Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Mario Kart 64 Review (N64)

Starting life on the SNES the Mario Kart series has now graced just about every Nintendo system since and each time a new gimmick or mechanic has been added. Looking way back to the second game in the series we see a distinct lack of gimmicks, some 3D rendered tracks and the introduction of the dreaded blue shell.

Mario Kart 64 had a lot to live up to following on from the hugely popular Super Nintendo game. Fans loved Super Mario Kart (though it’s crazy to think critics weren’t always as keen at the time), and the track design and pure gameplay would be seemingly hard to beat. But with a new powerful system out Nintendo had to try and pull something out of the bag.

The big leap is in terms of the graphics. The tracks are now properly 3D with much more depth of field and solidity than before (though occasional objects on the tracks are still 2D). The game also introduced a completely new selection of tracks to race around and the super racers among you could also unlock mirror mode for the first time. 

All the new tracks (bar about two), are of an exceptional standard and either showcase a simple gimmick or act as speed demon heaven. Many of them have found their way into other Mario Kart games other the years and they showcase just how creative Nintendo was with the franchise when it was in its infancy. There’s ice to slip on, marauding cows and even a train that manages to cross the road just at the wrong time. Every track requires concentration to avoid hitting hazards and a keen eye to spot potential shortcuts.

Most of the cast of the first game return but now Donkey Kong Jnr has been replaced with standard Donkey Kong and poor old Koopa Troopa has been dropped in favour of Wario. Dropping Koopa Troopa was a strange move as he was the first choice for many SNES gamers but then he was far less recognisable than Wario and Nintendo had a new character to promote. We are very glad to see the little guy return in later versions of the game though.

There were also a few changes in the power up departments with continually replenishing floating squares now dishing out weapons instead of the one use question marks on the road. The feather is also long gone and the triple green and red shell pick up came in. This was the first time the leader-smashing blue shell turned up as well. Hated by many, the spikey shell will zoom directly to the racer in first place and knock them up into the air. This is very annoying when it happens to you but great when it hits someone else.

The other big change which divides fans is the rubber band mechanic that is very apparent. Especially noticeable in single player it is almost impossible to actually build up a meaningful lead over your opponents. Even at 50cc you’ll be racing around with one or two racers permanently popping up at the edge of your screen. You can hit them with all sorts of weapons but chances are at the next corner they will magically appear again. 

It’s something we really dislike about the game as it just seems cheap and unfair. The computer also makes ridiculous defensive shots (such as hitting a speeding green shell with a forward thrown banana), and manages to catch you even when you’re hammering through mushroom power ups. In our eyes this is a real mistake as though it keeps things close it makes the player feel there is little point doing anything offensively unless you are on the last corner of the last lap as the computer will just recover almost immediately. At least later versions of the game better hid their rubber band mechanics behind power ups given to those towards the back of the pack.

Overall, returning to Mario Kart 64 left us with more good feelings than bad. The rubber band mechanic is annoying but the tracks and intense racing is some of the best ever seen. The level design is arguably a series highlight and the general feeling of fun remains throughout. It certainly deserves to be in any Nintendo fans collection and it more than holds up against other games in the series. If you can get some friends together it raises up to a whole new level as well with in-room chaos likely to break out very quickly. 

Overall 8/10

Monday, 23 November 2015

Typoman Review (Wii U)

