Huawei nova 3i: A budget priced phone with a high-end presence

Huawei’s nova3i smart phone is a budget handset with flagship features that’s  missing one thing that a flagship smartphone does: The hefty price tag.

The last Huawei phone I reviewed was the P20, which I thought was a good phone but it just didn’t wow me, especially given the flagship P20 Pro wasn’t much more price-wise. The nova 3i has impressed me no end.

For starters, I love the iridium purple (Huawei calls it iris purple) on the glass/metal back: It looks classy and high-end, and makes the phone look more expensive than it is. It’s nice to see a budge phone that is a little different from the usual gold/white we so often see on smart phones. Some one said to me it looks kind of like an iPhone X, too, and it does – but without the eye-watering price point.

 

The nova 3i has a 6.3-inch IPS screen  ( FHD at  2340 x 1080), an impressive 4Gb of memory, is running Android 8.0 (with Huawei’s Emotion UI 8.2) and its 128Gb of storage is expandable to 256Gb via MicroSD. It also lets users set Te Reo as a language, which is a great touch for those of us in Aeotearoa. The battery life was damn good, too.

The nova3i has four camera lenses (two front-facing, two rear-facing) like Huawei’s flagship P20 Pro but – and here’s where saving would have been made – not from renowned company Leica. The nova 3i takes pretty damn good photos, which I’ve posted here, and camera software uses AI to enhance where it sees necessary. Sometimes it makes the original image look better, other times, though, it makes the original image look a little over-saturated, overall I was really impressed with the camera and the images.

Before: The original image with the Huawei nova3i’s AI mode disabled.

After: The image with the AI mode enabled. Note how the blue sky looks brighter, as does the sand.

Before: Another shot from the same beach with the AI mode disabled.

After: Again, note how much brighter the same and blue sky is thanks to the AI mode.

I think one of the main reasons I’m so taken with the nova 3i, though, is the price point: This is a phone with Rolls Royce looks but with at a Datsun 180B price. At $499, I’m more likely to upgrade my ageing Samsung Galaxy S7 with the nova 3i than I am Samsung’s recently released Galaxy Note 9, which may kick the Huawei’s arse when it comes to specs and performance, but these days, I’m not that keen on spending $1700 to $2000 on a phone, not matter how impressive it is (Nor would I want to, actually.)

The Huawei nova 3i does everything I need it to in a smartphone, and at a far more affordable price. As a budge conscious tech-head, that’s a win in my book.

Thanks to Huawei for providing a nova 3i hanset for this review.

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

Red Dead Redemption 2: I am ready

Rockstar dropped a game play trailer of the upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2 this morning, and after watching it today, I pity any other game/s that is/are coming out in October because, seriously, RDR2 is going to leave them sniffling wrecks, crying, curled up in the corner of a room.

Here’s 6 minutes and five seconds of RDR2. I pre-ordered this game two months ago. I usually never pre-order video games. In fact, I’ve pre-ordered only two video games in 40 years of playing video games (this and Batman Arkham Knight).

I have no more words. Just watch the trailer.

God, October can’t come fast enough. My PlayStation 4 is ready and waiting.

Element: An RTS game for people who really don’t have time for RTS games

Element (Nintendo Switch)

What a year the Nintendo Switch has had.

Despite being the least powerful console of the big three (Nintendo, Microsoft and PlayStation), I can quite comfortably say that I spent more time playing games on my Switch than I do the other consoles I own.

There are so many great reasons to own a Switch, and Element, from New Zealand developer Flightless, is another one.It’s a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch.

Element’s narrative involves a space craft fleeing a decaying solar system. Arriving in a new solar system, you must visit each planet (named after elements on the periodic table, ie barium, titanium, silicon, gallium), mining enough crucial resources to ensure your survival. Sounds simple, right? Well, kind of. You see, while you’re mining for resources, enemies are doing the same thing, You’ll have to build attack and defence forces and assault the enemy while mining the planet for all you can.

Early planets like Boron offer very little challenge, with minimal enemy presence, but by the time you get to planets like platinum, the enemy threat starts increasing. Planets like iridium and neon, have well established enemies that pose a dangerous threat.

Element is a really nice fit on the Switch, with an appealing low-poly look to it and intuitive controls. Using the Switch’s touch screen, you can zoom into the action so you can get a good handle on things and strategize accordingly, and rotate around planets using the right analogue stick.  After a while, you’ll find yourself rotating around a planet like an old hand, plonking down mines and defence units as you target enemy mines with missiles.

