Top 5 Arcade Racers on Xbox Game Pass: Monthly Roundup November 2018

Please see here for previous Round Ups from 2018:
August: Top 5 Levels Ever
September: Top 5 Games I keep coming back to online
October: Top 5 Musical Moments in Games

I recently said in my review that Forza Horizon 4 is the best racing game ever. I was able to play it to come to that conclusion thanks to Xbox Game Pass and it came to me that Game Pass has really become the home of fantastic arcade racers. Even aside from Forza Horizon 4, which is good enough to make it worth owning an Xbox One if you don’t already, if you love racing games then I fully recommend you subscribe to Xbox Game Pass. Let’s look at 5 reasons why!

Forza Horizon 424-10-2018_17-57-17
The biggest fish in the pond. Not just the Game Pass pond but Xbox One and just racing games in general as well. My review was only up a couple of days ago, so I won’t go into it again here but seriously: get this game!

OnrushONRUSH™_20180721083050
Until Forza Horizon 4, Onrush was my favourite car game of 2018 by far. I hesitate to use the phrase ‘racing game’ as this isn’t a game about finish lines. There have been stories of it not selling well and I wonder if that it because it is quite unusual. Now it is on Game Pass I cannot recommend highly enough that you give it a go! Onrush is more about making various goals as a team than it is about being at the front. It’s pretty much totally original and absolutely spectacular from start to finish.

Split/Second: Velocity03-11-2018_20-36-05
The oldest game on this list, Split/Second is on Xbox Game Pass thanks to backwards compatibility. It’s so good that I’ve played through the single player campaign on Xbox 360, PS3 and now Xbox One. I just can’t get enough of the super smooth arcade handling and drifting and the hugely destructible environments that you can use to spoil your opponents’ races. If you like the idea of Onrush but prefer races with finish lines, then Split/Second will scratch that itch.

Grip – Review Forthcoming!09-11-2018_16-22-07.png
The new kid on the block. Despite not being a Microsoft Studios game, Grip was released to Xbox Game Pass subscribers day-and-date with the games wider release earlier this month. First impressions are that it’s a bit rough around the edges but a lot of crazy fun if you can ignore that stuff. And multiplayer – both online and split-screen, for once – is a very good, and welcome addition. More on Grip in a full review on the blog soon!

Rocket League2018013013152800-6F4D679ED7D2A016B654B265B956C5F0
OK, so this isn’t technically a racing game, I realise. However, I like making the 5th one on these round ups a little bit left-field and when the game is as good as this, why not? Probably my favourite ever game to play online, The Boy and I have both put an unmentionable number of hours into Rocket League over the years. It’s football with cars, and it does an amazing job of being fun for people of all levels of ability. Whether you are just glad the one time in a match that you manage to hit the ball, or you are rocket boosting off the ceiling to score, Rocket League has you covered.

What about you, do you have Xbox Game Pass? Do you love racing games? Or is it other games on the service that appeal to you more? Let us know in the comments below!

Click here to purchase a 3-month subscription to Xbox Game Pass from Amazon.co.uk:
Advertisements

REVIEW: Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox One)

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 51 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, online only

Game Summary
Let’s get straight to it: Forza Horizon 4 is the best racing game ever made. If you like racing games at all, you have to get this. And if you don’t? This might just be the one to persuade you. Playground Games has reached near perfection now with their Horizon Festival formula. The driving is so good that you’ll be happy to just be driving from place to place, choosing your favourite radio stations and admiring the wonderful views. But then when you do enter a race, things go up another notch. Fantastic handling is combined with exciting and occasionally jaw dropping events and other tasks. And then the magic sprinkles on top: the clear love for driving, for cars and for racing shines through every moment of the game. This is far more than just a run of the mill arcade racer: this is the ultimate racing experience.

What’s good about it?