Written by Scott Varnham

They always say the mark of a great video game is that if you die, you feel that it’s your own fault and that maybe next time, you’ll do better. That’s part of why the Mario games are so beloved by millions. Every gamer has stories about that one level that they finally managed to conquer with a bit of muscle memory and finger dexterity. In Typoman, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of the deaths feel entirely down to the game and it’s frustrating as hell.
It is, in principle, not a very complex game. You play a hero made out of thick black letters, which spell ‘hero’ in an ‘amusing’ bit of wordplay (don’t make us put wordplay in quotes too). You’re running away from a demon with minions made out of the word ‘evil’ or ‘hate’. This isn’t exactly Citizen Kane. The central mechanic is that you combine letters together into words that have an effect on the world around you. For example, combining the letters ‘O’ and ‘N’ creates ‘ON’, which works on anything that can be powered nearby. Sounds simple enough and once you see the idea in action a few times, you’ll pick it up quickly. It’s not a game that holds your hand throughout, though. The words you have to assemble on the ‘scrambler’ function of the gamepad get less obvious very quickly, which makes you feel smart when you work it out. Fortunately, if you need them, indirect and then direct hints can be found by tapping the question mark on the touch screen. That and the scrambler are pretty much the only things the gamepad is used for.
But the sticking point is that even when you know what you’re doing, actually achieving it can be its own world of pain. The gameplay features a lot of trial and error, which would be fine if there was any way to anticipate the dangers beforehand and at least make a token effort to avoid them.This isn’t helped by the fact that the controls are very fiddly. Thank god the game doesn’t have a life counter.
That wouldn’t be so bad if the scrambler function actually worked properly. This is a fundamental problem as it’s pretty much the game’s core mechanic. Sometimes you’ll be trying to combine and rearrange three or four letters in a hurry, which should be quite simple. Nobody’s asking you to duplicate Eric Gill's An Essay On Typography here. This makes it especially annoying when some of the letters that you need don’t show up (or the scrambler function just doesn’t pop up when you need it). One that happened to us was that we were trying to make ‘TILT’ but could only scramble two letters at a time, which led to our death on several occasions. Even worse was the time when the letters on screen were replaced by entirely different letters on the gamepad.
Part of why this grates so much is that the game could have been so good. The main concept is innovative for sure, and the graphics are sure to appeal to the kind of people that use typewriters because it just feels more real, man. It’s got that whole ‘evil is spindly’ look going for it, which is pretty neat. You can even play it if you’re colour-blind, as pretty much everything is black and white. No awkward colour-coding issues here. The sound design is top-notch, too. Everything sounds just as it should and the music works to create a genuinely creepy atmosphere, especially in the miniboss sections.
We had high hopes for this. We’re writerly types, we like things about writing and words so naturally this would appeal to us. But creepy sounds and admittedly pretty sweet graphics do not a good game make. The fact that the game’s main mechanic is so flawed combined with the game itself being buggy in places means that we just can’t recommend it. We really wanted to like this game but it’s about as much fun as Microsoft Word.
Overall 4/10
Colour blind issues - No
Review Code - Yes

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


You wait for one rhythm action game to come along and then a whole load arrive at once. We hadn’t really been following SUPERBEAT particularly closely but we really should have. While Persona 4: Dancing All Night was great fun and offered plenty of fan service this is one of the best rhythm action games we’ve ever played.

There’s no plot here just buckets of rhythm action goodness with presentation of the highest quality. As soon as you start the game up the screen pulses and fizzes with music and excitement that lets you know this is something good. There’s a sharp and edgy design to it which is not unlike the Wipeout games and it fits perfectly.

The game itself has notes flying out at you from the middle of the screen. You need to hit the corresponding top, middle or bottom button on the left or right of the screen or you can also use the touch controls. There are notes that need to be held and the L and R buttons come into play as well. You even have to use the analogue sticks for certain notes that snake up and down (again, you can use touch controls if you prefer). It’s full on and certainly keeps you on your toes.

There are 4 trax and 6 trax variations which let you use different amounts of notes in each song (with the 4 trax variant only putting notes at the top and bottom of the play area for instance). Here you have to complete three songs in a row to try and achieve the best score. As you level up by completing songs you unlock more difficulties which adds more note variants and also opens up missions in the world tour mode.

The World Tour mode has you travel around famous clubs taking on specific song based missions. Normally these consist of not missing at certain number of notes or keeping your combo at a certain number. They also ramp up the intensity even more by doing things like moving you much closer into the play area so you need almost instant reactions to hit the notes. World tour is not for the casual player and even the second set of club missions had us beaten for longer than we feel comfortable admitting.

