Review: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (Switch)

 

mario and sonicSega, on a roll, II: While its appeal might seem to be more towards super-fans and younger gamers, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 ($59.99) is quite a fun game overall for all ages. That said, you’d better have a few Switch controllers in tip-top shape and prepare to do a bit of of a workout with your fingers in some of the trickier events. 24 zippy mini-games are here with bright and colorful visuals and a soundtrack that’s suitably Olympic-sounding.

Nostalgic fans who may be a bit older or keen on old-school visuals will very likely love the retro 2D goodness found in the time traveling (via oddball game console trap) Tokyo 1964 storyline and its additional 10 events. The nice thing is the game lets you play through its story modes in order and also lets you have at it in any mini-games here if you just want to grab a few friends and family members (up to 8) and play together. Online play and cloud saves are of course, all aboard if you want to play with a few folks online. That said, it’s good to see the game supports couch play (something more games need).

While it’s kid-friendly, and only supports the less fancier means of control (well, Joy-Cons, motion controls, and some first and third-party game pads), the game doesn’t skimp on the challenge for new players in some events where every bit of precision counts. The 2D retro mode’s games are far easier, bit everything here is well done any guaranteed to get you grinning. You can stay on the couch, too in either mode, but prepare to work those controllers in some events where a bit of precise button pressing, some rapid jamming and other moves need to be pulled off. Notably, there are no voices for the characters outside some generic grunts, but there’s enough of a plot that ties things together if you’re into it and prefer not to skip through short cut scenes and dialog segments.

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Featuring… a cast of DOZENS!

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MARS: PDP Brings Lightgun Arcade Fun Back For PS4 And Xbox One Players

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Talk about a vacation from hell…

I’m smiling too much while playing a detective on holiday (and on a few replays, a cheery British gal pyromaniac) aboard a huge cruise liner that’s suddenly become filled with zombies. A few comically big-headed biters go down with ease, M-rated blood splashing and splattering when they’re hit, but I’m soon jumping out of my skin when I spend too long on a large pack of undead that suddenly appear to my left (oops), and I get waylaid by some swarming in from the right (double oops, and GAME OVER). Ah well. A few shots to the menu later, I’m trying again and yes, having a blast. Yeah, some pleasure cruise vacation this is turning out to be, huh?

The game is called:

voyage-of-the-dead_logo_600pxIt’s an Unreal engine-based rail shooter downloadable PS4 or Xbox One title from developer Gaming Corps Studios, one of three games currently available for PDP’s new MARS LIGHTCON (lightgun) peripheral and IR STATION camera setup ($99.99, game included).  The wireless LIGHTCON is sturdily built and came with 2 AA batteries installed that gave it a nice heft, but it’s light enough to be comfortable for long play sessions. It’s not cheap feeling at all, mind you, but something that’s very well-made and made to work precisely for the games that come out for it. I did replace the alkaline batteries with rechargeable ones because that’s how I roll these days.

Oddly, you need to have a wired or wireless controller handy to initialize or pause the games and definitely a wireless one if you happen to have an external hard drive plugged into a USB like I do. The IR STATION requires one port, your main controller another if it’s not wireless. PDP also sent over a nice controller charger set (I’ll review that in a separate article), but the PS4 has always suffered from a lack of USB ports. Personally, I think the console should have shipped with an extra side port and/or one on the rear because of peripherals like this and the fact that heavy users like myself need a larger storage.

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The Orangesicle color scheme is familiar, but the tech is modern.

Back to the game, it’s quite fun overall and offers up enough zombie types to keep things interesting (aliens, voodoo, and magic using undead pop in as the missions go on). The PS4 version generally runs smoothly, but there are a few areas with hiccups in the frame rate, and some scene transitions aren’t as smooth as they could be. That said, it’s got a certain charm and makes a good first impression.

