who don’t know about Sonic, you can take a leap back to the past here.

Since 1991 – the year when Sonic emerged – a lot has happened; the entire game industry evolved so fast, facing revolutionary progress as well as numerous trends, like gaming on mobile devices or using VR equipment. As for the content dimension, one popular trend is definitely the racing game. Racing games are fun, entertaining and challenging, and can be played as a single player or with more people at once. And there are many out there. After a comprehensive review of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe written by HaikuHunter, here is my review about the dynamic and colorful racing game feat. Sonic in “Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed”.

“Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed” was released by SEGA in 2012. The Wii U version came out in November 2012, followed by PC versions for Windows in 2013 and iOS in 2014, and ultimately Xbox in 2016. Critics evaluated the game positively. The Wii U version however got minus points due to some issues in the online gameplay, but there are plenty of offline challenges that compensate. In multi-player mode, further players can easily join the game, provided they have a controller and a display port.

 

What´s special about the game?

 

As the title anticipates, it´s all about racing transformed. The racing car of each character can transform into a flight plane, for air racing, or a boat, for cruising on water. In one race, chances are that you must activate up to all 3 transformations. One of the things good to learn quickly are stunts, for example spinning in the air when taking off a ramp, or drifting in curves. This gets you bonus points and extra speed.

In the “Career” section, the game offers four different modes: world tour, Grand Prix, timed race and single race. These are meant to train your racing skills on different levels, from bronze (easy) to gold (difficult). When you finished a set of races on the bronze level and made it to the podium (top 3), you unlock them in the silver mode, where the competition gets tougher. What I missed here was more variation between levels; after racing through the same scenery several times, you kind of wish more challenging stuff on the next level. In a way, there is a higher difficulty through the fact that in the silver and gold levels, the sceneries are mirror-inverted and the competitors are more fast and furious. If that does it, then you will probably not get too bored seeing the same scenery over and over again. But still, as a single player, you kind of expect more pepper.

If you play as a single user, you can configure whether you use the Pro Controller or the Wii U pad as a main instrument. To make the most out of the game, I definitely recommend the handier Pro Controller. In this case, the Wii U pad will simultaneously show the route map and your position on it during the race. The competitors and the overall ranking per race are also displayed. Personally, I don’t really look at these stats while playing, in order not to get distracted from the race.

Current position and ranking displayed on the Wii U pad

Characters

 

Besides Sonic, you can choose between an entire range of characters from the SEGA universe. Some of them are well known from the Sonic game series, like Sonic´s friends Tails and Amy Rose, Knuckles the Echidna, or his enemy Metal Sonic. There are also further SEGA figures like AiAi – the Monkey (Super Monkey Ball), BD Joe – the funky taxi driver or Ulala – the sassy reporter from Space Channel 5. Each character has his own strengths and weaknesses. While Sonic is the fastest and wackiest protagonist, Amy can fly more precisely, and with Knuckles you have a smooth ride on boat. Sometimes it´s wise to choose a certain character depending on the race ahead you. A curvy race can be mastered better with Amy than with Tails, while BD Joe can get very speedy on straight road. Personally, my favorite character is Amy Rose. She can face most races in a balanced way, especially on boat or plane, which are quite a challenge as a beginner. After some practice, I won many levels with Amy, it´s so much fun to hear her cheering “hurray!” and “wow!” on the way.

During the game, you can unlock some further, hidden characters. Among the figures that can be unlocked there are some more characters from the Sonic family (will not spoil the surprise here ;-)

Amy flying through a tunnel

Tails driving through a village

Sonic driving on a futuristic highway in the Lights City

Graphics

 

The game presents a very colorful visual universe, a vivid and intense journey for the eye. The diversity in the scenery leads the player through green landscapes, casino highways, winter nights, cities with sky scrapers, Japanese landmarks, rivers, seaside roads, industrial depots, flight platforms, mexican lava rivers, spooky ghost houses and many many more.

Each scenery sparkles in strong colors and is enriched by animated details, which boost your journey with extra joy.

 

Amy flying though a dream portal

Knuckles flying through old historic walls

 

Tails racing through a medieval city

 

Gameplay

 

Basically, you have quite straightforward controls to accelerate, drift, spin, use weapons. However, there are more tricks available for doing stunts, and the combinations of controls are not transparent, you have to discover them. This can be a challenge, I dare to say.

For moving forward, you use the same control, no matter if you race on road, on water or in the air. A race consists in 3 laps. Usually, the first two laps are quite the same, while the third one gets a bit more difficult requiring transformed racing. Before starting a race, you can choose an available gear for your character. For example, for a curvy route, you might go better with the “Balanced” gear than with the “Turbo” gear. The effects of each gear work differently for each character. As you advance in playing, more gears get unlocked for your character.

During the race, there are collectibles on the way: coins, surprise items you have to hit, in order to get a weapon that can be used against your opponents. The currently available weapon can be seen in the top right corner of the screen.

Here is my list with some of the coolest weapons:

Hotroad – a kind of enormous speed boost like fire gear; you must end it actively with a blast, to sweep the opponents in range away (but if you don’t activate it on time, it will blast you up, to your disadvantage, and slow you down; this happens after a few seconds, so you have to activate the blast quite quickly!)

All Star – a kind of absolute power state that lasts for a short time; you float with super speed accompanied by the character-specific song – Amy´s All Star has a fancy song and unleashes pink hearts while she’s drifting with super speed ;-) With All Star you can easily overrun some opponents at a time, quite a cool thing.

Blowfish – a big round fish to be released on the way, so the cars behind you bump into it – when this happens, they get slowed down. The fish itself has a funny face too!

