JBL Quantum 600 headset review

Byte-sized review

Not so long ago on this blog, I reviewed JBL’s Quantum 300 wired gaming headset which I said “My ears were in audio heaven with the aural goodness being fired into them from these JBL ear cans.

Now, JBL have sent through one of the 300s bigger siblings: The Quantum 600, a wireless gaming headset that is clearly aimed at gamers –  although you can use it for other things like video conferencing (but, personally, I wouldn’t.)

Targeting PC gamers, the Quantum 600s connect to your PC using a thin USB dongle that plugs into a free USB slot. You can also use them with consoles using the USB dongle – such as a PlayStation 4 – or the supplied connection cable that has dual 3.5mm headphone jacks if you want (Nintendo Switch).

The pairing button/on-off switch is housed in the right ear cup, while the rotary dials that controls the volume and chat and microphone functions are integrated into left air cup.

The Quantum 600 is comfortable with nice padding on the ear cups and head band and being wireless, they’re certainly heavier than the wired 300s, with a sturdy braided cable snaking out of each ear cup into the headband. Tipping the scales at 346grams, they’re definitely heavier than my personal favourite headphones: Bose’s QC 35s.

That said, I didn’t find the extra heft annoying while I was wearing them and it didn’t cause me any discomfort but it’s just something to be wary of if you plan to do extended gaming sessions. I didn’t get “hot ears” either while wearing them.

The foam around the ear cups is thick enough to offer a little bit of noise cancelling but they won’t drown out external noise: you can still people talking if they’re in the same room as you. They’re charged using USB C.

You can adjust the tempo of the RGB lighting on each earcup.

When using them on your PC, you can tweak a variety of settings using JBL’s Quantum Engine software, like the sound field you want (DTS, JBL’s Quantum surround), microphone and chat levels, and manage the RGB lighting of the JBL logo on each ear cup, which ranges from the lighting pattern to how long each colour is active for.  If you love a bit of RGB bling, these things will make you smile from ear to ear.

When you use the USB dongle on your console you don’t have access to the Quantum Engine software so you can’t tweak RGB settings or sound options, you’ll just have to make so with whatever surround sound option the game itself supports, which is what I did.

Sound is incredibly good, too, with the headphones offing not only DTS surround sound but 7.1 audio and I tested them with Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima (PlayStation 4)  and the PC version of Death Stranding.

You can select the type of surround sound using JBL’s Quantum Engine software.

Minute details popping around my head as I slashed mongol invaders through the island of Tsushima or tip toed through BT infested landscapes, hoping not to be sucked into a pool of black goo. I really was impressed by the sound quality with these headphones while gaming.

The only non-gaming thing I did with the Quantum 600s was use it during a work Teams call and while sound quality was good, my work colleagues couldn’t hear me talking. Maybe it was a glitch, maybe I had inadvertently muted the microphone (flipping it up will mute the sound) but I wouldn’t use this headset for non-gaming endeavours.

JBL claims that the 600s have a 14 hours music playtime with the RGB lighting off before needing a recharge and while I didn’t log my usage minute by minute, I reckon I got at least eight hours – with the RGB lighting on (despite not actually benefiting from seeing them being on) – before needing a recharge.

Bottom line is JBL have another winner on its hands here with the Quantum 600 wireless gaming headset, which will set you back around $250 which seems a reasonable for a headset of this build and sound quality.

Your ears will love you for it.

 

Ghost of Tsushima review: Way of the samurai

Tsushima is an island situated between the Tsushima Strait and the Korea Strait, approximately half way between the Japanese mainland and the Korean peninsula.

According to Japanese mythology, Tsushima was one of the eight original islands created by the Shinto deities Izanagi and Izanami and its two islands have a long history and was  an important trading post during feudal Japan, which was invaded by the Mongols between 1274 and 1281.

In 1274, the first Mongol invasion of Tsushima killed a great number of the island’s inhabitants and it’s with this historic backdrop that development studio Sucker Punch has set its latest creation Ghost of Tsushima – and I rather liked it [That’s the short version but I’d be rather thankful if you stuck around to the end as it took me a while to get these words just how I wanted them].

