Reflections on 2020, Part 1: Review of Reviews

2020 has been a weird year, at best, in so many ways. Games-wise there really haven’t been many titles released that I was excited about this year, although that gave me a great chance to catch up on all the games I hadn’t got around to from the tail end of 2019 and even before. As such, most of my 2020 reviews are for slightly older games and none of those that I have given top marks to are from this year. Maybe the games coming out late this year will be great: Spider-Man Miles Morales, Cyberpunk, Ghostrunner and the like. You’ll have to wait for 2021 for my thoughts on those – for now, here’s the run down of what I’ve played in 2020!

2020 Review (by score and then chronologically):

5*

4*

3*

2*

Plus, here’s a list of games that I started but then gave up on, so they would probably have got 1 or 2 stars but it didn’t seem fair to do a review of a game I couldn’t be bothered to finish!

  • Stacks On Stacks (On Stacks) (Stadia)
  • Minecraft Dungeons (Xbox One)
  • Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD (Switch)
  • Dangerous Driving (PS4)
  • Marvel’s Iron Man VR (PSVR)
  • Night Call (PC)
  • Creature In The Well (PC)
  • Just Shapes & Beats (Stadia)
  • Double Kick Heroes (Xbox One)
  • TT Isle of Man Ride On The Edge 2 (Xbox One)
  • Street Power Football (Xbox One)
  • No Straight Roads (Xbox One)

Come back soon for some awards in my next post, to tie the final bow on gaming in 2020!

Gaming in 2020 in one image

REVIEW: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (Xbox One)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PS4, PC
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 15 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local and online

Game Summary

This is how you do a remake! Take everything the made the original game great, but make it feel modern. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+ 2 is an update to two games from the original Playstation era, released in 1999 and 2000. It’s not just about graphical tweaks here, although the game does look great on current consoles. Over and above that, it feels like this could be a brand new game – tightening up the controls and giving plenty of small quality-of-life type improvements leaves us with a game that pays great homage to it’s origins but is totally up to date at the same time. It’s not quite perfect but whether you are interested for nostalgia’s sake, or just looking to fill the gap in extreme sports games that has been going on for a few years now, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+ 2 will be a treat.

What’s good about it?

  • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+ 2 looks great – back when these games were first released the graphics of console games were still at a point where you had to kind of imagine how things really looked; these days they do just look like that! The details and the different lighting in each area are superb, note the low sun in the Venice Beach or night time in Downtown.
  • Gameplay is still solid. Tony Hawk‘s is a pretty arcadey take on skateboarding, you can get away with a lot that you wouldn’t in a “proper” simulation game, but the basics of skating, ollies, tricks and grinds etc all just make sense from the first time you do each of them.
  • On top of that there’s a good learning curve. If each part makes sense then the real skill is in combining them into huge tricks, combos and points totals. Eventually you’ll find yourself reaching point totals in a single combo that seemed unimaginable to begin with – exactly how a game in this genre should be.
  • The additional tasks in each area are fun and challenging without ever getting too annoying. They range from collecting things (like the letters S-K-A-T-E, a personal favourite of mine and the first thing I tackled in every level!) to performing specific tricks in specific places or finding hard-to-reach area. The trickiest ones are rewarding, rather than just frustrating.
  • The different characters (each with their own challenges) are fun but the create-a-skater is one of the best I’ve used lately. It’s plenty detailed but not overwhelming like many are. Everything really works well with the skateboarding theme as well.
  • That links in with how you can just tell that overall a love of staking and of the original games comes through every facet of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+ 2. This is not just a perfunctory re-release (Super Mario 3D All-Stars, I’m looking at you)!

What’s bad about it?

