Author: Tyrone Johnson

Review: Nex Machina

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Twin-stick shooters seem to be ten-a-penny nowadays, so in order to swipe the cash out of your pocket they need to bring something to the table. I played Neuro-Voider recently, and that was pretty cool. I got to customise a mech with upgradeable weapons and blast my way through twenty levels of rogue-like robot doom. Laser Disco Defenders (also very cool) had a great system where all shots fired stayed on the screen, creating a self-inflicted laser hell. Nex Machina: Death machine eschews cool mechanics in the favour of neon visuals that will make your eyes bleed if you stare at them for too long.

There is no story. No motivation at all other than ‘shoot this stuff or die’. There are no gimmicks. There are barely any weapon upgrades. You shoot enemies until they are all gone and then you move onto the next stage. After a few stages you fight a big, bad boss. Then you go to the next stage and do it all again. So why would you even play Nex Machina? Because it’s honest fun reminiscent of Super Smash T.V. In a genre where gimmicks are king, it’s a surprising breath of fresh air.

The whole game is paced wonderfully. You’ll fight waves of enemies that increase in toughness, dashing around collecting the human survivors to boost your score. Enemies will march blindly towards you at first and in later levels the screen will be packed full of fodder to blast away in a satisfying shower of cubes. Neon bullets and lasers will scar your eyes. You’ll spend life after life trying to clear a screen, only to have some random goon spew bullets at you from a direction you weren’t prepared for. Death results in a beautiful explosion of more garish lasers and a reset of the screen, allowing players with the patience to learn the patterns of the enemies to reap the highest of scores.

Power-ups can be collected throughout a play through to aid in smashing more baddies into dust. Expect to grab rocket launchers, grenades and smart bombs, as well as a few minor upgrades to your primary weapon. Each death will result in the loss of one of these upgrades, but fear not, the power will stay exactly where you died. This adds a nice little dimension to the game; do you go back and collect it, or abandon it in favour of rescuing more survivors?

The whole thing looks superb. It really does. If you take a glance at any one of the screen shots above, you will see what I mean. Bright pink lasers, lava, robot enemies, more lasers; the stages really are packed with enough neon to make the eighties look pathetic in comparison. As mentioned earlier, everything explodes into cool little cubes that scatter onto the floor. It’s a nice touch that for some reason reminded me of the old Lawnmower man films. The sound design is also pretty spectacular. The whole thing has a funky techno-style soundtrack that compliments the constant sound of bullets smashing into enemies. It also gets a huge amount of bonus points for utilising one of the most under-used features of the PS4; the speaker in the control pad. I always get a kick out of this. Even though it’s only used to announce a new power up being collected, the fact that is there gives Nex Machina a boost in the sound design score that otherwise would have been missed.

It’s not perfect by any means. I would have liked to see a few more power ups to collect, a few more upgrades to the primary weapon, that sort of thing. Although the visuals are extremely appealing a little more variety would have been nice. As it is, enemies are pretty similar and there is a LOT of neon pink flying around the place. A broader use of the colour palette would have been appreciated. Other than that, Nex Machina: Death Machine is a solid game, perfect for high-score chasers. It comes from established developers Housemarque, who have improved upon their similar attempts at the genre, and aside from the main game (which is packed with secret areas and survivors to collect) offers an ‘Arena’ mode where players are tasked with clearing stages with a number of stipulations such a time limits and the such to add replayability. It’s a little bit pricey for my liking, but if you are in the market for a twin-stick shooter you can’t go wrong with this one.

Review: Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada

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Many people believe that if you’ve played one Warriors game you’ve played them all. I don’t agree nor do I disagree as some games in the series actually do adhere to that statement and others don’t; luckily Spirit of Sanada is quite unique. With there being over 20 Warriors games ranging from the original PlayStation all the way now to PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

Omega Force has decided to focus this entire game on the battles of Masayuki Sanada and the lives of his clan. This story has already been covered multiple times through the previous Samurai Warriors games and with the story already told, it did worry me that the entire game would just feel like another walk down repetitive memory lane.

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From my previous experience with the Warriors series I immediately knew what buttons to click and how to pull of Rage and Mousu attacks without much thought. With the same aesthetics and similar layouts and the same enemy troops and same officers surrounding you, allowing for massive combos with just a few clicks of the face buttons. This game controls and plays exactly the same as every last Warriors game has with the same button layout and the same combinations. But there’s something about the controls that always feels right and its true when it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

One of the most enjoyable things to me from the Warriors games which they always delivered was variety and with this being locked and focused on the story of the Sanada clan I had expected there to be a very limited cast of playable characters. Thankfully Omega Force pulled all the stops and made sure that this age old feature still existed in this installment with the same wackiness that you’d expect with character fighting with traditional weapons and some very odd weapons.

