Author Archives: Gamejunkienz

Stars Wars Republic Commando: One of the finest Star Wars games ever made – but we’ll never see a sequel

Trawling through You Tube the other night, I came across an excellent short by YouTube site GVMERS on the history of the superb Star Wars shooter Republic Commando.

After I watched it, I decided to hunt out my original Xbox copy of the game (which I still have, thankfullyl), Googled whether it would work on my Xbox 360 (it does: Apparently it may work on the Xbox One as well?), inserted the disc, applied a small update patch, and fired it up.

I was transported back to Star Wars gaming nirvana.

Along with FPS Dark Forces, space shooter X-Wing vs Tie Fighter and the wonderful Jedi Knight series, Republic Commando is still one of the greatest Star Wars games of all time. It is, believe me.

dd56a48dbf4f8343759e68efedbcaa74Republic Commando is a great game because it came when LucasArts still made Star Wars games and before the franchise was gobbled up by Disney and the game licenses given to EA to squander. I spent countless hours controlling Kyle Katarn (a stormtrooper who became a rebel fighter) as a burgeoning jedi knight and shooting dark troopers in Dark Forces.

Sure, Republic Commando’s graphics don’t stand up to today’s realistic visuals – where talking about a game that launched on the original Xbox around the mid-2000s – but believe me, the narrative and the game play (set around the time of George Lucas’ second trilogy of movies: Episodes one, two and three) still stand the test of time as you lead a rag-tag quartet of Republic Commandos, each with their own personality (something that is intriguing given republic soldiers are all clones), battling separatist forces on the bug-infested planet of Geonosis.

[Look, I’m not wearing rose-coloured glasses, thinking every single Star Wars game was the second-coming of gaming, because I don’t: There were some real stinkers, but games like Knights of the Old Republic, Dark Forces, the Jedi Knight series and Republic Commando are classics.]

But back to Republic Commando. What makes me love Republic Commando so much as an example of a Star Wars game with a single player campaign done right is that players control one of the Republic’s elite soldiers and it feels so damn badass doing it. The game play feels solid and it’s a nice tangent from the Star Wars movies.

Republic Commando is a game that brings me so much joy despite being years old but I know we will never see a sequel to this amazing game because Disney (and, I guess by extension, EA because it has the SW games license) just doesn’t have any idea what make great narrative-driven Star Wars game. Heck, I’d love to see a re-master of Republic Commando for current-generation consoles and PC. How good would that be??

Disney proved in 2013 that it has no idea what makes a good Star Wars game when it cancelled Star Wars 1313, a game that showed massive amounts of promise in a short 15-minute demo. Sadly, I also don’t have a lot of faith in EA’s up coming Star Wars game from Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I have the utmost faith in Respawn and Vince Zampella – Titanfall 2 was one of my favourite games of 2016 – but I am seriously concerned that EA will pressure Respawn to forgo a solid, narrative-driven single player campaign (like Titanfall 2’s), making it concentrate on a micro-transaction-laden multiplayer campaign. EA doesn’t care about single player games: All it cares about is MP game that can reap it financial rewards.

Look, I’d like to be proven wrong with Respawn’s Star Wars game – and I really, really hope I am – but I just don’t think Disney and EA care about the narrative-driven Star Wars games, and that makes me sad. Very, very, very sad.

Of course, I’m speculating wildly about EA and Disney and they may surprise us with an amazingly good Star Wars game with a worthwhile single player campaign in the coming years, but I’m not holding my breath.

I guess I’ll just have to keep playing the Star Wars games from the past to get my Star Wars video game fix.

Dead Cells: A frustrating, challenging game that has me hook, line & sinker

Happy New Year to you all, dear readers. This, the first post of 2019, is the first of many this year. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Dead Cells, from indie developer Motion Twin, is a hard game. In fact, it is a very, very hard game, especially for an old man gamer like me!

