PC · video games

Lonely Mountains: Mountain biking, low-poly styles

No doubt I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a keen cyclist, both mountain and road, so when a Twitter friend (thanks @museste) let me know about Lonely Mountains, my interest was piqued.

Lonely Mountains describes itself as a “downhill mountain biking game for PC focusing on responsive and fun controls, an open level design and an untouched nature in a beautiful low poly style”.

I’m digging the art style and simplistic nature of Lonely Mountains, but apart from the trailer I don’t know much more about it, like how big will it be, how does progression through the game work and is there an online aspect .The game is being worked on my Berlin, Germany indie studio Megagon Industries founded in 2013. Two of the three-man team are working on Lonely Mountains, which is tentatively aiming for a 2018 release.

Lonely Mountains reminds me a lot of the game Trials HD, mainly because it’s a game where you ride a trials motorbike through a variety of courses, aiming to beat times and do tricks to earn points. Megagon says the game will feature custom bike physics, secret locations, tracks that you can ride from top to bottom without encountering a loading screen and open-world game play, meaning you can follow tracks or find your own way to the end point. All the screen shots show the game in a pre-Alpha state so there’s still a fair bit of work to go.

The developers say other potential features will include weather systems (snow, rain, wind), a dynamic day and night system, a replay & share system, and rider and bike customisation. As I said earlier, my interest is piqued and I’m going to follow the progress of Lonely Mountains closely.

Now, if I could only be as skilled on my mountain bike as the low-poly rider featured in the trailer …

 

Nintendo Australia · Nintendo Switch · Portable gaming · video games

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch) is a game that can elicit joy and frustration during the same play session.

Heck, it can elicit those feelings during the last 100m of a race – and I love it. I can’t stop playing it.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe isn’t a new game. In fact, it’s an updated and enhanced version of Mario Kart 8 which came out on Nintendo’s last generation Wii U console but it’s a perfect fit for the Switch. Deluxe features all the content from Mario Kart 8 (and tracks from past platforms the racer appeared on) as well as a new Battle mode. Multiplayer offers four-player races, while online player is both single player and two-player.

As you’d expect, the roster of characters includes favourites like Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and Yoshi to characters like King Boo, Dry Bones, Donkey Kong and Link (from Legend of Zelda fame). Tracks include circuits like Yoshi Circuit (GCN), Rainbow Road (SNES), Koopa City (3DS) and Moo Moo Meadows (Wii).

Right off the bat, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe looks superb on the Nintendo Switch. I said to my son while I was drifting around a corner on the Rainbow Road that for a console that is under powered when compared against the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4, Deluxe looks incredibly vibrant and detailed on the Switch. The game looks good running through a TV but because of the smaller screen, I reckon it looks much sharper when using the Switch’s portable mode.

I said at the beginning that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe can elicit both joy and frustration during the same game session and it does. Here’s an example: During a few races, I was leading on the last lap of the last race in the four-race series that would clinch me the victory cup (I tend to race as Yoshi on a motorcycle) when – with no joke of a lie – within the last 100m I’d be zapped by a turtle shell, had oil squirted on my screen by the oil ghost and zapped by lightning, shrinking my race character. Generally, I still managed to win the race but sometimes it would mean I’d come second, losing the cup. It was almost as if the game ganged up on me, not wanting me to win.

Surely not, right?

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the sort of game that’s perfect for when you’ve got a few spare minutes to do a few races. I took it to work one week so I could play during my lunch break.

Look, I love Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and if you’re a fan of the game on other Nintendo platforms, and you own a Switch, you’ve probably bought this already. Heck, if you only buy two games for the Switch, pick up this and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You’ll have enough to keep you busy for a long, long time.

When I first got a Nintendo Switch I said that while it was a fantastic piece of hardware, it was hampered by the lack of games. With the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, I’ve changed my tune. The Switch is really starting to hold its own in the console space, and that prospect can only get better as the year progresses.