  • Ultimately I felt Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+ 2 was too short! Even with the two games included I was only just starting to really feel like I’d mastered it when it was over. Perhaps the challenges aren’t hard enough to make you keep coming back for more, or maybe games are just longer these days.
  • As a result I needed the online play to carry the game for a bit longer, but although playing online can be fun I’m not sure this game really lends itself well to it. Whilst rushing around a level doing tricks and grinds, it’s too hard to keep track what others are doing vs what you are doing. As a result, it’s basically a case of doing your best until the time ends and then seeing if you won. It is nice to be doing this surrounded by other players but it’s not really a significant draw over the main game.
  • As you can probably gather from the video above, I found that the key to big scores was lots of grinding. This was undeniably fun but Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+ 2 would be a better game if it naturally encouraged more balance and variety.
  • A few frustrations from the 1999 and 2000 source material remain, like being able to so easily go off the map in places. I can mostly forgive these, as things like the graphics and the menus are so up to date and spot on but it’s occasionally jarring and you remember that you are playing an old game!
  • The biggest flaw for me is kind of unavoidable – a skateboard is just literally too small to be amazing in a video game like this. Perhaps that’s why later games like Skate went a bit more towards simulation but I do like the wild and unashamedly arcade nature of Tony Hawk’s games. But to be honest even now I don’t really don’t know what an Airwalk looks like vs a Pop Shove-It, it all happens so fast in such a small part of the screen. The occasional special trick aside, it’s just not spectacular. This doesn’t hold Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+ 2 back from being absolutely tremendous amounts of fun but, for me, it does hold it back from glory.

Conclusion

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+ 2 is a super remake and a super game full stop. Whether you are looking for a trip down memory lane or just for a fun time, you’ll be pleased with what you get here. When you reach the point that your thumbs are pulling off 100k+ point combos with ease you’ll know you’re in the sweet spot!

REVIEW: Hotshot Racing (Xbox Game Pass)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: Xbox One / Xbox Game Pass Streaming
  • Also available on: PS4, PC, Switch
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 1 Hour (but that is not really the point here)
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local and online

Game Summary

Hotshot Racing is a high speed blast of nostalgia – a game that harks back to the days of playing racing games on big arcade cabinets. A simple game to remember simple days. It nails everything about this aesthetic but unfortunately also nails the lack of depth and short lived nature of such games as well. It’s hard to criticise much of what Hotshot Racing does – it looks great and handles nicely – but it’s offline options are few and rather unbalanced and even the online features don’t stretch out the fun for too long. As long as you are prepared for that, Hotshot Racing is great fun for a little while.

What’s good about it?

  • Hotshot Racing really does look great. The art style is simplistic but not simple. There’s plenty of detail in the cars and the track side but of course it is mainly looking to hark back to its inspirations. The game strikes a great balance – looking like the old arcade games but happy to be modern too.
  • Outside of just the plain races there are a couple of interesting modes. In Cops and Robbers you play as one or the other – trying to survive or trying to take down the robbers. The other is a mode where you have to keep a certain, and steadily increasing, speed up or you’ll eventually explode. The existence of these keeps the game from being one dimensional.
  • The set of cars is fun. There are four types, which focus on speed, acceleration, drifting and an all rounder. Each driver character has one of each and each type really does handle differently – you’ll need to tweak your driving style to get the best from each.
  • The different characters and their comments, both in menus and in game, are a fun bonus. It reminds me of Quantum Redshift on the original Xbox.
  • The game is at its best against others online. Hotshot Racing will fill out the grid with AIs if you’ve not enough players in your session so it’s usually straight forward to find a game. Racing against others gives Hotshot Racing a sense of purpose that it can lack offline.

What’s bad about it?

  • Hotshot Racing has no depth and no nuance. What you see is what you get but then you realise there’s just not much of it. In terms of offline play there are trophies to win for sets of races but that entire thing takes less than an hour. After that there’s only the online modes to keep you coming back.
  • Difficulty is very odd. Offline it starts way too easy, you can win races without knowing the track or the car. But suddenly when you get to the hardest difficulty you can’t win races at all unless you are perfect in every turn the entire race.
  • Likewise online is odd, because I found it very easy. Race win after race win to the point that I actually stopped playing because I was bored of the lack of challenge. It’s many many a year since I was this competitive in an online game!
  • The reason it’s easy is that there is one key to winning. The rubber banding in Hotshot Racing is the worst I can remember. It’s almost impossible to fall far behind the leaders, so just keep your nose clean until the final few corners and then use your boost to rocket to the win. Its a nearly foolproof formula. But again, it’s not something that encouraged me to keep playing.