  • Where to start?!
  • 24-10-2018_17-55-29.png
  • Forza Horizon 4 looks utterly stunning – I’ve got so many great screenshots, I’m gonna have to do a separate post I think to do any justice to it
  • The cars handle like a dream: they keep tweaking and enhancing their handling model over the years and do an amazing job of bridging the gap between real and arcade fun. Here you’ll be rewarded for breaking early, using the throttle gently etc but you certainly won’t be punished for sliding through a corner sideways whilst smashing through scenery either. In fact it’s often encouraged! An indication of how good the driving feels is that I spent most of the game using the in-car view. Typically I prefer that view for ‘serious’ racers and a car-following view for arcade racers. Forza Horizon 4 is the perfect combination of both.
  • Sound is great. Like great. Engines sound fantastic and the music is not only fun, with radio stations for a bunch of different genres to pick from, but the little details like losing radio in tunnels and it being louder at the festival just enhance the immersion of the experience. The actual music selection is perfect too
  • Races are great – you are well rewarded for doing well and placing high up in races but not punished for doing badly. If you trundle in 7th you won’t make very good progress but you certainly won’t be made to restart or anything – this works so well to keep the momentum of your festival experience going, without making it too easy
  • Event types are all equally featured and equally good now. From the ‘standard’ road racing to dirt racing, drag racing and more, each is a full experience in it’s own right. And you can really Make Your Own Adventure too – unless you are a completionist you can simply ignore the events you don’t like. For example, I don’t like drifting, so I just didn’t start down that thread of events. Forza Horizon 4 has so much content, you won’t miss out by just doing what you want
  • Online events are huge amounts of fun. There are all the usual race types available to play with and against real people and there are also great fun cooperative Forzathon events where all players work together to meet certain goals
  • Previous Forza Horizons have featured bucket list events but in 4, these have been replaced but a few different threads of unique events. The change is fantastic – these events are some of the best parts of the festival experience, showing off the developers love of cars, video games and even Great Britain. Wonderful. And the showcases aren’t bad either!

What’s bad about it?

  • Not a lot!
  • 24-10-2018_17-57-55
  • My main frustration was that the Dirt Racing thread had too many roads in it – the dirt racing is really fantastic in Forza Horizon 4 and yet, for example, in the final marathon event at least 50% of the race was on roads. A missed opportunity.
  • There’s a weird thing in free roam where the engine noise will briefly get stuck. It’s a bit weird but it doesn’t really make that much difference and it never happened in events. You can spot it for a short moment in the video above if you are paying enough attention!
  • Playing online can be a little hard to get to grips with. Online play is totally baked into the experience via the ‘shared world’. This has many benefits – once you figure out how to access them! Without an obvious menu option and with the shared world meaning there can sometimes be limited scope for multiplayer it can be confusing until you work out the best ways to access it.24-10-2018_18-02-20.png

Conclusion
It’s the best! I never thought I’d say that an arcade, open-world racer would be better than a circuit, simulation racer, but here we are. It’s just constantly so much fun. It sneaks in one place above Forza Motorsport 6 on my All-Time Top Games List – Xbox One is officially the best console ever for racing, whatever kind takes your fancy.Review5

Click here to purchase the game on disc from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase a 6-month subscription to Xbox Game Pass from CDKeys.com:

 

RETROspective: Mario Strikers Charged Football

Why am I playing it?
A little while ago in my first impressions of that game I noted that playing FIFA 19 online is a pretty crazy experience! It lends itself to fast and chaotic football, where doing something, anything, as long as you do it straight away is favoured over playing actual football. This reminded me of an old game I picked up when I first got a Nintendo Wii back in 2007: Mario Strikers Charged Football. The Boy and I had dug it out and played it a few months ago so it was fresh in my mind and so this was another good excuse to go back to it. It is loosely based on football but, being a Mario sports title, it has all kinds of chaos built in. For example: bashing into your opponents is entirely legal, you can employ typical Mario power-ups to hurt the other team, the captain of each team can do a special attack called a Megastrike that can net you (pun intended!) up to 6 goals in one go and more.