Ice (Snow balls) – with snow balls you can shoot on the opponent in front of you (precision is required!)

 

On the road, there are glowing pink arrows that add turbo power, if you drive on top of them. On water and in air, these are pink glowing gateways – if you fly or swim through them, you get a turbo boost. It takes some practice to learn to drift successfully in a dramatic curve right after getting a turbo boost… But that makes the entire game so active and fun.

Obstacles like bees swarm, blowfishes, lightning bolts, spiders etc. are placed on the way to challenge your tenacity. The game is very entertaining and dynamic, each race and scenery is unique. Watch below Amy Rose mastering the Mexican “Samba de Amigo”…

…and Sonic ruling the race in the “Carrier Zone”:

By the way, with collected coins you can play casino (5 coins per chance) – if you’re lucky, you can win a pre-package for the next race, for example start your next race with a Blowfish or a turbo boost. :D

Play coins in the bonus Casino to get benefits and pre-packages for the next race

 

Summing up

 

+ Good gameplay, for Wii U very cool to play with the Pro Controller

+ Fun racing with collectibles and boosts

+ Diversity in available characters, more characters can be unlocked

+ Nice graphics, lively scenery, brilliant colors

+ Entertaining music and game voicing

 

– Loading: quite long loading sequences between races or game modes, can sometimes take up to minutes

– Not much diversity between easy and difficult game levels, mostly same sceneries (yet quite many, though)

– I would have loved a story, a story that twines everything together and establishes connections – for instance, a story around Sonic and his friends would have been nice.

– There is no central user manual or game rules directory. I had difficulties to find out how to shoot different weapons (some can be shot even to the rear, others just to the front). You just get some random hints while the game is loading, which is not quite enough. But perhaps it was intended like this, to challenge players.

 

All in all, I enjoyed playing this game. Driving Sonic is quite a speedy thing in this colorful game, just as usual. My great hope is that the next Sonic racing game will evolve around a story and maybe even combine racing with jump&run adventure – thinking further, I would love something like that – Sonic would be the perfect character for such a mixed fun hullabaloo.

 

Nintendo Sceptic’s Journey through Zelda+Switch [part 1]

1
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

As you may suspect from the title this may not be the usual song of praise to Nintendo & Zelda Breath of the Wild. Others have done far more and better than me in this respect, for example check out HaikuHunter’s fantastic Zelda review or his cool Switch review (with a great test!). If anything I come from a very different background and it seems with very different tastes/values than most reviewers of the game, if anything seeing all those fantastic youtube/IGN/GameSpot/IGN/metacritic reviews got me quite critical as I was comparing what I was seeing with other contemporary and past games. Many people respond by saying that the game should be taken into itself but I am a person who’s played games for >25 years and when looking at a new game I can’t just pretend a lot of the great advancements we’ve made in the field in the past 10+ years were not there and just act like this one game just invented all that or lives on it’s own. By that logic I’m convinced if i took a badly rated metacritic game and gave it to a person who’s never played a game they’d be blown away. So, I will be judging this Zelda in the context of all the other games in the recent years, in relation to those, and not at all in relation to other Zelda games (which I haven’t played), and as a person who just bought his first Nintendo console. The fact that I bought this console is a testament to the fact that it’s the first time I saw a possibly play-worthy Nintendo game after the Super Nintendo which I respect for the 90s which I only admired form a distance though and later via some emulation. But with Zelda Breath of the Wild, an open world, and a handheld which I think is more powerful than the aging Vita. This makes Zelda: Breath of the Wild the most expensive game I’ve ever bought, game + console reaching to about 400$. I’ll give my first impressions in bullet points.

Special note: I have to mention that again there’s going to be a lot of “relative context”, in that in some points I’ll not just be addressing the game but also all the praise of it in criticism to other games which I found totally unjustified and shaped my expectations and where I’m coming from (and why I payed so much pretty much for one game). I’ll mark these with * .

 

+, +  [Switch] feels like a nice solid construction

+, + [Switch] Quick and smooth start from unboxing to being right in the game

-, – [Switch] I was rather disappointed with the display quality, on a sunny day it was quite hard to play without going inside (which sort of beats the point). In particular that starting room I kept bumping into walls

– , – [Switch] very very very poor selection of games, never seen such a short list of games in a store, and for me it’s even worse so far Zelda is for me the only game … I can only hope that in the years to come some devs will take a risk and at least port some old titles for the platform.

+, +, + “switch”-ing from docked to portable mode feels awesome, still a miracle even after doing it dozens of times.

-, +, – [Switch] The controllers felt rather tiny, got used to them in the end but they still have signal problems when even slightly away from the TV and i reaaaly dislike the asymetric joystick combined with the (to me) strange button placements and uses which contradict my PC, ps3, ps4, xbox 360 and bit of Xone customs

And now moving onto Zelda tself:

+, +, +, + Looks fantastic on the tiny screen. Just amazing to be seeing such small things with such detail. On the small screen the cell shading did indeed have a charm of it’s own and helped with contrst videwing

-, –  in docked mode though things look pretty empty. The graphics feel ps3 level, sometimes even ps2 level. I definitely and strongly disagree with all those portraying it as a current-gen platform. It feels last-gen at best, sometimes worse, with bland washed out textures without character and very few objects in the world, mostly just rolling hills terrain.