Sucker Punch has a long and illustrious history with PlayStation 4 and it kicked off its PlayStation 4 relationship with the rather excellent inFamous Second Son and now as we near the end of a console generation it ends it with PlayStation 4 exclusive Ghost of Tsushima, first announced way back in 2015.

The game opens with the Mongol invasion of Tsushima and Jin Sakai is one of the last remaining samurai, left for dead and his uncle Lord Shimura  captured, presumed dead. Leading the Mongols is Khotun Khan, the nephew of Ghengis Khan, and a brutal, well-studied enemy who offers the people of Tsushima a bleak future: Bow to him or they will die.

Jin is found and nursed back to health and he vows to rally the splintered factions across Tsushima to his join his cause, defeat the Khan and reclaim Tsushima.

As a highly trained samurai, throughout the game Jin constantly battles internal demons as he tries to reconcile what it means to be a samurai while being forced to evolve his tactics to face a new, more brutal enemy, something unlike the Japanese had seen before.

As a child being trained by his uncle, Jin was taught the ways of the samurai: “Loyalty to our lord, control of our emotions, fight bravely, and honour the legacy of clan Sakai.” As his legend grows, Jin must decide does he kill stealthily to become the Ghost or challenge foes face-to-face as is the way of the samurai?

I played Ghost of Tsushima from start to finish with how I personally feel is the most appropriate way the game should be played: With the Japanese language track and English subtitles. It just didn’t feel right to me to play a game set in feudal Japan and featuring samurai in any other way, at least not in my first play through.

Central to combat is something called resolve, which is earned by killing enemies, parrying attacks and completing tasks. Resolve can be used to activate special attacks, as well as used to replenish your health when it falls dangerously low.

Completing story quests earns Jin technique points which can be used to upgrade his stances and combat tactics, allowing him to be a stronger fighter, or unlock throwable weapons such as kunai (knives), sticky bombs (which sticks to an enemy before exploding) or wind chimes (which can be used to distract an enemy).

Sucker Punch has made a point of mentioning that GOT doesn’t have an on-screen pointer to tell you where your objective is – and they’re right: Apart from a small line of text in the top left corner showing the current objective title and how far you are from your destination is, the screen is devoid of any other elements.  It is a minimalist’s dream and a recent patch brought an even more sparse UI (recommended for “expert players”, apparently).

So if there’s no on-screen objective marker, how the heck do you know where to go? By following the wind, my friend, by following the wind. If you swipe up on the Dualshock 4’s touchpad,  gusts of wind blow in the direction you need to go. It’s effective and is frankly refreshing to find a game that is using the technique.GOT is very much a game where you look for visual cues to tell you something is nearby or where you’re going: Tori gates point you to cliff top shrines that grant you charms that help in defensive and offensive moves; yellow birds flying to hot springs where you can soak to recover health or religious monuments; foxes lead you to inari shrines.

Visual cues also play an important part in combat: From the yells of Mongol archers which indicate they are about to unleash arrows on your to the red glint of an enemies weapon, meaning an unblockable attack is coming and you need to roll out of the way.

Then there are the standoffs where Jin challenges opponents to lethal one-on-one face offs. Press, hold and release the triangle button just as the enemy strikes and Jin will kill the enemy with once slice of his razor-sharp katana. A downed fow will stagger forward briefly, grasping his neck, blood spurting from the wound, before crumpling to the ground, a lifeless body.

By the mid-point of the game, I had maxed out Jin’s standoff ability, enabling him to take down three enemies in quick succession during a standoff encounter  (if I didn’t screw it up, of course), each strike captured in glorious slow motion.

There has been talk online by many that the combat looks Sekiro like: It’s nothing like Sekiro a game I downright hated and gave up on. GOT is all about learning attack patterns, parrying blows and striking hard and fast.

Make no mistake, though, the combat can be brutally unforgiving, especially if you get surrounded by a group consisting of the game’s four main enemy types: Sword wielders, shield carriers, spear bearers and big dudes [but I just call them tanks because that’s what they are] and crucial to defeating them all is mastering the four “stances”: Wind, stone, water and moon, each more suited to a particular enemy.  You’ll find yourself switching between stances on the fly as you tackle all the Mongels have to offer.

