REVIEW: Hue

  • Released: 2016
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC< PS4, PSVita
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 6 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Early on in Hue you get the impression that melding its interesting take on puzzlers and platformers with a simple but intriguing story can take it up to the heights of the recent history of indie games. Ultimately, however, it’s imaginative gameplay – like so many good ideas – can’t quite carry it’s ambition. In the last couple hours the story ends in a lacklustre way and the puzzle solving becomes a little stale. That said, it is an enjoyable distraction and definitely worth a look if its main gameplay mechanic interests you.25-11-2017_08-15-19

All the colours
That mechanic is the ability to change the colour of the background of the game. When the background colour and the colour of certain in game objects are the same, they disappear. For example, can’t get past that yellow wall? Make the background yellow and the wall fades into the background, allowing you to continue on your way. It’s a great idea and it’s implemented well. The left stick moves the eponymous character and the right stick changes the colour. The vast amount of the time this mechanic is just used for puzzle solving – traversing an area by getting rid of obstacles or moving a box of a certain colour onto a switch etc. Where it really comes into it’s own though, is when there is a time demand on the colour change. For example, you have to start a jump in one colour and land it in another – this extra tension is when the colour changing dynamic works best.25-11-2017_08-12-15

Story good…
There is also a small and simple story to back up the gameplay. As always on this blog, I will studiously avoid spoilers here but it’s told in an interesting way, slowly unfolding as you collect letters written to you. Early on the developing intrigue keeps you interested – always looking to complete the section so you can hear the next letter. Unfortunately this is one part of what eventually lets Hue down.25-11-2017_08-11-37

… story bad.
In the end you come to realise that the story was only ever a facade to place on top of the game – it carries no weight of it’s own and I found that rather disappointing. It’s not that I expect these short puzzlers to have great stories but if anything it does itself a disservice by pulling you in early on. There’s nothing to back up that early promise. Even when the tone changes slightly towards the end and I thought it was about to kick up a gear… it fades away.25-11-2017_08-11-20

Are you still here?
The other let down in Hue is that we have about 4 hours of gameplay in a 6 hour game. By the end I really was just going through the motions to get the game done. As above, this is a real shame after the early promise. I would have been happier with Hue had it simply been shorter. By the end everything that slowed me down – whether just another repetitive puzzle, or my own mistakes trying to solve them – got very frustrating. But if we ignore those last hours when the game has run out of new ideas the gameplay is absolutely loads of fun.25-11-2017_08-11-55

Verdict
In the end, Hue is a good game, but no more. Despite how it overstays it’s welcome it would be harsh to say it was average as it’s main idea – the colour mechanic – is full of imagination and fun. Equally, it doesn’t have anything else going for it in the end. The decision of whether you should play it really comes down to how intrigued you are by that gameplay device – whether that imaginative idea has captured your imagination. If so, then you’ll be able to look past the rest – if not, don’t get sucked in.Review3

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First Impressions: Super Beat Sports

Not since SSX Tricky back in 2001 have I played a game that is such pure fun! That’s not to say that this game is as good as that one – Tricky is one of my all time favourites. But every time I finish a song in Super Beats Sports I have a huge smile on my face! The combination of sports and music is a fantastic idea and one that I will be dipping into for ages myself and then over and over again playing with friends and family.2017111214561800-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

The premise is pretty simple in Super Beats Sports – you are whacking balls about the place as you would in most any sports title. Here though the timing to get a perfect strike is determined by you locking into the music, just as you would in any rhythm titles like Rock Band 4. It’s a completely genius idea as you get to play sports through each song but get that feeling of satisfaction from nailing a good performance at the end.2017111313472900-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

There are 5 game modes called wonderful things like ‘Whacky Bat‘ and ‘Net Ball‘ – I’ll look at each in more detail when I come to do a full review but my initial impressions are that they are hit and miss (pun entirely intended). Perhaps as I get more into the latter ones I will enjoy them more but there’s a risk with them that they get too complex and that takes away from the sheer joy of the more straight forward modes. Or maybe I just need to get better!2017111215014800-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

The Boy is loving this too. It’s simple enough for him to pick up and play but still a challenge to get into the groove and nail each shot. The way winning is rewarded also appeals to him – you can collect things like different bats and different outfits and you get them faster the better you do. In multiplayer it’s also been a blast for him to add the interaction to the mix as well – not since we were playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe every day earlier in the year has he had a game to consistently play with lots of other people.2017112117470200-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