+ but the smooth open world makes up for a lot

– the colors feel pretty washed out. Initially i thought maybe it’s the feeling of a sunny day, which i like, but then i remembered a lot of games which have sunny worlds and yet decent contrast which doesn’t feel like i’m playing things on an aged tv

+, +, + I enjoyed the feeling of exploring the world, the openness was I think a fantastic decision

* So many people have said this game is so different and revolutionary to other games that it allows you to go anywhere and just explore. I didn’t find this at all as different as other games of this type: the moment i strayed of the path to just go another direction I was hit 2x to go back 1) by cold weather i couldn’t resist 2) by the game reminding me that I’m supposed to do something and go somewhere, something which happens later in the game too. Also the game clearly expect you to get the basic powers before proceeding, with the initial area serving as training ground. This is a typical game trope, nothing wrong with that, but I do resent all the statements/reviews which made it seem like this is never done before revolutionary.

-, + The music i heard (unlike the selections above) felt mostly bland and generic, semi-generated, with some chords and sounds, with only the occasional memorable song. Again, nothing wrong with that, just not the aweeesome sountrack i was lead to expect.  Mostly the game gets away with ambiental sounds of the world. I have yet to find in it though super memorable songs that stick or blow away like I did in other games. To take one example I think the soundtrack isn’t as memorable/professional as the Witcher 3 one, and i didn’t particularly love the soundtrack there, just saying.

-, – the whole world feels very “for kids”, from world to story to everything. For some this might be a plus for me it’s a minus.

* people kept saying how different from other games and unique this game is, particularly how much better it is than the worn out formula of AC games… yet what’s one of the first things I did and patterns I learned in the game?!? You climb a tall tower to reveal/conquer a big map section. duuuuh

-, -, – really low budget feeling with NPC interactions, silly sounds instead of voiced over, a place where i feel the game feels decidedly 10 years+ ago

+ the animations however are pretty nice

– the stamina indicator is i think really badly designed, a circle straight on the character, at the very least it should have been on the edge of the screen if not subtle animations or some overall screen effect like most games do such feedback, they instead placed a 2d distracting animation exactly center screen

– the black & white loading screen felt really not fitting. Might’ve worked for a stylized game like Persona but here it just felt out of place. I would’ve much rather had scenes from the landscape or screenshots or something that was visually fitting (for example handle it like Oblivion did with those frames)

+, -, – while exploring the world was fun, like a mixture of Minecraft, Grow Up, Gothic & Oblivion, as soon as I went into the big village the game showed it’s shortcomings even more compared to other games in the past decade, with the silly sounds instead of dialogues it was barely better than Okami on the ps2, and no longer doing things but rather having interactions the game felt even more backward and underproduced. Couldn’t wait to get out of town.

+ the environment interactions are pretty nice, enemies dropping weapons and being surprised when you take them, flames making fields on fire, nice stuff. Nothing I hadn’t seen done much better in Farcry Primal, Farcry 3 & 4, but still it’s nice to have it there.

* the restriction of some areas via clothing keeps making me think of the much better experience i had with that in Farcry Primal

– didn’t really like the cooking mechanics. It could’ve been much simplified, just interacting with a fire should’ve put you in cooking mode, instead one has to go into inventory, click once, click again to select, and only then begins making a cooking selection. Unoptimized!

* I particularly resented how many reviewers started their Zelda review by criticizing Ubisoft games, and this for a game which I feel in most places does not live to the high standards raised by those games. For example they would often start by saying that those games feel like a colect-a-thlon, unlike Zelda, but this game also feels to me exactly like that. You go around picking up things, finding places, picking up more things. Nothing wrong with that, I just find incredibly untrue how they put it. Sure, there’s moments when you’re delighted in Zelda by finding something unique, but I’ve found even more unique and interesting corners in other games from Assasin’s Creed to Dying Light.

+ I liked the things the game took from Shadow of the Colossus, from the big open areas with sun to the stamina for climbing, great things!

* Again contrary to all the praises I’ve heard i feel the game does a lot of the rinse & repeat type activities, unlike all the praising reviews that said this game is so different than that. You find a shrine, you solve it, you do it again, you find a tower, you climb it… and so on… And here too i saw other games do this more originally and with more variety: take for example the Oblivion gates/dimensions: they felt totally ‘deja vu’ and repeat, just like the shrines, yet some of them had fully lovingly crafted worlds in there, with interesting unique back stories and *fully voiced* interesting characters. Or even in a smaller scale, the towers of Farcry: all the same, and yet with subtle variations and challenges in figuring them out, they were mini shrine puzzles in themselves that I’ve never heard anybody make a big deal of.

 

Well, that’s it for now. Been playing a lot of Zelda, will play more, these are some of my thoughts so far…

TO BE CONTINUED

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Review

10
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

There a few genres nowadays that Nintendo still dominates like they used to in past century. The industry has grown a lot since back then and while most games from Nintendo still belong to the top of the crowd, there is one genre that they still dominate today like they did back since 1992: the fun racer. Although humble attempts at the genre like Crash Team Racing and Blur tried to break Nintendo‘s monopoly, the fun racing genre is till all about Mario Kart. A game series that started of brilliantly with Super Mario Kart and stayed on top of every eventual competition ever since because they never radically changed the formula although with every game there was some unique aspect like the two player on one cart mechanic from Double Dash or the motion controls added to Mario Kart 7 for the Wii. Now we’ve got Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the new Nintendo Switch which for the first time wasn’t built on top of the basic Mario Kart foundation but instead iterates on a complete game released on the WiiU in 2014.

