Tag Archives: video games

REVIEW: Cuphead

REVIEW: CUPHEAD

Platform: PC/Steam/Xbox One

Developer: Studio MDHR

Hours Played to Finish: 7 ½

Cuphead start screen

“Cuphead” is a 2D run and gun video game that utilizes an art style which harkens back to cartoon animation from nearly 90 years ago. Mimicking 1930’s-era cartoons, (Looney Tunes, Mickey Mouse) “Cuphead” wears its inspiration on its sleeve; however, it provides enough reasons beyond its gorgeous visuals to warrant a purchase and see what this long-awaited indie game has to offer.

Cuphead drawing

Since its worldwide reveal in June 2014, “Cuphead” has garnered a respectable amount of press in video games media. Fans have been looking forward to playing the game for years, and with the impressive visual style nailed, it feels good to say that the game offers more than just pretty graphics. Running at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second, direct control of the action feels good from the get-go. The player’s basic abilities are to jump, shoot, and air-dash to the goal. There are some unique abilities thrown into the mix, such as the ‘parry slap’ which offers a defensive maneuver against certain enemy projectiles, but for the most part, the gameplay sticks to traditional run-and-gun action. Purchasing new types of blasters at the in-game store offers some variety to experiment with different play styles, which is always appreciated. Holding the right bumper allows the player to remain still and fire in any pointed direction without moving, which is a very welcome mechanic in any 2D run-and-gun game, “Cuphead” included.

Cuphead cake boss

“Cuphead” is a punishing game, offering zero checkpoints in any of its levels, boss fights included. This will turn certain players away, but thankfully the game offers two different difficulty modes to play around with. There is also a co-operative element in the game, giving two players the ability to play together throughout the entire experience.

Cuphead wallpaper

The player controls the aptly-named Cuphead as he and his pal Mugman go on an adventure to collect souls for the Devil, in an effort to preserve their own souls from his control. It’s a wacky introduction that feels right at home with the classic cartoons that the game looks fondly upon. While the storytelling throughout the adventure is bare-bones, the framework is strong enough to keep the player motivated to press forward in the quest to save Cuphead and Mugman.

Cuphead medusa boss

The majority of levels in “Cuphead” are boss fights, with the remaining levels consisting of run-and-gun stages in the vein of classic Mega Man or Contra games. The boss fights are the best part of the game, showcasing hectic action that forces the player to rethink their strategy multiple times during a single battle. Boss fights progress in phases as they take damage, changing up their appearance and arsenal. For example, there is one level that has Cuphead chasing a runaway train overtaken by ghosts, with the giant boss ghost throwing his never-ending arsenal of eyeballs at the player as they jump out of harm’s way. When the boss ghost takes enough damage, he transforms into a large skeleton, forcing the player to adapt to the skeleton’s new battle tactics to win. It’s wacky, silly, and feels just right in the game’s world. That isn’t even the craziest boss fight in the game, but it’s one that stands out.

 

Unfortunately, the remaining levels that aren’t boss fights are a letdown. These levels involve the player running from point A to point B, defeating small enemies and sometimes facing mini-bosses along the way. Most of the environments these levels take place in feel uninspired, with forgettable enemies and some frustrating areas that become tedious due to a total lack of checkpoints. A lack of checkpoints doesn’t ruin the experience, but having a single mid-level save would be appreciated. While these levels aren’t necessarily bad, they pale in comparison to the stellar boss battles, and it’s obvious that these levels weren’t the development team’s primary focus. A soundtrack that will be described as passable is also present, feeling true to the time period that is being paid homage, but not offering a memorable tune that sticks after the finale.

Cuphead title banner

After numerous delays and years of extended development, the developers at Studio MDHR have managed to make “Cuphead” the game that they always wanted to create. It’s been said many times before, but the visual style that the game boasts is breathtaking and one of the most unique graphical styles that has been seen in many years. The platforming levels may be disappointing, but the experience as a whole oozes with personality and flavor. Offering dozens of stellar boss battles, a charming cast, and simply breathtaking visuals that rival the best looking games of this console generation, “Cuphead” isn’t an experience I’ll be forgetting anytime soon.

 

Thanks for reading, guys. I’m looking forward to writing more game reviews for my University, as it’ll help me gain a stronger writing style. Hope you all have a great week.