I mastered the combat but even late in the game I was still getting my arse handed to me on a plate sometimes when I managed to get surrounded by too many heavy enemies or I screwed up a stand off. If I have one piece of advice it’s this: Use the right stance against the right enemy and max them all out as soon as possible.

As Jin becomes more powerful and his legend grows, he gains the power to terrify nearby enemies through the sheer brutality of some of his attacks and frightened foes will run off, too scared to face you. Assassinations are brutal, too, with sprays of claret erupting from the chests or necks of hapless Mongels.

I have to talk about the side quests because they’re incredibly well written and varied but, importantly, feel a natural extension of the main narrative and not just tacked on to pad the story out. It might be a woman barricaded up in a remote wooden cottage who requires medicinal herbs that mongols at a nearby camp stole from her or a quest to find a mysterious vengeful spirit that rewards you with a mystical power that comes incredibly handy in combat against some of Mongol’s more formidable warlords.

There is so much to discover and much of the time you’ll just stumble across things, be it side quests or points of interest.

Ghost of Tsushima starts off slow, perhaps too slow for my liking, with Act one rather pedestrian at times and I did wonder at one point “Does it get better than this?”. It does and once you start upgrading Jin’s abilities the game opes up dramatically, combat is more free-flowing and the narrative gallops ahead.

For all that is excellent with Ghost of Tsushima, it is still lumbered with the odd tired old gaming tropes from time to time, like instant fail stealth sections if you’re spotted by an enemy and a “Follow this person of interest for a bit to see where they go but don’t get spotted” mission. Thankfully, that one didn’t last long but I had flashbacks to the Assassin’s Creed games I’ve played with its stealth mechanic.

I also encountered the odd “Return to the tale zone” messages (complete with a countdown timer) after I’d apparently stepped outside the prescribed area for an active tale. Aren’t we past this type of mechanic this late in the current generation? Here’s hoping the new generation will see an end of those tired cliched tropes.

Animation is generally top notch, especially in combat, but from time to time you’ll notice Jin’s feet not quite sitting right as he wanders about and climbing is not as smooth as I’d hoped for.

Visually, Ghost of Tsushima is stunning, which you’ll hopefully see in the screen shots peppered throughout this review  – and it gets more stunning as you move through the game world. It’s particularly nice to see that in an industry where many of its products are so often dominated by browns and greys, Ghost of Tsushima is a burst of vibrant freshness, with the island of Tsushima bursting with explosions of colour: Golden yellows, vibrant purples, bright reds and greens, piercing blues and glowing orange.

There has been much talk about the Kurasawa mode which pays homage to the movies of Japanese director Akira Kurasawa and it’s a nice touch, with the black and white image featuring film grain and more dramatic camera angles, but, personally, I couldn’t play the game from start to finish like that. I switched to the mode for a few minutes to see what it was all about then reverted back to the normal mode.

 

For those video game photographers, GOT also has got you covered, with a great photo mode. I found myself pausing the game and framing photos far too often: Before too long I’d captured 3.7Gb of images and video, some I can show here, others I can’t until after the game is out in the wild, so to speak. It’s an amazingly comprehensive photo mode, too, with a huge number of tweakable options including a black and white mode, the ability to determine the amount of on-screen details and a day-night cycle.

By the time the credits rolled on the main story, I had found 12 of 49 fox dens (yes, you can pet the foxes), gained two of the four mystic powers, soaked in six of the eight hot pools, visited six of the 16 Shinto shrines (all atop rocky peaks) and visited three of the eight lighthouses. My goal is to find everything this game has to offer, no matter how long it takes, and I reckon I’ve already sunk more than 35+ hours into it (an hour counter would be really helpful), with my play time including at least two six hour sessions. I plan to take my time and discover al the hidden locations and mop up the remaining Mongol stragglers.

The bottom line is I enjoyed Ghost of Tsushima immensely and while it doesn’t fundamentally do anything radically different from all the other open-world games out there, I enjoyed the narrative and its characters.

If you plan to play it, I have this advice: Don’t rush it. Take your time, explore the world, soak in the atmosphere, discover what lies behind that hills, over that rise, behind that stand of trees. Take. Your. Time.