2018-10-23 11.21.04 1.jpg

How well does it hold up technically?
For the most part, fine. There are a few moments when the ball can get a bit lost amongst the madness unfolding on screen and I think that probably wouldn’t happen if it was made with current-gen graphics but otherwise it all runs very smoothly. To ‘tackle’ your opponents to shake the Wiimote – this was a significant part of Mario Strikers Charged Football‘s appeal upon release, back when we hadn’t had that kind of thing in a ton of games. It still works nicely now – the physical movement combines well with the act of literally bashing into another character in-game.

2018-10-23 11.21.05 1.jpg

Has it stood the test of time?
In truth, not really. Compared with the most recent title of it’s kind – Mario Tennis Aces – this game seems rather limited and samey quite quickly. There aren’t many options of different modes, that are good at least, and each match tends to play out in the same way. That said, a lot of fun is still to be had in short bursts, but it’s actually the sense of terrible unfairness that hurts Mario Strikers Charged Football the most. I have distant memories of stopping playing it the first time round for the same reason and at his young age The Boy hasn’t managed to be very chilled about it either: essentially the only way to reliably score is to try and get Megastrike goals but these aren’t always easy to come by. So often after trying hard for a whole match and coming up short the AI will simply score a normal goal – more or less impossible for you – and win. If this was a modern game this would be balanced out in a patch and we’d all get on with having fun but in this case it is what it is.

2018-10-23 11.21.03 1.jpg

Should people go back and check it out?
For a short blast, maybe yes. If you are looking for a retro game to get stuck into then this isn’t it but it has been a bit of fun for The Boy and I amongst the other things we’ve been playing. With the difficulty of scoring and the high chance of being mugged is you try to hold onto the ball for long it does have a lot in common with FIFA 19 online – and it’s much cheaper than that! A bit of a distraction, but not a classic.

2018-10-23 11.21.04 2.jpg

REVIEW: Super Mario Party (Switch)

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 45 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 20 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local and with an online component

Game Summary
A party game with no less than 80 mini-games to play and 5 game modes to play them in, Super Mario Party has a huge ton of options to keep you and your friends and family entertained for a long time. Full of the charm and delight of Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom pals (and enemies!), Super Mario Party can’t easily be summarised due to its wealth of options, so let’s take a moment to dive into each one.

Mario Party
The main staple of Super Mario Party (as the name suggests!), this is a 4 player vs mode. You ‘roll’ dice and move the resulting number of spaces across the gameboard. On your way you can collect coins and stars and in between each round on the board you fight it out in a mini game. The AI will fill in if you don’t have 4 players, so you could in theory play alone but there are better modes if you do want to play solo (more on the others below). The winner at the end is the player with the most stars, although be warned that there are always 2 stars handed out at the end of the game, on a seemingly arbitrary basis, so you’ll need to be 3 stars ahead of your nearest rival if you want to guarantee a win. This mode is a lot of fun with a group of people but doesn’t really go beyond that.2018100620110000-099ECEEF904DB62AEE3A76A3137C241B

Partner Party
Much the same as the above but here you are 2v2. This is the mode The Boy and I have played the most as we can play it co-op against two AI players. You also have more options here, for example you can move around the board in any direction and have more choice about what you want to collect than you can in Mario Party mode, where you are mostly on rails. Plus you can start to employ proper tactics about when to split up, when to gang up and when to use power ups etc. Overall, you can employ more skill here against the randomness of you dice rolls. Probably the game’s best mode.2018101313540000-099ECEEF904DB62AEE3A76A3137C241B

Sound Stage
This is a rhythm game mode, where you move the Joy-Con in certain actions in time with music. Frankly, it’s a poor man’s Super Beat Sports, so I can’t be bothered to write anything about it here. Just get Super Beat Sports, simple.2018100623515500-099ECEEF904DB62AEE3A76A3137C241B

River Survival
A fun mode in short bursts, that gets dull fairly quickly, this is a race against time to make it to the bottom of a river before the clock runs out. It’s 4-player co-op and you can gain extra time by winning mini-games on the way down. The concept is good, and it’s much shorter than a full game of Mario or Partner Party, so it has its place but unfortunately it’s far too easy to reach the bottom of the river to really have any challenge. I’ve played it by myself (with 3 AIs) and in co-op mode and have never failed to reach the bottom.2018100907124400-099ECEEF904DB62AEE3A76A3137C241B