There’s still a ton for us to do in Super Beat Sports so look out for the full review. I also haven’t got around to checking it out with motion controls Wii-Sports-style yet either – that will probably be hilarious in multiplayer as well. In the meantime it’s fair to say I am totally smitten with this game, if that wasn’t obvious enough already!2017111111315900-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

Reflections on Ashes Cricket

The England Cricket Team are currently ‘down under’ – in Australia – for a test series that is nicknamed ‘The Ashes’. They are rubbish and are getting absolutely hammered by an Australian team that isn’t all that good. They don’t need to be – they just need to be better than their opposition. To coincide with this, we have the video game ‘Ashes Cricket‘. Can playing this game make up for the real life failings of the England team? No. There aren’t any other new cricket games at the moment, so this one has no opposition to beat – and yet I still can’t recommend it.Ashes Cricket_20171122230647

List of things that are good about the England cricket team:

List of things that are good about Ashes Cricket:

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Seriously, this game is terrible. It looks awful – it’s so completely bland and uninspiring and the players and umpires look totally unnatural. The gameplay is not intuitive at all, even for someone who has played cricket games in the past. In fact, the only thing I can say struck me as working well was the fielding – but of course you have to have already done some bowling before you get to do that!Ashes Cricket_20171122231507

Batting, which is inevitably the most important part of a cricket game, is the part that should work well. You use the stick to aim and press different buttons for different kinds of shots with the right timing. Yet somehow even this doesn’t come together. At one point I decided I would try and hit a six – I did, but more by luck than judgement. The game doesn’t give you any good feedback about your shot making, either on screen or via gamepad rumble.Ashes Cricket_20171123225133

In short, I really can’t be bothered to try and find more to write about this game. Just don’t waste your time with it. Instead – you can watch the real Ashes! Or maybe not that either.

Retro Controllers on Nintendo Switch

One of the many great things about the Nintendo Switch is the flexibility of the control options available. A single set of Joy Cons can be used for single player or split for multiplayer. A lot of the time this works nicely – The Boy and I have spent many hours with friends and family playing 4-player Mario Kart from two sets of split Joy Cons, for example. However, the recent advent of Rocket League on the Switch has revealed that this doesn’t work very well for every game – not if you value the continued use of your hands, anyway! Single Joy Con play is pretty uncomfortable in Rocket League so we needed better solutions. More sets of Joy Cons or the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller are all good options, but also fairly expensive. What we ended up with was getting a couple of great retro options for players 3 and 4, at a fraction of the price.20171127_230108.jpg

Player 3 Controller – 8Bitdo NES30
This awesome looking controller is made by a company called 8Bitdo, who specialise in retro-styled controllers. This one is influenced by the look of the original NES controller, but is fully modern with all of the buttons required, including clickly-sticks and double-shoulder buttons. They were recently updated to include Switch support.20171127_225911.jpg

The first step was to update the firmware via computer and then it was, in theory, ready to go. A word of warning to anyone considering one of these though – I tried over and over to get it to pair up with my Switch and it was super frustrating. Then I popped the Switch into the dock and bingo – it paired up first time. It’s been fine docked or undocked since, but just remember to do that the first time. The functionality and responsiveness are a match for any controller out there and it looks amazing. So far everyone who has seen ours has been wowed and fascinated. It’s only downside is that in order to maintain it’s retro pedigree it’s shape isn’t that comfortable for long sessions – but it does only get used by us for multiplayer gaming, so that’s fine.

Player 4 Controller – GameCube Controller & Adapter
Back in the Wii U days, Nintendo released an adapter to allow GameCube controllers to be used for Smash Bros on the Wii U. Now they have updated the Switch to bring that functionality to current games. It’s better in fact as now the GameCube controllers can be used for any game on the Switch. Thus I dusted off our old GameCube pad and we added a 4th full controller with just the addition of the adapter.20171127_230026.jpg

It can be a little temperamental to this get going – you have to go into the ‘Search Controllers‘ dialog on the Switch, back out of it and then press L+R to get it recognised by the Switch. It also takes up two of the three available USB ports on the Switch dock. Finally it lacks the full quota of buttons compared to modern controllers so you will not be able to play every game with it. But for us, again, it only gets used for multiplayer gaming so that’s rarely a problem – the odd buttons aside, I have remembered what a great controller the GameCube one was.20171127_230008.jpg

Conclusions
The ultimate fact is that this is a great and inexpensive way to add more controllers to the Nintendo Switch. If you love a little bit of retro styling to your modern gaming then these solutions are sure to appeal and be admired by your friends and family members. They aren’t perfect but if you can’t afford a set of 4 Pro Controllers then this is really fun way of making your multiplayer sessions more enjoyable.