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Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada actually tries to innovate when it comes to war on the battlefield, the player may choose to play in the way they’re accustomed to with the good ol’ hack and slash combat or they can embrace SoS’ new more strategically inclined mechanic. These are called Stratagems and are more like consumable abilities that can be acquired through side missions or by completing specific optional objectives during battles. These abilities range from calling a friendly ninja on a general, officer or to trigger an ambush.  These abilities really help to sway the tides of war when you need them most and add a new depth to the old tired formula. Logically these Stratagems are triggered by spending ‘The Six Coins of the Sanada’ this increases the strategic aspect my limiting your uses and making it a more calculated series of choices to gain success.

Among the other new changes are multi stage battles which are similar the original battles or the older games but now they’re split into smaller battles that are engaged one by one rather than just being thrown into one big map. Along the way of these multistages the player can choose to take in secondary battllefields which focus on non Sanada family members giving some of the other characters some screen time and injecting some much needed diversity in the cast. It also gives a change of pace that gives the game a little more range when it comes to different objectives and maps.

In between battles the player can take part in other activates outside the current base in the story. In these sections the player may shop and perform a few upgrades but can also spend some time with the other characters and by giving them presents you can raise their friendship with you. This is useful as NPCs with a strong bond will offer to join you on your adventures during the side quests.

Graphically the game still looks like it’s using the same techniques from two generations ago with unrealistic physics, low resolution textures and effects that look like they’ve been ported over from a PS2. Warrior games are not the most cutting edge of games and that’s a known fact, it’s also not the reason people play them but it would be such a better experience if characters’ hair didn’t look like cardboard, that and animations that don’t look like so stiff. This is especially noticeable in cutscenes where the characters look awfully mannequin like and unable to really emote their emotions leading to a great disconnect in immersion.

Unfortunately, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada has a major failing that is a huge disappointment to a fan of the series at that’s a lack of local split screen cooperative play. This is a staple of the Warriors games and was a huge surprise when my sister and I loaded it up for some family bonding. The game doesn’t even offer online co-op which was also quite a shock, to me this severely brings down the value of the game as it’s just more fun in co-op.

Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is a step in the right direction with many improvements to the Warriors franchise but unfortunately it is not without misstep. The story is greatly expanded and features much more depth in it with a much more focused feel to it delivering a strong effort. The gameplay too has been expanded with new mechanics and methods that were not present in previous games and with this the game is better for it. Although there’s all this improvement there’s a huge decline in value by not including any way of enjoying this game in co-op which could possibly lead to some people skipping this game. In the end if you’re a fan or a new comer SoS is the perfect installment to pick up.

Review: Danger Zone

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Whenever I look up Three Fields Entertainment, the indie studio composed of the ex-Burnout developers, I always feel like it was formed just yesterday. But in reality, Three  Fields Entertainment has now been in existence for nearly three years, and in the meantime, they’ve managed to produce three brand new games. First came the rather lacklustre Dangerous Golf, then we had the low-key VR title, Lethal VR, and most recently, just over a week ago, Three Fields Entertainment has released a title which is meant to serve as the spiritual successor to Burnout’s crash mode, Danger Zone.

Danger Zone, just like the previously released Dangerous Golf, is a simple arcade game, which is based around a straightforward high-score system. And each and every level follows the same exact structure, which will remind many of the previously mentioned Crash Mode, from the Burnout series, which many remember fondly to this day, despite the fact that Burnout 3: Takedown, has been released nearly 14 years ago.

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All in-game levels, within the digital confines of Danger Zone, are situated within a computer simulation. All tracks are simple platforms hanging over a laser grid, which decimates everything which manages to touch it, and all the NPC controlled vehicles, materialize out of blue barriers. And if one were to compare Danger Zone, to the previously mentioned Crash Mode, he/she would instantly take notice of the fact that while Danger Zone features much more variety, than the now archaic Crash Mode, it is simply not as satisfying. And this is because the visual façade of the computer simulation, creates a disconnect between the player, and the carnage which is taking place on-screen.

Initially the sound of explosions, and metal crushing under intense pressure is satisfying, but once the smoke settles down, and the score counting comes to a close, all that’s left is an artificial platform with a rather unimpressive pile up, stacked up on top of it. And as the player progresses from one level to another, he/she starts to realize that Danger Zone is not as satisfying as it has initially appeared to be.