Yet, Dead Cells is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in a long, long time and it has an element about it that despite you dying many times during each play through  – and you will die many, many, many times – you’ll restart again, trying to go further and further each life into the rogue-lite ever-changing world that Motion Twin have created [each time you die, the dungeons are randomly generated so no two are the same, which means you can’t memorise specific paths].

The developers describe Dead Cells as a “rogue-lite, Castlevania-inspired action platformer” and many people describe Dead Cells as a metroidvania-like game but I’m not sure it is, really. Sure, there is a little bit of back tracking as you find the right path to the exit door that will lead you to the next level but by my understanding, metroidvania-like games limit access to other parts of the world by locked doors or obstacles until the player gathers specific items/tools/abilities.

Sure, there are doors in Dead Cells that are locked but they generally get unlocked by a pressure pad or similar so I’m not really sure you can class this game as a metroidvania-like, can you?

What makes Dead Cells interesting is that it has permadeath, and no in-game checkpoints, which means when you die [and again, you will die and die and die], your character gets re-incarnated at the beginning of the dungeon, fresh and ready to begin again. Let me make that clear: You don’t re-spawn at the last checkpoint, you re-spawn at the beginning. As Motion Twin says, “Kill. Die. Learn. Repeat“.

I thought long and hard before buying Dead Cells for my Nintendo Switch. I’d heard people rave about it, saying it was the best game they’d played all year, but I’d also heard about how insanely difficult it was, how unforgiving it was and how maddeningly frustrating it was at times. It sounds, though, I was wise to wait a bit to pick it up on Switch as it suffered frame rate issues at launch, which seem to have been rectified now thanks to a patch which lets you lock the frame rate.

It was a good few weeks [perhaps months?] between me thinking about buying it to me actually buying it. Ultimately, I didn’t want to buy a game that I would die constantly because, well, I suck at games like this.

I fired it Dead Cells for the first time and was proud of myself that I lasted 25 minutes to reach the second dungeon [The Promenade of the Condemned]. The foes didn’t seem too difficult and I got to grips with the controls easily enough.

“This isn’t too bad,” I said to myself. “What the feck were people talking about saying it was insanely hard?”, I said to myself. I then ran into guys with large swords and spikes that I didn’t realise drained health if I stood on them for too long [I know, right? What was I thinking?]. I died – and was transported back to the opening dungeon, having to find the new route to the next dungeon doorway.

But you know what? I didn’t curse. I didn’t scream. I didn’t turn off Dead Cells and go play Full Throttle. I continued on. I made my way through this newly generated dungeon. I was hooked.

I died within minutes, mind you: These new enemies were more brutal and tougher and smarter – One variant carried large broadswords and could telport about  – but I carried on. Dying, respawning, delving deeper.The further you progress, the more secrets, weapons and abilities you unlocked. Statistically speaking,  I shouldn’t like this game but I do. I like it a lot. Well done, Motion Twin, well done.

I was most pleased with myself when I found myself quite a way into the Promenade of the Condemned, entering a rather strange room that featured what appeared to be a garden variety archer. Sadly, he appeared much stronger than the others and when it seemed I had him on the ropes, he morphed into some sort of super archer and, yes, you guessed it, lopped my head off and sent me back to the start!!!

Despite me not buying Dead Cells until almost the end of 2018 – I can’t believe I waited so long to pick it up – it has turned out to be one of my favourite games of the year. Funny how that works, eh?

I’m loving the art style, too, and the intricately animated characters: Dead Cells is a damn good game that, for me, is a stand  out in a year that had a fair few bloody good games.

Right, enough talk. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to fire up Dead Cells, collect some cells and have my arse handed to me on a plate. Several times, I’m sure, but like the line in that song by Chumbawumba says, “I’ll get knocked down, but I’ll get up again …”

Katamari Damacy Re-roll: Craziness ramped up to 11!

Think of the craziest game you’ve every played – then quaduple it: That’s Katamari Damacy Re-roll, the very definition of Japanese crazy ideas at its finest.

