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.

Super Mario Odyssey: Super fun times with Mario

Super Mario Odyssey is the best fun I’ve had playing a video game in a long, long, long time.

In fact, I’ve had so much fun with it could well be my game of the year <thinks about that for a minute>

Yep, Super Mario Odyssey is my game of the yea. Tough luck other games from 2017: You were beaten [soundly, in my opinion] by Nintendo’s long-standing mustachioed plumber Mario who stars in a game that is unashamedly cartoony and dripping in fun.

The Odyssey – from the title Super Mario Odyssey – is the name of the vessel that Mario uses to fly around a planet in search of that dastardly Bowser who has, yet again, kidnapped Princess Peach and intends to marry her. Trouble is, the Odyssey needs moons – which are found hidden around various kingdom – to power its engines so it’s up to Mario to chase Bowser, from kingdom to kingdom, uncovering moons (crescent moon shaped, really)  that can lead him closer to Princess Peach.

“What’s so fun about that?”, I hear you ask (you probably didn’t but it adds effect to my narrative). Well, the fun part comes from the opening kingdom when Mario is introduced to Cappy, as his name suggested a talking hat that at the flick of the right JoyCon allows Mario to possess just about every living thing in the game world: Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Cheep Cheeps, Piranha Plants, Bullet Bills … the list goes on. Imagine the possibilities of that: It means that Mario can navigate the kingdoms so much easier now, using the skills of the relevant world to collect moons and move to the next kingdom. It’s rather satisfying possessing a chain chomp then using it to defeat one of the Broodals that is using it against Mario!

Mario can use Cappy to give him boosted jumps and collect coins dotted about each kingdom, which can then be used to buy anything from health hearts and moons to new outfits and stickers (and not a loot box in sight!!)

Mario starts each kingdom with three hearts in his life bar and there is effectively  no Game Over with this game as when the three hearts are depleted, Mario loses 10 coins (which are used as in-game currency) every time he dies. Keep collecting coins (and they are plentiful) and all is sweet.

Each kingdom is themed very differently from the last: One takes place in a world covered in sand, another takes place in a wooded world, one takes place in a land made up of vegetables and pink boiling lava. New Donk City in the Metro Kingdom is clearly based on New York City and probably my favourite kingdom.

Each kingdom has a show down with one of Bowsers crew – the Broodals  – (hired as his wedding planners) but what I liked about these mini-boss battles is that a) they aren’t difficult and b) they’re generally a three-stage pattern. Even an old man like me had no trouble defeating them. Once you’ve defeated the boss, you can explore the kingdom collecting as many moons as you can find before heading back to the Odyssey to fly off to the next kingdom. There’s one particular boss in the water kingdom that had to be defeated by Mario possessing an octopus that squirts water and uses it to propel itself upwards and forwards. Craziness!

Another really, really nice touch – and a throwback to Mario’s earlier appearances – are the green pipes that we’re all familiar with that transport Mario into an 8-bit, side-scrolling world. It’s so well done that it made me smile.

Until Super Mario Odyssey came along, I’d never really been that taken with a Mario game. Sure, I’d played them but none of them captured my attention like Super Mario Odyssey has. I think the possession ability has had something to do with that – and the fact that the game is just so much darn fun (it also has a really neat photo capture mode). It looks fantastic, too, especially given that the Nintendo is incredibly under-powered when put alongside the consoles from Microsoft and PlayStation.

I’ve pretty much played Super Mario Odyssey every night since I got it and I’ve loved just about every joyous minute of it (it’s not perfect: the camera isn’t the best at times, and can make jumps onto moving platforms difficult at times) .

For me, Super Mario Odyssey is my game of the year already, and frankly, it just cements another reason to own a Nintendo Switch.

A big thanks to Nintendo Australia for providing the review copy of Super Mario Odyssey. Cheers, guys.

 

Arms: Punching good times on the Nintendo Switch

Like it did with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch, Nintendo has struck  gaming gold with pugilism simulator, Arms.

As the name suggests, this punching game centres on the arms of the pugilists, which are spring-loaded with one of three different “gloves” providing light, medium and heavy attacks. Take Spring Man, example, his toaster arms look like boxing gloves, his boomerang arms fire two-bladed boomerangs and the tribolt arms fire three rockets at foes. You can mix and max so each arm has different gloves, if you like. Punch your foe with the left arm then knock them down with the right!