The substance of Burnout’s Crash Mode, laid within in its setting complemented the action which was taking place on the screen, right in front of the player. In Danger Zone, when one hits a bus, it stays static as the player vehicles bounces off like a ping-pong ball either into another vehicle, or the digital void. And once one starts taking on more complex levels, he/she will realize how much negative impact the setting of Danger Zone has on the enjoyment of the title.

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In Burnout 3: Take Down, one could spectate a scene that could be described as true carnage, as fuel tankers, eighteen wheelers, sports cars, and other on road vehicles, were interacting with each other, within the true to life environments. Eighteen wheelers could form a barricade in the middle of the road, and the approaching tankers would propel them across the road on impact, creating a death machine which would obliterate everything within its reach. Whereas as in Danger Zone, one can hit a bus, which will stay static, and might just be moved an inch by other vehicles, as long as it hasn’t fallen from the platform.

In short, Danger Zone, is simply not nearly as enjoyable as it should be, and it suffers from the same issues as the previously mentioned Dangerous Golf. But the difference between the two is that Dangerous Golf felt like a fully-fledged title, whereas Danger Zone, due to its visual façade, and rather unimpressive structure, feels like a tech demo which one would create in order to pitch a much broader project to investors.

Danger Zone, is in fact more like a framework upon which an actual title could be built. It resembles, and plays just like the initial demo of Super Hot. But Super Hot, even in its infancy, was a title with personality, which later on carried to the final release. And the said personality, is what Danger Zone actually lacks. It lacks direction, and any form of substance, and therefore it is hard to get invested into it, even after hours of play time. In fact the more time one spends with the title, the more bare-bones it seems, as it even lacks the basic settings, such as sound options, or gamma slider. And the only truly positive thing that can be said about the title, is the fact that it works, but in the world, where anybody can create an indie studio and craft masterpieces such as Hotline Miami, or Everybody Has Gone to The Rapture, a working title is simply not enough.

Review: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

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Shantae has gone through a pretty cool transformation since she landed on the Gameboy so many years ago. Released, forgotten, then returned with a vengeance, the half-genie has seen a HUGE fan increase as the games have come out, and the latest installment, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, is another massive step forward for the series.

The story can be forgiven for how formulaic it is, at least for Shantae. Pirates attack her village, she attempts to save everyone, and, in the process, gets fired from her position as village protector. Another Half-Genie by the name of Holly steps in to take her place, and Shantae dedicates her time to running around helping villagers, trying to help her uncle build yet another massive machine, and also showing that she is the right half-genie for the job. There’s also something clearly off about Holly, but that doesn’t get revealed till later, though anyone who’s seen any children’s show could pick up on it immediately. The story and dialogue is peppered with witty and hilarious statements, and just enough of it is voiced to make it fun without the whole thing being spoken. I think it was a good move on WayForward’s part, as it encourages people to listen along without getting bored trying to not read faster than the voice actor speaks.

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Graphically, this is the most superior Shantae to date. There is a beautiful hand-drawn yet CGI element happening, and there’s tons of depth in each and every level. Shantae moves fluidly across the screen like a painted deity, and there’s a distinct difference from when new elements are introduced. Early on, the addition of a magnet to your Uncle’s invention feels like it came straight out of Paper Mario in the surreal way it lands, but this isn’t a bad thing. Shantae is all about mysticism, and having something feel otherworldly in this game is a step into the right realm of fantasy and illusion.

Besides the normal function of being able to whip things with your trademark ponytail, Shantae has the new ability to transform into animals through dances that she learns after finishing levels and sometimes buying from merchants. The animals are important to progressing forward in the game (similar to the transformations that Wonder Boy recently encountered in his Switch debut) but the polymorphing is temporary. I really enjoyed the way this was handled, as it really made for a genie-esque feeling akin to what we’ve seen in other mediums (Aladdin, Shimmer and Shine, etc). It’s also kind of satisfying to turn into a monkey, climb a wall, jump off and turn back into a butt-kicking half-genie before you even land. It’s a great mechanic that doesn’t use magic and is well executed, though Shantae’s dance can sometimes be a bit too mesmerizing. Also, you first get asked to dance by a villager before you know what the button does and before you have any transformations. As a result, I stood dancing in the village square for a full minute before I figured out I needed to keep moving and, you know, do something.