Thanks to Nintendo Australia for the review copy of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

 

 

PC · PlayStation 4 · Uncategorized · Xbox One

Prey impressions: Did that coffee mug just move? DID IT JUST MOVE??

Here are my thoughts so far on Prey, the first-person shooter set in space from Bethesda. I haven’t finished the game yet but thought I’d let you know what I thought from what I’ve played. I’m playing on Xbox One using a code supplied by Bethesda

If Prey has taught me one thing, it’s this: Be wary of coffee mugs.

You heard me right: Be wary of coffee mugs. And office chairs. And globes. And bath towels. You see, in Prey, sometimes items aren’t what they seem. They could be the game’s alien life form, called a mimic, that’s out to eat your face.

Set in the year 2035 on the Talos 1 space station (in an era when John F Kennedy wasn’t assassinated and Russia and the US are working together to build the first space station), Prey is, I guess, a re-imagining (of sorts) of the original Prey, with the player controlling Morgan Yu, a scientist/test subject who has to find out what has caused a breakout of the alien mimic life form. As we’ve seen in many games before Prey, Yu can’t remember what has gone before so as he explores the Talos 1 things and events become a lot clearer.

Prey has a real Bioshock/Half Life/Dishonored feel about – and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Half Life because, well, the first weapon Yu finds is a wrench, Bioshock because Yu can upgrade his abilities (through a skill tree)  using augmentations called neuromods and Dishonored because the studio behind the Dishonored games – Arkane Studios – is also the developer behind Prey.

What follows is exploration and fetch quests as Yu wanders about Talos 1, trying to get to the bottom of what caused the mimic containment break. It’s an amalgam of several games, wrapped up into one. The mimics are the game’s enemies and smaller ones are black, spider-like creatures that can suck the life force from humans, causing them to multiply. They’re also incredibly fast and can often jump at you from nowhere. The wrench comes in handy with the smaller mimics but weapons like shotguns, a gun that fires blogs of glue and a pistol is handy against larger humanoid enemies like phantoms, which often have powers of their own and move incredibly swiftly. A nice touch are the service robots – called operators – that can be fabricated to repair your suit and heal you up. Another nice touch is that you can recycle all the junk you’ll inevitably pick up (lemon peels, scraps of paper, alcohol bottles) using recycling machines and turn them into materials, both organic and synthetic, that can be used to create equipment and weapons.

I have to admit that I jumped a few times while playing Prey. It’s not because it’s overly scary, because it’s not, but it’s because I just seem to wuss out when it comes to horror/survival games. I can watch horror movies no problem but horror video games? Man, I need to keep a spare pair of underwear handy. I guess it’s because with horror movies it’s easy to see what’s going to happen. With horror games, I genuinely find I have no idea what’s going to happen.

With no word of a lie, I stood outside the doorway of a room that was bathed in darkness for 10 minutes, not wanting to go into it, because I was worried some mimic was going to transform from a coffee mug into a spidery alien and try to eat my face. My fears are real, people. My fears are real.

I spent countless times – wrench at the ready – inching forward towards desks with coffee cups resting on them, worried one of them was a mimic. Someone I follow on social media said they found a desk with two coffee cups on it – and one of them rolled to the side, disappearing somewhere in the room. I would have lost it right there.

Eventually, Yu is able to scan the environment for mimics from a distance but, yeah, not knowing whether a coffee cup – or some other object – is actually what it appears to be is quite unnerving.

Missions are what you’d expect – go here and get a keycard that will open a door to another area, go to this room to recover something for someone who will give you a code for something – but there are  some interesting side quests that add to the back story to what happened on the Talos 1 before the mimic containment break. Talos 1 is also an interesting setting, too: It’s a living  space station with crew quarters, kitchens, reactors, medical rooms, cargo bays and nooks and crannies to explore. Prey’s story is an interesting one as well, set in a place where nothing is as it seems.