The game also packs in eight characters to play as (some unlocked via mini-games), a single-player mode, a versus mode, six mini-games for up to four players (I’m especially fond of the quirky pinball , UFO, and “golf” games here). Overall, it’s worth a look if you like all things zombie-related. While it’s not rated for kids, given that there are a great deal of wee ones that find zombies awesome and kind of hilarious, if you’ve got them (kids, not zombies!) and you’re OK with the gory stuff, they might find this pretty cool.

While the campy voice acting gets repetitive, the audio design and soundtrack are quite excellent overall. You can expect about 2 hours or so in Story mode (well, experts will probably blow through in less time and nope, I’m no expert). unlocking everything in every mode depends on a player’s dedication to seeing it all as soon as possible or on their own time. While you need to restart the game each time (like most arcade games, there’s no save system in place), the game does track all your stats so you can see that progression if you’re curious.

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Diablo IV: Back To The Past For The Future’s Sake

While Blizzard is in a wee spot of trouble for a few things these days, if you can divorce yourself from those elements, Diablo IV is looking mighty incredible. The return to the bleak color palette of the first two entries in the series is a great decision as is the company deciding to release both the opening movie and a gameplay trailer that looks pretty spectacular. I’m concerned about a few things, though.

Only three classes (so far) is a throwback to the original game (an excellent touch), but I’m hoping more are added and not at a premium price point. Some fans are already too testy about microtransactions in games and game companies overcharging for content that should be part of the package, so I’m mot sure how Blizzard will respond to this. At least the game is wisely confirmed for PC and save for the Switch, consoles, so it’s a definite day one purchase for me. EDIT: Ah, I see from the official site that these are  “the first three” classes, which probably means more will be made available at some point, likely by some form of unlocking (payment?) or a completion reward for completing the game with one of the three starting characters.

With that out of the way, I can breathe easy that the game is in good hands as development continues. Multiplayer I can take or leave, but we’ll see how it turns out as things progress. The brief bits I saw certainly looked good, but I’m more of a solo player in games like this because I tend to take my time and not rush through dungeons.

-GW

Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle Gets Some Fun, Free Updates

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Get this… OR ELSE.

Well, eight episodes of the game have been FREE for a while now on STEAM, but having a subscription to developer Blue Wizard Games’ email newsletter was pretty rewarding today, as there’s some nice content they’ve added to the game as well as a couple of fun freebies for email subscribers.

In addition to getting Episode 9 and the Baghead Jason DLC skin for free, the email also included a package of neat HD Blue Wizard Digital desktop wallpapers, Slayaway Camp toy paper-craft templates, and the official theme songs (MP3) for both Slayaway Camp and Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle (woo-hoo!). Very cool, Blue Wizard, very cool, indeed.

Here’s a little teaser for the game. It’s kind of cute, really hilarious and yes, you can choose to play without the blood (but why would you?):

Even better, if you have a STEAM account, there’s a sale on the developer’s other titles, so yes, you can try a few of their games for a lot mess money. Sounds like a deal to me.

-GW

 

Mega Cat Brings The Halloween Freaks Out, Retro Style

Want some classic-inspired Halloween fun? Mega Cat Studios has you covered like a freshly found corpse with these two games that look and play like NES classics of yore, but are available on Switch (and NES of you happen to own one or a compatible system). Fist to face combat, pixel pushing goodness and fun time await with this pair of titles:

 

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First up, is Creepy Brawlers ($4.99, eShop), an homage to the classic Punch-Out!! with a horror theme, monster and alien fighters and quite familiar (albeit very tough) fun. While it’s a single player only game, it’s cool enough that you’ll be passing around a controllers so everyone can get a turn. There’s a physical cart version for the NES if you have access to one and can run it without issues here.

 

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Next up, is HAUNTED: Halloween ’86 ($9.99), a side-scrolling platforming, beat-em-up adventure that’s kind of like the classic River City Ransom (Downtown – Nekketsu Monogatari) but with a horror vibe. Also single players, the game recalls the look and feel of classic NES games and is pretty much guaranteed to have you burning with nostalgia throughout. This one is only currently available digitally (it was initially released in 2016 as a cart version), so get it now if you like what you see.

