Reaching for the stars – Starlink: Battle for Atlas review

Ubisoft might be a little late to the party when it comes to toys-that-appear-in-your-games peripherals but with Starlink: Battle for Atlas, the company could have a hit with pint-sized space explorers who like to play with toys as part of the game they’re playing.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas treads the commonly told tale of an evil entity wanting to take over the solar system and it’s up to you to save the day but central to Ubisoft’s space game are the plastic spaceships and figures that use a special mount that fits to your controller then brings the ships to life in-game.

Fox McCloud’s famous starship & the special base that the Joycon’s slot into and the spaceship toy locks into.

I played the Nintendo Switch version (it’s also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One), where you slide a Joycon onto each side of the mount then attach the spaceship toy/ you have. Each craft and pilot has different abilities and weapons. The toy feels a little heavy on the controller to start with but you soon get used to it. As a bonus for Nintendo Switch players, the Switch version has a toy based off  Fox McCloud’s Arwing spaceship and the wily fox himself – and it’s a beauty of a craft, and Fox plays a major role in the game, with Switch exclusive missions focusing on the Star Fox team.

Fox McCloud in the flesh. Well, plastic. Alongside him is pilot Mason Rana.

  If you’re something of a toy collector then things could get expensive if you decide to buy as many ships as you can afford. The starter pack costs around $118 with additional ships setting you back about $58 a pop for a spaceship. Additional weapons packs cost around $30. You snap on the attachments, which appear in-game and you can swap out weapons and modify them on the fly, depending on the enemy you’re squaring off against.

Some of the other spaceships that you can buy for Starlink: Battle for Atlas.

That said, the toys aren’t necessary to actually play the game so you don’t have to buy them if you don’t want to: You can play it without spending a cent on the ships and weapon attachments, if you want. The game takes place on a variety of planets with different fauna and flora, as well as the Atlas star system, and while there is a bit of a grind where you have to explore planets for clues to help you in your missions, mine for resources, form alliances with other alien races and do busy work for locals to move the story forward,  I was surprised how much of a smile it put on my face. Maybe it was the fact that I was controlling the on-screen spaceship with a controller that looked like the on-screen spaceship. The combat is fast and fluid enough, and it seems to hold a pretty consistent frame rate on the Switch, something that is vital for a game that relies on fast reflexes. It’s a lot of fun, too,  swapping out weapons mid-battle when you realise your initial arsenal isn’t up to scratch, but young players might find the intricacies of weapons management mid-battle  a little daunting, though. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a lot of fun, even with the grinding busy work and some repetitive missions, but the toys add a different dimension to the game play that will appeal to spaceship fans. Parents, just keep in mind that the cost will mount up if your game fan wants more and more ships and weapons. Heck, 10-year-old me would have danced with delight if I’d been able to play a game like Starlink: Battle for Atlas with its snap-on space ships and weapons. Thanks to Five Eight Distribution for the review copy of Starlinke: Battle for Atlas and the toys.

Figment review: Battling the thoughts in your head

Figment, a puzzle/platformer for Finish indie developer Bedtime Digital Games for the Nintendo Switch, reminds me a lot of a children’s story book, with its whimsical artwork and fairy tale locations, except it’s set within the human mind with all sorts of weird shit going on.

Seriously, though, for most of the game the environments are like something you’d find in Alice in Wonderland, with teapots for houses, flowers made out of stringed instruments and white fluffy clouds providing a peaceful backdrop, things are more sinister than they seem at first in this fairy tale land, populated with memories, thoughts and urges and home to the voices in our head.

When Dusty (the game opens with him relaxing in a rocking chair, dreaming of ice for his drink) finds the nasty figments of the imagination have invaded the world, causing chaos, he must save the day. Accompanied by ever-optimistic bird Piper, Dusty must battle his way through a variety of dangers to, well, save the day.

The sumptuous visuals are the first thing that will attract your attention with Figment: They’re said by the developers to be hand-drawn, and by golly, does it look gorgeous, with an art style that belies the undertones of what Bedtime has called a “musical action adventure”.

The second thing that you’ll be captivated with is the wonderful voice acting which at times is delightfully over-the-top, and the musical score: Both are just delightful, with the score supposedly “defined by your exploration of the world”, which means that it adapts to how you react with the world: Move closer to the cello-like flowers and the strings sing, wander closer to a tuba-looking tree and the music takes a more brass band-like tone. It’s delightful and really adds a nice personal touch to the game.

The puzzles won’t cause you to have a brain haemorrhage, ranging from things like tracking down the handle that will turn the windmill that will blow away the nasty black fog and finding the right colour battery that will power the windmill to finding the missing pieces of a brass band bridge that will let you cross to another part of the world. Combat generally involves Dusty whacking unspeakable horrors with his sword or knocking back projectiles from said unspeakable horrors.

Figment is a delight to play, both visually and the way that the sound reacts to the player’s movement through the game world, and it’s further proof that games from small independent developers are a perfect fit for Nintendo’s console.