  • Matt

 

Advertisements

Update: Somewhat-Exciting News & Incoming Review

Cuphead title banner.png
Hey folks, Matt here. I just wanted to share a bit of news that I’m excited about. The University I currently attend has an online, student-run newspaper, and I’ll be contributing to it! My first review will be, you guessed it, a game review, and it’ll release there early next week, probably on Tuesday. My first review will be on Cuphead, the long-awaited PC and Xbox 2D platformer that was initially shown off fifteen years ago. Well, maybe it wasn’t quite fifteen years, maybe three years ago, but it feels like longer than that! Anyway, I’ll be publishing my review on here per usual, but I’ve also got it coming to a different website as well. This isn’t the first time I’ve written articles for an ‘official’ paper, as I used to write for my previous University’s student-managed newspaper – but this is still a fun venture that I’m excited to be part of. Reaching the goal takes one step at a time, and this is another step that will help me reach my dream job.

Anyway, look out for that Cuphead review on the horizon. I’ll upload it here next week on Tuesday night. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

  • Matt

REVIEW: Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Hey folks, I’m a bit late on this one. I meant to get this post published a few days ago, but I’ve been swamped with the beginning of a new semester, as well as the usual day-to-day tasks that have to be taken care of. I’m hoping to get my next review out sooner. Anyway, here’s my thoughts on Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle for the Nintendo Switch.

mario + rabbids walk

It’s difficult for me to write my thoughts on a new Mario game, because I’ve spent nearly my entire life playing these games. I’ve been playing Mario Bros. video games since I received my first gaming system, the Gameboy Color. On that system alone there were a number of games featuring Mario as the protagonist (Super Mario Land 1 and 2) or as a side character (Game and Watch Collection 3). Our favorite Italian and former-plumber in video games has had some wacky trips, such as those times he went to space, or grabbed an extraordinarily large turtle by the tail and threw him off of a circular platform three times; apparently, those adventures weren’t enough. His clash with the rabbids in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle may be his strangest game yet.

mario + rabbids rabbid mario

As a big fan of the Mario franchise but very little interest nor knowledge of the Rabbids series, the beginning of Mario + Rabbids was a lot for me to stomach. The Rabbids arrive in a young inventor’s room through the use of a time-traveling washing machine, and that inventor’s room happens to house a set of virtual reality goggles that can manipulate two items to become one, so one of the Rabbids decides to steal it and combine the Mario and Rabbids worlds into one world, which causes total chaos within the Mushroom Kingdom to break loose, causing many Mario enemies and decor to fuse themselves with wacky inventions the Rabbids have created. That was a long sentence, eh? Well, the beginning of this game is exactly how it’s described above. It’s a wacky, odd introduction that is completely different than what we expect from a Mario game. Learning that the production of this game was handled by Ubisoft Paris and Ubisoft Milan helped me understand the bizarre introduction sequence a bit easier, and it helps explain later antics the Mario + Rabbids crew find themselves in.

mario + rabbids luigi

The story isn’t too deep, but there are a couple of plot threads and interesting ideas sprinkled throughout that kept me wanting to play more. I won’t spoil them here, but there are a couple of character introductions that genuinely made me laugh. It’s a Mario game, so we don’t necessarily expect a complex narrative, and here, it works well enough to keep things moving. Speaking of character introductions, I think this is something that I (and many others) were worried about before the game’s release – how well would the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom mesh with the Rabbids? Well, I’m pleasantly surprised to admit that the formula works well. The Rabbids are constantly messing around in the Mushroom Kingdom, and most of its citizens like Mario, Luigi, and Peach all give off looks that tell us, “Yes, this is exactly as weird as it looks. Just go with it.” And I really do think that this combination works. Rabbid Peach was the first character of the game to develop a large amount of scrutiny, perhaps thanks to her frequent usage of her phone to take selfies. In practice, she doesn’t actually take selfies too often, and when she did, I found it somewhat endearing because it wasn’t as forced as I initially expected it to be. Plus, the battle tactics she brings to the table are useful for many situations. Rabbid Luigi, another ally you partner up with early on, also offers a unique advantage on the battlefield, thanks to his ability to lower enemy damage output. I went into this game expecting to never want to partner up with any of the rabbids, but Ubisoft did a great job giving each rabbid its own unique traits and abilities. Plus, they restrict the player from selecting more than two Mushroom Kingdom citizens to bring into battle at once, oddly enough, so you always have a Rabbid by your side in combat.