The Katamari Damacy series first graced the PS2 waaaaaay back in 2004 and even back then, it was a large scoop of whacky mixed with a side order of “WTF?” While the game spawned a few sequels over the years, it’s now available on Nintendo’s Switch console – and it’s a perfect fit for the device.

The story is simple enough: A tiny prince must rebuilt the stars, constellations and moons that his wayward King father, The King of All Cosmos, destroyed when he decided to go on a drinking binge. Crazy, right?

To make his father happy, the prince is tasked with rolling a small, adhesive ball – called a katamari – around locations on Earth, collecting pretty much as much as he can  – people, animals, pins, balls, dominoes, playing cards, people, even mountains – until the ball is big enough to become a new star in the sky.

The story is as bizzare as the game play, with the prince having to rotate and guide the katamari around earthly locations, slowly growing bigger and bigger until the King of All Cosmos deems it big enough to become a star.

Adding to the pressure of creating more stars is the fact the tiny prince is often under a time limit to reach a certain size katamari ie 10cm, 15cm, meaning the prince will have to often sprint around the location, adhering more and more objects to said katamari. You have to be careful, though, as banging into some items will knock objects off the katamari, reducing its size. Yes, it’s as off-the-wall as it sounds.

Katamari Damacy Re-roll is a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch, as each location is perfect for bite-sized gaming sessions if you only have a few minutes to play. Visually, it looks nice, with a colour palette of bright colours and a graphical style that is as far from realistic as you can imagine.

The controls worked well enough, although it took a while to get used to flicking the analogue sticks in the right direction to give a speed boost to the katamari, something that is vital to master and is crucial in helping pick up objects faster when you’re against the clock!

The music is catchy enough, with a kind of bouncy note to it, and an at times bombastic theme tune, but the voice of the King will get on your nerves after a while. That said, it’s in keeping with the game’s off-the-wall aspect and you can always do what I did: Turn the volume down a little.

Overally, Katamari Damacy Re-roll is perfect for the Nintendo Switch, especially if you’re after something that definitely doesn’t take itself seriously and is something so mind-bendingly weird that you can’t help but smile, something especially apt during what is now commonly called the Silly Season.

A big thank you to Bandai Namco’s Australia PR man for providing a review code for Katamari Damacy Re-roll.

What a year, eh?

Twenty eighteen was a great year to play video games.

It was a great year for triple AAA titles and indie games and looking back, I didn’t play as huge amount of games this year. I played more games on my Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 than I did on my Xbox One, although, that has changed lately, with the excellent offerings Xbox has dropped on its Game Pass service lately. Make no mistake though: 2018 was a most excellent year for video games.

This year, I also found myself replaying some of my favourite games from past years, one of them being Titanfall 2, which is just a phenomenal game and I really hope spawns a worthy sequel [I hope EA is listening]. I also started replaying The Stanley Parable, Deus Ex Mankind Divided and Civilisation V, all games that captured my attention when they released and found time from me this year.

I’d like to thank you, the readers, who have stuck by this blog as it’s lurched from year to year. There aren’t many of you but I appreciate every one of you that stops by the blog.  Apologies for not updating the blog as often as I should.

OK, enough faffing about: In no particular order, here are some of my favourite games that I played this year.

GamejunkieNZ most favouritist games of 2018

God of War [PlayStation 4]:

I’ve always been a long time fan of the God of War series but this year’s edition took it to the next level. I like to say it was “All killer, no filler” as it didn’t overstay its welcome with unnecessary fluff. Here’s what I said in my review: “Ultimately, Santa Monica Studio has brought us a tale featuring a boy and a man trying to get to know each other in some pretty trying circumstances but, my word, what an adventure it is. Simply put, God of War is one of the best games I’ve played this generation. Pure and simple.”