Challenge Road
This is the main offering for single players. There’s no multiplayer here at all. It’s essentially a gauntlet through all 80 mini-games so it can be a drag to play through for long periods. But with a few mini games here and a run down River Survival you can pass the time alone quite happily with Super Mario Party. At least until you complete them, in which case online will be your only option.2018102116063700-099ECEEF904DB62AEE3A76A3137C241B

Online Mariothon
There is online play in Super Mario Party, but it’s rather lacklustre. The concept is OK: up to 4 players join a match and battle it out over 5 random mini games to see who comes out on top. Essentially though, this is not a game that needs to be played online. It’s not that party games can’t work online at all – I was surprised how good Overcooked 2 was online – but there is nothing really different enough here for this mode to have it’s own appeal. If you really want to keep on playing the game alone after you complete all the challenges then perhaps this mode will have legs for you but the Mario Party concept is really for face-to-face fun.2018101313430200-099ECEEF904DB62AEE3A76A3137C241B

Conclusion
Super Mario Party is a fun and varied party game to play with friends and family whether you prefer co-op challenges or battling each other. The different game modes and multitude of mini games linked to them keep the game fresh even after playing them a few times. Whilst none of it quite hits spectacular heights, Super Mario Party has to be commended for its sheer breadth of fun options. A worthy addition to any party game collection.Review4

Click here to purchase the game on cart from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase a download code for the game from CDKeys.com:

 

REVIEW: Overcooked 2 Surf ‘n’ Turf DLC (Switch)

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 5 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local and online

Game Summary
This new content for Overcooked 2 adds a few new summer-themed elements to the mix like water pistols or recipes for smoothies. Where it really makes a difference though, is simply in it’s difficulty. In my review of Overcooked 2 I bemoaned the lack of challenge in the campaign but the Surf n Turf DLC is here to fix that! Every one of the new levels is more tricky to achieve 3 stars than almost all of those in the main game and if that isn’t enough for you, completing this new content opens up a 4th star to go for on every level! Outside of that, Surf n Turf is just more fun content for a great party game and anyone who has enjoyed the series so far will enjoy these beach-side kitchens too.

What’s good about it?

  • 2018101508543200-7D6F548625BC0EB94C235FFE679A3299
  • the sun-soaked setting is great fun – who doesn’t want to make smoothies and have a BBQ at the beach?!
  • these levels are a proper challenge if you want to get 3 stars on them all
  • levels are very well designed – although there are plenty of things that come along to make your life difficult they never feel unfair

What’s bad about it?

  • 2018101213520300-7D6F548625BC0EB94C235FFE679A3299
  • the new elements don’t really change the gameplay for the most part, still pretty much the same game as it was from the first level of the first game
  • Overcooked‘s story lines have always annoying and pointless but they really take that to the next level here

2018101618494200-7D6F548625BC0EB94C235FFE679A3299

Conclusion
This is the best the Overcooked series has been! Great level design and a real challenge strike the perfect balance between difficulty and fun that neither Overcooked 2‘s main game or its predecessor quite nailed. Get your friends together and get down to the beach!Review4

Click here to purchase the game on cart from Amazon.co.uk:

 

REVIEW: Uno (Playlink)

  • Released: 2016, 2018 with Playlink
  • Played on: PS4
  • Also available on: everything, but not with Playlink!
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: you don’t really complete it
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local and online

Game Summary
The card game Uno has been available in one kind of digital form or another for years and years but it’s now that you should consider picking it up. The Playstation 4 version is now compatible with Playlink and this is (literally!) a game changer. Being a Playlink game each player connects their phone to the PS4 console via WiFi and the cards in your hand are now, well… cards in your hand. Just like in the real-card-based Uno you can now hide your hand from other players in the same room. The lack of this feature almost entirely hamstrung every previous digital version of Uno. With that issue gone, now is the time to jump in.Screenshot_20181010-202922_UNO PlayLink

What’s good about it?