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Spells play an important part in Shantae, as they can be the ranged weapons you desperately need for some enemies and bosses. There isn’t any hangups regarding spells in this iteration of the game: mana replenishments are plentiful from enemies and pots, the jewels to buy said spells are plentiful, but there isn’t a single one that’s so powerful that you give up on traditional combat. Don’t get me wrong, they’re essential: an early boss is almost impossible to finish if you don’t have a ranged attack to strike her crown, though I confirmed it was possible to hit her by jumping and lashing. Still, one hit vs three, and said boss was actively trying to pulverize me. You get the idea.

Speaking of difficulty, Shantae is surprisingly all over the map in Half-Genie Hero. The bosses are actually the least of your worries in most of the worlds. Each level is divided into multiple scenarios, from straight forward side scrolling to a bit of stealth puzzling to quicktime reactions. Thankfully, you can save between each stage transition, which seemed like overkill until I got killed…a lot. A great example is the Mermaid cove you encounter. After some pretty basic wall jumping and baddie slaying, you end up tumbling down a hill at rapid speed with barrels, bad guys and chasms showing up at a pretty break neck pace. I had to restart this multiple times and used all my healing items, despite not even needing a single potion or orange prior to this encounter. I wanted to say it was frustrating, but it was actually a pleasant wakeup call after feeling a little too confident for the past half hour or so. Well played, Wayforward.

The soundtrack, as always, is superb. It bounces from comical and lively to dark and mysterious with every level transition, and there are even vocal tracks! I was very surprised to hear the voice actress, Christina Valenzuela, add her song to the first real level of the game, and was also very happy that it wasn’t something where singing was heard every single time. I hope Jake Kaufman is getting a good deal with royalties and loves his job, because his name keeps getting attached time after time to indie games that are amazing, and I think his contributions should not be overlooked.

Owners of Half-Genie Hero on Steam may not be compelled to invest in the Switch version, but that’s only because they haven’t considered the HD Rumble aspect. As gimmicky as it may seem at times, I really appreciate developers taking the time to invest in this API for Nintendo, and it legitimizes the way the Joy Cons interact with the game. The arrival of ships, the distant launch of cannonballs, even just the pulse of the music while Shantae dances are all moments that add a bit of feedback and depth to the game. I attempted to play Shantae with a 3rd party controller and that was more than ok, but using the Nintendo branded devices and feeling what the dev wanted you to feel is another level entirely. Of course, there’s also the element of portability and being able to play this great installment anywhere you go, but it’s the HD Rumble that really sets it apart from other ports.

Shantae brings a lot to the table with Half-Genie Hero, and it’s no contest to say this is the best Shantae game so far. Even if you were less than impressed with Risky’s Revenge or The Pirate’s Curse, I confidently say you should give Half-Genie Hero a go if you’re even remotely interested in the hilarious misadventures of a Half-Genie. It’s challenging, it’s light hearted, and it’s so cute at times your teeth may hurt. In a time of super heavy and serious games, it’s always good for some whimsy and hilarity to mix in, and Shantae is exactly the dose for me.

Review: Mini Ghost

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Mini Ghost is a funny little title, at least in the realm of release and intention. The good people of unepic_fran made a really solid name with their first title, UnEpic, and followed through with Ghost 1.0, which is one of my favorite titles in the last few years. It’s very clear this team is great at making Metrovania titles, and I think everyone was eagerly awaiting what would be coming next. So when Mini Ghost, a prequel to Ghost 1.0 showed up, done in the style of a MSX classic, people were…confused. Was this a late April Fool’s joke? The answer, thankfully, is a resounding “no”: it’s one of the best retro adventures I’ve had in a while.

First and foremost, if you’re a fan of Ghost 1.0 and need something to add onto the canon, you can skip Mini Ghost. The “prequel” is a hilariously short idea of taking the core story from the original, boiling it down to barebones and then adding tiny, cartoony versions of the characters. You literally have Mini Viktor hiring Mini Jacker to hack a space station (Mini Nakamura?) and then send Mini Ghost in to “fix” it for a price. That’s it. Everything that comes afterwards is mostly without narration, just some straight forward pixel perfection.

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There are a lot of ways to approach retro-inspired/styled games nowadays. Owlboy shows how to make something pixel art but still make it high fidelity. La-Mulana leans heavily on the MSX style but still injects a ton of finesse and modern design. Mini Ghost looks like it could have come straight out of the 8-bit era, and it suits it perfectly. Each room has enough variety to it to not be a carbon copy of the original, yet still keeps to a pretty base pallet when it comes to colors and shapes. You won’t experience any kind of confusion of “wasn’t I just here?” In fact, unepic_fran has done a bang up job of sorting each of the areas to make sure it’s distinctly still on the same space ship yet a different environment altogether. It screams “METROID” in a very sincere tribute, because I never once thought I was playing an NES game, but someone’s own creation.