Red Dead Redemption 2 [PS4/Xbox One]:

It had a slow start but, man, once RDR2’s narrative about diamond in the rough cowboy Arthur Morgan got its hooks into me, I couldn’t stop playing – I actually thought about it while I wasn’t playing it and may, or may not, have shed a tear during a particularly emotional moment. Without a doubt, RDR2 is Rockstar’s magnum opus when it comes to characters that you’ll connect with and care about. “Hindsight is  a wonderful thing,”so the commonly uttered phrase goes, and in my case, it is entirely appropriate for Rockstar’s Red Redemption 2, a game I initially criticised on social media but now, with hindsight, and several hours of game play under my belt, I’ve changed my opinion.”

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus [PC/PS4/X1/Nintendo Switch]:

While New Colossus wasn’t as memorable as Wolfenstein: The New Order, it’s another fine adventure for BJ Blaskowitz, a character that has evolved with each gaming generation. The fact that it was on the Switch, too, is mind-boggling. My words: “Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is going to have its detractors but I tip my hat to Panic Button: The developer has knocked it out of the park with this portable version and I’m glad I waited until now to play it, to be honest. It’s just an added bonus that I can also now play Wolfenstein The New Colossus on the toilet, if I’m that way inclined, of course.”

Yakuza 6 [PS4]:

I first fell in love with the Yakuza games on the PlayStation 2 and have loved the craziness of the series ever since. Sure, the Yakuza games are filled with Japanese nuttiness and the like, but the combat is engaging and the narrative never fails to deliver in spades. “Yakuza 6 is said to be the last game of the series featuring Kazuma Kiryu, which will be a shame, but what is also a shame is that the Yakuza series isn’t as popular as it should be in the West: It’s a series that deserves more attention from gamers thanks to its deep narrative and strong character development. I can’t recommend the series highly enough.”

Old Man’s Journey [Nintendo Switch]:

The hand-drawn art style just captures the emotional journey of an old man’s journey after he receives a letter from a family member. It’s a game of exploration in a land of pastel shades and weird angles. Here’s what I said: “Old Man’s Journey is a delightful game that manages to evoke an emotional story without the spoken work just by using hand-drawn art and the emotions they conjure up.”

Hollow Knight [Nintendo Switch]:

It’s described as Metroidvania-like but all I know it’s bloody hard at times, with dexterity and prowess needed avoid hazards and clear obstacles through a ruined kingdom over run by insects and other creatures. Perfect for short blasts and often spoken in the same breath as Dead Cells.

Grim Fandango [Nintendo Switch]:

It’s no secret that I have massive love for Tim Schafer’s point-and-click adventure game set around the Mexican festivities of the Day of the Dead and focused on deathly travel agent Manny Calavera, so it’s no surprise that the remastered version is on this list. I can’t get enough of this game. indicated by the fact that I own it on several platforms.

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden [X1/PS4/PC]:

A game set in a post-apocalyptic world that isn’t all brown and irradiated, MYZ: Road to Eden feels a lot like the Xcom series and is best played stealthily, but it took me a while to get into that mindset, meaning I often went in all guns blazing, forgetting to take out units that could alert other units. You can imagine what happened. For this one, slow and steady wins the race.

Katamari Damacy Re-roll [Nintendo Switch]:

A crazy, off the wall game – from the days of the PS2 – where you have to recreate the stars in the sky [that your king father destroyed] by rolling a katamai ball around, sticking all manner of objects to it: small animals, pins, domino tiles, cards, plants. The bigger the katamari, the happier your father is. It’s as weird and crazy as you can imagine.

 

I’d like to thank PlayStation New Zealand, Xbox New Zealand, Bethesda, FiveEight Distribution, and the companies in both Australia and New Zealand [PeadPr, Huawei NZ, Oppo NZ, King Creative Media, Nintendo Australia, Acumen Republic, Samsung NZ, that have supported me this year with review product. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Edifer V4 gaming headset review: Two thumbs up

The LEDs surrounding the V4 ear cups give Edifer’s gaming headset a nice look.