Conclusion

If you remember wistfully those days of playing racing games on great big cabinets, all loudspeakers and sticky rubber steering wheels, then Hotshot Racing will be right up your street. The fun doesn’t last long but a few power slides, boosts and race wins can be a great distraction from whatever else you are playing.

REVIEW: Blood & Truth (PSVR)

  • Released: 2019
  • Played on: PSVR
  • Also available on: n/a
  • Time to get into: 1 Hour
  • Time to complete: 6 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary

Blood &Truth is a follow up, or remake, or whatever to ‘London Heist‘, which is the best part of the VR Worlds collection of demos that comes with a new PSVR Starter Pack. Read My introduction to PSVR for a quick note on that but suffice to say I enjoyed it enough that I wished it was a longer, more fully fledged game. Well, now it is! Blood & Truth isn’t going to blow you away (pun intended) but it is a lot of fun over it’s short run time, with an amusing, if cliched, story, some spectacular set pieces and loads of guns for you to play with.

What’s good about it?

  • Blood & Truth is all about the set pieces. From high speed motorway chases to aeroplanes to destroying building sites, the action is fantastic. All this works great from the first person perspective of the VR headset too – and the things you need to do (or shoot!) during these sequences are all intuitive and rewarding. I won’t go into detail as these set pieces are really what could be spoiled in Blood & Truth, rather than the plot. Hopefully the video above gives enough of a taste without giving it all away!
  • The variety of guns and environments in the game are both excellent. Handguns, rifles, shotguns and everything in between are all available and Blood & Truth let’s you use them in casinos, art galleries and safe houses along with building sites, rooftops and aircraft hangers. The environments aren’t hugely detailed, thanks to the game being on PSVR rather than being a design issue, but you always get a proper feel for where you are.
  • Moving around the world in Blood & Truth works better than a lot of VR games. You look at a place you want to move to or take cover in and press a button to move there. I didn’t feel any discomfort from this after the first couple times. It’s smooth enough for your brain to deal with – no sudden turns or movements here.

What’s bad about it?

  • Unfortunately the hand motion tracking isn’t really quite up to it and this brings the whole experience down. Blood & Truth never really stands a chance of being great as a result of this. It’s not the end of the world for the game but you end up having to play around issues. For example, think it makes sense to use two hands on that rifle or shotgun? Not here – all kinds of strange hand angles and combinations happen when trying to use two hands on one gun. Whilst this is apparently more of an issue with Playstation VR than other headsets (although Blood & Truth is PSVR exclusive anyway) I’ve played other games in VR on my PS4 and not had so many issues.
  • The story is very cliché. Imagine every London gangster movie you’ve ever seen and you won’t be far off. It’s perfectly good fun, but really only serves as a way to make sense of the set pieces.

Conclusion

If you have PSVR, it’s a bit of a no brainer to play this really. It’s a lot of fun and it’s cheap and short, relatively speaking. But it’s far from being worth investing in a new headset for. Ultimately, Blood & Truth is just… good.

Top 10 Games of the Xbox One vs PS4 console generation

As the new Xbox and Playstation are about to be released, I thought I’d do a quick round up of my favourite games from this current generation of consoles. I’ve not included games that you can play on the Switch as Nintendo is totally out of snyc with it’s generations after the disaster of the Wii U. But just talking about Xbox One vs PS4, here we go:

10. Gears 5 (Xbox One, 2019)

Gears 5 is the most recent addition to this list. One of the best games in a fantastic series, Gears 5 excelled at keeping the superb gameplay of the series in tact whilst changing up many aspects of the story and the environments you play in.

9. Onrush (both consoles, 2018)

Onrush didn’t do particularly well commercially, which is just a total mystery to me. I completed the single player campaign on both PS4 and Xbox One and spent a huge amount of hours playing online as well. A good solid arcade handling model allied to some creative and fun ideas that defied the term ‘racing game’; what was not to like, guys?!

8. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4, 2017)

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy felt like a game that was made by people who entirely knew what they were doing. It’s so polished and technically perfect but manages not to lose the pure fun that all the Uncharted games have brought us. Also showed that the formula didn’t rely on Nathan Drake, as well.

7. Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4, 2017)

Horizon: Zero Dawn contains the most astoundingly ambitious story that I think I’ve ever come across in games. Plus, it looked totally amazing, to the point that I actually put together a separate post just to celebrate Horizon Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode. Not to mention the fantastic open world and the great combat.

6. Quantum Break (Xbox One, 2016)

Quantum Break was a unique thing in many ways, coming with a few episodes of live action to watch in between sections of gameplay. Clearly that concept didn’t go that well, as no other game has tried it since, but I thought it was a neat idea. Quantum Break looked stunning, the gameplay was good and the story and characters were great. Plus, I’m always a sucker for time travel stories.

5. Forza Motorsport 6 (Xbox One, 2015)

Forza Motorsport 6 is on this list as I loved it slightly more, but #7 could easily have been here as well. Forza Motorsport has thoroughly defined itself as the best racing game series in that ‘simulation-but-not-too-serious’ space. This particular one is my favourite as the love of cars and racing that the developer must have had just shines through every aspect. I spent well over 100 hours 100%-ing it, and it was totally worth it.

4. Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox One, 2018)

Forza Horizon 4 is a game that surprised me. I just assumed that a circuit racer would always be my favourite ever racing game. In fact I held onto that belief most of the way through playing Horizon 4, but ultimately I had to accept that this arcade racer is the best ever. Every single aspect of this game from the graphics, to the cars, to the races, to the seasons, to the online modes, to all the activities and so much more besides is just the best in class.

3. Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4, 2018)

Marvel’s Spider-Man was a game that I started and then drifted away from. Well, thank goodness I finally came back to it. Manhattan is wonderfully realised and it’s just a joy to get around, swinging through the buildings. Plus, the combat is superb and the story is wonderful. So good that I bagged one of my few Platinum Trophies and made sure to get 100% on the main game and all the DLC.

2. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4, 2016)

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is an amazing culmination of Nathan Drake‘s story. The first 3 Uncharteds were so good, I wondered how they could possibly top it, but by the end it was, at that time, my favourite game ever. The platforming and shooting, combined with the fantastic story and wonderful characters would have been enough but throw in some stunning set pieces too, and you have the best game ever that you can play with a standard controller in your hands.

1. Beat Saber (PS4 – PSVR, 2018)

Beat Saber was the reason I picked up a VR headset and I waited for it to release, wondering if it could possibly live up to the hype in my head. Well, it not only lived up to it but surpassed it entirely. This game might be what gaming as a whole was invented for! If you have a VR headset and you’re not playing Beat Saber on a regular basis, what are you doing?! And if you don’t have a VR headset yet, you know what you need to do. Plus, they keep releasing more music packs for it, most recently Linkin Park. Here’s a video of probably the most fun song that the game has had since it’s release:

It’s interesting to note that the majority of the games here are console-exclusive to either Xbox One or PS4. I wonder if that will continue with this new generation, as hardware becomes far less important, at least on the Xbox side of things.

Either way, what do you think of my list? Do you have a top 10 of your own from this outgoing generation of consoles? Let me know in the comments below.

REVIEW: Battletoads (Xbox One)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: n/a
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 7 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local only

Game Summary

Battletoads is a wild and confusing adventure that does a huge amount of stuff but very little of it with any excellence. Jack of all trades, but master of none. It should really all add up to a mess but somehow The Boy and I had a lot of fun. One minute beat-’em-up, next minute racing game, then a space shooter and all of a sudden a platformer. And many more in between. All of which is wrapped up in an equally confusing and fast paced story which is, if nothing else, irreverent and amusing. In the end Battletoads moves along so fast that you don’t have much time to notice how little substance there is below the surface. It’s a crazy ride but it doesn’t outstay its welcome and if you have at least one other person to play it with in co-op you can have a laugh for a few hours.

What’s good about it?