The game play is mixed up with skill-based rounds every now and then: It might be having to punch beach balls over a net before they explode or knock down targets or knock your opponent into a basketball hoop. The fighter that scores the highest moves onto the next round.

While you might think Arms would get repetitive quickly, it doesn’t as it has enough depth and a roster of 30 fighters (each fighter has their own unique ring, too) to keep things moving along nicely. You can use either the JoyCons unclipped from the Switch, waving them around, or using a controller or attached to the Switch itself. I actually felt more control waving the JoyCons around as if I was actually fighting. It just felt more natural, with pushing both hands forward grabbing opponents and turning them into each other putting your fists up to guard your face.

The fighting isn’t that deep but you can curve punches to catch opponents unawares, dash and jump, as well as using the arena environments to your advantage. One takes place in a street with parked cars as obstacles while another has platforms that rise and fall as you’ve playing. Grabbing opponents with both arms and throwing them to the ground is great fun. I haven’t played any online matches yet but the game play modes include ranked matches.

Arms looks fantastic on the Switch, too: It’s running at a crisp 720p and 60 frames a second, in both docked and un-docked mode.

With Arms, Nintendo has again delivered a knock out with a game that is simply put, fun. Arms is FUN. Pure and simple.

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

 

 

My week in gaming: Auckland, Zelda and visiting strange planets

This week I got to do something that as a gaming writer I haven’t done in a long, long, long time: I visited a game development studio to talk about an upcoming Xbox release of a game that’s already out on PC.

A screenshot of the upcoming Xbox version of Path of Exile.

The game is Path of Exile, an action RPG made by an Auckland studio called Grinding Gear Games. If you’re a PC player, you’ve likely heard of it: Path of Exile is a free-to-play online multiplayer game that is hugely popular in Europe and America – and it’s coming to Xbox soon. No release date has been announced yet .

While I have to say multiplayer action RPGs aren’t really my first choice for video games, the Xbox version of Path of Exile is looking pretty good.

Look out for a story from my visit in the coming weeks.

Flying from Christchurch, where I live, to Auckland, where Grinding Gear Games is, gave me a good chance to play a heap load of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the plane – and I’m really liking the game. The portable mode of the Switch is amazing and while the degrading weapons in the game is a bit of a pain in the arse (especially when a weapon breaks mid fight), I’m slowly making my way through the lands of Hyrule. I tamed a horse last night so am now wandering the lands on horseshoe-clad hooves rather than shoe leather.

The new research pods in Astroneer are quite weird, too. This one looks like a tomato, right?

Lastly, I’ve gone back to Astroneer this week after the latest update and I’m not sure what I think about it at the moment, to be honest. I still love the game (which is in early access) and its one of my best game purchases of the last year (along with Thimbleweed Park) but the new update has tinkered with the research tree – (when you land on a planet you find strange objects that can be scanned at your base that will reveal blueprints for technology like solar panels, space ship parts, batteries, etc) – and now research like the 3D printer, which is used to, obviously, print out objects, is much, much harder to find.

Developer System Era has now created a tiered research system but that means it’ll take much, much longer to find blueprints for things like the aforementioned 3D printer and the vehicles – and on some planets the research “nodes” aren’t that easy to find. I hear that the developer is looking at patching the game again to make those items much easier to find sooner rather than later.

OK, so that was my week in gaming. How was yours?

 

Nintendo Switch review: If you build it, they will come

The Switch in docked mode, with the JoyCon controllers attached. It’s not plugged in, obviously.

I’ve had a Nintendo Switch for about three weeks now and I like it. I like it a lot but I do have some reservations about it (but more on those later).

OK, full disclosure first:  Nintendo Australia sent me a Switch for long-term loan (I’ve talked about how this came about here) and will send me first-party games when they become available that I can review. If it wasn’t for Nintendo Australia, I wouldn’t have a Switch so I’m grateful to the company for that.

What I like most about the Switch is its tablet/portable mode. That is what makes it so good as a games player. I also like that its software which comes on flash ROM cartridges or digitally isn’t region locked. That is a good thing.

I like the design of the Switch. Without the Joy Con controllers attached it looks like a regular tablet, except its held in landscape mode all the time. You can play games without the Joy Cons attached – they’re wireless – and the unit itself has a somewhat fragile looking kickstand that props it up. It means you can set the console up on a table or a bench – or an airline tray table? – and play games that way.

The tablet of the Nintendo Switch. The screen is quite glossy: You can see my reflection in it.