mario + rabbids battle

Many news outlets have jokingly described Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle as an XCOM spin-off title, and while this sentiment is obviously not true, some of the gameplay systems from recent XCOM titles can be found in Mario + Rabbids. The game is a turn-based tactical RPG that incorporates hit percentages and damage numbers, where character and enemy placement is crucial to success. Also, it features guns, which means Mario fires a gun at Rabbid foes. That part is pretty great, and speaking of which, I really enjoyed buying new weaponry for each of the characters you run across. Collecting coins is crucial throughout the experience because new weapons provide higher damage and unique elemental effects on a successful roll. Some of these elemental effects are wholly superior to others (stone beats out honey in every way) but the variety is good to see. Battles play out well enough, with an appropriate number of enemies lining up to fight in the early stages. After a few battles, when you’ve gained more of your character abilities, the game offers a lot more potential than what is initially shown. It turned from basic, perhaps too easy combat, into a decent challenge that required me to restart certain battles a few times.

mario + rabbids rabbid kong

Boss battles are easily the most difficult part of Mario + Rabbids, featuring large enemies and solutions to a puzzle that is unique to that boss. I wish I could say that every boss is a home-run, but they are not. There are four main bosses, one for each world, and a couple of mid-bosses in each. Two of the main bosses are exceptional fights, one is fair, and the last one is downright boring. I found world one’s boss, Rabbid Kong, as the most fun and interesting (listen to that soundtrack! It’s awesome!) with world three’s boss at a close second place. Both of them had some interesting ideas at play, where the other two bosses don’t have similarly engaging solutions to the problem. Unfortunately, I did suffer a game crash during the first boss fight, and it was about halfway through the battle, but it was only a minor setback. That’s really the only glitch that I encountered during my playthrough.

mario + rabbids peach

Before I cap off this review, I wanted to mention the great score composed by Grant Kirkhope. Once again, this man delivers on the musical beat. There’s a few tracks that stood out especially strong, such as Rabbid Kong’s boss track, but everything from the battle music to overworld themes is strong and feels right at home in a Mario + Rabbids universe. The only time I felt disappointed by the music was during certain sections of roaming around World 3; the music matches the environment on display, but felt too slow at times, causing some drowsiness. Overall, Kirkhope and team have done a great job at bringing two different musical styles together in a way that feels just right. Mario and Rabbids are two very different properties, but the music in the game feels like a great fit.

 

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a game that should not work. It’s a concept that is crazy enough to never have a chance of success – and yet, Ubisoft and Nintendo have proven us wrong. When the game’s title and art were leaked earlier this year, I was among the many skeptics that questioned Nintendo’s decision to partner with Ubisoft. They worked together to create a game that combined many people’s favorite gaming hero, Mario, with.. Many people’s least favorite gaming heroes, the Rabbids. By the end of this game, I actually enjoy the Rabbid’s on-screen appearance in this game. I hope Nintendo and Ubisoft take note of the lessons learned during this production, and continue to trust strong third parties with their brands; I’d especially like to see more of Nintendo’s franchises take interesting, unexpected turns like this one.

 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading my review. Right now I’m playing Destiny 2 on PS4, as well as Metroid: Samus Returns on 3DS. I almost can’t believe a brand-new Metroid game starring Samus released a few days ago; I didn’t think I’d see it happen in my lifetime. All kidding aside, both of these games are pretty great so far. I’ll probably write up something for Metroid. Anyway, hope you all have a wonderful week!

 

  • Matt

REVIEW: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (Spoilers)

Uncharted Lost Legacy Chloe and Nadine

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is the first title in the Uncharted series to have players control a character other than Nathan Drake, a star that has formed the mold for protagonists in many modern video games. I have enjoyed seeing Nathan’s character grow over the years since Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, but after last year’s release of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and the conclusive finale he received in that game, I think Nate deserves a break from the treasure-hunting gig. This time around, Chloe Frazer of Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 fame takes the spotlight in an adventure that stands entirely on its own from previous entries. As the sixth full-length title in a series that spans nearly ten years, does Uncharted: The Lost Legacy feel worth picking up the grappling hook once again?

Uncharted Lost Legacy Standing Vista

The answer is yes, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is worth the price of entry. Fans of the series know exactly what to expect, and newcomers should feel perfectly fine jumping in, as this is a story separate from every other game in the series. There are a few returning cast from Uncharted 4, but you won’t find any story threads incomprehensible by not playing the previous games.