  • There are so many different genres packed into Battletoads that you never get bored. They appear with regularity and none of them hang around too long. This is great as you never quite know what to expect. All the way through to the final battle sections you always have to be on your toes.
  • The main set of characters are good fun. The Battletoads themselves and their old nemesis The Dark Queen are all well drawn characters, at least from a comedy perspective. Generally the humour is quite slapstick and occasionally crude but there are plenty of modern-life and pop-culture references in the cutscenes to keep you entertained.
  • If you do ever get stuck, fear not as there’s an invincibility option after you fail a level a few times. The Boy and I only resorted to this once, but we were totally at a loss how to complete one section without it, so we were certainly glad it’s in the game. Normally I don’t like options that either literally or essentially let you skip bits of a game but in Battletoads, having it available suits the breakneck speed to completing levels and facing new challenges.

What’s bad about it?

  • Sadly, whilst the constant stream of new genres is an important part of what makes Battletoads what it is, they need to get in and get out as quickly as possible as all of them are a pale comparison of the actual genres. The platforming is probably the worst of the bunch, and perhaps the fighting the best, but don’t play this game for the quality of the individual sections of gameplay, every one will disappoint you.
  • Everything that holds together these sections of gameplay is a bit of a mess too. The story is jumbled like crazy – not exactly hard to follow but just inexplicable. Also, some of the humour doesn’t hit home and that is really the glue that tries to hold the experience together.

Conclusion

Battletoads is like trying to play through those early morning cartoons that we watched as kids. It’s chaotic and messy and goes along at a hundred miles per hour – yet somehow leaves you with a smile on your face. Recommended for anyone who has a few spare hours and the chance to play it in couch coop. Just don’t expect the fun to extend beyond that – just as the things that make Battletoads good are the same things the make it bad, you’ll be equally glad it’s over as you were to play through it!

REVIEW: Tell Me Why (Xbox Game Pass)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: Xbox One / Xbox Game Streaming
  • Also available on: PC
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 10 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary

Tell Me Why is the latest narrative adventure game from Dontnod, this one published by Xbox Game Studios and thus console-exclusive to Xbox One – although a large part of my playthrough was via Xbox Game Pass Streaming on my phone. It’s a game that perfectly suits the smaller screen as it’s main strength is its neatly woven, intimate and often tense story. Alyson and Tyler are twins who have been apart for ten years after Tyler killed their mother in self-defence. They’ve both been through a lot in the meantime and returning home to unravel what happened threatens to unravel them as well. It’s up to you to guide them through the process of rediscovering the truth and each other.

What’s good about it?

  • Tell Me Why looks great. Inside areas are detailed and feel lived in but it’s the outside areas that are so lush. If you love to travel, be warned: you will want to visit Alaska after playing this game! The snow covered mountains are beautiful and the game draws attention to the vistas but always in a subtle manner.
  • The story is great. A narrative game like Tell Me Why needs a great story and it doesn’t disappoint. The mystery of what happened to the twins and their mother those 10 years before first unfolds into many pieces before being wound back up into conclusion. The pacing of this ‘unboxing’ and ‘reboxing’ is almost perfect throughout the game’s three episodes.
  • Most of the gameplay devices through which this story is told work nicely. Tell Me Why doesn’t just happen through cutscenes. The usual standards like looking around, investigating, conversation options etc are all present and correct but there are some more unique ideas here as well. For example, the way the twins can remember memories very vividly or speak to each other telepathically even in the presence of other characters. One other particular moment which really struck me was one of them trying to control a panic attack – the blend of the story and the gameplay in all these moments goes beyond what most of the genre offers.
  • The story touches on real issues such as identity, prejudice, mental health and more. These are dealt with without holding back but without getting hung up on them either. Most clearly this is demonstrated in that Tyler is a transgender man – Tell My Why spends time with his identity, his journey and how others deal with him. There’s no shying away from it but there’s also an understanding that nothing is ever straight forward. Both the game as a whole and, as time passes, Tyler himself are better for meeting others halfway and considering that things might not be exclusively the way you see it.
  • Some of the puzzles you have to solve are really inventive and a pleasure to solve. Even when the purpose is pretty typical for this kind of game, like finding a code somewhere, the solution is really creative.
  • I’m a absolute sucker for nostalgia and that feeling of a past lost permeates Tell Me Why, both for good and bad. There’s some great indie music on the soundtrack that fits so nicely with this too – I tried to include a bit on the video above. Tell Me Why is more than just the sum of it’s parts – it’s what and how it makes you feel as well.