While nothing like the sequel to the original game (which came out last generation in 2006) that Human Head was working on before Bethesda canned it, so far Prey is a lot of fun that really has a Bioshock/Half Life vibe to it.

One thing is for certain: It’s made me look at coffee mugs in a whole different light.

 

PC · video games · Xbox One

Grinding Gear Games studio visit: Path of Exile going console

NB: I originally wrote this story for Fairfax NZ’s stuff.co.nz website but I’m re-publishing it here.

In an unassuming cream-coloured building in Auckland’s western suburb of Henderson (a relatively pleasant, if mostly silent, 37 minute Uber ride in lunchtime traffic from the city’s domestic airport environs),  nestled at the fringes of a car park that’s actually part of a Pak ‘n Save supermarket, something magical is happening.

And on the first floor of that cream-coloured, average looking building is Grinding Gear Games, a video game maker co-founded in 2006 by like-minded guys Chris Wilson and Jonathan Rogers in Wilson’s garage in the Auckland suburb of Newlands New Lynn that’s doing that magic.

One of the co-founders of Grinding Gear Games, Jonathan Rogers, at the company’s Henderson studio.

Wilson and Rogers met while studying computer science at the University of Auckland.  “He was significantly more talented, and I realised if I tethered my horse to this guy, anything he’s doing will be good from a programming point of view,” says Wilson, who also studied finance while at university.

The pair also had something else in common: A love of PC action RPG games like Diablo 2, but Wilson thought they could do better, especially if they focused on the online multiplayer RPG space, an area they felt was lacking. “We were missing a game that captured the feeling of something like Diablo 2 online,” he says.   “We wanted to build an online community.”

Wilson says looking back, it was never his intention to co-found a video game studio – his programming background was focused on the security side of things – but when they saw a gap in the market they felt they could do something about.

So they set to work on making the game they wanted to play themselves. That game was Path of Exile.

“We started out as hobbyists,” says Wilson as we sit on a comfortable couch that leads off the company’s lunch room/kitchen area.

Part of the open-plan office of Grinding Gear Games.

Staff wander about the open-plan office, posters of characters from the company’s game adorning a wall as you enter the studio.  A mountain bike rests against a couch  in a room off the kitchen. There’s a BBQ on a small balcony outside. You can see Pak ‘n Save from the room we’re in.

“We didn’t think it was that hard to make a game. We initially had dreams of finishing it in a year or two,” says Wilson as we chat about the company’s history.  “It was really hard to make a game, we found out,” he says.

Fast forward 10 years, though, and Grinding Gear Games employs a tad over 100 people, the garage in Newlands New Lynn is a distant memory (Wilson tells me that his wife put up with the arrangement until the company expanded to eight employees),  and its only released one game in that time: Path of Exile.

Launched in 2013, Path of Exile is free to play but makes its money through micro transactions for cosmetic stuff like character outfits that don’t affect the game play balance.  The game is incredibly popular in North America and Europe – and it’s coming to Xbox One later this year.

Action from the Xbox One version of Path of Exile.

The console version will feature all the content that features in the PC version of Path of Exile as well as all the released expansion packs.

I have a confession: Path of Exile is not normally the type of video game I’d play if I was at home and had some time to game. It’s online only, for starters, which is not normally something I’d play (I have old fingers so tend to suck at online games and stick with single player campaigns). I have played action RPGs like Dungeon Siege and Diablo but I’m not what you’d call a master.

Playing a build of the Xbox One version, I’m an archer, firing arrows at weird beasts and teleporting around the game map. At first glance, the game seems impossibly complex: There’s something like 1500 passive skills, which themselves can be upgraded using gems. That’s mind-boggling.

At times the battles are so chaotic and frantic, with explosions, spells and electricity punctuating the game world, that I’m not sure what’s going on.  One of the dev team (I think it was Jonathan Rogers, actually) comes over and using magical commands  he plops me into one of the game’s boss battles. He warns me I’m terribly underpowered and I’ll die. He was right: I did die. A lot. It gave me a taste of what to expect, though.