Uncharted Lost Legacy Chloe

The story contained in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is a well-constructed tale that offers a glimpse into Chloe’s past without relying too much on her background. Learning more about this character who, until now, was a sidekick to Nathan Drake is enjoyable, as Chloe tells her partner Nadine about the troubled childhood she had while growing up. Chloe’s monologues about her father’s past exploits in searching for the legendary tusk of Ganesh offer a look into why she began treasure hunting in the first place; a minor detail that I have been wondering since her reveal in Uncharted 2. It’s great to see Naughty Dog fleshing out the character in a way that isn’t overbearing; providing enough hints of Chloe’s past to keep players interested, but not leveraging the story entirely on her upbringing. Not as much is learned about Nadine, but seeing her reaction to the loss of her former militia ‘Shoreline’ and the emotions associated with it is a nice addition. As always, the performances given in The Lost Legacy are very well-executed, no piece of dialogue feeling awkward or out of place. Naughty Dog have become professionals in the realm of video game motion capture and voice acting, and I hope the rest of the industry continues to take notes.

Uncharted Lost Legacy Asav

Speaking of the story, an Uncharted adventure isn’t complete without a villain to push the treasure hunters forward. The Lost Legacy introduces Asav, a militia leader that also seeks the tusk of Ganesh, but for more nefarious reasons. His motivation was established well enough, and the multiple battles between Chloe, Nadine, and himself provide even more thrilling melee combat that I praised earlier, even if it is just a glorified set of quick time events. In a grim twist of fate, Asav is left behind on the train that is plummeting to its doom near the end of the game, with Chloe and Nadine paying no mind that the warlord is about to meet his doom – this is a twist of sorts that I welcomed with open arms. Chloe and Nadine don’t seem the traditional type of protagonists who attempt a rescue of their greatest enemy when the enemy is outmatched, so as grim as the depiction may be, I found the end of Asav’s storyline to be wrapped up nicely.

Uncharted Lost Legacy Map

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy started its development as a shorter slice of additional content for last year’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Shortly afterward, it grew into a project larger than the developer Naughty Dog initially expected, eventually created as a stand-alone adventure, with its own physical release. The expanded development has also brought with it a longer game than I initially expected – The Lost Legacy took me about 7 ½ hours to complete. Compared to the 11-13 hours that Uncharted 4 takes to finish, this game feels a bit breezy; but when it is looked at as an Uncharted game, I think it is a great length for the adventure. The action knows when to ramp up when excitement is needed, and when to slow down when the player needs a breather from combat. This is in stark contrast to certain sections from Uncharted 4 that contained long lulls of zero action to spice up the very long stretches of time spent exploring and solving puzzles.

Uncharted Lost Legacy Combat Still

Combat in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is nearly identical to the previous game. Chloe has her own unique melee takedowns different from Drake, but gunplay remains the same as before. I wasn’t the biggest fan of shooting in Uncharted 4, even though it works fine enough. I always felt like aiming in Uncharted 2 was more precise and satisfying. However, the melee combat in this game is as great as ever. The way the camera zooms in on Chloe when she lands punches or kicks on enemies is fantastic, giving a real weightiness to the action and emphasizing the “it’s just like a movie!” tag that Uncharted has become famous for. I still lament the loss of a proper dodge/parry prompt like in Uncharted 3, but doing environmental takedowns on enemies feels so good, its loss is acceptable.

Uncharted Lost Legacy Artifact

In fact, the melee combat is so good in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, that I recommend playing the game on light difficulty. I played through the game on normal difficulty, and found myself taking damage at a faster rate than I was used to. This is coming from someone who has completed the previous four Uncharted games on crushing difficulty, the hardest difficulty selection in the series. Maybe it is a sign of my aging, but I’ve grown weary of the hitscan attacks that enemies employ. Playing 2016’s Doom was a wonderful time for many reasons, one of those being the player’s ability to dodge enemy projectile attacks. I wish more shooter games could employ this method of staying alive. Yes, it would be pretty silly to be able to dodge bullets in games that mimic realistic combat; but I guess what I’m trying to say is, the enemies in nearly every Uncharted game have incredible aim, and are able to shoot down the player from extreme range. I’ve gotten a bit weary of this fact, and I wish these games didn’t rely so much on waiting behind cover as the screen washes away its red and grey shading, allowing the player a return to the fight.

