REVIEW: Team Sonic Racing (Switch)

  • Released: 2019
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4
  • Time to get into: 20 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 12 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local and online

Game Summary
Team Sonic Racing attempts to differentiate itself from other kart-based racing games by baking into the gameplay a team mechanic. You are encouraged to work together as a team of 3 out of up to 12 racers; sharing power ups and giving slipstreams and other boosts. And you know what: it works really well! You really need to work together with your, real life or AI-based, teammates if you want to win and it adds a new strategic dimension to the races. Unfortunately these aspects feel like they are tacked onto a fairly lacklustre overall racing game and aren’t quite enough to keep it ahead of the competition.

What’s good about it?

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  • The team-based features are great. You can offer item boxes you collect to your team-mates and accept those offered by them. You can get boosts by slipstreaming your team’s cars and offer the same if you are the lead driver on your squad. All of these actions eventually build up to you being able to unleash your team’s ‘Ultimate‘. This is a period of time when all 3 of you have a speed boost, are invincible and can take out other racers. Going ‘Ultimate‘ as often as possible it vital to winning in Team Sonic Racing.
  • There are a few other types of event thrown into the adventure mode that are a change of pace from just doing team race after team race.

What’s bad about it?

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  • There is a ton of dodgy collision detection – I have bumped into thin air on a number of occasions. Moreover, after a while I found myself expecting to even when I actually didn’t, it had gotten so bad.
  • Whilst the team stuff adds a great strategic element to the races it does take away from other elements of the game, as you are so focused on reaching your Team Ultimate as soon as possible that each race can seem the same after a while.
  • The adventure mode’s story is absolutely horrible. You don’t have to sit through it – you can just select to start each race without the story elements – and I highly recommend that you don’t. It’s slow, dull and predictable… or at least I assume it is, I gave up on it about 1/3 of the way through!

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Conclusion
Team Sonic Racing is not an awful game. Bu it is no where near as good as the games it it up against. I wish the team dynamics were a mode in other kart-racers but they just can’t carry the rest of the game over the line. The Crash Team Racing remake is out today: there’s a great chance that is a better bet. I’m off to trade in Team Sonic Racing and pick up a copy!Review2

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REVIEW: Aaero (Xbox One)

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, PS4, Switch
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 5 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary
It will be no surprise to those who regularly read this blog that I am a sucker for music games. I pretty much try and play every one that I can get my hands on. That means I end up with both good (Beat Saber, Super Beat Sports) and bad (Frederic 2, Track Lab) experiences. I finally got around to playing Aaero and I am very glad to say it’s in the good camp! It introduces a new mechanic I have not seen in games before whereby you use the left analog stick to trace a line. Aaero uses this to have you trace the melody of the song and when it gets the marriage of stick movement and music right, it is fantastic. It’s hard to explain, so please check out this highlights video:

What’s good about it?

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  • The tracing of the ‘ribbon’ is a really interesting game mechanic. I don’t think I’ve ever had to do such a thing in games before. Let me know in the comments below if I am forgetting or missing something!
  • Nailing the ribbon on a really great melody is one of the best music-game moves I’ve come across in ages.
  • The move set (two analog stick and a trigger only) is just the right level of simple. It’s very intuitive and so becomes second nature quickly but without ever feeling like it has been over-simplified.
  • Although the bad guys that you are asked to take down are all nameless and mostly faceless (bosses aside) they have enough variety to keep you on your toes as you learn the game. Being able to recognise each one quickly as they fly onto screen is an enjoyable challenge.
  • The parts where you are asked to both play the ribbon and take down bad guys are intense and, at least on the initial ‘Normal‘ difficulty level, are a great combination of the music and the gameplay.

What’s bad about it?

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  • There just aren’t that many features in the game. After a while, particuarly once you have played all the songs a couple times, the lack of variety in the gameplay means that Aaero runs out of steam in fairly short order.
  • The higher difficulty levels are underwhelming. The ribbon for each song stays set, and the additional difficulty essentially comes from more bad guys. In other words, just gaming – not music-gaming. The best music games get more difficult by making it harder to play along, whereas Aaero focuses on it’s other features.

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Conclusion
Whilst it’s simplicity and efforts at difficulty levels hold it back from being really great, I would still have to say that Aaero‘s high points are a must play for anyone who loves music games. It’s not an expensive game either, so being a bit up and down isn’t a terrible criticism. Aaero will be staying on my console so I can revisit my favourite songs on a regular basis.Review4

REVIEW: The Gardens Between (Xbox One)

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, PS4, Switch
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 4 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary
The Gardens Beyond is a delightful puzzle game with a well-built time-bending mechanic that makes it feel fresh and new whilst remaining intuitive and direct. That balance is ideal as a platform for what really makes the game worth playing: it’s heart. The same items in the game form part of it’s puzzles and part of it’s story, meaning that the challenges are never just an equation to solve – they are also a tale to tell.

What’s good about it?