The PC version of Path of Exile has seen 40 per cent growth in the past few months and boasts a base of 16 million players. Grinding Gear has big plans for the game this year, planning to release the full version of the game in China later this year, something Rogers says will be big but also a little daunting.

“Early indications are it’s going to be a big success there. We were looking at some Chinese fan sites and they have rankings of upcoming games and gauge how keen people are on the game, based on posting in forums and that sort of thing. In one of them, we were No. 2 as one of the most anticipated games so that kind of thing is looking very positive.”

As Grinding Gears’ technical director, it was Rogers’  job to get Path of Exile working on Xbox. It wasn’t an easy task. Rogers says one of the biggest challenges was getting the game’s complex user interface working on a gamepad controller, rather than the traditional mouse and keyboard used for the PC version.

“I remember when I first hooked up a controller it played like absolute garbage so it took a long time of fiddling around, of play testing, of looking at other games to see what they did. I do think the game plays really well on a controller.”

“We didn’t want to compromise the console experience. We didn’t want to dumb it down, ” Rogers says, adding the performance improvements made to the Xbox One version have been carried over to the PC version.

More from Path of Exile.

Rogers believes that releasing Path of Exile on Xbox One will open up a new audience for Grinding Gear Games, something that is exciting.

“I definitely think there is going to be a good number of players on console. We want to get at least a million players on console. We want to try and get multiple millions if we can,” he says.

Thanks to Xbox New Zealand which provided flights for me to visit Grinding Gear Studios.

PC · Xbox One · Zelda

My week in gaming: Auckland, Zelda and visiting strange planets

This week I got to do something that as a gaming writer I haven’t done in a long, long, long time: I visited a game development studio to talk about an upcoming Xbox release of a game that’s already out on PC.

A screenshot of the upcoming Xbox version of Path of Exile.

The game is Path of Exile, an action RPG made by an Auckland studio called Grinding Gear Games. If you’re a PC player, you’ve likely heard of it: Path of Exile is a free-to-play online multiplayer game that is hugely popular in Europe and America – and it’s coming to Xbox soon. No release date has been announced yet .

While I have to say multiplayer action RPGs aren’t really my first choice for video games, the Xbox version of Path of Exile is looking pretty good.

Look out for a story from my visit in the coming weeks.

Flying from Christchurch, where I live, to Auckland, where Grinding Gear Games is, gave me a good chance to play a heap load of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the plane – and I’m really liking the game. The portable mode of the Switch is amazing and while the degrading weapons in the game is a bit of a pain in the arse (especially when a weapon breaks mid fight), I’m slowly making my way through the lands of Hyrule. I tamed a horse last night so am now wandering the lands on horseshoe-clad hooves rather than shoe leather.

The new research pods in Astroneer are quite weird, too. This one looks like a tomato, right?

Lastly, I’ve gone back to Astroneer this week after the latest update and I’m not sure what I think about it at the moment, to be honest. I still love the game (which is in early access) and its one of my best game purchases of the last year (along with Thimbleweed Park) but the new update has tinkered with the research tree – (when you land on a planet you find strange objects that can be scanned at your base that will reveal blueprints for technology like solar panels, space ship parts, batteries, etc) – and now research like the 3D printer, which is used to, obviously, print out objects, is much, much harder to find.

Developer System Era has now created a tiered research system but that means it’ll take much, much longer to find blueprints for things like the aforementioned 3D printer and the vehicles – and on some planets the research “nodes” aren’t that easy to find. I hear that the developer is looking at patching the game again to make those items much easier to find sooner rather than later.

OK, so that was my week in gaming. How was yours?

 

PC · PlayStation 4 · video games · Xbox One

Mass Effect Andromeda thoughts so far

I’m not 100 per cent sure what it is but Mass Effect Andromeda just isn’t geling with me like previous Mass Effect games did.