Oh, and make sure to check out Mega Cat’s recent blog post on scary retro games and their free ebooks selection, as they’re more than just some folks who cook up a witch’s cauldron of retro games.

-GW

Review: Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD (Switch)

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You better have those banana grabbing skills down, folks.

SMB_SwitchSega, on a roll (Part I): Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD ($39.99) is a pretty fun time on the Switch, but you better have steady hands and steadier nerves if you want any chance of completing this game. Yes, the multiplayer is a ton of crazy fun here (that could have used a few more games) and that’s a reason some will jump all over this with a few friends. But this is a game where the solo play can be as hair-raising as it gets because it’s too easy to fail (and multiple times at that) some courses if you’re susceptible to anything from an itchy body part or any sort of issues with your controller.

If you’re new to this, it’s a game that will have you cracking up and pulling out hairs in equal measures. There’s a goofy plot here, but all you need to know is you’re a monkey in a big plastic ball and you need to roll, jump and quickly grab bananas as a clock is ticking down, fighting bosses a few times along the way.  You probably won’t be good at this initially, but practice makes perfect, as they say. Paradoxically, both Zen-like calm and lightning reflexes are absolutely necessary in this game where courses are tightly timed, bosses require super-quick pattern recognition and you need to play and replay stages to nab those bananas without falling off some deviously designed courses.

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“This is bananas, and bananas is good!”

Well, you do have to fall off some courses, but onto a lower part of a level, or to shave seconds off a course time, missing a few bunches of bananas in the process (until you figure out how to get them later in a different run). Developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio (yes, the folks behind the excellent Yakuza games as well as a few others) took the 2006 Wii-only game and have tweaked it into a multi-console game that’s quite good and yes, maddening when it needs to be. In addition to reworking the interface and adding online functionality, 40 of the Wii-specific mini-games are gone (well, 50 was overkill way back then and the Wii remote was a pain to use for some of them), cut down to a mere 10 that keep multiplayer games a faster-paced chunk of mayhem for up to four players.

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Games I Need to Play 2: Beamdog’s Classics Come to Consoles

 

Good gravy, Skybound and Beamdog, you’re going to kill me thanks to my withering away indoors with your ports of the two Baldur’s Gate games, Neverwinter Nights, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment games. One definitely can’t gripe about the cost, as each game and their expansions (plus new content that was missing in the PC versions) cram in more that enough play and replay value to justify the price ($49.99 each). Pretty much, each one may will take a few weeks or months to play and hell, you can’t say that about many games outside the genre that don’t require an online connection or double-dip you (or more) with fees and micro-transactions.

As I noted in my preview a few months ago, there goes my free time forever. Amusingly, I’ve not requested a review code yet because from experience, games like these games are professional time eaters (I’ve played them all before on PC years back), and well, as I sand, my free time (and hell, all of my work time) would necessitate a format change to an all-Beamdog, all the time blog. That, and yeah, I’ll likely support both companies with a purchase because I have the feeling some wags out there will feel these enhanced ports won’t be worth full price because of the dated looks and other biases against things like the length and maybe the mobile ports (which cost less, but the console versions have a number of changes that make then worth playing and then some).

(Thanks, Warner Bros.!)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to figure out when I’ll play these and work on my time machine so I can play them. At least Neverwinter Nights isn’t out until December on consoles, so that gives me time to play the other games.