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  • The general aesthetic of each level, where you are winding around a central core, combines beautifully with the use of the triggers to control the movement of time.
  • The story set up – childhood friends letting their imaginations run wild – is a universal and evocative theme, and it handled brilliantly in The Gardens Beyond.
  • The joy in finding the solution to a particularly creative problem is great. This is often in the cases when the game manages to break away from it’s main basic formula – when you have to do more than just twist time forwards and back.

What’s bad about it?

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  • Whilst it is a short game, and thus doesn’t really outstay it’s welcome, it has still taken it’s main ideas as far as they can go by the end. Once you have the hang of it it’s kind of a one-trick-pony.
  • There is a total lack of assistance with the puzzles, which will no doubt please some, but a couple of times when I was clearly stuck I would have appreciated a gentle hint. Usually in a puzzler you have the chance to just try things until you work it out but the sequential nature of the answer to most of the challenges here make that either difficult or very time consuming, or both.

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Conclusion
If stripped of it’s story, The Gardens Beyond would remain an intriguing puzzler; moving time back and forth is a great dynamic. But the melding of that with a simply and beautifully told tale makes it feel complete. Steeped in nostalgia and the memories of childhood summers lost, The Gardens Beyond will stretch your mind and maybe also bring a bittersweet tear to your eye.Review3

REVIEW: F1 2018 (Xbox One)

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, PS4
  • Time to get into: 15 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 10 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, online only

Game Summary
I was totally surprised by F1 2018. I only bothered to play it at all thanks to it coming up on Xbox Game Pass, and thus not costing me anything to play. The official F1 games have varied in quality over the years to the point that I had essentially given up on them – happy to stick with Forza Motorsport for my open-wheeled racing. How foolish of me! This is a great racing game and a great effort at putting the spectacle of the sport into gamers’ hands. If you are a racing game fan, or an F1 fan, then you should definitely check this out.13-04-2019_10-30-51-2eg55p3f

What’s good about it?

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  • The best part about F1 2018 is how closely you are able to follow other cars. This is essential in order to make a good effort of replicating the sport and the game nails it. A lot of racing games, due to a combination of controls and AI, make following cars tricky – it’s either straight past them with ease or bump into the back of them. Not so here.
  • It looks cracking. Even on a vanilla Xbox One there are times during the replays that I was almost fooled into thinking it was real. And it compares really well to watching the sport on TV – both in replays and also in main gameplay.
  • There are a huge amount of cars, modes, options and achievements to play. The main thing for me was still to win the World Championship with Lewis Hamilton but there is so much more after that. The retro cars and championships were particularly enjoyable.
  • It’s a joy to race in F1 2018 – getting the car around the track (quickly at least) is a challenge but once you find a groove the game is solid and rewarding and really does give you a feel of being these crazy racing machines.

What’s bad about it?

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  • It’s quite tough. This wasn’t an issue for me but even with a stack of assists on, the base level of skill required really put The Boy off it. Don’t bother with F1 2018 if you are just looking to quickly blast around a few tracks – this is definitely a simulation game.
  • A lot of effort has gone into the career mode – practice challenges, driver interviews and more – but none of this has reached the rest of the game. Just playing through a season can be quite bland, especially if you are not a dedicated fan of F1.
  • On the other hand the career mode is so deep, it can be a drag if you aren’t fully committed.
  • No local multiplayer. I know this is pretty standard now with racing games but it’s a real pity with one based on a real sport – you can’t replicate that experience at home like you can with sports games like FIFA or Super Mega Baseball.

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Conclusion
In conclusion I would recommend F1 2018 without reservation to anyone who loves the sport of Formula One. Anyone else who just likes racing games will probably enjoy it too. I am definitely not going to miss F1 2019 now – I can’t wait!Review4

REVIEW: Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden (Xbox One)

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, PS4
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 20 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a game that is so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s manages to combine turn-based strategy battles with exploration and stealth. Rather than end up diluting all those bits of gameplay, they in fact blend together well thanks to the focus on making sure each element is solid. There’s nothing that individually is new or particularly spectacular here but everything just works and thus, when combined into one experience, Mutant Year Zero is intriguing, enjoyable and ultimately very satisfying.

What’s good about it?

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  • When you’ve thoroughly explored an area without alerting any enemies and you’ve planned your attack step by step and then you execute it to perfection it is very, very satisfying. This is the best way to play the game: slow and steady (and silent) wins the race.
  • The set of different characters and the abilities they can use, or be given, is really well balanced – meaning you can build your squad and play in your own way. I ended up keeping the first two characters you start the game with all the way through as their abilities were so well matched but you really can do whatever works best for you.
  • Weapons, although you aren’t directly aiming and using them, are well built in terms of both sound and visuals. Blowing away a bad guy is still a joy, even in a strategy game.
  • Some of the environments look really great and help build up the feeling of a desolate world, whether in snowy areas or grass, day or night.

What’s bad about it?