With Ghost of Tsushima, Sucker Punch has delivered a wonderful closing chapter that not only fittingly celebrates the Japanese samurai but is a fitting farewell to this Sony console generation.

*Thanks to PlayStation New Zealand for the advance copy of Ghost of Tsushima. I completed the main campaign on a PlayStation Pro.

PNY RGB Memory launches in Australasia

In January, I won a Montech Air 900 mesh mid-tower PC case from a New Zealand online retailer: Over the weekend just gone, I transferred all my PC components from my great but ageing Fractal case to the Montech case.

Everything went relatively smoothly and it has a tempered glass side panel so colour me intrigued when memory manufacturer PNY Technologies announced it has launched its new XLR8 Gaming RGB DDR4 Desktop memory range into Australasia.

PNY says the XLR8 Gaming RGB memory is compatible with major motherboards and is ready-to-sync with Asus AURA SYNC, Gigabyte RGB FUSION 2.0, MSi Mystic Light Sync and ASRock Polychrome SYNC for an ultra-high quality RGB experience.

The overclocked modules provide ultra-high performance and a superior computing experience thanks to the aggressive overclocking, built-in heat spreader and XMP 2.0 support, delivering PNY’s fastest speeds, highest bandwidth and lowest latencies These in turn maximise PC stability and responsiveness during memory-intensive gaming and application use, says PNY.

Backed by PNY’s limited lifetime warranty and supported by live tech support, the XLR8 Gaming RGB boasts 3200MHz frequency and is backwards compatible with 3000MHz, 2933MHz, 2800MHz, 2666MHz, 2400MHz, 2133MHz. The memory is timed at 16-18-18.

It might be time to start blinging up my case, eh?

New Cyberpunk 2077 trailer

CD Projekt Red, famed for its Witcher series, has released a new trailer for its next open-world action RPG game Cyberpunk 2077, which you can watch above.

Members of the games writing community have also had time with the game (I’m sure that was an interesting exercise in logistics, given the current global pandemic), spending time with the first few hours, and previews are up about their foray into Night City, but personally, I’m trying to watch as little as possible: I want to go into Cyberpunk 2077 as fresh as possible.

That said, I can guarantee that I’m going to be playing Cyberpunk 2077 as my children pre-ordered the game for me on PlayStation 4 as a Father’s Day present [Father’s Day in New Zealand is in September] – but I had been expecting to play it in April, as many gamers had been hoping, until it was delayed –  and now it’s been delayed until November this year [which is, suspiciously, the same time that many expect the next-generation PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series to be out].

Also, it seems CD Projekt Red & Netflix have teamed up to produce a new anime show Cyberpunk Edgerunners which takes place in the same universe as Cyberpunk 2077. Coming out inj 2022, a media release about the series says it’s a “standalone, 10-episode story about a street kid trying to survive in a technology and body modification-obsessed city of the future. Having everything to lose, he chooses to stay alive by becoming an edgerunner—a mercenary outlaw also known as a cyberpunk.”

You can watch the launch trailer here.

Anyone else planning on checking out Cyberpunk 2077?

 

JBL Quantum 300 gaming headset review: My ears are happy

Despite years and years and years of playing video games, one thing I don’t own is a good gaming headset.

Oh, sure, I’ve got a stellar pair of Bose Comfort 35s [probably the best headphones I’ve ever owned] but they don’t have a boom microphone so they’re not ideal if I decide to go online and get my arse kicked by people much younger than I am.

Step up JBL’s Quantum gaming headset range, which Quantum’s NZ PR kindly sent me to try out – and try out I did, on a variety of games.

Quantum game me a number to choose from but I decided to pick the Quantum 300s, a mid-range set of wired gaming headphones, and right off the bat, these things are comfy. Extremely comfy, thanks to memory foam ear cups. Sometimes I get hot ears when I wear over-ear headphones for too long but the Quantum 300s didn’t cause me that problem.