Remember how I commented last week on the great year that Nintendo was having?  Well, Figment is further proof of that.

Thanks to Bedtime for providing a digital code for Figment

Wolfenstein: The New Colossus (Switch): Panic Button has the Reich touch

Think about this for a minute: I can now play a current-generation first person shooter while sitting on the toilet. Not that I did for this review but, you know, if I can if I want to.

Or in bed while my wife reads on her iPad. Or during my lunch break at work. What a world we live in, eh?

I have to say I’m impressed with what Panic Button have done with Wolfenstein on the Switch.

Sure, if you want the most graphical superior version of the game then the Switch version isn’t for you and if you’re the type of gamer that will balk at lower resolutions then, again, the Switch version isn’t for you.It’s for gamers like me who haven’t played the game on another platform and it’s for gamers who want to play Bethesda’s latest Nazi-killing simulator on the go, filling the well-worn combat boots of BJ Blazkowicz in a story of what the world would be like if Nazi’s had won WW2 and invaded the US of A.

Wolfenstein 2 is the second Bethesda shooter from Panic Button that has appeared on the Switch and right off the bat, the port seems a much smoother experience right off the bat than the port of Doom, which took a few patches to sort its frame rates out.

Make  no mistake, this version is the real deal in terms of content: It’s the same game that appeared on the PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 last year but, as is to be expected for a portable machine that has a fraction of the processing power of its rivals, Panic Button has made compromises to get the game working on the Switch.

As you’d expect, textures are much lower in resolution (mostly noticeable on faces and clothing), it uses a dynamic resolution to adjust the pixel count on the fly and the game is locked at 30 frames a second.To my old man eyes, I thought the game ran smoothly in both docked and portable mode (looking slightly better in portable mode given the smaller screen) and I had a blast.

One thing I did notice  due to the lower resolution and blurrier textures, was every now and then textures would pop in a few moments later, and at times,  picking out enemies and power ups in some locations was much, much harder than it should have been, especially when in portable mode.

Can you see the subtitles? No, I can’t either.

I found the text size of subtitles was too small for my old man eyes. Even with my reading glasses on, I struggled to read them. Dear Panic Button, perhaps an upcoming patch might address that issue?

The latest adventures of BJ Blazkowicz is a battery hog, though.  I started the game with 79% battery & by the time I’d completed the first mission and a few minutes of the second mission, my Switch’s battery was down to 42% – and the wee thing’s internal fan was working overdrive.  Wolfenstein is working the Nintendo Switch to within an inch of its life but, frankly, I can see why.

Look, 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. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks to Bethesda in Australia for the review copy of the game.

 

 

 

Bite-sized review: Little Nightmares Complete Edition (Nintendo Switch)

Little Nightmares Compete Edition (Version reviewed: Nintendo Switch, review code kindly  provided by Bandai Namco)

What is it? Little Nightmares Complete is a side-scrolling  horror/puzzle game from indie game developer Tarsier Studios that tells the tale of a mysterious girl called Six who must negotiate a vessel called the Maw through three story chapters: The Depths, The Hideaway and The Residence. This complete edition also includes  all the DLC that was released for the game, including the story of The Kid (a second playable character) and the Secret of the Maw expansion storyline. Little Nightmares can best be compared to games like Limbo or Inside as all three games have a creepy, unsettling undertone to them that might just well have you having nightmares yourself.

The Janitor in search mode. Time for Six to hide.

So, it’s a horror. Is it scary? Well, it’s not blood and guts scary, but it’s more creepy, uncomfortable scary, with nightmarish creatures inhabiting the Maw, doing unspeakable things. The game succeeds in creating a tense atmosphere that’s unsettling at times. Making things more uncomfortable are the Maw’s creepy residents, which often force Six (and The Kid) into a game of hide and seek as they skulk around quietly, careful not to draw the attention of the grotesque beasts such as The Janitor, who has incredibly long arms and bandages wrapped around his eyes, or The Lady, the proprietor of The Maw who just seems a little … not quite right.

This is Six exploring The Maw. Quite unsettling, isn’t it?

Is there anything else I need to know about? Little Nightmare’s does a great job of creating tension and has a great visual style, which is really suited to the Switch but the experience is marred a little by the long loading times after you die, and you will die a lot, thanks to at-times-clumsy controls and at times hard-to-judge jump puzzles. The game is also quite dark visually when played in portable mode but holds up well when played in docked mode. Both run at 720p, 30 frames a second.

So, what did you think overall? Tarsier Studios does an excellent job in creating a macabre and creepy narrative with a nice twist in that one of the lead characters turns out to be more than she initially appears. If you’re a fan of games that create creepy tension in unsettling environments, then Little Nightmares is worth a look but just be prepared for some frustrating jump puzzles and long load times between deaths.

Thanks to Bandai Namco for the review code

 

Old Man’s Journey review

Old Man’s Journey, from indie developer Broken Rules, is a game for those moments when you want to contemplate and stop and smell the roses.