Mini Ghost plays fairly straightforward as well. Different areas are locked away either through keycards or important items that you need to find scattered throughout the rooms. Along the way, you get XP from destroying enemies and cubes that are randomly dropped and hidden inside crates. The cubes are currency that unlock items from some shops. As far as I can tell, these shop items are totally incidental and not needed to beat the game at all. However, increased health and firepower can definitely help as you delve deeper into the ship. XP serves only to heal you for one health unit after you max out your experience bar. This was a little frustrating, as I either a.) didn’t need the single point of health and, as such, didn’t get it, or b.) I was ass-deep in the ship and needed a little more than a single bar to keep me going. There is a hospital that will completely heal you for free, and it’s right near the spawn point. More on that in a moment, but you can imagine that isn’t the most accessible area when you need to be healed RIGHT NOW. And if you die, you retain all the items you found, but lose all cubes on hand. Oh, and shunted back to the spawn.

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Mini Ghost handles fairly well, as far as a metrovania game goes. You run, you shoot and you have alternative weapons that enemies sometimes drop. You can hold up to three of an alt weapon at a time, and you need to use them all up before changing to a different one. Some, like a wide ring scatter shot, are amazing and really help to clear a room since enemies can shoot at different angles but you normally can’t. Others, like the floating space mine, seem worthless until they work. A lot of the biggest problem enemies you encounter (turrets, shock poles) are stationary and thus couldn’t care less about the mines. The patrolling missile launcher dudes, however, can really mess you up and the mines help do the dirty work as long as you’re fast and patient. What I’m saying is that all the alt weapons have their place, but it really comes down to you and your main blaster. Once you get an upgrade that allows you to run and shoot at the same time (a shocking element that’s locked from the start) you realize that you can probably do the whole game with your base weapon. And, if you’re good, you can do just that.

The items necessary are scattered throughout in a logical order; you won’t end up with the key card to area 3 before you get into area 2. Some of the items are very obvious in location, such as a boss fight or inside the ONLY crate in an otherwise empty room. Others are also in crates, but could be easily passed over on the way to the next room, giving incentive for players to explore a bit in order to really get the most out of their game. The cubes you get from the crates will pile up quickly, and you may want to backtrack in order to get wallet-expanding items from the shops. The shops are the antithesis to the key items, seemingly placed at random and sometimes rather difficult to get back to. I suppose that fits further into the “these aren’t necessary” idea, but, especially for first time players, you end up wasting a lot of time trying to remember exactly which shops you have and haven’t been to. Thankfully, you get two pretty handy key items early on: a map and a reset button that teleports you back to spawn without losing any gems. The button can be invaluable if you’ve been playing for a while and saving up for the coveted double damage upgrade (200 cubes). It can also be the only way to heal, as the aforementioned hospital is ridiculously far away depending on how long you’ve been into it.

You can probably do your first playthrough of Mini Ghost in an afternoon, maybe a bit longer if you’re reflexes are slower. After that, you can start working on your speed run, and this is where a whole another level of Mini Ghost comes out of the woodwork. You see, instead of just being a great retro adventure, unepic_fran packed some goodies in here that add a lot to it. The online leaderboard entices you to go for the speed run record and leave other ghosts in the dust. There are several editors that are available in the options that allow you to make characters, tiles and even a whole version of the game yourself. With enough time and effort, you can essentially re-create other metrovania experiences within Mini Ghost, or make your own. The Steam Workshop is full of carefully made character sprites from other popular video games, and several maps that are devious and really enjoyable. And if you have any friends playing Mini Ghost, good news; there’s actually the option to “Troll Friends” (literally what it says on the menu screen. You can be helpful and add stuff in while they’re playing, like platforms, or you can add super inconvenient stuff, like poorly timed platforms. Hurl insults that flash on their screen, increase enemy tenacity…I mean, it’s pretty mean, and you need to have the right friends to do this to, but it’s a cool concept that I wouldn’t have thought to put into such a tiny game.

I can’t think of a single reason to NOT get Mini Ghost, unless you abhor retro games with a fiery passion. It’s fun, it’s got a decent playtime, it actually has a TON of replayability, and it’s polished. I own MP3s that have a larger data footprint, and you could run it on any computer made within the last 15 years. If you’ve got time and a little bit of patience for the game to gather speed, you’re gonna love Mini Ghost.