 

 

So what did the Deluxe version change compared to the WiiU version? Well, the most communicated change was the addition of a bunch of real Battle Mode arenas that the WiiU version is lacking. It was the biggest complaint about the 2014 Mario Kart because the Battle Mode has been a core mode of the series ever since the SNES Super Mario Kart and while technically still existing in Mario Kart 8, it was clearly handled with a lower priority with no dedicated arenas and players instead driving around the standard race tracks of the game trying to pop each others balloons. For Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo did put in a bunch of real arenas specifically designed for this Switch release. The other big change is that players can now hold two items at once and some item containers now give two items when driving through them. I’ll discuss the implications of this change later, just let me tell you that while being a positive change in general it really drives the frustration factor in some places. Other than that, Nintendo has added some additional drivers but that’s about it.

 

Mario Kart 8 was a great game to begin with and as you would expect the Deluxe version starts high because of that. The art direction is what I would still call very strong, with great track designs and small details like face expressions of the characters when overtaking others or getting hit. Effects are being put to good use without ever getting in the player’s face and textures are underlining the overall aesthetic of the game fine. The Deluxe version received some technical improvements compared to the WiiU version though, most notably a true 1080p resolution and I am not sure if it’s because of that or if Nintendo also raised the texture resolution but the game looks better than its 2014 foundation. It also stays at a solid 60 frames per second when playing split screen with another person and drops to 30 frames when playing in 3 or 4 player split screen mode without sacrificing the 1080p. One thing that has to be mentioned again is just how great the soundtrack of this game is. It was praised back in 2014 for its quality and Nintendo luckily didn’t change a thing here.

 

 

Nintendo also added some control options, most notably the smart contols. Those will auto correct the driving of the player without the player really noticing it and it really helps to stay on track and just feel good playing Mario Kart. The only visible clue that a driver has enabled this helper mode is a little antenna coming out of the back. It won’t enable to let beginners play like a pro all of a sudden but it makes the game more accessible. The other options are auto accelerate and motion controls and with all three enabled Mario Kart 8 Deluxe can be controlled similarly to what was possible on Mario Kart 7 on the Wii or Mario Kart 8 on the WiiU, but it works much better!

In general Nintendo should be commended for all the options they put into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe but then again it shouldn’t be surprising that the company that was always on the forefront of intuitive gameplay and new control options is thinking about how to draw in new players while not putting off long time fans. The only change that I don’t really get is the missing YouTube export from the replay gallery. This was a very nice feature of the original Mario Kart 8 and it seems to be missing in the Deluxe edition. Maybe this is due to planned system wide video sharing functionality that Nintendo promised at the Switch reveal event but right now there is no way of getting your replays from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to YouTube without additional hardware.

 

 

Teased before, let’s talk about the change in game mechanics with the dual item handling. I can see why this decision was made by Nintendo because it makes the game more interesting for beginners and gives them more opportunities to attack drivers in front of them, but it really raises the difficulty on the other end of the spektrum significantly. Mario Kart being sometimes brutal with the things that can come at you in the final round is a thing that exists since the introduction of the blue shell that will automatically hit the driver in the first place. But never before has it been this punishing, especially in the 200cc cups. See, in the slower cups, any perfect turn and every drift boost that you can get out is something the rest of the drivers will have a hard time catching up to because the speed of the vehicles is limited. Even with Mario Kart’s infamous rubberband AI, you can gain so much advantage that even bad luck won’t hold you back from taking that 1st place in the end. But as you enter higher cc cups, the reward for driving perfectly is less pronounced in gains but not driving perfectly is punished harder as it becomes more difficult to stay on the track.

 

200cc is a speed introduced as a free update for the original Mario Kart 8 and back then I didn’t spend a lot of time with it. At that time I had already unlocked everything and was comfortable with playing online (which is 100cc if I am not mistaken). But in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you need to get at least the gold trophy in ever 200cc cup to unlock Gold-Mario; this is just a prestige thing, but a long-time Mario Kart player like me needs to have him, especially since every other driver is unlocked from the start (which is different from the WiiU Mario Kart 8 and – as I think – a good thing). I just got my last 200cc cup finished with a gold trophy and 3 stars (which means you need to finish every race in that cup 1st place) this morning and the journey towards that was brutal. 200cc needs you to learn a new facette of Mario Kart: braking. And by that I don’t mean hard braking before going into a turn, it is braking while drifting to reduce the drift radius on the fly so your speed will not vault you off the track. By the time I unlocked Gold-Mario I felt pretty confident in the art of brake-drifting but of course I wanted to have those 3 stars everywhere. And this is where the frustration began. Taking the first place in every 200cc race is not so much a matter of skill at some point but you need luck. A lot of luck sometimes.

 

 

I was struck by luck sometimes where I managed to finish some races 1st place after coming into the last turn as 8th place only to see that all 7 drivers before me had been hit by a blue shell explosion. But more often, I found myself driving perfect races only to have my blue shell destroying horn taken from my by a ghose powerup from a different driver and then get hit by a blue shell and 3 red shells just to come in second. Those are moments where the randomness of Mario Kart will not result in exhilerating enjoyment anymore but pure frustration due to the fact that every other driver now has double the chance to screw you over because of that changed gameplay mechanic. I want to stress though, that those frustrating moments don’t happen until you hit that skill ceiling and really start to go for that ultimate goal of having the perfect rating in every cup. If that’s what it takes to get more players into Mario Kart because its more enjoyable for them I think the change is a good one in the end after all.

 

It also works surprisingly well online where I didn’t have a feeling of “that’s much more chaotic than before” so far. Races pretty much feel the same they did with the original Mario Kart 8 which is probably due to the fact that the AI is somewhat working together against the player while actual players are more of lonely bastions only trying to fight for themselves. I onyl tried out the Battle Mode briefly online because I still need to improve a lot to be competitive there but it’s fast and fun and filled with enough different modes to feel fresh even after playing for 1 or 2 hours.