The Quantum 300s connect to your PC via a USB connection which in turn joins to a 3.5mm miniplug – which means you can also connect the 300s to any other gaming device, be it a Nintendo Switch, a PlayStation Dualshock 4 controller or an Xbox One controller. The left ear cup has a raised volume dial which is easy to reach mid-game.

They’ve got 50mm drivers, the aforementioned memory foam on the headband, and a flip up/down directional microphone with a nice foam shield and has a nice “ting” sound when you flip it up and down. And they’re comfy. Did I mention they were comfy?

I’m also a stickler for small touches on products and the the Quantum 300s have a nice braided cable, which, even if it’s just for aesthetics, looks so much better than bland plastic-coated cable – and to make sure you put the right ear cup on the right ear (we don’t want any audio imbalance now, do we? the right cup has a bright orange R printed on the inside and the left cup has a bright orange L printed on the inside. They tip the scales at 245 grams.

Quantum says the range is optimised for PC, and it shows, with management software  – the JBL QuantumEngine – that lets you tweak the sound balance, which ranges from boosting the bass levels to emphasising higher tones so the top end is crisper), to microphone sensitivity and whether you want stereo or JBL’s Quantum 7.1 audio (which sounds damn amazing). There’s even advanced features which let you enter your head circumference and body height so things are just right.

But how was the sound? Bloody impressive, I must say.

Bass notes were deep and booming and high notes were crisp and clear – and the impact from these things was just as impressive whether I was using the spatial surround sound while gaming on my PC or playing The Bioshock Collection on Nintendo Switch or Uncharted 4 on the PS4.

My ears were in audio heaven with the aural goodness being fired into them from these JBL earcans.

The Quantum 300s will set you back around $NZ150 which I think is excellent value, given the build quality quality and impressive sound. Well worth it, in my book.

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced gaming headset, I’d recommend these beauties from JBL wholeheartedly.

 

 

Win with Pricespy & GamejunkieNZ

Good evening.

I originally planned to run this competition a week ago but, yeah, life got in the way ….

New Zealand has just moved into alert level 1 so to celebrate that monumental event, we’ve teamed up with PriceSpy to offer one reader the chance to win two games from Pricespy’s top five most searched for video games in April.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says even though Kiwis were unable to buy games during lockdown, it didn’t deter them from clicking on some of the latest new releases.

“For example, Final Fantasy VII – Remake for PlayStation 4 and Animal Crossing: New Horizons for Nintendo Switch were found to be the most popular games shoppers clicked on during April.

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons in particular has performed exponentially for Nintendo around the globe. Even faced against the COVID-19 pandemic, Nintendo reportedly sold 13.41million copies worldwide over the first six weeks of release, with many retailers selling out completely.”

PriceSpy found that in New Zealand, Animal Crossing: New Horizons still proved to be extremely popular however it was Final Fantasy VII – Remake that pipped it to the post in April, claiming overall top position.”

How to enter: To be in to win two games from Pricespy’s top five most searched games for April, send me an email at gamejunkienz@gmail.com, telling me what game you’re most looking forward to this year.

The competition is only open to New Zealand residents and the winner will be drawn (by me) sometime on Tuesday, June 16. I will then forward the winner’s email to Pricespy which will forward the games to the winner. Simple.

Oppo A91 smartphone review

Let’s cut right to the chase: I was left impressed by Oppo’s mid-range A91 handset which screams high-end design and features but comes with a more wallet friendly price.

I say it’s mid-range because priced at $649 it’s not a cheap handset that you’d treat roughly and toss to the curb when you’re done. The A91 is much better than that.

In your hand, the A91 feels solid yet not cumbersome (it tips the scales at 172gms and 7.9mm thick) and right out of the box, it looks like a premium smartphone thanks to the reflective blue back plate.

Even when it’s snug within the provided clear silcone cover, the phone feels comfortable when you’re holding it (and the benefit of a clear protective case means you get to see the gorgeous colour which Oppo has name Blazing Blue. It also comes in Lightening Black).

Sporting a 6.4-inch full HD AMOLED screen (with a resolution of 2400 x 1080), colours are vibrant and images pop on the A91’s display, and a nice feature at this price point is the under screen fingerprint reader, which unlocks the device blazingly fast. It’s a nice touch on a phone at this price point.