Attach the Joy Cons to the tablet, though, and that’s where it really shines. The 720p screen is sharp and clear and it’s a good size – just the thing for portable gaming – , although it’s quite glossy so there is screen glare to content with depending on your positioning near things like windows and lights.

The Switch feels comfortable in your hands when in portable mode and while a little unusual at first, the stick and button layout becomes natural after a while.

The portable mode is the crowning glory of the Switch. It really is and I have to say I’ve played most of Zelda Breath of the Wild using the portable mode.

It means I can take the Switch to work and play some BOTW on my lunch break. It means I can take the Switch to bed and play BOTW while my wife reads her book. It means I can take the Switch to the toilet … OK, you get where I’m going here (Disclaimer: I have never taken the Switch with me to the toilet).

For all the things I like about the Nintendo Switch – and I do like it –  I just can’t recommend you rush out and buy one right now. The software just isn’t there for it.

Later on in the year, I’m sure it’ll be a different story (Mario Kart 7 Deluxe is due out later this month, I think) but right now, the Switch just doesn’t have enough compelling games to make it a must-have purchase. The lack of must-buy games is the biggest weakness of the Switch right now, especially given it’ll set you back around $550 just for the console itself in New Zealand.

I’ve only got two games for it: The aforementioned BOTW, which I really like and it looks fantastic,  and the frankly not very good Switch 1-2, which is a collection of mini-games where you look at another player rather than the TV screen to do things like gun slinging and milking a cow. Yes, milking a cow. It’s as bizarre as it sounds.

Look, Wii Sports is a much, much better game than Switch 1-2 and it launched on a Nintendo console two generations ago. Switch 1-2 should have been included free with the Switch as a tech demo on how the motion controls of the Joy Con controllers work but no, in NZ it’s priced anything from $65 to $80. Personally, I think Nintendo should have just thrown Switch 1-2 in as a freebie..

Here’s some advice: If you go to a game store to buy a Switch and the shop clerk says “How about another game for your Nintendo Switch? What about Switch 1-2 as well?” do this: Laugh in that person’s face, say “No” loudly then walk out of the store with your Switch and copy of BOTW tucked under your arm.

To me, the Switch has really only one game worth playing at the moment, Zelda Breath of the Wild, and it’s a very good game – and that’s from someone who isn’t a longtime Zelda fan – but apart from that, there’s nothing else to play on it. Games are coming, though (Update:  Apparently Lego City  Undercover is out for the Switch now. I haven’t played it yet, though)

More games are coming: Splatoon 2 is coming, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 from Telltale is coming, Pikmin 3 is coming, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is coming, Arms is coming … so my   recommendation right now is although I love the Switch, I’d wait before buying one.

The Switch reminds a little of the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams (readers born after 1989 ask your parents or Google it) about a farmer who heard a voice whisper to him “If you build it, they will come” in relation to building a baseball diamond in his cornfield. He did, and they came.

To me, the Nintendo Switch is a bit like that: Nintendo has built the console, now we just have to wait for the games to arrive.

 

 

Oh, look, it’s a Nintendo Switch!

A few weeks ago I was invited by Nintendo to attend a hands-on session with its then-yet-to-be released Switch. Sadly, I had to decline the invitation (it was in Auckland and I live in Christchurch, which is in New Zealand’s South Island) but Nintendo’s PR company in Australia kept in touch over the following weeks.

Last week, I got the good news that Nintendo was going to send me a Switch to look at for review. The console arrived today (after being held up by Customs for a couple of days). It came with a copy of Zelda: Breath of the Wild & 1-2 Switch as well as spare JoyCon controllers (red & blue).

The last Nintendo home console I played was the Nintendo GameCube (which I still own) so I’m looking forward to having a good look at the Switch over the coming days, especially trying out the portable mode. I’ll document my thoughts in the next week or so.

Set up was easy enough and I managed to connect the JoyCon controllers the right way to the tablet body (I read on social media that some people  slid them on wrong, causing them to get stuck). As I write this, the Switch is charging the tablet.

Zelda: BOTW will also be the first home console Zelda game I’ve played (I’m not counting the Nintendo 3DS version) so I’m looking forward to it.

In the meantime, here are some images of the un-boxing process.

The tablet of the Nintendo Switch. It’s has a nice reflective screen, as you can see by my reflection.

The rear view of the Switch’s tablet. Note the bananas in the background. Our dog likes bananas, too.

The Switch in docked mode. It’s not plugged in yet, obviously.

The Switch in docked mode, with the JoyCon controllers attached.