I reviewed Edifer’s G4 over-ear gaming headset last year so was keen to look at the company’s V4 gaming headset when I was offered the chance but just how do the two headsets differ?

To be honest, I’m not sure, as they both seem pretty similar in terms of specifications and design.

Like the G4s, the V4s are comfortable to wear, with the faux leather padded ear cups cushioning your ears. I wore them for extended gaming periods and didn’t experience any discomfort or soreness and they didn’t feel heavy on my head. The V4s also did a good job of blocking out exterior noise – perhaps not as good as my Sol Republic headset – but enough to quieten down exterior TV noise or conversations.

The V4s have a faux leather material that means the ear cups are comfortable.

The V4s are PC, PS4 and Mac compatible and each ear cup has a 40mm driver unit (as well as in-built LED lighting in the mesh metal interior), offering a frequency response of 20Hz – 20KHz (I have no idea what that means) and an impedence of 20ohm (again, I have no idea what that means).

The headset connects via USB and the 2.5m-long cable is enough to let you plug it into a games console in a TV entertainment unit and let you sit on a couch. The cable has an in-line remote built in which turns the headset on and off and mutes the retractable boom microphone (which sits in the left ear cup). I tested the headset on my PC, playing Respawn’s excellent Titanfall2 and on PS4, playing Rockstar’s also excellent Red Dead Redemption 2. Audio was clear and crisp, with nice bass tones in both games.

The V4s also have positional 7.1 surround sound built in, which means you can hear everything that’s happening, and vibration, activated with a toggle on the inline remote control. The vibration isn’t over-the-top and just a slight enhancement of the game audio. It’s nice that you can toggle it on and off, meaning if you don’t want the vibration, you can switch it off.

The retractable boom mic & inline remote control.

The headset band is quite flexible, seeming pretty robust (although, I wouldn’t get too carried away twisting it) and it’s well priced, clocking in at just under $NZ100.

Overall, Edifer’s V4 gaming headset offers a great gaming headset that’s comfortable, provides good in-game audio, and, importantly, won’t break the bank if your looking for a good entry level gaming headset.

I’m still  not sure what the difference between the G4 and V4 headset is but with a great price and great performance, Edifer’s V4 gaming headset seems like it’s two-thumbs up worthy.

Thanks to PR company King Creative Media for the review unit.

Oppo R17 Pro review

 

I have to admit that I didn’t really know much about Oppo as a phone brand when I was asked if I wanted to review Oppo’s flagship R17 Pro smartphone.

Now, though, after a few weeks with the Chinese company’s flagship phone, while I still can’t say I know much about Oppo as a brand, I’m super impressed with the R17 Pro. So very, very, impressed.

The R17 Pro feels like a premium phone, and it feels substantial in the hand. It has a nice heft to it but it’s not heavy. The review model was a colour that Oppo calls radiant mist, which alternates between blue and purple hues, depending on the angle you’re holding phone. To my son’s disgust, I wrapped the phone in the supplied case: It wasn’t my phone and I wasn’t going to risk damaging it. He reckons the translucent rubbery case detracts from the phone’s good look but it does, believe me.

Sporting a 6.4-inch FHD+ screen with Corning Gorilla Glass 6, 6GB RAM, a Snapdragon 710 chipset and  128Gb of flash storage, the R17 Pro will do all you need it to and ticks all the right boxes. Of course, it has all the latest connection standards: Wifi a, Bluetooth 5.0, USB C (generation 3.1) and NFC.

As is the norm with flagship phones these days, the R17 Pro has both face scanning and fingerprint scanning for unlocking the phone. The finger print scanner is under the glass screen and there are no buttons on the handset, apart from a power button on the right hand edge and the volume rocker on the left hand side. The facial scanning is so bloody quick that the phone had unlocked even before I managed to get my thumb to the screen. I decided I’d deactivate the facial scanning and stick with the finger print scanner.