Uncharted Lost Legacy Horse Puzzle

As always, the set-piece moments in The Lost Legacy remain as awe-inspiring as they are in previous games. In a callback to Uncharted 2, a new train sequence finds Chloe on a runaway train toward the end of the game that I found to be one of my favorite sections. This chapter on the train evoked memories of playing a similar train level in Uncharted 2 back in 2009, and it is performed wonderfully in this new game. On a technical level, this chapter is amazing, and the combat potential is larger than ever. Players can run along the train, climb along the sides, jump off of the train itself to hijack enemy vehicles, and rope swing their way back onto the track. It is a great demonstration of all the advancements that the combat in Uncharted games has seen, and I loved every second of this chapter. The rest of the set-pieces may not be quite as memorable, but there are a good number of exciting sections that keep players on the edge of their seat.

Uncharted Lost Legacy Banner

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy doesn’t do anything that will shake up the action video game formula, but instead refines many of the concepts put forth from previous Uncharted titles. I find that perfectly fine, and overall I’m satisfied with the latest title from developer Naughty Dog. It offers a compelling experience from beginning to end, and it kept me engaged the entire time. As an added bonus, the multiplayer and cooperative modes from Uncharted 4 are also included within The Lost Legacy, and are still  populated; in my time spent playing online, I always found other players to connect with very quickly. This game is a complete package that feels like a full retail release, and yet is offered at a discounted price, making it all the more sweet.

 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I just began another semester at University, but I’ll definitely find some time to write my Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle review this week. I just finished the game yesterday, and as a big fan of Xcom 2, I’ve got a few things to say about Mario’s latest wacky adventure! Hope you all have a great week.

  • Matt

REVIEW: Rise of the Tomb Raider (No Spoilers)

Rise of the tomb raider bear

Rise of the Tomb Raider made its PS4 debut in October of 2016, a little under a year since its initial debut on Xbox One and Xbox 360 in November of 2015. I enjoyed the 2013 reboot of the franchise a few years back, but not enough to justify the purchase of a new console, so I waited until the PlayStation 4 release of the game a year later. With all of the downloadable content included, what did I think of the game? Read on and find out.

Rise of the tomb raider jonah

In 2013’s Tomb Raider, I found the supporting cast lackluster, aside from Lara Croft’s mentor Roth. The two characters held engaging dialogue, and their relationship was believable. Thankfully, the supporting cast in Rise of the Tomb Raider is a bit better than in 2013’s Tomb Raider, but not by a whole lot. Jonah is a friend of Lara’s who appeared during the previous title, and he accompanies her during her latest excursion – to discover the lost city of Kitezh, and acquire an artifact known as the Divine Source. A man named Jacob is also met along the journey, who proved to be a more interesting and likeable character than I initially expected. Lara and Jacob’s story offers a satisfying conclusion, but I can’t say the same for Jonah and Lara’s. The storyline never explores exactly why they are friends beyond their shared desire to acquire the Divine Source; I never felt too worried when Jonah was in trouble, because the game didn’t exactly provide me with a reason why I should care. Lara is proven to be a fierce warrior more than capable of looking after herself, and I wish Jonah provided some vital ability or quirk that Lara required to complete her journey. Instead, I felt disappointed by their relationship, as it feels like it didn’t go anywhere.

rise of the tomb raider stealth

 

The main villains, on the hand, are better fleshed-out than the relationship between Lara and Jonah. The actions they take during their race for the Divine Source are harsh and unforgiving, but I found their reasons for taking those actions to make sense toward their reasoning for them; in other words, I found them believable villains. I believe that in most dramatic works of fiction such as Rise of the Tomb Raider, a compelling villain is one that should be more than just a cackling, evil warlord; they should be someone who has a reason for their terrible acts, one that can be understood by the viewer as a person who does terrible things for an understandable cause. Take Magneto from the X-Men, for example. He is a ruthless, cunning super villain that wants the best for mutants, his own race, even if that means bringing an end to the non-mutant human race. His means of bringing peace for his people are flawed, yet understood. The X-Men films which explore Magneto’s past expose the audience to the reasons why Magneto has become the man he is, and they are shown why they should feel sympathy in his plight. Despite Magneto’s evil intentions, his end goal is understandable, given the hardships that he has endured. A villain that is human and possesses good intentions accomplished in an evil way is not fitting for every work of fiction, but for the ones where it does work, it provides an extremely compelling villain that is not easily forgotten. This method of explaining a villain’s intentions probably wouldn’t work too well in a Mario Brothers game, but the way it is handled in Rise of the Tomb Raider is adequate. That being said, the main story itself was fine. It didn’t have many surprises, no shocking twists or strong character development, but it was a fine backdrop to keep me moving forward.