Review: NBA Playgrounds

I’ve never been a sports video game player. I’ve certainly dabbled around with this and that and have fond memories of Ken Griffey Jr’s Home Run Derby, but I’m not a devout worshiper of the yearly updates to the popular franchises. Still, I totally get the appeal, and I appreciate the steps that big companies have made towards making their games more realistic and updated, trying to really get the full experience of the big game onto the small screen.

NBA Playgrounds isn’t attempting to do battle with the juggernaut of NBA 2K18, which will drop on the Switch some time later this year. Saber Interactive, to their credit, has been incredibly transparent with their roadmap for the game, the struggles they’ve experienced in development and the speed in which they’ve acknowledged problems that players have had and dissatisfaction that some people are expressing. Playgrounds is a simpler game, focused on taking a slightly cartoony approach to the game of street basketball, with simple two on two matches between real (if sometimes lesser known) basketball players. You’ve got five minutes of a single match to do all you can against either another person or the computer, and you would be surprised how fast or slow those matches can go.

The mechanics of the game are inherently simple if you’re aware of basketball, with a lot of nice finesse thrown in for those who master the basics early on. Crossover moves with the right stick are essential to fake out the AI, and, poor sportsmanship aside, a well played shove or elbow makes sure that you let the other team know who’s boss. The ref is nowhere in sight, so don’t worry about penalties or being out of bounds, but keep an eye on your stamina. Sprinting, crossovers and offensive moves are all tied to the same energy bar, so you have to decide how you play the game before going nuts, or you run out of energy quickly. If you’re playing single player, the AI on your team is relatively level-headed, and can perform their own offensive moves by calling to them. Again, they also are locked by stamina, so you can’t just keep mashing L and hope your CPU costar will murder the competition.

NBA Playgrounds offers a tutorial level in the first match that can be absolutely brutal if you pick the wrong AI to spar against. Having not watched a serious match of basketball since Larry Bird retired I just picked a couple of random players and ended up getting dominated while trying to figure out the buttons. I still gained some experience (points) from the game, but came away with a different experience (feeling) that the game was trying to humiliate me into not playing. A second go proved that, while not necessary, knowing who you’re playing against is a significant advantage (thanks Google!). After that, I got a lot more comfortable with the game. There’s a strong focus on button timing when it comes to shooting; a quick release means faster play, but also lower accuracy. Holding the button too long can also result in bricking and giving up a rebound instantly. If you manage to really get down the perfect timing, you end up with bonus points for a “perfect shot,” which means dunks could be 3 points and long shots could be 4, a huge game changer.

As you play, you also charge up a secondary meter for all your successful moves and can eventually unleash a temporary power ups, which spins a roulette of potential advantages. I got a “guaranteed shot” that allowed me to make a basket from half-court, which was ridiculous, and also a “sweet spot” that made getting shots from a glowing area worth double. There are definitely several others that I just wasn’t lucky enough to get, but it gives that hilarious over-the-top vibe of NBA Jam, which is what I feel a lot of people are saying.

New players can be unlocked through a series of random chance booster packs that are awarded as you level up. The packs are totally randomized, and getting duplicate cards power up the existing players you already have. Hopefully there isn’t a level cap, because Saber Interactive, for better or worse, confirmed there will be no micro transactions. So if you’re desperately hoping for Kevin Durant (thanks Google!) you might need to play a LOT until he drops. I personally appreciate this approach, as micro transactions tend to hamstring a game and give advantage to people who don’t mind throwing money at something until they get what they want.

Speaking of NBA Jam, I would like to point out that the commentary is optional and can be turned off. If you’re having a good game, the chatter can be fun and only slightly overbearing. But when you’re losing you start swearing at the TV and I’m glad I don’t throw controllers anymore. The voices are great and add to the atmosphere, but you might want to save the trash talking for someone who’s in the room with you.

The current lack of online play for NBA Playgrounds is a huge disadvantage, but the devs have said it’ll be coming in a near future update, along with new players added that people are missing. That is something that may not sit well with early adopters: the lack of a fully flushed out game. NBA Playgrounds can’t go online, is currently the largest game on my Switch (nearly 8 GB) and the load times are LONG. In an effort to beat the big show (NBA 2K18), we have a game that is more than half-baked but still not as fully developed as some may want.