These days, a smartphone’s notch is a talking point and I have to say, the R17 Pro has a great notch, resting in the middle of the screen. Oppo says it’s inspired by a droplet of water and I can see that. A nice thing about the notch is its unobtrusive and doesn’t dominate the top edge of the screen.

Oppo’s phone has eschewed the common 3.5mm headphone jack – the supplied head phones have a USB-C connection, if you want to use wired headphones – but if you’re like me, chances are you’ll be using Bluetooth headphones anyway so the lack of a 3.5mm jack is a moot point to me. The R17 Pro is running Android 8.1 which is overlaid with Oppo’s ColorOS, which I have mixed feelings about, to be honest.

Oppo touts the R17 Pro’s camera – and it seemed to be a good one, based on my average photographic abilities. The R17 Pro has a 12MP primary camera , a secondary 20MP lens, and a third TOF (Time of Flight) 3D stereo camera that adds depth to photos. It has a 25MP front facing camera and the phone, like others in its price bracket, uses AI algorithms to automatically identify what you’re taking a photo of (ie, animal, sky, face).  Images seemed clear and bright and not over saturated and with good definition.

Here are some photos of my dog , who seems to be my default image model, when it comes to smartphone photos.

I was impressed with the phone’s battery life, The R17 Pro has dual 1850mAh batteries and Oppo says the phone can reach 40 per cent charge in 10 minutes . While I didn’t time that so I can’t verify if it’s true, the phone recharged from zero to a useable state really quickly, and I got about a day and a half of moderate use before it needed a quick top up.

I used the phone in normal day-to-day conditions and ran benchmarking software 3D Mark’s suite of hardware-crushing tests to put the phone’s hardware under pressure. Testing the phone with the Sling Shot Extreme benchmark – recommended for high-smartphones – the R17 Pro scored 1816 points using the OpenGL API and 1435 using the Vuklan API, and 2655 points in the Slingshot test – well short of the top-end Galaxy S9, Google Pixel 2 and Apple iPhone X, which are pricier and have higher specs.

Look , for a brand I knew very little about until I was asked if I wanted to review this phone, I’m really, really impressed with the R17 Pro. It retails for just a tad under $NZ1000, and should make it attractive to people wanting a capable, mid range smartphone.

It’s unlikely Oppo’s R17 Pro will knock Samsung and Apple off the top spot with consumers keen on high-end smartphones, but Oppo is definitely making loud noises that the other two should watch their backs closely.

Huge thanks to Campaign Lab for providing an Oppo R17 Pro handset for review

Post Black Friday, according to PriceSpy

Last week, I ran some comment from price and product comparison site PriceSpy about Black Friday, one of the – if not the – biggest shopping days in the US.

PriceSpy got back in touch this week, with some stats on the Black Friday sales in NZ. Its NZ country manager Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett said despite the growing popularity of Black Friday, PriceSpy’s data revealed the average discount offered by retailers was lower than expected, at just 12 per cent per product (5% less than 2017).  Nearly a quarter of overall products (23 per cent) received a price reduction and just five per cent received a price increase (half of that seen from the previous two years).

“In terms of what people were looking to buy, the most ‘searched for’ shopping categories were mobile phones, headphones and gaming consoles, with the most popular products the PlayStation 4 Pro, Apple AirPods and the Nintendo Switch.

Martinvesi-Bassett said, interestingly, when PriceSpy looked further into the historical price information for the most searched for Black Friday products, two out of the three were actually found to be cheaper to buy at different times of the year:

PriceSpy says on Black Friday, the PlayStation 4 Pro was actually 4% more expensive than its lowest price, which was in early January; Apple AirPods proved to be 11% cheaper than it’s lowest price, which was in early July; and the Nintendo Switch was actually 6% more expensive than it’s lowest price, which was in early October.

The most popular sites for searches were PB Technologies, Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi.

So, anyone buy anything in the Black Friday sales? I didn’t.

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