It feels a little bit Command & Conquer to me sometimes,  making you think strategically before you do something  while also making you think two steps ahead for potential threats.

Flightless has described Element as a real-time space strategy game for those who don’t have time for real-time space strategy games which, let’s be honest, is probably a lot of us these days. It’s the sort of game that is perfect for bite-sized gaming chunks during lunchtime or just before bedtime, letting you play through two or three planets in a session then call it quits for the night but still feel satisfied.

Update: Something that I suddenly thought about after an email exchange with Flightless director John O’Reilly was that Element would really work with a two-player network co-op mode where where each player controlled a faction. I think that would really work well with the game play in Element. 

 

Thanks to Flightless for the Element review code

 

No Man’s Sky Next: Is Hello Games’ space game worth a re-visit?

What a difference two years makes, eh?

In 2016, Hello Games (with, let’s not forget, considerable marketing support from PlayStation) launched procedurally generated space exploration game No Man’s Sky on the PlayStation 4. Hello Game’s  leader Sean Murray touted all the amazing things players would be able to do in the game and the hype just flowed.

Turns out, though, a lot of the stuff that Murray mentioned you would be able to do, you actually couldn’t. No Man’s Sky was a game that gave me conflicting emotions when it was launched. Here’s a quote from my review:“No Man’s Sky is probably one of the few games that I’ve really been conflicted about it. I like that you can explore a huge galaxy – and Hello Games have done a nice job of making you feel you are in a huge universe – but I’m not really big on the fact that after a few hours the game becomes a grind and, frankly, a little tedious.
Hello Games is an indie studio – despite the fact that PlayStation handled all its PS4 marketing – and should be applauded for trying something risky and ambitious, but I can’t help but think that because of the massive hype heaped upon it by both PlayStation, games media and gamers themselves, it was never going to live up to expectations.”

Looking back at my coverage of No Man’s Sky, it seems I, too, was caught up in the hype surrounding the game. I posted quite a few videos before release, and my review wasn’t overly critical, closing with “I’m sure in a few months No Man’s Sky will be a much different game to the one that it is now (a new patch was released for PC and PS4 on Friday) and chances are I’ll revisit it sometime in the future just to see to see what has changed.

Well, two years [and some other updates] later, and No Man’s Sky is the game it should have been at launch thanks to the recent Next update and it’s a great update (all the images here are captured using the game’s photo mode)   but it begs the question: Should Hello Games have just waited two years to release the game in a more complete state rather than release it when they did, half-finished ?

The answer is, of course, yes. The original game was rightly pilloried by gamers and critics alike because it wasn’t what Sean Murray at Hello Games promised it was. It also wasn’t what Sony hyped it up to be in the flashy trailers it sent to games writers like me. Gamers around the world bought it based on all these promises , and were swept up in the hype that only the games industry seems to be able to generate. Gamers thought they could do all these amazing things but were disappointed  when they found much of what they were promised was untrue.

I think it’s admirable that Sean and Hello Games have stuck with No Man’s Sky, despite all the criticisms and negative press, and kept updating it. I take my hat off to him and the studio. They could have easily said “Ok, game is launched, we’ve got our cash. Let’s jet off to a tropical island somewhere and hunker down” but they did. They stuck it out and supported the game.

I’m making my way through the game again thanks to the Next update and it feels like a completely different game from launch –   planets are more detailed and varied, crafting has been tweaked, there’s a third-person view for ships and your avatar, plus dozens of other tweaks – but the grind is still there. If you weren’t a fan first time around, I doubt new graphics and changed game play features will convince you to stick this out.

Sadly, though,  part of me feels that no matter how impressive the Next update is – and it is impressive, especially compared to the original game  – the damage has already been done for No Man’s Sky and a lot of gamers have already been burned by the launch state of the game.

It’s a sad indictment on the gaming industry that two years later, No Man’s Sky is now the game it should have been. As gamers, we shouldn’t  be content with paying for games then hoping they’ll get fixed into something better sometime down the line but it seems to be a worrying trend that is becoming more and more common these days.

If you haven’t played No Man’s Sky before – and Xbox One players can now see what all the fuss is about – then now is probably the perfect time to do it: It’s the game that it should have been at launch, and newcomers haven’t been burned by what happened before. That said, I’m sure owners of the original game (if they still have it) in their droves are revisiting the game thanks to the Next update, as I have done, but I think No Man’s Sky is a lesson for the entire games industry to take note of:  Don’t ship a game that promises things it will never deliver on.