Sure, it’s been a while since I played and finished Mass Effect 3 (and don’t shoot me but I didn’t have a problem with the way it originally ended before fans made a noise about it and Bioware changed things), so things might be a little fuzzy in my old man brain, but I can remember the narrative and dialogue in ME3 being much better than that in Andromeda. Much, much better.

I don’t what it is with the dialogue in Andromeda. It just feels off. It doesn’t feel right. It feels forced and cliched at times. It feels clunky, too, often delivered unemotionally so I didn’t get invested in the characters and what was happening.

I tried to see if I could find my review of ME3 I did when I wrote for Fairfax NZ but I can’t find it anywhere but I know it was a game that I couldn’t put down as I guided my Commander Shepard to the final battle against the Reapers. Andromeda, which is set 600 years after Mass Effect 3, involves new characters, new situations and new enemies as you guide Pathfinder Ryder through the Andromeda system to find new worlds to inhabit.

Mass Effect Andromeda just isn’t capturing my attention like previous Mass Effect games did. I just don’t want to spend hours playing it like I did Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect 2. Sure there are a shitload of side quests and while some are genuinely fun, most, sadly, are uninspired.

Since I started playing, the game has been patched, so some of the freaky walking stuff and creepy faces has been removed but things still look a little off to me in the character department. Environment wise, especially planet-side, things look really nice. Andromeda is generally a nice looking game – as some of the screen shots show – when it comes to planets and environments but I’m just not finding it as enjoyable as previous Mass Effect games.

I thought some of the voice acting was flat as well, with some of the voices sounded unemotional and uninterested in what was happening around them.

There’s depth to Bioware’s latest game, though, with a deep skill tree for players to customise their Pathfinder to exactly the type of hero they want. Those gamers who love tinkering with stats and the like will find much to keep them busy here as Andromeda has a lot of boosts, buffs and augments to experiment with.

Does her face look a little odd or is it just me? It’s the lips, right?
This guy’s standing just a little too close: Like bisecting my Ryder a little too close!
This NPC is called Angry Woman. Yes, Angry Woman.

The combat was solid enough, with the upgradable biotic powers useful in close quarters combat, depending on the skill tree you were going down. One thing I didn’t like, though, was a Sudoku-like puzzle that has to be solved when you tackle the game’s vaults.

I’ve never been good at Sudoku so these really frustrated the hell out of me (It wasn’t helped by the fact that most of the time you’ were forced to fight remnant forces every time you got the puzzle wrong).

The in-game menu system was confusing to navigate easily and graphical glitches abound: From NPCs doing weird things to stuff just sinking through other objects. I don’t know whether it was just my game but every time Ryder initially excited the Tempest (his spaceship) he wasn’t wearing a helmet but a split second later, he was wearing a helmet (Funnily, enough, Ryder’s squad mates weren’t wearing helmets, though). Personally, I feel as if the game could have done with a few more months in the oven, to polish things up a little.

Look, glitches aside and less-than-inspiring dialogue,  Andromeda isn’t a bad game and I’ll likely stick it out for a few more hours just to see what happens but for me, it’s just not a great, must-buy-right-now game, and that’s kind of sad when you think about it.

 

 

 

Nintendo · video games · Zelda

Nintendo Switch review: If you build it, they will come

The Switch in docked mode, with the JoyCon controllers attached. It’s not plugged in, obviously.

I’ve had a Nintendo Switch for about three weeks now and I like it. I like it a lot but I do have some reservations about it (but more on those later).

OK, full disclosure first:  Nintendo Australia sent me a Switch for long-term loan (I’ve talked about how this came about here) and will send me first-party games when they become available that I can review. If it wasn’t for Nintendo Australia, I wouldn’t have a Switch so I’m grateful to the company for that.

What I like most about the Switch is its tablet/portable mode. That is what makes it so good as a games player. I also like that its software which comes on flash ROM cartridges or digitally isn’t region locked. That is a good thing.