What’s bad about it?

  • Occasionally the character development of secondary characters can seem forced or rushed. Conversations can be vague or they can change their minds rather too quickly. I think this is partly for serving the speed of the story but there are a handful of spots that can take you out of the story a little.
  • There’s one specific dynamic in Tell Me Why that I found frustrating where you have to choose between which of the twins’ memories is the ‘right’ one. Essentially, this sometimes makes you choose between reinforcing the twins’ bond and what you think the truth might be. In a game about seeking the truth, in many different ways, these choices just seemed wrong to me a few times.
  • Some of the puzzles have an ‘out’ if you can’t be bothered or get frustrated. For example, can’t work out the puzzle to unlock that door? Well, just smash it down! That’s a fine option to give people, although I personally wouldn’t ever advise using it. However, what was really frustrating was that he only time I did get totally stuck and I needed one, it wasn’t there! Not all the puzzles have this game breaking option, which just makes it seem odd and arbitrary.

Conclusion

It’s not quite a work of perfection, as it’s few flaws are not insignificant, but Tell Me Why is a very enjoyable narrative game. Full of mystery and genuine characters, you’ll be well served curling up and letting Tell My Why absorb you. And enjoy the views of Alaska whilst you are there!

REVIEW: Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Switch)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: n/a
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 90+ Hours across the 3 games
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary

Mario’s first three 3D platformers, Super Mario 64 from the N64, Super Mario Sunshine from the GameCube and Super Mario Galaxy from the Wii have been brought together into one package to join Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch. This review isn’t going to go into too much detail about the games themselves, as they are all old now, but look more at what has been done to bring these games to the Switch and whether it’s a good package overall.

Specifics on each game

  • 64 is what you would expect: dated. It’s nice to have in this collection from a completionist stand point but realistically I can’t ever see myself playing through it. I didn’t play back in the day, as I only played N64 on friends’ consoles, so it was always multiplayer games. To be fair, you can tell straight away that it was great at the time, Mario feels smooth and responsive to control and the move into 3D must have been remarkable that first time. I imagine it you have a lot of nostalgia for 64, the ability to play it on the Switch is a dream come true.
  • I never finished Sunshine at the time; I had it for years and kept meaning to finish it but never did. When I heard 3D All-Stars was coming out my first thought was ‘ah, I’ll definitely finish Sunshine now’. Well, I won’t be. Instead I have remembered why I didn’t finish it in the first place! Janky controls, a nightmare camera and the FLUDD: something that should be a helpful tool for Mario quickly get’s annoying. Odyssey’s cap-throwing dynamic is remarkable, the FLUDD is a remarkable dud. A remarkably frustrating game given the joy that has been every 3D Mario game since…
  • Galaxy is the game that makes this collection worth considering. If you’ve never played it, download it as soon you can. It is brought onto the Switch very nicely. You can use the touchscreen to gather star bits if you are playing handheld and the spin jump is now a button. Whilst losing the intuitive combination of Wii Remote and Nunchuck controls is a shame this is more than balanced out by the play-where-you-like nature of Nintendo’s newest console. Galaxy on the Switch is my dream come true!

Overall considerations

  • Firstly, it’s a shame that Nintendo hasn’t really done anything to spruce up these games. It would have been nice to see a proper lick of paint, to bring these games up to Odyssey standard on the Switch but I guess I am still a sucker and bought it, so why should they bother?!
  • As a result, the gameplay is left as the only draw towards this game. Of course, it’s a big draw, as these are some of the most beloved and well received platformers of all time (and Sunshine!). But how many people considering buying this haven’t already played through them? Total newcomers should most definitely start with Odyssey, so there’s a smaller audience than proper remakes would have had.
  • Whilst I wasn’t as big a fan of Super Mario Galaxy 2 as the first game it is odd that it’s not here. If this is supposed to be a complete collection, it is very obviously incomplete. Perhaps it will be DLC in future, and I will probably be foolish enough to buy it!