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Click here to purchase the 8Bitdo NES30 from Amazon.co.uk:

 

REVIEW: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

This game originally began life intended to be DLC for Uncharted 4 but eventually grew into a game worthy of it’s own full release. As such, there was the risk that The Lost Legacy would feel like a lesser Uncharted game, whether by taking shortcuts in gameplay, being less ambitious in scope or not having such engaging characters and narrative. Well, fear not – Naughty Dog has once again knocked it out of the park in every way and crafted an adventure completely worthy of the Uncharted name.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171023203721

Gameplay
The Lost Legacy doesn’t bring very much new to the party compared to it’s predecessors in terms of core gameplay. That said, the gameplay in Uncharted 4 was so close to perfect, why change it? Movement is smooth and natural whether you are just jogging through the landscape or climbing along dangerous cliff edges. Combat, both hand-to-hand fighting and gunplay, feels like second nature almost instantly. There really isn’t anything to criticise. You make more use of a jeep, during an early section of the game, than any time previously in the series and this works nicely too. One other small addition is the ability to shove a climbing knife into rough rock to give a handhold to reach higher areas – although this is ripped straight out of the recent Tomb Raider games, so it’s hard to call it an innovation. I’ve played through each Uncharted game and felt the core gameplay get better and better – if you jump straight into the series at this stage, it must be remarkable how well built it all is. A good example is how smoothly it moves in and out of cutscenes – to the point that ‘cutscene’ doesn’t really describe it – there are no cuts. Lots of games try and achieve that these days, but The Lost Legacy is the best demonstration of it yet.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171026234644

Scope
As with any Uncharted game The Lost Legacy is full of amazing landscapes and crazy set pieces. It is slightly smaller in scope than previous entries as you don’t bounce around the globe in the same way – after the opening section the rest of the game takes place in one (massive, it must be said) location. If anything though, I felt that it was a more focused, fast paced adventure as a result so I don’t see that as a good or bad thing. The location itself – set in India in this case – has all the wow-factor you could want. From staring up at huge and ancient structures to marvelling at nature, the world both looks and feels remarkable – just as it has in every Uncharted. Something I particularly like is that Chloe has her phone with her and you have regular opportunities to take quick snaps of the amazing scenes. It’s great how your own amazement is matched by that of the characters you are playing as and with!Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171027093246

Narrative
Which brings us nicely onto the characterisation and story. Naughty Dog make a good game but what they really do better than everyone else in gaming, in my opinion at least, is tell a story. And then marry that story up with the great gameplay – they compliment each other perfectly. The Lost Legacy is no different. I wouldn’t quite be able to say that I didn’t miss Nate and Elena as I did miss the romance between those two. But otherwise the cast of characters here is just as engaging and entertaining as ever. Whether it’s in the throw away comments they make as the game goes along, the wonderfully detailed but natural interactions in cutscenes or even just the little graphical additions that round out their personality, these characters are as alive as any I’ve ever found in a video game. Check out this short clip to notice Chloe reaching out for a wall and adjusting her hair whilst she waits:videotogif_2017.10.27_16.09.39.gif

It’s utterly brilliant and plays in great combination with the story itself. No spoilers here but it is epic, as Chloe and Nadine‘s treasure hunt gets more and more entwined with needing to defeat the bad guy Asav. Relationships between different characters build, are broken or repaired and different motives get clarified as they all fight for what they want and sometimes, what they believe is right. This is just as much fun and just as engaging as any adventure film you could see – and you get to play the main role.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171026171322

Verdict
Rest assured that even if The Lost Legacy is kind of pitched as Uncharted 4.5, it is a thoroughly worthy successor. It’s another stunning and wonderful slice of adventure for fans and an accessible entry point for any Playstation 4 owners who have somehow missed the series so far. It’s not even priced as high as a full game so just get on with purchasing it now! Impossible not to have a blast with.