Rise of the tomb raider snow

Rise of the Tomb Raider controls near identically to the previous game; so for players that went through the first one, they should expect more of the same. There are a few new traversal options that spice things up, such as the broadhead arrows which allow Lara to scale walls by shooting arrows into specific spots she can climb upon. Aside from a few exceptions, expect to use similar climbing gear from 2013’s Tomb Raider to scale tall cliffs and ancient debris. I was not a big fan of the combat in 2013’s Tomb Raider, feeling that it was a bit too clumsy and frenetic for my liking, and that aspect remains mostly the same in this sequel. It remains serviceable, and shooting targets from a decent range feels fine; but once enemies get up close, hitting them becomes an awkward process, even when using firearms. The melee attack that Lara possesses is weak and unsatisfying, although it does open up possibilities for violent finishers that are appealing to watch. Some of the executions on human enemies seem rather brutal and uncharacteristic of Lara to perform, but I excused their brutality simply for the fact that Lara has been through Hell and back during her previous journey. Upgrading Lara’s gear during the journey is accomplished using the many collectibles scattered across each terrain, and it was satisfying to put these resources toward improving weaponry and learning new abilities. The frankly extensive list of costumes that Lara can don is also a neat feature, most of them offering perks to combat or exploration. I enjoyed the combat encounters the least during my playtime, moreso enjoying the game’s massive, explorable environments, but the gunplay was definitely serviceable and didn’t often frustrate me. Lara continues to rock the bow and arrow, and I hope that trend continues in future installments.

Rise of the tomb raider title card

Many comparisons can be made between the last two Tomb Raider games and the Uncharted series. 2013’s Tomb Raider adopted some of the big set-piece moments that the Uncharted series became known for in the late 2000’s; this is ironic, considering the Tomb Raider series is one that has persisted since the PlayStation One era, and Uncharted was the one being accused of ripping off the Tomb Raider games. With that being said, I’ve always found the set-piece moments in the last two Tomb Raider titles to be rather bland, aside from a couple of exceptions. There’s a few in Rise of the Tomb Raider that stand out, but I can only remember a single bombastic moment from 2013’s Tomb Raider, whereas I’m easily able to recall most of the set-pieces that take place in the Uncharted series. I think future Tomb Raider titles should attempt to incorporate even more big set-piece moments, because if there’s one thing that I think Tomb Raider does better than Uncharted, it is giving the player control over more of the experience. There are a few too many times in the Uncharted games when character control is wrestled away from the player only for a cutscene to play out, but I haven’t found that Rise of the Tomb Raider suffered this problem, which is great to see. I don’t necessarily have a problem with cutscenes used in games, but it can be frustrating when there are long stretches of time spent not playing the game, instead watching a short film in place of it.

Rise of the tomb raider sweatshirt

All of that being said, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a solid game. The set-piece moments aren’t as bombastic as I’d like them to be, the gameplay flows decently enough, and the story isn’t much interesting; yet despite these issues, I enjoyed my time in Lara Croft’s world. I found Lara’s backstory to be interesting, where they focus on the relationship she had with her father, and I hope to see more of her past explored in future Tomb Raider titles. The stinger after the end credits sure guarantees we’ll see another Tomb Raider, but really, was there any doubt?

 

 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. If you’d like, let me know how my writing can improve, as I’m always looking to do better each day. Have a wonderful week.

 

  • Matt

REVIEW: Sonic Mania

Sonic Mania Wallpaper

Hey everyone, I’m back from vacation! I spent a week away from home by the shore, which gave me ample time to relax on the beach; and of course, dive into Sonic Mania, thanks to the portability of the Nintendo Switch. I’m not shilling for Nintendo, I swear! I just love this system. Being away from home right after the release of Sonic Mania was also a great opportunity to play it on the go. Anyway, let’s get on with the review. As someone that has only played a handful of Sonic games, what do I think of the blue blur’s latest adventure? Important note: I’ve never played the original Sonic games from the Genesis. I’ve only played bits of Sonic Advance for the Gameboy Advance, the entirety of Sonic Rush for the Nintendo DS, and a few of the home console 3D adventures. However, I’ve watched an entire run of Sonic 2, and seen parts of Sonic 3.