I like the design of the Switch. Without the Joy Con controllers attached it looks like a regular tablet, except its held in landscape mode all the time. You can play games without the Joy Cons attached – they’re wireless – and the unit itself has a somewhat fragile looking kickstand that props it up. It means you can set the console up on a table or a bench – or an airline tray table? – and play games that way.

The tablet of the Nintendo Switch. The screen is quite glossy: You can see my reflection in it.

Attach the Joy Cons to the tablet, though, and that’s where it really shines. The 720p screen is sharp and clear and it’s a good size – just the thing for portable gaming – , although it’s quite glossy so there is screen glare to content with depending on your positioning near things like windows and lights.

The Switch feels comfortable in your hands when in portable mode and while a little unusual at first, the stick and button layout becomes natural after a while.

The portable mode is the crowning glory of the Switch. It really is and I have to say I’ve played most of Zelda Breath of the Wild using the portable mode.

It means I can take the Switch to work and play some BOTW on my lunch break. It means I can take the Switch to bed and play BOTW while my wife reads her book. It means I can take the Switch to the toilet … OK, you get where I’m going here (Disclaimer: I have never taken the Switch with me to the toilet).

For all the things I like about the Nintendo Switch – and I do like it –  I just can’t recommend you rush out and buy one right now. The software just isn’t there for it.

Later on in the year, I’m sure it’ll be a different story (Mario Kart 7 Deluxe is due out later this month, I think) but right now, the Switch just doesn’t have enough compelling games to make it a must-have purchase. The lack of must-buy games is the biggest weakness of the Switch right now, especially given it’ll set you back around $550 just for the console itself in New Zealand.

I’ve only got two games for it: The aforementioned BOTW, which I really like and it looks fantastic,  and the frankly not very good Switch 1-2, which is a collection of mini-games where you look at another player rather than the TV screen to do things like gun slinging and milking a cow. Yes, milking a cow. It’s as bizarre as it sounds.

Look, Wii Sports is a much, much better game than Switch 1-2 and it launched on a Nintendo console two generations ago. Switch 1-2 should have been included free with the Switch as a tech demo on how the motion controls of the Joy Con controllers work but no, in NZ it’s priced anything from $65 to $80. Personally, I think Nintendo should have just thrown Switch 1-2 in as a freebie..

Here’s some advice: If you go to a game store to buy a Switch and the shop clerk says “How about another game for your Nintendo Switch? What about Switch 1-2 as well?” do this: Laugh in that person’s face, say “No” loudly then walk out of the store with your Switch and copy of BOTW tucked under your arm.

To me, the Switch has really only one game worth playing at the moment, Zelda Breath of the Wild, and it’s a very good game – and that’s from someone who isn’t a longtime Zelda fan – but apart from that, there’s nothing else to play on it. Games are coming, though (Update:  Apparently Lego City  Undercover is out for the Switch now. I haven’t played it yet, though)

More games are coming: Splatoon 2 is coming, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 from Telltale is coming, Pikmin 3 is coming, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is coming, Arms is coming … so my   recommendation right now is although I love the Switch, I’d wait before buying one.

The Switch reminds a little of the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams (readers born after 1989 ask your parents or Google it) about a farmer who heard a voice whisper to him “If you build it, they will come” in relation to building a baseball diamond in his cornfield. He did, and they came.

To me, the Nintendo Switch is a bit like that: Nintendo has built the console, now we just have to wait for the games to arrive.

 

 

PC · video games · Xbox One

I just finished Thimbleweed Park – and all I want is more

About 20 minutes ago I finished Thimbleweed Park, the crowd-funded point-and-click adventure game from veteran game makers Rob Gilbert & Gary Winnick, and all I can say is: When can I sign up for the next game from these two?

Bravo, bravo, bravo, Messrs Gilbert & Winnick.