 

 

Conclusion: 4 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Let’s get it out of the way: if you have even the slightest interest in fun racing there is no way around Mario Kart, and if we’re at that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It’s the best version of the best fun racing series that is available to date. If you already own Mario Kart 8 for the WiiU it might not be worth the full price (especially if you don’t want to play online anymore) but on the other hand you can eventually sell the WiiU disc and give yourself a decent discount for the Switch version. I hope that Nintendo will find a better way to balance out the random generator in a future installment and I don’t understand why the YouTube sharing function has been taken away from the replay mode. But other than that I feel like Nintendo has very little room left for improvement in future Mario Kart titles and I am curious what they will come up to differentiate the next Mario Kart from this great installment.

Rise of the Tomb Raider – quick impressions

6
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

As the credits now roll here’s some random thoughts and memories:

+, +, + a couple of really beautiful environments

+, + great scripted moments

– I did get or almost get stuck a few times in the to me contrived puzzles, leading me to put the game away for a while

+, +, – the game made some attempts at a more philosophical story, with pretty interesting audio logs. Too bad they could only be listened to while doing nothing else

– that Lara has fantastic powers, can jump and fall from amazing heights, kills and takes bullets better than Rambo, all of that I found acceptable/necessary for gameplay, yet some other things I thought broke the plausibility, in particular her use of a bow to pull down great structures… it was one point where i rarely could suspend my disbelief. It was one thing to accept her superhuman strength, but other than that the game transmits the message of somewhat realistic physics and with that I kept thinking how implausible it was that an arrow (with infinite rope?) could grab onto a big structure so strongly, even if she was so strong.

+, + the story themes of ancient religions around immortal(s) and civilizations was quite interesting, reminded me in some ways of the movie The Man from Earth with it’s interesting story

+, +, – there were some interesting special puzzle locations, they felt however mostly forced. Still, some of the best content in the game was in some optional relic locations

-, +, although the game is largely linear it does make attempts at sections of openness, which is appreciated

+ decent soundtrack

+, + impressive graphics technology, and attention to visual detail in this sense (depth of field, blur, particles, lighting & shadows… overall quite impressive on multiple platforms

+ the main story was okay, not fantastic IMHO, but passable and it did manage to surprise a little with the mixture of the supernatural elements while still staying a Tomb Raider game

Overall I’d give the game a +2 on a -5 to 5 scale: a technically competent game with much appreciated experimentation into more openness, it was an enjoyment from the beginning to end, never so that I couldn’t put it down, but always good enough that I knew the next play session would be consistently high quality. A good game overall, with AAA production values everywhere.

Until Dawn – quick impressions

2
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

+, +, + very cinematic experience

-, +, + the story/characters are rather shallow/teen however this is in fitting with this kind of movies so it works in the end surprisingly okay. It’s annoying when they’re particularly stupid or ridiculous, but like with these kinds of movies it ends up making a kind of sense for these particular characters and one can even get attached to their particular curiosities

+, +, -, + The game is built with moments of choice branching nodes. This is great as an idea, though the choices feel strange sometime and forced. In the end though the attempt at this great direction is appreciated and it creates a special experience.

+ the music and sounds are decent, not fantastic music, but supportive of the story. The soundscape was also nice though not mindblowing.

+, +, – the visuals are sometimes remarkable in a an almost fotorealistic way, yet there’s also the occasional non-stellar moment

+, +, +, – the animations are quite spectacular, with at times shockingly expressive faces, but still with the occasional uncanny valley moment where the human eye picks up on strange skin movements we’re not familiar with. Sometimes the movements could be better but the facial capture and the actors behind did a fantastic job. Particularly I was impressed with the acting and am a longer fan and was glad to see the actor behind the psychiatrist, and the character who’s played by that actor from the tv series Mr. Robot was also impressively recognizable. This gives me mixed feelings as I prefer original non-actor characters but on the other hand i realize the necessity for this and it’s impressive to see it done at this new awesome level

-, + the fixed camera angle style does help with the cinematic feeling and the scares but at times it’s particularly weird to control

+, +, +  there’s some nice mysteries and revelations. I was particularly impressed by one major story twist.

-,-, +  the world is very linear, not open, the only exploration feels like in-between advancing in linear corridors. Still, even as this, it’s nice that some optional content is there and, particularly given the consequences of stories and mysteries, the things you can find out can be quite meaningful

+, +, + the story starts out thin but in the end it turns out to have a richer than expected texture, backworld with history and twits and subtleties, as well as well done mysteries.

Overall I’d give this game a 2 on a -5 to 5 scale meaning a quite good game. Maybe at moments been tempted by a 0 to 1 because it feels somehow “ordinary” but then on the other side this game does something truly extraordinary, in ways that feel like a first for the games industry, to tell this kind of a story in this kind of a way or at least this level of polish. So I stick by my +2 verdict given that it does something which in 2016-2017 games is still spectacular and ground breaking both in terms of technology and also in terms of approaching a new type of topic that has been done quite little in games to date (I remember a ps2 game and also an old “Shivers 2” game which was special in its own way). All in all i’d consider it a remarkable game and I’m happy I played it and got to experience what i think is a special moment in gaming history even if it’s not necessarily my favourite genre/subject matter.

 

PS: Thank you very much HaikuHunter for this great gift! We had an eye on it for a while  so it was a particularly cool surprise. Thank you!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Review

27
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo has done something absolutely incredible and amazing. And after more than 70 hours and beating the main story of the game, I am still not quite sure how they did it.

botw_01

I was never a fan of the 3D Zelda games. Even Ocarina of Time was not able to keep me interested throughout the whole game back in 1998; something that is still true to this day. I also don’t like open world games that much. So what were the chances of me even liking Breath of the Wild? Yet here I am trying to convey the brilliance of a masterpiece to you without even realizing the full spectrum of it myself.

