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.

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.

 

 

Doom Switch review: Rip & tear on the go

Doom.

It was the game of a generation.

It was also one of the first first-person shooters I played on my dad’s 486 PC when I was a teenager (a long, long, long, long time ago). That was the days when DOS was a thing and games came on floppy discs (young people: Ask an adult what they were).  Doom was a game that kicked off FPS gaming for a whole generation.

Fast forward lots of years and Doom has seen several iterations, on several platforms, each one founded on iD’s tech. Last year’s, Doom was a smash hit – and now it’s on an unlikely platform: Nintendo’s Switch. It works:  Yes, there are some compromises but, frankly, when it’s played in portable mode, it looks bloody good to me.

Of course, to get Doom running on the Switch, developer Panic Button has made serious compromises: Graphically, things are a lot blurrier and lower resolution than on its console and PC counterpart, and at times, the frame rate drops are noticeable (the game tries to reach 30 frames per second all the time, and seems to mostly achieve that, according to tech reviewers who know more about that thing than I do) but this is the full 2016 Doom experience. On the Switch. Something that is essentially a tablet when compared to the other platforms.

Sure, graphics downgrade further when in docked mode – and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to play the game in docked mode on a 55-inch TV – but Doom is a much better experience when played in portable mode. This is a version that is for the bus ride home, the long drive to that holiday destination or the plane flight. The Switch’s 6-inch screen means that the graphical compromises aren’t as noticeable and the game works because Doom is the type of game that is meant to played fast-paced, with the player moving swiftly from location to location. It’s not designed for camping and hiding behind cover while enemies search for you.

Doom on the Switch can’t compete with the version on Xbox, PlayStation and PC. It just can’t and I don’t thing it’s fair comparing it to other formats, which have much more power and graphical capabilities (especially on PC, where with a top-end GPU you can crank everything up to 11). I don’t think the point of porting Doom to the Switch was to compete with the other version. I think the point was to show that, actually, a fast-paced, first-person shooter can work on Nintendo’s handheld console. The glory kills are here, the gore is here, the atmosphere is there: This is Doom.

There are purists who will say Doom on Switch doesn’t compare with the Xbox/PS/PC version and people are just cutting it slack because “It’s incredible that it’s on a portable platform at all” – and they’d be right to a certain degree (on how it doesn’t compare to versions on more powerful platforms) so they should steer clear of it, but for me, I determine a game on how fun it is, not whether it has cutting-edge graphics and how it compares to versions of it. Bottom line for me: Doom on Switch is a hell (pun intended) of a lot of fun on the Switch and frankly it look bloody fantastic.

Something that was a pain for me – and again it’s probably due to my eyes – but on-screen text was painfully small and hard to read: Even with my glasses on. Actually, even my son, who has 18 year old eyes, said the text was hard to read. He liked it but reckoned it could have looked better.

It’s good to see that major publishers are supporting the Switch but one concern I have with Bethesda’s strategy is that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is coming to the Switch in early 2018 – and I’m not convinced that game is going to work as well as Doom. I haven’t played it but it’s a graphically stunning title that I’m not sure the Switch can do justice without some serious compromises. I guess we’ll find out next year.

Look, I might have old eyes but, man, this looks bloody good to me.

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