Sonic Mania Circle

To put it simply, Sonic Mania is awesome. The game is a celebration of the best parts of Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2, and 3 (& Knuckles) remaining true to the original trilogy while providing fun new levels and boss fights. The controls for all three characters (Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles) is tight and exactly as expected; not nearly on the level of responsiveness as classic Mario platforming, but precise enough as not to feel annoying.

 

A cool new addition for Sonic is his ability to spin dash while in mid-air, allowing for a speed boost upon hitting the ground. This gives better opportunities for gaining faster speed, which is especially useful in the game’s time trials for each of the game’s thirteen zones. Each of these zones is separated into two acts, excluding the final zone. A few of my favorites include the classic Green Hill Zone, Oil Ocean Zone, Lava Reef Zone, and Studiopolis Zone, but each one brings fun diversity to the fast-focused gameplay. For example, Hydrocity Zone has players navigating levels both above water and submerged in it. Finding shortcuts and avoiding large falls rewards players with the higher ground, allowing them to bypass some underwater sections. I never found the underwater sections to be particularly frustrating, mostly because of how short they are. There are a couple of forced underwater sections in certain levels, but the frequent air bubble pockets made these parts less stressful than I remember them being in previous Sonic games.

Sonic Mania Knuckles

The level design in Sonic Mania is great, offering many speed opportunities as well as precise platforming challenges within each act. It is very difficult to explore every nook and cranny of a level during a single playthrough, and once this fact is accepted, it’s fun discovering the many secrets and power-ups that lie in wait throughout each level. I’m a bit of a completionist, often feeling compelled to 100% finish a game if I especially enjoy it, but I have accepted that there is no way to do this in Sonic Mania unless you play through the game multiple times as each character. Thankfully, each character offers unique abilities that enrich the levels they occupy, but that also means Sonic won’t be able to reach a certain high ledge that only Tails can fly toward, or one which Knuckles can reach using his wall-climb. Even after finishing the game as all three heroes, I still mostly enjoy playing as Sonic, but Knuckles isn’t far behind, his wall-climbing ability and glide offering surprising maneuverability across each act’s sprawling landscape.

Sonic Mania UFO

The two bonus games offered in Sonic Mania range from decent to fantastic. To access the first bonus game, players will have to collect at least 25 rings and pass a checkpoint marker, from which they can enter an isometric, top-down view of Sonic as he runs along blue orbs attempting to hit them all, avoiding red orbs in the process. I think this bonus game is a fun diversion, but I did not feel inclined to play it at every chance I got. However, the second bonus game, hidden in certain secret spots within each zone, is a ton of fun. This bonus game finds players controlling Sonic behind his back, akin to modern 3D titles, chasing after a UFO carrying a chaos emerald. Sonic’s movement in this bonus game is a bit slippery, especially as he gains speed, but I always felt in control of his movements despite this. As you pick up speed by collecting blue orbs, the bonus stage music ramps up, driving you to try your hardest to avoid falling off course before catching the UFO. Finding the entrances to this bonus game encourages exploration, as they are often well hidden in each level away from the main path. Collecting all of the chaos emeralds grants an extra zone to tackle, but I won’t spoil the results of that encounter here. It’s a challenge collecting all of the emeralds, but boy is it worth it!

Sonic Mania Boss

As expected from a Sonic game, there are boss fights aplenty. Presented at the end of each act, most of these battles are executed well, some sticking with the tried-and-true design of jumping into Eggman’s robotic ship at least eight times. The most interesting of these battles offer a unique spin on the formula. I found a few in particular to be especially interesting, but I won’t spoil them here; I’ll simply mention which zone they take place in. First off, Chemical Plant Zone, Act 2 is stellar because of its unexpected nature, which felt right at home in the game (especially considering there is already a Sonic game with which they ripped this boss fight straight out of). Flying Battery Zone, Act 2 is great, offering a familiar method of attack with different means of hurting the boss. And finally, the boss fight in Act 2 of Metallic Madness Zone is a lot of fun, especially because it incorporates a mechanic from the entirety of the level itself into the fight. Overall, I’d say the boss battles in Sonic Mania are a success. A few of them harken back to the original trilogy for inspiration, while others offer a different look at the formula. In my eyes, the only stinker of a boss fight would be the final confrontation in Act 2 of Oil Ocean. Trudging through slimy goop during a high-stakes battle isn’t fun, especially when certain sections of the fight force away all of the solid ground of which to stand on. I found myself dying to this particular boss more times than I could count, but they were eventually defeated by exercising a lot of patience. To me, it felt a bit cold in an otherwise great zone.