For the longest time, Nintendo has been infamous for ignoring most of the industry’s achievements and instead focusing on itself. This has been true since Nintendo entered the US market in 1985: 2 years after the breakdown of the game industry, nobody wanted to get into videogames; except for Nintendo, which was able to resuscitate a dead industry with games like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda. Decades later, their ignorance of the HDTVs and after the failures of the Nintendo 64 and the GameCube, which not only lost the market leadership to the less powerful PlayStation and PlayStation 2 from SONY but also struggled against the industry newcomer from Redmond, led Nintendo to the Wii. This time, it was the company itself that rose out of the ashes like a phoenix. But it wasn’t so much the games defining the success but rather the movement control technology. Nintendo, assured that their ignorance of the rest of the industry would led them to new innovations and even bigger success then went on to present the WiiU. A critical failure that started a transformation of this industry heavyweight leading to many improvements in the way Nintendo developed and develops their businesses and Breath of the Wild is one of the products reflecting this transformation.

botw_02

Breath of the Wild is influenced by many games with more or less open worlds. Aonuma himself explained in interviews that many of the younger designers at Nintendo play a lot of games from other companies and the influences for Breath of the Wild include Minecraft, later Far Cry games, Assassins Creed, Skyrim and the Souls‘ games. But rather than just taking bits and pieces out of those games and throwing them together, Nintendo assessed and transformed them; and by doing that it created something that isn’t afraid to let the player roam free, explore everything that it has to offer and experimenting with crazy ideas that – and this is to the game design’s credit as well – most of the time work out as the player expects.

The first striking thing about Breath of the Wild is its pace in the beginning hours. You wake up, you get your Shieka slate and then you’re sent to the entry of the crypt in which you were sleeping for over 100 years. To leave the crypt, you have to climb and it’s there where the game for the first time introduces a mechanic that we have all seen in other games before but never so well implemented and put to such good use as in Breath of the Wild‘s kingdom of Hyrule. The whole introduction to the player’s toolset takes about 2 hours in which you acquire the Shieka slate‘s different powers, learn how to protect you from environmental hazards and how to use the game’s manifold system’s to ambush enemies and create paths to places formerly unreachable; or you skip all of that. Although the game is never shy to show you how useful certain objects or skills are, it also rarely forces its systems onto the player with the exception of the weather system – but more about that later. This leads to playthroughs in which players travel all the way to the final boss only equipped with sticks and apples. Having beaten the game’s final boss I can’t imagine this to be much fun but I also didn’t complete even 30% of the whole game so maybe the time will come when I have completely mastered this game and am in such a dire need for one last challenge that I will try to save Hyrule with nothing more than my boxershorts and twigs. The game would let me do it and this feels empowering. Not only for a Nintendo game but in general.

botw_03

The story seems to be your run-of-the-mill Zelda story at first: rescue the princess, defeat Ganon, defend Hyrule. And while all of this is true, the way it is presented this time adds much more to the mix than what we got in previous Zelda games at least to my knowledge. I don’t want to spoil any major plot points, but if you follow the story as closely as possible, you’ll see that this Zelda‘s story is not only about a boy saving a kingdom. It’s about a group of heroes that trained their whole lifes to defeat the most dangerous menace glooming over their homelands only to fail miserably. It’s a story about self-doubt, hidden love, rivalry between comrades and recrimination. There is a hidden warning of technologic progress for progress’ sake and a hint at sex discrimination. All of that could have been carved out more for an even bigger impact, but it is there for the player to discover as well as the ruins scattered throughout the world telling tales about that day 100 years ago when the heroes failed their mission.

botw_04

The gameplay emerges from a complex system of cause and effect. The player can discover a broad range of tools to manipulate wind, use fire, create ice, move iron objects magnetically, cause explosions and even freeze objects and enemies for a short time in which every kinetic energy will be preserved and unleashed as soon as the freeze ends. One can swirl smaller enemies through the air the same way a sailing raft can be forced to move. Use bombs to unveil caverns with treasures or even shrines in it or use them to log trees or even do some dynamite fishing. Lay an ambush by setting dry grass on fire so the wind will led it to circle the enemy group. The game lets you play freely with its systems most of the time but uses one way to remind you that this is still a wild land that can never be tamed completely: through its weather system.

Breath of the Wild‘s weather system needs and deserves its own mention here because it is something that players need to keep in mind when planning their activities. The most brutal way the weather system can rain on one’s parade is if the player plans to do some abitious climbing. Climbing will drain your stamina and once the stamina is used up, Link will faill to the ground like a rock attached to an iron ball. When it’s raining, surfaces will become slippery which will change climbing in two ways: first, more stamina is used for climbing; second, there is a chance of slipping, causing the player to lose some of the distance covered. It can be brutal and will teach you to always keep an eye on the weather forecast when planning to do some extensive climbing. Apart from simple rain, there are also heavy storms with lightning and thunder and those can wreak havoc if one is not careful. You should stay away from trees, ideally get some cover and you should unequip every weapon, bow and shield made from iron if you don’t want your gravestone to tell people you’ve been struck by lightning. On the other hand, a metal weapon thrown into a group of enemies can yield some nice and fast results and I managed to wipe out a camp of enemies more than once by throwing a metal blade towards an explosive barrel at the right time. I could go on and on about mechanics as an enabler of player freedom but I would probably never finish this review. Just know that this game is filled to the brim with options and possibilities to roam the land, fight enemies and discover (NPCs for example follow their own agenda and meeting some of them at the right place at the right time may lead to something unexpected).