It says something about the quality of the game and how much you enjoyed playing it when you really, really, really, really hope the game makers have got another idea in the pipeline. Put it this way: I’d plonk down $US20 in a heartbeat to back another game from Ron Gilbert & Gary Winnick

I mentioned in a previous post that during my play through that the puzzles hadn’t proved too taxing. As the game nears completion things get a little tougher but they’re nothing insurmountable.

I have to admit, though, in a panicked moment when a character suddenly became unplayable and was holding an item another character needed I reached out to Ron Gilbert on Twitter as to what I should do and whether the character would return. “They will be … just wait,” he replied.

He was right. Not long afterwards the character returned and everything fell into place. I felt like a real chump, if I’m being honest, but it speaks volumes to Gilbert that he was willing to answer such an inane question from me. He must have thought I was a right plonker.

If you’re a fan of classic point-and-click adventure games like Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Maniac Mansion, then Thimbleweed Park is a real trip down memory lane and a no brainer at $NZ23.99. It was 12 of the most enjoyable hours I’ve spent playing a video game.

Oh, and if you do buy it  and play it and enjoy it, for the love of Pete, sit through until the game’s end credits have finished: There’s a sequence that will bring a smile to the faces of gamers who cut their teeth on computers like the Commodore 64 and old school games (I had to make do with a Sinclair Spectrum and an Atari ST but I still categorise myself as one of those old-school gamers).

So, Ron Gilbert & Gary Winnick, when do we hear more about your next game?

 

PC · video games

Thimbleweed Park is the game I’ve been waiting years for

Two years ago, I backed Ron Gilbert & Gary Winick’s Kickstarter fund the princely sum of $US20 for the point-and-click adventure game they wanted to make.

It was a no brainer for me, to be honest. I loved played the classic Lucasarts point-and-click games like Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle and Day of the Tentacle. Games that both Gilbert and Winnick were involved it. Those readers that have been reading my blog for a while will know that I’ve already waxed lyrically about Grim Fandango and Full Throttle, games that I still own today on disc.

I paid the money, the game got funded and I sort of forgot about it and let Winick and Gilbert get on with it. There were updates during the two years from the duo about how things were going and late last week, an email arrived that lifted my heart: Thimbleweed Park was finished and ready to play. My heart jumped for joy.

“Thimbleweed Park has been set free. Thimbleweed Park has been released into the wild. Thimbleweed Park has been kicked out of the house, told to get a job,” the email opened. It was the news I’d been waiting for. It was time to be transported back to my gaming heydays …

My teenage son, who is 17, can’t understand why I like games like Thimbleweed Park and the whole point-and-click adventure series. I told him it’s because I just love games that make me think rather than just move from point A to B shooting everything that moves. He doesn’t get it but it’s not his fault: He’s a gamer of the 2000s, a decade when point-and-click adventure games are all but forgotten by most gamers apart from those my age probably.

Thimbleweed Park follows the conventions of the classic games that went before it: Solve  mysteries using the items you find in the game world, combining objects to complete tasks. In the game you eventually get to control five actors (FBI agents Reyes and Ray, wannabe video game programmer Delores, Ransome the Insult Clown, and Franklin Edmund, Delores’ father), swapping between them at the click of a button. It looks like a game from 1987, which it’s pixellated graphics and cheesy music, but I love it.

I’m about six and a half hours in so far and playing it on PC with mouse and keyboard (point-and-click adventure games don’t feel right to me using a controller) and none of the puzzles have stumped me greatly, although some will really make you think about what you have to combine to create the end product. I haven’t come across as anything as mind-bendingly hard as some of those in Monkey Island but there’s still time and some items that you’ll need are hard to find (particularly a chainsaw that I needed later in the game …)

With games like this, if you pay attention to what characters say and think logically, you’ll solve most puzzles easily enough. The story is engaging and the dialogue is snappy, and I haven’t come across any game-breaking bugs yet. If I had any criticism, it’s that I think at times the game mentions past adventure games a little too much. It kind of breaks the fourth wall a little too much for my liking at times.