Fans of short play sports will absolutely love NBA Playgrounds. It’s great for a pickup match, has some good design and ideas and really is fun. If the developers can keep with their promises and roll things out in a timely fashion (and maybe optimize the game a bit more), this could be a sleeper hit that I certainly didn’t see coming. At the current time, $20 is more than fair for a good local play, and, when the online drops, it could be an absolute steal. As for non-sport gamers, I’m sorry to say that I don’t think this’ll change your tune, and that’s ok. There’s still plenty more on the Switch for everyone.

Review: GNOG

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GNOG is fantastic. It doesn’t have any real purpose or reason to exist, and that’s exactly why it’s such an experience; it’s an acid trip given form and a playful bit of nothingness that’s really quite hard to put down.

Each level of GNOG starts life as a little parcel that unravels to reveal a box puzzle underneath. In very basic principle these are like those Japanese puzzle boxes, where you need to poke and prod different bits and pieces of the box in a specific order in order to open them up, but in GNOG they’re nothing so dry as that. One puzzle box might be a submarine that needs its eyes replaced (hey, I did say it was an acid trip of a game). Another is a space ship that needs to be repaired in order to visit a number of planets.

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You’re thrown into each and every box with absolutely no instruction as to what you need to do. As such, the first couple of seconds on each level will be a process of orientation as you come to grips with what you’re seeing in front of you. There’s no time limits, nor any consequence in being “wrong,” so you’re encouraged to simply poke and prod around to see what you can do in each puzzle box. Only once you’ve got an idea of what can be poked and prodded can you start to figure out the order in which you need to actually do things in order to complete the puzzle and open that box.

Noodling around is a delight because each environment is just so charming. Each box is distinctive, colourful, and filled with character. It’s abstract or surrealistic to the nth degree, especially when you complete a level and the box starts singing at you while rings of colour (that would make the music video clips of stoner bands of the 60s proud) dance around in the background, but all that gaudiness is done with just the slightest hint of restraint that it needs to in order to work as an aesthetic. And this is important, because once you stick the VR headset on and play it that way, the colours and energy could have easily become overbearing to the point of being sickening. But GNOG is never sickening, and the raw escapism that it offers in VR makes it one of the most effective uses of the technology that we’ve seen to date.

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None of the puzzle boxes are so difficult that they become frustrating. There are moments where you’ll simply have no idea what you need to do, but the no-stress environment means that by poking around long enough something will happen that will set you on the right track. Where some puzzle games are designed around conflict with the player; the idea that it’s a battle of wits between player and designer to see whether the player can come out on top, GNOG feels more collaborative. In this one, it feels like the designers wanted the players to succeed at each and every puzzle, and will gently nudge players towards the solution when they need it. Equally importantly, the game is never condescending. At no stage will you feel like the game design is dictating or talking “down” to you, either. Ultimately, solving each puzzle is on you, and it feels rewarding when you finally get there.

Having played a lot of puzzle games in my time, I can honestly say that I’ve never quite come across one like GNOG for these reasons. I was mentally engaged and stimulated, but not challenged. Challenge is a fine thing to offer players, of course. Jonathan Blow’s The Witness is one of the most challenging games you’ll ever experience, and it’s a puzzler (its challenge comes from more than the puzzles themselves, of course, but those alone can easily stump even the most experienced puzzle game fan). The Witness is a masterpiece, but it’s heartening to see that even in genres as staid as the humble puzzler, there are developers that are looking for different approaches to the very core fundamentals of the genre, too. I found myself drawn back to this game every time that I turned the PlayStation 4 on, because I knew it was going to put me under no stress at any point, and that’s rare indeed.

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I have no idea how people will respond to the game. “Trippy” simply isn’t for everyone, and even if you’ve developed enough of an appreciation for acid of the years that you quite enjoy the psychedelic aesthetics (I’m not saying how I got there), then you’ll need to deal with the way GNOG actively rejects so much about how we play games.

But stuff ‘em, they’re wrong. I’ve rarely been as delighted in simply immersing myself into a game as I’ve been with GNOG. It’s weird, it’s colourful, it’s creative, and every time I completed a puzzle box, and was given another “parcel” to unwrap and unlock another puzzle, I couldn’t wait to tear the parcel open, if for no other reason than to see just what kind of beautiful lunacy I’d get to see next.

Overwatch’s newest event ‘Uprising’ officially announced

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Overwatch’s new game mode has finally been legitimately unveiled by Blizzard. The event takes place years before the actual time of the base game, when Overwatch was still a unified organisation rather than a disorganised collective of oddballs dotting the globe. Players take control of Tracer, Mercy, Torbjörn and Reinhardt as they fight through a war torn King’s Row, beset on all sides by the Omnic extremist group, Null Sector.