botw_05

For all the game throws at the player though, it’s also forgiving and supportive. It lets the player pause on all occasions to consume some food for regaining health or stamina and the progress can be saved everywhere (although loading a saved game in a shrine will set you back to the shrine’s entry but your progress will still be saved). There are 120 shrines and beating 4 of them will give you the option to either increase your health or your your stamina. You can also find 900 so called Korok seeds that will enable you to increase your weapon, shield and bow storage. You can find and buy different outfits that provide special perks like letting you swim or climb longer (both activities use up your stamina), increase your attack power or letting you sneak up to enemies faster so you can use the backstab mechanic of the game more often. The game really does a great job to support different play styles and encourage the player to try them out, but it never forces the player to.

botw_06

Technically this game is a very nice sendoff for the ill-fated WiiU. But we’re living in a Switch world now and this is also the platform I (and most other) play this game on. The elephant in the room is of course the hardware power that a device like the Switch can provide compared to the PS4 and XBox One. Let’s get it out of the way: this game is neither Rise of the Tomb Raider, nor is it Horizon and it was never going to be. Still, with clever use of a pastel-inspired artstyle and an art direction that focuses on the vastness of Hyrule the game regularly managed to make my jaw drop. Climbing a cliff only for the camera to rise above the cliff’s edge and reveal miles of woods and mountains is just one of the occasions where Breath of Wild made me lose myself completely in the game world. Effects for lightning and fire are also put to great use and the way this game visually supports the underlying ruleset of the game world is top notch. The only issue I had with the game were occasional framedrops in places where you wouldn’t expect them. Since the Switch is supposed to be much more powerful than its predecessor I expected a bit more than just a bump from 720p to 900p in docked mode with slightly better but still not perfect performance. Nintendo already released a first patch that significantly improves performance and since there is DLC coming for Breath of the Wild this will hopefully not be the last performance increase we see for the game. Whenever performance was important to the gameplay however, the game delivered so framedrops never affected my enjoyment of the game.

botw_07

Conclusions: 5 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Scoring this game has been the most difficult part of this review. Breath of the Wild is not a perfect game, but no game will ever be. On a -50 to 50 scale, I’d probably rate it 48 but that is not possible on a -5 to 5 scale. Apart from the score, to me this game is a masterpiece of exploration, empowerment and option. I enjoyed all the time I spent with the game so far and I am looking forward to finding more shrines and secrets and I am curious what interesting things Nintendo will do with the DLC. I mentioned that Breath of the Wild is a reflection of Nintendo‘s current transformation, a transformation that hopefully is all but finished. When the credits of a game roll, I usually try to catch the names of people who – in my opinion – did a very good job as well as people who did a very bad job; you could say I try to channel my admiration and aversion during the credits. When the credits of Breath of the Wild rolled, I wanted to shake the hand of each and every member of the development team and bow to them. It truly is one of the best games ever made.

NieR Automata (PC/PS4)

11
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

As a fan of Platinum Games this game was a day-1-purchase for me. Unfortunately the PC version’s got some problems with the AMD RX400 series right now (when using a newer driver) so I can’t play it yet. A shame, because the game seems to be as good as I hoped it would be (at least the devs announced today that they are working on the issues).

Styx: Shards of Darkness

0
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Seems positively surprising for a smaller title, amazing when considering a budget price. Amazing to see a new IP rise out of left field even with a lower budget.

Carmageddon on Android/Amazon Fire

2
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

To my surprise i found this game on Android not just for free, but better from my perspective than the ps4 version I bought or the Steam version I prebought to encourage development. I’m surprised how much I played it as I normally only play on ps4 in recent years, and also don’t get it how it can be completely free and of such high quality. Also amazed how today a cheap cellphone can be more powerful than my old homebase big Pentium 200Mhz + video card, and in fact it’s even a bit too powerful at times as the game actually felt too crisp at times (except the wheels which are still not round enough for such a foreground element). I’m still impressed with how many years ahead of it’s time this game was in terms of level and game design, with pretty much huge open world game, encouraging exploration, the “race” itself being <30% of huge and interesting maps I just want to explore even again and the points and generosity of maps gives a freedom of choice that’s uncommon even in 2017 in terms of where you want to play (for example i generally prefer the sunny/beach maps). Also great balance in that the race is just long/short enough that you have a reasonable chance of enjoying the chaos of tha AI drivers and have a chance of getting them. Tried it on different sized phone/tablets, thinking i’d prefer a bigger one, or at least the intermediary sized Fire one (I was surprised it was on that shop too, not free there, but still), but in the end enjoying it on my phone-turned-tablet 5″ size (i think). I particularly admire how well they translated keyboard input into touchscreen input. As in the old day the physics continues to be a lot of fun. Oh, and did I mention the level design is fun-tastic? So much variety and invitation to explore, you almost feel happy when an opponent crashes you off the street into an unexplored area.

Impressed overall, I hope to finish it.

 

PS: loving the music! It’s very old school, I felt vibes of Prodigy back in the “Fat of the Land” 1997 age with a metal tendency. Some really surprising and enjoyably energetic sound moods.

Artsygamer top 5 games of 2016

25
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

A little late, but thought I’d post my top 5 games of 2016. It was a tough fight but the winners to me are:

1) Dying Light: The Following

2) Dishonored 2

3) Far Cry Primal

4) Dark Souls 3

5) Witcher 3 tied with Hitman

Obviously the choices are subjective though as to my reasons their respective reviews/impressions hopefully explain at least partly my choices. As an honourable mention I’d put in Layers of Fear, a game on a much lower budget but that still managed to impress.