It also has facial recognition which worked most of the time but I found the fingerprint so accurate that I tended to rely on that most times.

The A91’s rear camera setup.

The A91 has all the connectivity options you’d expect on a smartphone (WiFi, Bluetooth) and one that I wasn’t expecting at this price point (NFC). Couple that with 128Gb of expandable storage (up to 256Gb via microSD),  8Gb of memory and a 4025mAh battery, the A91 packs a lot of punch for  not a lot of money.

I got roughly a full day and a bit before requiring a charge and that was super quick, thanks to Oppo’s VOOC 3.0 fast charging option. The A91supports dual SIMs, which means you can have both your work SIM and personal SIM in the one device. I didn’t use that option but it’s a good feature for those of you who would rather just have one phone for both work and home rather than carry two around all the time. For the time I had the phone, it was the phone that used every day and I enjoyed my time with it.

Sounds good, right?

Well, it gets better with a quad camera set up which offers a 48MP main lens, an 8MP ultrawide lens, a 2MP lens and a 2MP depth sensor. I was impressed with the photographic capabilities of the A91, too, some of my efforts which you can see here (including the obligatory cute dog shot). There’s also a 16MP front facing camera for those of you who love to take numerous self portraits, if you’re that way inclined, of course.

Whenever I get a new phone to review, I always take lots of photos with it and it was no different with the A91: I took photos around the house, I took photos of the dog, I took photos of sunsets. Lots and lots of photos of sunsets and the A91 delivered solid results every time

The A91 uses AI to determine what’s in your photo then sets things up for you ie animal, sunset, fruit: It’s no muss, no fuss photography. It features Electronic Image Stablisation and a built-in gyroscope so videos are smooth and non-shaky, and it features an impressive ultra night mode, which does an excellent job of adjusting night time photos so you get the best out of what you’re taking photos of at night or in low-light situation.

Frankly, I was impressed immensely with the A91 and in this age of expensive smartphones, it’s a handset that ticks all the boxes for a well-rounded Android smartphone that won’t break the bank.

I can’t recommend the A91 highly enough.

Thanks to Oppo New Zealand for the review unit.

Possession 1881: A creepy point-and-click adventure

Sometimes its the intriguing emails that capture your attention the most.

Danielle Lemky, who runs Canadian indie game maker End of Line Studios, emailed me the other day after stumbling across an article I did about adventure games when I was still employed as a journalist with Fairfax NZ/Stuff way back in 2013.

Her email started: “Hello GameJunkienz (Or should I say Old Man Gamer?)!” I wasn’t sure whether to be miffed being labelled an Old Man Gamer, which to be fair I probably am, or impressed. Either way, I was intrigued enough to write about the Lemky’s first game Possession 1881 so points to Danielle and Jared for getting in touch.

Here’s what they told me about the game, which is described as an occult-themed point-and-click adventure: “Possession 1881 is a classic adventure game, and as such, players must find clues and see connections between objects to solve puzzles, which will allow players to progress through rooms within an old Victorian mansion.

“Clues can be found in many places such as in notes, in books, on walls, on objects, or even within the animations of objects.  The clues and the rooms of the mansion include facts from history, archaeology, music, science, and the occult within the Victorian Era, and allow the player to immerse themselves in that time period and environment.

“The environment is dark and beautiful with soaring skylights, moonlight, rich wooden Victorian decorations, flickering candlelight, and carefully crafted sound effects and music.”

Jared tells me that the game leans more towards the suspense and creepy side of the fence rather than horror. “No monsters, no jump scares, just a creepy abandoned mansion with puzzles to solve and a morbid story. We were inspired by Myst, The Room  and our own fascination with logic puzzles,” he says.

I’m not sure it’s my cup of tea – games with scary themes tend to freak me out a little – but if it’s your thing, Possession 1881 might be worth keeping an eye on. It’s due out on June 5 through Steam.

Win with GamejunkieNZ & Norton

A couple of months ago, I gave my impressions of Norton’s LifeLock 360 premium security suite over on Koru-Cottage (go take a read here) and found that despite having a couple of minor annoyances, it was a comprehensive, solid security package that I use on a daily basis on my PC and iPad.