Like Overwatch’s previous event, Junkenstein’s Revenge, this will be a PvE situation wherein the players involved will be working together to beat back a horde of AI controlled robots. Unlike before, players will be trying to defend a play-load as it pushes through the city, and the enemies seem to be much faster and aggressive than the lumbering ‘zomnics.’

In addition to the event game mode, new skins and sprays will also be available to be collected. Highlights include costumes for many of the key Overwatch personnel in their prime, and costumes for the ‘Blackwatch’ members Genji and McCree. There are numerous goodies and items of interest to earn, including a new skin that shows the game’s resident sniper, Widowmaker, before her transformation to a literal cold-hearted killer. Additionally, eagle eyed fans spotted a spray that seems to be a picture of pre-brainwashed Widowmaker with her murdered husband, Gerard, which is significantly the first times fans have been given a hint to what he might have looked like.

Thinking about it, this event will be a fairly significant one for lore fans, both for the above reveal of Widowmaker’s character and because this will be the first time players will get to experience something similar to the Omnic Crisis. Admittedly, this isn’t the actual Omnic Crisis: the event is actually placed a few years after the Crisis was over, but seven years before the base game. However, this mode might be an important step in understanding just how bad the war was, and why certain characters still hold such a deep distrust even years after the fact.

Knowing Blizzards extreme attention to detail and love of including secrets and Easter Eggs in their products, I’m certain we can look forward to fans dissecting the event and finding out just how many bonuses Blizzard has snuck into it.

The Surge Has Gone Gold and Unveils More About Its PlayStation 4 Pro Updates

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Focus Home Interactive just announced that The Surge, the hardcore action-RPG developed by Deck13 has officially gone gold on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. The game will release for retail and download on May 16 and is already available for pre-order on consoles and PC.

More information follows about the PS4 Pro updates for The Surge. For instance, the first free update will be available at the release of the game, and will allow players to either play in Dynamic 4K at 30fps or in 1080p at 60fps. A second update will be available a bit later after release, allowing players to activate the HDR option.

Review: Fantastic Contraption

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Walking back and forth across the floor, I don’t think I’m any closer to solving the puzzle. I’ve spent around 30 minutes on this one alone. I pull piece after piece from over my shoulders, trying to make a more solid structure for the base of my contraption. The name of the game is Fantastic Contraption but I’m not feeling fantastic. Mediocre maybe. Just plain bad.

I press the play button on my controller and, instead of climbing a wall like I want to get to a goal at the top, my contraption is flopping around on the ground. The HTC Vive is heavy on my cheeks. I’d failed at a few earlier puzzles and so I jumped into this one and got hooked. I feel like I can’t blame anybody but myself for my lack of creativity in this world, but this is still a pretty early level and there are a total of 50 puzzles. “Beating” the game would be a pretty daunting task.

Turns out it takes some time to understand the game. Unlike easier-to-pick-up games like Job Simulator or Space Pirate Trainer, you have to figure out how machines in this world work. I introduced the game to a couple others and their reaction was similar. They requested to do other things, like playing Audioshield or sketching in Tilt Brush.

I also found Fantastic Contraption to include some cutting-edge game interaction ideas. You can tear apart two connected pieces with your hands, grab a variety of pieces from over each shoulder and, if you need help, the answer is inside a magical helmet. You “grasp” the helmet with the controller and then bring it over your head like you’re putting on a hat and you’re suddenly inside a kind of pause menu. You can access other people’s contraptions here and save your own, so the opportunity to satiate your curiosity by checking out a working solution to a particular puzzle is always just a few seconds away.

A family member was having trouble figuring out the game. I told him to check out the solution by putting on the helmet. He did, and then came back to an earlier puzzle and quickly solved it. That moment of success — sometimes hard to reach — is deeply satisfying.

The game is also highly social, which means that in addition to needing a room with decent walking space (standing only and seated options are in the works), your VR setup for Fantastic Contraption should include a big screen or TV and comfortable seating outside the play space so others can watch your progress and offer suggestions.

Since its original release on the HTC Vive, Fantastic Contraption has received massive updates and is now also released on the Oculus Rift with Touch controllers. As long as you use one of the experimental 360-degree tracking setups — preferably three-sensors here — then it should work fine on your Rift. You’ll need to move around a lot and probably get down on the ground to really get the best angle for tweaking your various contraptions, so two sensors and 180-degrees may not be enough.