I’ve got other games to play at the moment – Zelda Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch) and Mass Effect Andromeda (PlayStation 4) – but I’m gravitating to Thimbleweed Park right now. It’s the game I want to play until the end (unlike the other point-and-click adventure game I Kickstarted, Tim Schafer’s Broken Age: I gave up on that one after playing just the first part. I just didn’t like it that much, plus the development process was disjointed).

I’m enjoying the hell out of Thimbleweed Park and I’m glad I backed it. It’s taken me back to an age when games were clever and made you think and gameplay was more important that realistic graphics.

Thank you Ron Gilbert and Gary Winick. Thank you for making Thimbleweed Park. It’s been the best $US20 I’ve even spent.

 

 

Hardware · Uncategorized

Samsung Galaxy A5 review: Tweaks for a new year

The revamped Samsung Galaxy A5 smartphone.

While it’s probably been lost in the recent announcement of Samsung’s soon-to-be released Galaxy S8, Samsung has quietly launched a revamped Galaxy A series.

Aimed at the mid-priced point is the Galaxy A5 , which has an RRP in New Zealand of $749, and it’s clear it’s taken a lot of design cues from Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S7 smart phone. The two phones look remarkably similar in design, albeit with a few subtle differences.

Sure, the S7 feels a lot more premium and high-end than the A5 but, you know what? Samsung’s new 2017 phone is now slouch in the design department and put them side by side and at a glance, you’d have a hard time working out which was the cheaper model. The A5 actually has a slightly larger display than the S7, too.

Running Android 6.0.1 (Marshmallow), the A5 has been tweaked over the old model: It has a 5.2-inch Super AMOLED screen (1280×720 resolution), powered by a 1.9GHz Octa core processor and 3Gb of RAM (up from 2Gb in the previous generation A5). Internal storage is locked at 32Gb but it’s upgradable via microUSB (upto 256Gb). The Galaxy A5 is part of a three-phone line up, sitting between the 5.7-inch Galaxy A7 and the 5.3-inch Galaxy A3.

Samsung has moved the speaker grille to the top right hand side of the chassis (it’s now next to the headphone jack on the S7), just above the power button, and uses a USB-type C connection for charging.

As is common these days, the A5 has a non-removable battery, rated at 3000mAh. The new season A5 now has 16MP cameras, front and rear (an upgrade from the 13MP and 5MP of the previous A5). Like previous late-model Samsung phones, the A5 seems to have less bloatware pre-installed, which is always a good thing in my book.

I have to say that despite being a “budget” handset, the Galaxy A5 felt really solid in my hands. It had a high-end finish, which is nice in a smart phone that sits mid-range in Samsung’s new line-up, and it just felt comfortable holding it, although the back is quite slippery.

The Galaxy A5 handled snapshots with ease.
The Galaxy A5 took good photos thanks to its 16 MP camera. For no reasons, here’s a photo of my dog resting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to the Octa core CPU, the user interface (UI) was snappy enough swiping through screens and the camera produced some pleasing results and I got probably a day out of it before needing a recharge. It’s clear, though, that the screen just isn’t as sharp as the Galaxy S7’s sharper display, which offers higher resolutions.

The question, though, is: At $749 is the 2017 Galaxy A5 worth the budget-friendly moniker?

A quick glance over Pricespy shows that a Galaxy S7 can be had for as little as $693 or as much as $1203 (chain electronic retailers were priced around $999 for the S7 handset) and another online aggregation site had the A5 ranging from $$498 right up to $749 so it can be found cheaper than Samsung’s RRP. If you can find it cheaper, then I’d go for it if you’re keen: Why pay full retain, right?

The bottom line is if you don’t need all the bells and whistles that you’ll find in Samsung’s top  models, such as the Galaxy S7 and upcoming Galaxy S8, then the Samsung A5 will fit the bill nicely(as will the entire A line-up). It’s a great looking phone that’ll do everything you need it to, and that’s sometimes all you need in a smart phone.