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the ability to play the amazing Super Mario Galaxy anytime, anywhere on the Switch is worth the price of entry. But by almost entirely relying on these old games to speak for themselves, Nintendo has kept All-Stars from being a must-have pick up. Great for a trip down memory lane but little else, 64 and Sunshine aren’t really adding anything here that Odyssey can’t supply already but it is undeniably nice to have the whole catalogue of 3D Mario games in one place. Now where’s Galaxy 2 again?

Xbox Game Pass Streaming

So Xbox’s game streaming service, formerly known as xCloud, has been live for just over a week now. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers can now stream games from the service’s catalogue direct to their Android devices. I have been playing a few games this way, so I thought I would pull together my thoughts on how well it works, how it compares to the other big game streaming service, Google’s Stadia, and whether it’s worth getting or upgrading a Game Pass subscription for.

Other coffee shops are available!

I have really enjoyed steaming games with the Game Pass service. Primarily I have just been continuing the games I’m currently playing on Xbox One (Tell Me Why, Hotshot Racing) but I’ve had a dabble in some old favourites as well (Forza Horizon 4, Halo). Its easy to find games on the app, which has been going strong for a while as a companion app, and instead of just an ‘Install’ button there’s now a ‘Play’ button as well. After that, other than the obviously smaller screen, the experience using a Bluetooth connected Xbox One controller is much the same as playing on console. I’ve happily sat on the sofa or in the back yard playing on WiFi but the games are just as smooth on 4G when out and about too. I’m sure it will seem normal in the coming years but right now it seems pretty wild to be able to play a game as big and as good as Forza Horizon 4, in a coffee shop or on the train!

Compared to streaming games from Stadia there is a split in how well it holds up technically versus the content. From a functional stand point, Microsoft’s offering is not quite on a par with Google’s – nothing horrendous, but there are a few niggles. The games take much longer to load for a start – with Stadia you are playing in no time but streaming with Game Pass takes just as long to get going as the game would on console or PC. The general performance of the games isn’t quite as good either. You can read my thoughts on streaming with Stadia but with Game Pass the occasional visual distortions and input latency that are part of streaming games at the moment are slightly more common. Nothing to be concerned about really but it is noticeable when moving from Stadia to Game Pass, on the same connection in the same place, that performance is a tiny bit worse on the latter. Microsoft will probably iron this out over time. All that said, you would perhaps expect Stadia to be better in these aspects, as it is Google’s only gaming option, so all their focus is there. On the other hand, where Microsoft wins hands down is in content. I’ve had a Stadia subscription on and off since the free period in the spring but there is always something great to play on Game Pass, both back catalogue and a constant stream of great new games. Game Pass streaming is ahead by having many, many games worth playing and this is more than enough to make up for a small technical short fall.

So is game streaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate a game changer for the service? Well, for the most part I would say yes. Sure, there will be gamers out there who have no interest in what the Game Pass subscription offers in general, and the ability to stream these games will make no difference to them, nor should it. But for anyone considering Game Pass, or considering upgrading to Game Pass Ultimate, it’s now pretty much a no brainer. The Game Pass catalog is growing by the day – Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda, new Xbox Series X games on the horizon, EA Play joining – and now you can play those game across Xboxes, PCs and mobile phones and tablets. Xbox Game Pass has been the best deal in gaming for a while but now you take that experience anywhere you go. It’s arguably even a great idea for people who just play games on mobile, or have just a Playstation or Switch, or don’t want to get into the Xbox ecosystem – now you can play all these Xbox games on your phone! Whatever your situation, highly recommended.