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  • The story, whilst not awful, is certainly very generic and the supposed twists and turns can be seen coming from a mile off.
  • It can be hard to turn the tide of a battle. If things have started to go wrong, it will probably be faster to just reload your game than to try and hold on.
  • Enemies are generic as well; even the bosses you come across from time to time, which are given specific names, remain just more bad guys to defeat.
  • As mentioned above, there is nothing spectacular about Mutant Year Zero to make you particularly remember it. It was a really enjoyable experience throughout, but didn’t have any specific ‘wow’ moments.

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Conclusion
Mutant Year Zero ticks all the boxes it aims for. It is an enjoyable strategy game full stop, but by moulding in the more exploratory elements it achieves more than that. It might even be the turn-based game for those that usually find them too restrictive. Either way, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden will certainly will keep seasoned fans of the genre interested for it’s duration.Review4

REVIEW: Yoku’s Island Express (Switch)

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 8 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary
Yoku’s Island Express is a fun 2D puzzle-based exploration game. At the start of the game you are installed as the new postman of an island called Mokumana and it’s this premise that gives you reason to traverse all over the place getting involved in folks’ lives. The main dynamic that is unique to Yoku‘s adventure is the pinball-style way of getting around. Yoku can move left and right and interact with objects and other characters as you might expect in this kind of game. To go up or down however, you use bumpers that bounce you about and there are regular sections that are very much like pinball machines. These both enable to you gain collectibles and also advance the story. Here’s an example:2019020213260000-4EBD015519178CCE78B40BB34B4A97AB

What’s good about it?

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  • The pinball concept is interesting in that you are exploring by moving the game world (ie the bumpers), rather than yourself.
  • The world is beautifully formed with so many different kinds of areas and characters. It encourages you to want to explore it all.
  • The way you open up access to different areas and go back through places with new abilities is pitched very nicely – I never felt bored or annoyed about re-tracing my steps.
  • The pinball-machine bits manage to feel both important to your progression through the game and a brief distraction – I was always pleased when Yoku dropped into one of those areas.

What’s bad about it?

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  • The story is very basic indeed.
  • Trying to get to a specific area can be confusing – the map is great for exploring but getting to a particular place can be a  real undertaking.
  • The difficulty level is very low. This is not a significant problem – the level of fun keeps you playing – but it means it can never achieve greatness.
  • There are one or two road blocks in the game where a bumper-hit had to be made perfectly multiple times. This went against the general low level of challenge.

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Conclusion
It may not be game-changing as a whole piece, but the unique aspects of Yoku’s Island Express make it worth playing through regardless. It won’t hold you up too much but it will put a smile on your face!Review3

 

REVIEW: Beat Saber (PSVR)

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: PSVR
  • Also available on: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive
  • Time to get into: 2 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 40 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary
Beat Saber is my favourite video game of all time! It is the perfect combination of things I love about playing games: the immersion, the challenge, the fun, the achievements and the sheer wow factor of a remarkable experience. My pitch to people is this: “rhythm games like Rock Band or Super Beat Sports are great and all, but why don’t they have lightsabers in them? Well, now they do! Check this out:

What’s good about it?

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  • The virtual reality is fantastic. You are in one place in the world, so there’s no danger at all of motion sickness and everything about the lightsabers, the blocks and the environment in general look great. This game couldn’t possibly work outside of VR, it’s a great combination of concept and technology.
  • It’s just the most fun! It’s hard to explain how great it is – you have to play if for yourself – but wielding two lightsabers is already great but then making a music game out of it is pretty close to the perfect video game experience.
  • There are 4 difficulty settings and the learning curve is perfect. Easy is straight forward with just one or two slightly tricky blocks in each song, up to Expert where you barely get a rest, either mentally or physically.
  • It’s great exercise! I have regularly burned nearly 500 calories in a session playing Beat Saber. This is far from it’s main draw, but it’s a nice side line for the game.
  • It improves on both standard rhythm games, by being more immersive and more fun thanks to the lightsabers, and the bunch of music-related VR games available, by being more fun, more direct and just a bit more of a game.
  • The Campaign mode is great, not just for the different challenges it throws at you in addition to the main game but also in the way it subtly teaches you different little skills that you need in order to nail the hardest songs.
  • Did I say it was my favourite video game EVER?! Yes!

What’s bad about it?

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  • The only part of Beat Saber I can criticise at all is the recently added ‘Expert+‘ mode. Perhaps this is just sour grapes because it is too hard for me! But where Expert difficulty blew my mind to begin with, I eventually conquered it because it was musical. You were playing along with the melody, or the kick drum or whatever. In Expert+ it’s just chaos as the blocks fly at you constantly – too much of the challenge and not enough of the fun. Beat Saber_20190209150452

Conclusion
Beat Saber is so good that I have lost the ability to write eloquently about it! I’m just bursting with the joy of it. Whoever first thought to combine music and lightsabers and put them in virtual reality is a genius! If you have a VR headset you have to get this game. If you don’t have a VR headset yet; then get one! And get into Beat Saber!Review5