Norton’s software suite is more than just anti-virus, though: It also features parental controls, a password manager, a Secure VPN with bank-grade encryption, SafeCam for PC and much more. I like that the software suite offered protection for up to five devices, including PC, Mac, iPhone and Android and the premium version comes with 100Gb of cloud backup storage.

Well, thanks to Norton, we’ve got two copies of Norton’s LifeLock 360 premium software to give away to our New Zealand readers. All you need to do to enter is email me at gamejunkienz@gmail.com, telling me how lock down was for you (especially if you were working from home), and why Norton’s LifeLock 360 premium would make your life just that little bit safer.

The competition closes midnight, June 1, is only open to New Zealand residents and Norton will email a download code directly to the winners (I will supply the email addresses of the two winners to Norton). As usual, my decision is final.

Good luck!

Lonely Mountains Downhill (Nintendo Switch)

As it is with my real-life mountain biking these days, the first run on the trails in Lonely Mountains Downhill tend to be slow and methodical, getting the lay of the land, so to speak.

I’ll freewheel down some sections, slowly pedal down others, paying close attention to where the shortcuts are that will make future runs quicker. It could be a series of rock jumps or a cut down a bank. Anything that will share precious seconds off future runs.

Slowly and surely is a pleasant experience, too, with the only soundtrack accompanying you is the rush of the wind through the trees, the chirp of birds, the sound of your back tyre skiding in the dirt and your freewheel pawl (the pawl is the ratcheted mechanism in your derailleured bike’s rear hub that makes the noise when you’re not pedaling) chattering away as you coast down a decline.

Lonely Mountains Downhill began life as a Kickstarter project  by German game makers Daniel Helbig and Jan Bubenik, and full disclosure here: I backed the project and my name’s in the game’s credits.

As an ageing mountain biker the game appealed to me as a way to enjoy one of my passions when I’m stuck at home and the weather’s too horrific to don the rain jacket and hit the trails. I was also attracted by its low-poly graphical style, with a blocky, chunky biker and vibrant environments.

Be warned, though, it can be brutally tough with challenges that unlock outfits and better bikes forcing you to throw caution to the wind and scream down a trail as fast as you can within a specific time or with a limited number of crashes.

Having played it on PC, Lonely Mountains is the perfect fit for Nintendo’s handheld console: It’s the quintessential “one more try” game as you work on perfecting your run despite having crashed for the seventh time – and you will crash, many, many, many times as you aim for the next checkpoint and the end goal.

Lonely Mountains is also one of those games that, using the old adage, is easy to learn but hard to master as you’ll find your self having to negotiate treacherous rock formations, tree trunks and tight corners to put in the best time.

Technically, Lonely Mountains looks the part with its nice graphical look, and plays well, although there are noticeable frame rate drops at times and sometimes the camera is a bit wayward, at times obscuring your view (which is only generally a few feet in front of you anyway) with a large tree or rock formation, causing you to crash into the rocks you couldn’t see.

I also found the tolerance for crashing seemed to vary and it wasn’t consistent: Obviously, I crashed if I hit a rock face at speed but I’d also be penalised with a crash if my rider rolled his front wheel into a small rock or nudged a tree at a slow speed (something that wouldn’t happen in real mountain biking). A little leniency needs to be given to collision detection for some of the obstacles, perhaps.

Lonely Mountains Downhill is perfectly suited to the Switch’s smaller form factor and I wouldn’t recommend playing it in docked mode (if you have an OG Nintendo Switch) as the graphical compromises for the Switch are glaring.

As I said earlier, Lonely Mountains is one of those “Just one more go” games, even when you’re frustrated at how many times you’ve crashed: My son rode a trail and was cursing how much he was crashing but kept going as he wanted to beat the time I’d posted for the same course [he succeeded, beating it by two seconds].

Thanks to Lonely Mountains Downhill on Switch, I can now “ride” my mountain bike any time I want: At the office, while I’m lying in bed, while I’m, ahem, in the bathroom. It’s also the perfect thing for when I just can’t bothered kitting up and hitting my local trails, especially with winter looming and its inevitable wet & chilly weather.