REVIEW: Orcs Must Die! 3 (Stadia)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: Stadia
  • Also available on: n/a
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 25 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Co-op, online only

Game Summary
Orcs Must Die! 3 is the best reason so far to get stuck into Stadia. Perhaps it would be going too far to describe it as the Google platform’s killer app, but it is a huge amount of fun and full of content. Orcs Must Die! 3 is a mix of tower defence and action – and you will definitely need to employ both techniques if you are to keep back the almost overwhelming tides of Orcs of all kinds. When you manage to perfectly combine your traps and other weapons to stop the massive armies there’s a great sense of satisfaction. With a little bit of humour added to proceedings and a basic but enjoyable story to hold everything together, Orcs Must Die! 3 is an excellent package and a bargain, as it’s included in the Stadia Pro subscription.

What’s good about it?

  • Orcs Must Die! 3 (7)
  • As a tower defence game, Orcs Must Die! 3 gives you a huge amount of different traps to destroy the enemy Orcs. From simple ones with spikes or arrows, to ones that flip or push the Orcs off the map, to ones that just delay them for a time – you have almost unlimited options for ways to mow down the oncoming armies.
  • In addition, you play in third person perspective and have a weapon with which you can shoot the Orcs directly. In the campaign mode you can pick from one of two characters but you can switch weapons if you wish, so you won’t be missing out either way. Finally they do each have a unique ability – I went with Egan and his ground slam, but to be honest, if you reach the point of needing that, you will probably be close to losing the level!
  • Orcs Must Die! 3 does a great job of ensuring you need both the traps and the character’s attacks. Trying to mainly rely on either will not work long term, you’ll need to find the right balance between the two methods. This is at the heart of what makes the game fun – it is hugely satisfying when your well laid plans come to fruition but also great when things go wrong, panic sets in, but you handle it. The combination of the strategy of the traps and the immediacy of the direct weapons works beautifully.
  • Some of the traps available are not only useful but funny as well. One of my favourites is one that lifts the Orcs slightly into the air. Useful, as it slows them down, but also their comments (“I can see my house from here!” etc) whilst caught in it are a light aside from their relentless attacks. In addition some of the levels are special ‘War Scenarios‘ and these come with a few additional, larger traps. These levels are not as significantly different from the rest as they might be but having additional, heavy duty, traps at your disposal just gives more options and combinations to play with.
  • It’s such a joy when, after seeing the huge numbers of different Orcs running towards you earlier in a level, you bring what should have been overwhelming hoards to their knees. I love it when a plan comes together!
  • All of this plays out over 18 campaign levels and there are weekly challenges, which make certain stipulations over what traps etc you can use, and an endless mode, if that’s your thing. The story in the campaign isn’t much, but it is quite funny at times and I never got tired of my character dancing when the final Orc is vanquished!
  • You are rewarded with a number of skulls for how well you completed each level and whether you get it done under the par time required. I wanted to go for 5 skulls and that adds an extra wrinkle too – making you risk more in order to get it done faster. That only makes it more satisfying when you nail it. I got the 5 skulls on every level, including one where my time was only 1 second under the par time!

What’s bad about it?

  • Orcs Must Die! 3 (2)
  • In truth, most of the features in Orcs Must Die! 3 are really window dressing, it’s a very basic package underneath. The game gets great mileage out of it but there’s really just one trick: kill lots of Orcs.
  • Throughout the campaign there is very little hand-holding. Not that I wanted it to tell me exactly how to play at all times but, in an effort to let you play your way, Orcs Must Die! 3 doesn’t even offer a lot of information. For example, there are plenty of traps available that I have never used because the game simply did nothing to persuade me I should.
  • Technically the only real issue is with the camera. The nature of the game means you are backing up, giving room to the hoards, a lot of the time and if you back into a wall the camera stops moving and suddenly it’s hard to see and fight. This kind of thing is very common in third-person games to be fair, but it causes a few more issues in Orcs Must Die! 3 than most games because you spend so much time walking backwards!

Orcs Must Die! 3

Conclusion
Orcs Must Die! 3 knows what it wants to be and it nails that. There aren’t any significant additional features but if it’s mowing down endless armies of Orcs you want, then this is definitely the place to come. There’s enough tower defence and enough action to appeal both crowds and by the last time your character dances on the graves of all those Orcs, you’ll feel satisfied and have a big grin on your face.Review4