-GW

Review: SEGA AGES Columns II: A Voyage Through Time (Switch)

Columns II artHoo boy, I’d forgotten how very hard the Columns series of games can be. But yes indeed, this port of Columns II: A Voyage Through Time ($7.99) from the SEGA AGES lineup comes highly recommended if you want a match-3 game that’s constantly entertaining while you get used to the ropes. Also included in this solid M2 port is a a Mega Drive/Genesis port of the original Columns, so you can get schooled by the AI in two games. The coolest thing about the sequel is M2 has wisely added a tabletop mode feature where the co-op play switches Player 2’s screen 180 degrees for face-to-face battles, quite a nice thing to see as an addition.

The game lures you in with some gorgeous art (a bit of lovely Mucha-like imagery for the senses is the first thing that greets you), but even at the easiest setting the game will beat you like an angry drummer or a polite Gene Krupa doing a rapid fire solo. Nevertheless, when the pace gets speedier you’ll be beaten like an egg here as you learn to play. This turns out to be a good thing, as the only means of seeing more here is by getting better. It’s funny that I’m using “git gud” for the second time this week, but like the last time, it fits the case. It’s a game that masters will appreciate, but those who haven’t the skills down will find themselves going to until (and past) the ending. Like it should be, coming back to the game that was giving you grief to one where you’re seeing how the AI responds to a better player doesn’t ever get old.

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Uh-oh, unless you can clear some gems out…

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Review: Children of Morta (PS4)

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COM_cover“Outstanding” is the first word that springs to mind in Dead Mage and 11Bit Studios spectacular Children of Morta ($29.99), a game I didn’t want to stop playing. I dragged out the gameplay intentionally, clocking in about 25 hours in because between the lovely visuals, great action-packed gameplay, and often heart-tugging story here, I didn’t want to leave this gorgeous action/RPG’s world. Yes, it’s a slower paced story and some may think it’s heavy use of deliberately paced narrative and the narrator’s Bastion-like delivery slows the game down. But as someone who’s a reader of stories (and sometimes a teller of them when properly prompted) this didn’t bother me one bit. Besides, every game one plays need not be the same as another and the focus on family here is welcome for a change.

This is a game where sentiment is an important plot device, but the action is also well implemented and sometimes very challenging in a product that took five years to craft. Both the art and artistry on display are to be properly commended, so hats off to all involved in this. I got a digital code to review, but I’m surely and sorely tempted to buy this as a physical release just to have if it ever disappears from PSN for any reason. Yeah, I’d play this again even though it’s more or less a “one and done” game to some extent, but a great one worth checking out a few times for its randomly generated levels and some neat side missions (“Who’s a good puppy? You are!” is a hint I’ll give). I was thrilled by most of what’s here to definitely say I’d revisit it like a good novel because it works well as enough of a memorable visual and aural treat with a good story, to boot.

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Pixel perfection, plus the animation is always fantastic.

The Bergsons are a family that discovers a corrupting force has come to their land and fortunately, the spirit of adventure runs in the family. That we’re dealing with a tight-knit family where you can choose to play as a few classes is a fine touch and surprise, much better that the sometimes generic hero types (that too often have some form of amnesia) in RPGs. One fun thing here is the Bergsons have nicely normal names that seem dull, but I say that’s more the player than the game wanting to choose a “McHero” or original sounding name because they think it makes for a better experience. This game, for me works because no one person is the star – they’re all great and necessary characters here. Even the ones that seem a little strange in some areas (Lucy, I’m taking about you and that laughing of yours).

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Shout Factory’s Shocktober Sale Will Have Your Wallet Screaming

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Scared? Your wallet sure is, I’ll bet.

Mo’ horror, mo’ problems (for your wallet): Yes, the fine folks at Shout! Factory are having a little sale you may want to check out, as some great horror flicks are up for grabs at a discount. As usual, you have to act FAST, as the sale ends October 21. While I’m not a steelbook guy, some of them caught my interest and hell, I can use the steelbook to smack that monster in the closet with. Some also come as non-steelbook releases and the prices on a few are low enough to have my interest. Enough yakking from me, though. Go scare tour wallet into a tizzy here. Oh, there’s also a contest to enter if you like.

-GW