  • UNO®_20181010195754
  • it’s the card game we know and love, without the hassle of shuffling, dealing etc
  • finally fixes the issues with previous digital versions and hiding your cards from other players
  • lots of options to customise the games to your own ‘house rules’
  • Rayman, Rabbids cards mix things up enjoyably
  • Playlink execution is perfect
  • good online community – can always find a game quickly

What’s bad about it?

  • Screenshot_20181010-195615_UNO PlayLink
  • relaxed music doesn’t fit with high drama of the game
  • can’t choose the house rules of games you are joining online
  • single player gameplay has no real goals or reasons to keep coming back outside of the general enjoyment of Uno

UNO®_20181010202324

Conclusion
If you have a PS4 and enjoy playing Uno with friends and family then this is a must. They all have smartphones now, right?! It’s the traditional game for the modern age. It’s less vital, but still enjoyable, to play online against others, although the lack of incentive to keep playing eventually let me drift away. But as a Playlink experience, Uno is right at the top of the list of party games for next time you have the gang around!Review3

Virtual Music: Electronauts vs Track Lab

It is so often the case that things come in twos and a recent example of this was the two music games released for PSVR at the end of the summer. Electronauts and Track Lab are both games based around mixing music in a virtual world and since I couldn’t decide which to pick up, I did the only sensible thing and bought both! There are good things about each but they are both flawed as well, read on for more.

Electronauts
Let’s get Electronauts out of the way first because it has one flaw that sort of rules it out: it’s not really a game. It’s still fun, and I’ll come to why in a moment, but the reality is that Electronauts should be considered an app, not a game, amongst your VR collection. There are no puzzles to solve, points to get or goals to achieve. What you get instead are some easy to use tools with which to remix a selection of popular electronic music tracks. In the virtual world you are equipped with two drum-stick-like wands, that you control with the move controllers, and 3 stations where you can do different things to different parts of the track. Electronauts is immediately fun because you can’t get it wrong: try stuff out and if you don’t like it just don’t try it again! This lack of significant on-ramp and the fact that the tracks are already formed and recognisable is great initially but it does run out steam. After about 15 to 20 minutes with each track there’s only so much more you can do to it. I can imagine that Electronauts is a streamers dream: initially a lot of fun and very cool, but without any longevity.Electronauts_20181013075714

Track Lab
Track Lab also has a mode, called Creation, that has no gameplay; it’s just a clean slate for you to create music in. I will touch on this in a moment but since this is a gaming blog let’s first discuss the other mode ‘Evolver‘. This mode is a music-puzzle game and it is surprisingly fun. You place different ‘optics’ onto a musical game board and each puzzle solved becomes a stem from which you can mix music. This is great as it means that the puzzle solving is enjoyable itself but also the means to another end: giving you some drums, some bass, some synth etc to play about with. Creation mode, though, is rather poor in my opinion. As you are not working with recognisable tracks like in Electronauts, Track Lab is much more about starting from scratch and building your own music. As the name of the mode suggests: this is creation, not just mixing. Unfortunately, it’s simply too difficult to be worth pursuing. Anyone without previous knowledge of creating electronic music will struggle but frankly, anyone who does will be much better off elsewhere. Why bother to strap on the PSVR headset and struggle when a computer and copy of Ableton will be easier to use and give you better sounds?!Track Lab™_20180929074551

Conclusions
Ultimately the decision about which of these to pick up is about what you are looking for. If you don’t mind missing out on the gaming elements then the mixing of music is more fun in Electronauts. The fact that you are mixing ready-made and recognisable tracks gets you past the initial creation phase and gets you straight to the point of messing about with stuff to see what works best. On the other hand, if you are putting on your VR headset in order to play games then Track Lab will be your best option. The Evolver mode has been a lot of fun so far – the combination of music and puzzle solving works nicely. My time with Electronauts is pretty much done, but I will complete the Evolver mode in Track Lab and then write up a review!

Have you played either of these games? Or any other music mixing games/apps in virtual reality? Let us know in the comments below!