Here’s some simple advice for game developers and (perhaps, especially, publishers/marketers): Delay the game until it does what you say it does. Don’t bow to publisher pressure to release a game way too early just because it wants the sales revenue.

As a gamer, I’d rather wait a few more months for a better game, and be satisfied, than buy a game that is half-finished and doesn’t let me do what you’ve hyped it up to do, and will never deliver on those lofty expectations.

Gamers will forgive you for a game that’s late but does what it says on the box.They’re  not so forgiving when you promise them the moon and all you hand them is a pebble.

OK, so to answer the question I put in this blog post’s title: Is Hello Games’ space game worth a revisit? Thanks to the Next update, yes, it is. I’ve still had the game crash on me since after a post-update patch (funnily enough, changing my PS4’s internal clock to Pacific Standard Time seemed to fix it), but the game is much improved on the original. It’s just a pity it took two years for that to happen.

 

Captain Toad Treasure Tracker review

A question to start off just because it popped into my head while I was playing Captain Toad Treasure Tracker: Why is a character that looks a bit like a mushroom called Captain Toad? Is it because he looks kind of like a toadstool? (Update: I just Googled it and it’s because he’s a toad. So ignore everything I just said)

Anyhoo, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker originally appeared on Nintendo’s Wii U and is an action puzzle game based off the Adventures of Captain Toad levels in Super Mario World 3D. The Switch version also contains four levels based on Super Mario Odyssey.

Players control the titular Captain Toad  around an isometric viewpoint which you can rotate around, navigating obstacles to collect a golden star at the end of every level. Manipulating the viewpoint with the right stick reveals secret rooms and hidden areas, many holding collectibles. When you’ve completed a level, you can do it again to find the pixel Toad hiding somewhere.

Captain Toad can’t jump, especially when he’s wearing a backpack, but he can pull up turnips that he can toss at enemies to stun them. The game also lets you manipulate platforms and the like by touching the Switch’s touch screen.

Look, I’m an adult in my late 40s, haven’t played the original on Wii U, and can pretty much guarantee I’m not the target audience, but I found Captain Toad Treasure Tracker the perfect antidote from the pressures of daily life when I had a few precious moments spare to play something lighthearted. Each level will take only a few minutes to complete so with many of us time poor these days due to general life demands, it’s just the bite-sized gaming that the doctor ordered – and it suits the Switch portable nature perfectly.

Praise aside, Captain Toad presents more of a dilemma for those gamers who have already played the game on the Wii U, though, as if you’ve already played it on that console – or own it on that console – I don’t see much merit in you double-dipping just because it’s on Nintendo’s latest console (especially given it’ll set you back between $55 and $70, according to Pricespy).

For gamers like me, who hadn’t played Captain Toad Treasure Tracker before, this is a good introduction to the adventures of the cute little toad, and is just the ticket if you’ve got a few minutes spare for some light-hearted puzzle action.

Thanks to Nintendo for the review copy of Captain Toad Treasure Tracker (Nintendo Switch). The game is also available on Nintendo DS, as well.

King Tide: Battle Royale with bite

 

Thanks to games like Fortnite and PubG, the Battle Royale genre has grown hugely in popularity over the past few years with gamers, each essentially following the same format with land-based kill-under-your-killed game play.

I’m not a Battle Royale player because – and let’s not beat about the bush here – I suck at multi-player games but New Zealand development studio Digital Confectioners is hoping its watery take on the genre will take it to, ahem, new depths with its new game, King Tide, a Aquatic (Battle) Royale game that places players in scuba suits swimming around the Deep Blue, having to face off against sharks as well as each other, rather than on land.

King Tide seems to be continuing Digital Confectioner’s nautical-themed games – its last one was Depth, where players were either a shark or a diver – and pits 100 players against each other, having to avoid depth charges, aforementioned sharks and forces players to scavenge for weapons in locations such as sunken ships, reefs and underwater labs.

The game is planned to go Early Access on Steam in August this year, with the developers reckoning it’ll be in that state for at least a year, with version 1.0 anticipated to launch around July, 2019. According the game’s FAQ, King Tide will set you back $US14.99, it won’t contain loot boxes (but perhaps sunken treasure chests?) and additional game play content will be through free game updates.

Time to sharpen the spear gun (not that I have one, that is)?

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