It’s a game for quiet times when you want something soothing and non-confronting.  It looks like a child’s water- colour book, full of pastel colours and memories of a younger time that make you smile.

The game starts with the titular Old Man receiving a letter from the postman than seems to concern him so he dons a backpack and starts on a journey. A long journey that sees him traverse hills, mountain villages, sea ports and everything in between by foot, boat and train – and have to avoid the odd flock of sheep along the way!

The quirk with this game is that you can re-shape the landscape to make paths for the old man to traverse. Can’t get across to that bridge? Just gently drag that background hill closer, enabling the Old Man to jump the gap and continue on. There are limits, though: You can’t re-shape the “line” the old man is standing on and you can’t stretch a hill further than it is capable of going.

Despite its shortness, Old Man’s Journey is punctuated by delightful moments: During a train journey as the locomotive races along the countryside, you have to join the track beneath the speeding train. If you click the bell in the lighthouse of a sea-side town, the Old Man reminisces about a wedding years ago (I’m guessing his wedding?)

If I had one criticism with Old Man’s Journey,  it would be the inclusion of “handcrafted, pressure-free puzzles (the developer’s words)”. An example of these puzzles is sometimes having to move on a flock of sheep that are blocking your path: It just felt a little unnecessary.

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.

Old Man’s Journey is available on Nintendo Switch ($US9.99), Windows PC, Mac and iOS/Android. Thanks to Broken Rules for providing a review code for Old Man’s Journey.

Nintendo Switch reaches 10 million sales in nine months & Shu coming to Switch, too

I’m putting this out here right now: The Nintendo Switch is my console of the year, despite being woefully under-powered when compared to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (and their Pro and X variants).

With games like Super Mario Odyssey, Death Squared, Doom and Thimbleweed Park on Nintendo’s hybrid console, it really has been one of my gaming highlights of the year. So it’s no surprise to me (or anyone, possibly) that Nintendo has told 10 million Switch consoles in just nine months (the console launched in March this year). The console is a sure-fire success, pure and simple.

Congratulations, Nintendo: You’ve knocked it out of the park with this one!

Sticking with the Switch for a little bit longer, British developer Coatsink (which I have covered here before) is bringing its platformer Shu to the Switch in January, 2018.

Here’s a little about the game: Set across 6 different worlds, Shu combines gorgeous hand-drawn characters and fast-paced action as Shu and companions battle to save their friends from the mysterious and unrelenting storm. Can you outrun the end of the world?

Featuring an original soundtrack, 10 recruitable characters and a plethora of secrets to discover, the Nintendo Switch version of Shu will also include the Caverns of The Nightjars add-on content.

Shu will costs around $NZ15, if my calculations are correct.

 

 

Skyrim on Switch: Take an arrow in the knee, anywhere you like

You can now play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – henceforth known as Skyrim – on the toilet.

Think about that for a second: You can now play one of the most well-known RPG games from Bethesda while sitting on the porcelain throne. Is this the future of gaming?

Skyrim on Nintendo’s machine is the remastered version that was released on consoles in more recent times and it’s the real deal, although if you’ve played the remastered version – or the original game itself – you’re not going to find anything that you have seen here before. Make no mistake, though, this is Skyrim through and through – and it feels like Skyrim.

The Switch outputs Skyrim at 1080p when in docked mode and 720p in portable mode and to my untrained eye, it looks pretty damn good, although you can tell it’s a six year old game, graphically at least, when you look at the character models especially: People look slightly rough around the edges but textures are generally sharp and clear. Again, this is Skyrim in portable format.

The Switch version makes use of the consoles unique control system, too: You can use the Joycons for melee combat, casting spells and firing arrows, like you could in Breath of the Wild. It felt natural when firing a bow but combat felt a little sluggish when using the motion control system, so I tended to use the more traditional control scheme.  You can also use the motion controls for lock picking, and it works extremely well, with a gentle rumble indicating you’re making progress.

Really, there’s not much more to say, though: This is Skyrim on the Nintendo Switch. It doesn’t reinvent the game and doesn’t bring anything new to it. Interestingly, though, I’ve found myself playing more of Skyrim on Switch than I did when I played it on console: Maybe it’s the portability – and being able to play on the toilet if I want. It’s also one of those games that if you’re the type of gamer who likes to explore every nook and cranny, picking up as much loot as you can, crafting armour and weapons and generally poking in every corner of a gameworld, you’ll find hours and hours of content here.

If you’ve played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim before don’t expect new content in the Switch version because you won’t find it here – and the price for the Switch version is a less than wallet friendly: Sorry, Bethesda, but $100 for a six year old game is crazy money, even if it is on a modern piece of hardware.

Hopefully in time, that price will come down as Skyrim is absolutely worth playing on the Nintendo Switch as it’s a competent and engaging visit to Bethesda’s world, quirks and all, and another example of how strong a platform the Nintendo Switch is.

Thanks to Bethesda’s PR team in Australia for the review code