Sonic Mania Logo

Sonic Mania feels like a love letter to fans of Sonic’s side-scrolling roots. Even though recent 3D Sonic titles have incorporated side-scrolling and precision platforming elements into the mix, none of them brought nearly as many interesting ideas to the table as Sonic Mania does. The entirety of this game oozes with personality and care; I encountered zero bugs in my extensive time with the game, save for one graphical error at the end of Green Hill Zone, Act 2. This game has made me understand the gaming community’s love for the original Sonic titles, and has me more excited than ever to see the future of Sonic the Hedgehog.

 

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! Next, I’ll be writing my review of either Rise of the Tomb Raider or Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. I finished Tomb Raider a week ago, and I’m going through Uncharted right now, so I’ll soon see which one I’m more interested in writing about.

 

Have a great week, everyone.

 

  • Matt

Shady Business Practices in Video Games

Hi folks, I wanted to write something a little bit different today. Usually I write here about my thoughts on a game I’ve played, be it a new release or an old one, but something caught my eye recently that disgusted me enough to want to write about it.

fortnite title

I haven’t been keeping up with news about the recently-released Fortnite from Epic Games because, well, I don’t really care about the game. The premise simply doesn’t interest me. However, in a recent article from Gamespot, I read that the game has sold over 500,000 copies across three different platforms as of July 26th. That’s a big problem, considering the game will be a free-to-play title in 2018. That’s right, Epic Games is selling an early access title for upwards of $40 that is going to be completely free to start playing by next year.

 

This is a gross business practice that effectively has early buyers acting as bug testers for when the free-to-play release of Fortnite hits digital storefronts. Unlike bug testers, these people are not being paid for what they are doing, but are instead paying the publisher for accessing the unfinished game early. I say unfinished because the FAQ (frequently asked questions) on the official Fortnite web page describes the game as an early access release. I’ll include a link to that page right here.

pac-man cash

It doesn’t matter how finished or complete the game is right now. As it stands, Fortnite is an early access title that will be completely free-to-play starting next year, and players are ponying up cash to access it early. When the free-to-play version releases, the purchase that consumers made to get that early copy will have been for naught, except bragging rights that they played the game ahead of its official release. I’m not one to say how people should be spending their money, but this business practice feels exploitative, especially when you consider people who have a tight budget for new games. Purchasing Fortnite is an effective way to waste money on a release that will soon be available for free.

loot boxes

On top of this, Fortnite offers microtransactions which are available in both the early access release, and will assuredly be available in the free-to-play release as well. As many other people online have correctly stated before, microtransactions have no place in any video game that isn’t free-to-play. It is a shady business practice that breaks the in-game economy by incentivising players to spend extra money to unlock items that may otherwise take many hours to unlock by normal means of playing. Just look at Overwatch, for example. It’s a game that has millions of fans, including myself, but the loot box system in that game is also exploitative and assures that nobody will ever unlock every item unless they pay extra for loot boxes. Even if these items are all cosmetic, they still affect perception of the game and encourage additional purchases on top of the entry level fee for the game itself. Cosmetic items or otherwise, it is gross to have these additional purchases for loot boxes available on top of an up-front fee for the game.

 

Let’s not even get into the whole Middle Earth: Shadow of War news that has been popping up recently about that game’s microtransactions. If you’d like a good breakdown of that game’s price gouging, look no further than this wonderful informative video that was released today by Jim Sterling; I’ll link it right here.

shadow of war microtransactions yeah

The previous game in this Lord of the Rings series, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, is a great game that deserved the praise it received back in 2014. The business practices behind its sequel ensure I won’t be playing Shadow of War on day one, if at all in the near future, despite being a fan of both Lord of the Rings and Shadow of Mordor. I refuse to support a single-player, triple-A game release that offers microtransactions on day one. It’s one thing to have these additional payments available in multiplayer-only video games, but it is especially egregious to find them in an exclusively single-player release.

 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I’m close to finishing up Rise of the Tomb Raider, a game I’ve wanted to play for a little while now, and I’ll share my thoughts on it soon. Have a great week, all.

 

  • Matt