Please leave your top 5 in the comments and I’ll edit-it in here in the post. (games of 2016 as in when you played them, even if they’re older)

————————— Firefish

1) Dark Souls 3
2) Dishonored 2 tie with Dying Light: The Following
3) Far Cry Primal
4) Uncharted 4
5) Hitman

————————— Jaco

1) Uncharted 4
2) Dark Souls 3
3) The Witcher 3
4) Ori and the blind forest
5) Inside

————————— P3tty

1) ARK Survival Evolved
2) Broforce
3) Firewatch
4) Sniper Elite V2
5) Dishonored

————————— Michi

1) Sherlock Holmes – The Devil’s Daughter
2) Uncharted 4
3) Shadows of Mordor
4) Dishonored
5) Tales of Monkey Island

————————— 47crows

1) Halo 2 for PC
2) Life is Strange
3) Hitman – Blood Money
4) Terraria
5) Brutal DOOM

————————— Bossti

1) DOOM
2) The Last Guardian
3) Mafia 3
4) Overwatch
5) Inside

————————— Player347

1) Teeworlds – timeless online 2D shooter, highly addictive
2) The Last Guardian
3) Waking Mars
4) FOTONICA – 1 button game, loads of fun
5) Shelter 2 – open world animal survival, mother lynx hunts and feeds baby lynxes

Dying Light: The following – quick impressions

1
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

This review has been slow in coming not because the game is bad, but because the game is faaaantastic. So much so that after finishing it I felt i wasn’t done with it. And then played portions of it again, and then again some more. And i’ll probably go back to this world because it’s so good. In fact it’s my choice for game of the year 2016 among heavy competition, so looking at it back now there’s now way I’ll do it justice but here’s some random memories:

+, +, +, +, +, + aaaamazing environmental storytelling through props and locations. Finding a set of otherwise ordinary items in a remote location that was totally optional but everything arranged in a way that told a story, that gave me the feeling that somebody had thought about what happened there, about the story of the place before you arrive there… just blew me away so many times. A mattress and a laptop and some headphones in some locked up place suggesting how the poor person was stuck there in the last moments without electricity and tried to get some comfrot from the music, many many such locations made the whole world alive, everything working together to tell a bigger story, a story not of people but of a world. I was very impressed

+, +, -,  + amazingly big world. I was expecting not to like it as much as the original because i hate it when first person games introduce cars and I was sceptical that they could still make a dense enough world on such a scale yet it surprised me. Sure, I missed a bit all the tight environments that didn’t need a car from the original, but still it was pretty interesting and at each place I arrived to I got the feeling of all the glory of the original

+, + still great soundtrack. Just discovered it’s on amazon prime too, yeaayy!

+, + interesting characters and stories with variety

+, + lots of interesting things to do, interesting character progression

+, +, + a lot of fantastic optional stuff

+, +, +, +, + some really amazing visuals, be it beautiful high cliffs in the sun or wet caves with underwater entrances, many many times my jaw just dropped

+ interesting original user content coupled in

Overall I found the game fantastic, played it multiple times and I’m sure I’ll get back into the world in years to come, bought the game again just for that. Definitely my game of the year 2016, and that despite strong contenders and the fact that it launched in january-february, a period where most games are afraid to launch as nobody remembers them for the nominations of november/december… but yes, I think this is a huge gem of a game. Every time I see a game of they year list where it isn’t at least nominated I’m saddened for all the people who didn’t experience this fantastic gem. Warmly warmly recommending it.

Hitman – Season 1 – quick impressions

0
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

 

 

+, +, +, + Great variety of locations, with a couple being really great but a few mediocre and one and a bit actually frustrating <cough> Colorado <cough>

+,+, –  felt like a return to old form, particularly in the direction Hitman: Blood Money, which I liked, however the mechanics and number of options did not feel like they got enough improvements for the many years passed

+ the story was pretty interesting with implications, though not a lot of it

+, +, +, + a huge amount of dialogues and events making it feel like quite alive places

+, +, + the general writing of the ingame stories was very good

– the menus were somewhat confusing, a mixture of the unit structure of each episode maybe? For a long time i couldn’t figure out where to load when starting up

-, -, -, – i really disliked their push for “online”, i suspect that’s also what makes the loading/saving so slow and the menus so unresponsive, in general I resented the tendency to take freedom from the customer and give themselves more power through this.

– sometimes too hard due to crowds. This revealing problems in lacking skills for creating diversions and other quirks (is it so hard to carry extra coins?)

Each episode had it’s own little particularities so here’s some separate thoughts for them:

– 1) Intro : mediocre, interesting idea with the test but boring location

+, +, +, + 2) Sapienza great surprisingly living little town, great variety of locations, probably my favorite. If you’re gonna get just one episode I’d recommend this one

+, + 3) Marrakesh Interesting political insights and interesting location.

+, + 4) Bangkok Beautiful location, too bad it felt so constrained and small and some of the most beautiful places like that beach couldn’t be visited

-, – 5) Colorado, to me mostly uninteresting visually, inviting to fighting in a game not suited for it, involved a lot of frustrating save&loading which discourages experimentation

+, –  6) Hokkaido  the idea is interesting but the many locked doors create a narrow corridor constrained feeling.

Overall I’d give it a 2 on a -5 to 5 scale. I enjoyed it and look forward to the next one, but because the locations and experiences were so uneven I’d only get the next episodes when the whole season is out/on a sale because as much as I liked some locations others were not so great and would leave a bad taste for me to wait another couple of months to was hit.

Go to Top