As you level up from completing songs and missions you will unlock a host of new sounds, tracks and icons. The sounds can be set as the noise which comes in when you hit a note while the DJ icons add special powers like extra health or experience. The only criticism we have comes from the striking notes sound. Some of the songs really don’t sound right when you’ve got the sound set on things like a snare drum. It’s a rare miss step and we found setting the sound to hand claps pretty much worked with everything. You can also turn the sounds off completely.

The musical selection on offer is also excellent. There aren’t any hits as such but just about every genre of music is represented and we can’t think of another game where Hardcore sits next to Latin Samba. Most of the songs are very good as well and there’s a host of music from games like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue thrown in for good measure.

Overall, SUPERBEAT:XONiC is a stunning rhythm action game. It’s tough, but for fans of the genre this is up there with the best of them. It’s perfect for the Vita as well and you just keep unlocking new things every time you play and tt left us with an excited grin on our face every time. It’s a breath of fresh air and an amazing injection of adrenaline for Vita owners that in our mind is an essential purchase.

Overall 9/10

Colour Blind issues No

Review Code - Yes

Monday, 16 November 2015

Rodea: The Sky Soldier Review (Wii U)

It’s been a very long road for Rodea in making it to the West. It was originally set to come out on the Wii but delay after delay has meant it now finally reaches us a generation later. For the dedicated among you, you can buy a special edition of the game which comes with the motion controlled Wii version included. Sadly we couldn’t get hold of that so our review will be solely focusing on the Wii U version of the game.

The plot is confusing. As far as we can make out it’s about a robot with a heart that is tasked with protecting a princess of a flying realm which is invaded. Upon the princess’s capture she gives half of something called ‘the key of time’ to Rodea and this prevents the invasion somehow. (We’ve read the official plot blurb and still have no idea). Rodea is found 1000 years later by a young mechanic girl just as the invasion starts again and sets out to save the world.

The game is a 3D platformer at heart with stages set out where you have to reach a certain point and then normally defeat a boss of some kind. The twist is that Rodea’s favourite mode of traveling is by flying. By jumping in the air you can then set Rodea on a flight path at the touch of a button. The analogue sticks are used to move a reticule around which can then be used to change direction. While flying pressing the ‘B’ button unleashes a spin attack which can be used to smash through enemies. The spin attack can also be chained to allow the destruction of multiple enemies in sequence. It takes a while to get used to but does work. There are also a host of other gadgets like weapons and slide boots which are added as you progress and help keep things varied.

While the games cut scenes look suitably lovely the in-game world shows a few too many signs of its non-HD heritage. The graphics certainly show up the fact that the game was originally designed for the Wii and while effective they often look muddy and bland with levels lacking a discernible character. That said at least there aren’t any draw distance issues.

The game draws influence from both Sonic Adventure and Nights into Dreams but a more accurate comparison with regard to its overall flow and feel would be Gravity Rush. The flying mechanic is pretty much the same and the need to hit enemies glowing weak spots is also remarkably similar. Sadly, for much of the time we were playing it we were thinking about going away and playing Gravity Rush rather than progressing further in Rodea. That isn’t to say Rodea is a bad game it just lacks the same cutting edge and dizzying highs of the Vita’s offering.

There are a lot of positives in the game and despite the visuals the level design is strong. There are multiple routes through the courses and ample opportunities to rack up high scores as you race between smashing enemies and picking up the various floating collectibles. There is also an excellent feeling to flying around and, once you’ve upgraded a bit, you get a real sense of speed. 

Rodea is a funny game to place. It doesn’t really do anything wrong but the time for it to have come out and really blown us away has long since passed. We enjoyed our time with it and there isn’t much else like it around but it also didn’t leave a massive impression and there was an overall lack of spark and magic that stops the game reaching its true potential. There’s certainly enjoyment to be found here but the transition from being a Wii game is too rough around the edges. If it had been built again from scratch we could have seen this being something very special, as it is it’s just an enjoyable diversion for platform fans that does things a little bit different.

Overall 6/10

Colour Blind Issues - No
Review Code - Yes