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

Gaming Subscriptions 2 – Xbox Game Pass, EA Access

After looking at the generic gaming subscriptions on consoles last week – Xbox Live, Playstation Plus and the forthcoming service from Nintendo – I also wanted to take a look at a couple of other things I am currently subscribing to. They are both on Xbox One, but there are similar services on other platforms like PS4 and PC. I have recently signed up to Xbox Game Pass and I am a long-time subscriber to EA Access.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.21.05

Xbox Game Pass
This service is kind of like Netflix or Amazon Prime, but for games. You pay a fee each month and then a whole host of games is available to you to download and play within that. As would be expected, these aren’t recent games in most cases and the selection is fairly random. As such, this won’t be any good for anyone looking for new games, or who has played most of these games back when they were new. However, I think it works for two kinds of gamers. The first are those people who are fairly new to Xbox One. The chance to play through the old Gears of War games, Halo 5, the Bioshock series, Sunset Overdrive – there is a ton of great gaming here that will keep newcomers entertained for months to come. The second is people, like me, who have missed out on a few of the more indie titles available. A couple of them I have already played like Braid or Hexic 2, but I’m currently taking the chance to play through Hue. It’s easy to miss these gems amongst all the latest big releases so I am pleased to have the chance to play them.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.17.14

That said, I do think that Xbox Game Pass is ultimately not worth the money for a consistent subscription. At £7.99 a month it would be a bargain if it consistently had new(ish) games that were worth playing but the reality is that once you are done with the few that you missed there aren’t enough, good enough, games added to the service on the monthly basis. Once I’ve completed the games I mentioned above, I will be cancelling.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.17.55

EA Access
What I won’t be cancelling is my EA Access subscription. Whilst this comes with a clear caveat – it only gives you games from the publisher Electronic Arts (EA) – the service itself is great, and a bargain to boot. You get two different aspects here. Firstly, much like Xbox Game Pass, there is the EA Access ‘Vault’ where plenty of EA’s slightly older games reside for subscribers to play. It always includes their older sports games – currently Madden NFL 17, FIFA 17 etc and quite a few others. For example, I am currently catching up with Mass Effect: Andromeda via my subscription. The second aspect is a combination of early access and discounts on new games. When EA is publishing a new games those with an EA Access subscription get to play a 10 hour trial of the game a week ahead of release. A recent example here is when tried out Need for Speed Payback via this service. Finally, you can get a 10% discount on those games if you have liked them at the end of your trial.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.20.17

This second part is the real key to setting this apart from the other gaming subscriptions. All of the others that offer free games offer almost entirely old ones. So there’s a good chance you’ve already played the best ones anyway. With EA Access you get to play new games, in fact you get to play them early. And at only £20 for a whole year it’s a bargain – you could easily make that back just on the 10% savings if you buy a few new games from EA over a year. Unless you never play EA games, this subscription is great.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.20.44

Conclusions
The concept of these subscriptions is great – pay a small fee and you have loads and loads of games available to play. However, without a consistent stream of new games this can get stale once you’ve played all the ones you want to. To return to the Netflix/Amazon comparison above – they are now making their own TV shows and have new release movies on a regular basis. Until Xbox Game Pass can match that kind of quality new content in gaming, it will not be something I subscribe to. EA Access is a well done model for how gaming subscriptions could work, but of course is only one publisher. If Xbox Game Pass was ever able to match that model across multiple publishers – well, then it would be a no brainer!

Click here to purchase an monthly subscription to Xbox Game Pass from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase an annual subscription to EA Access from Amazon.co.uk:

REVIEW: Gran Turismo Sport

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Playstation 4
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 20 Minutes
  • Time to complete: Probably about 10 hours for the Campaign
  • Multiplayer: Yes

Gran Turismo Sport may be the most frustrating game I’ve played all year. The actual driving itself is superb, stunning even. The handling feels so authentic that even an uncooperative car is a pleasure to drive around. But Polyphony has completely forgotten to give you any good reasons to do so. The game is so bereft of fun things to do that I regularly put the controller down in frustration and/or boredom, only to pick it up again moments later for the pure pleasure of nailing an apex.gran-turismoe284a2sport_20171027213614.png

The Drive Of Your Life
Let’s look at the good first. Gran Turismo has always described itself as ‘The Real Driving Simulator‘ but it has never dialed it in as perfectly as it has here in Sport. Of course, car handling has been well refined in these games for years. Project Cars, Forza Motorsport, F1 games – these have all done a great job recently. But the detail, and the balance between accessibility and realism, is perfected here. You can really feel the weight and movement of the cars underneath you. There’s a really lovely uncertainty as you swing through the apex of a corner – the car a little unbalanced as you simultaneously accelerate, brake, turn and change gear. Then it falls into place as you blast onto the next straight. It just feels totally right and driving around a great track like Suzuka in Japan, right on the edge of adhesion, is a real joy.Gran Turismo™SPORT_20171103232210

Off The Line
Unfortunately, you are simply not given enough good reasons to drive. This is primarily an online game, so there is very very little content for you to get stuck into by yourself. And this isn’t a case of cutting away the fat – too much of what you are left with isn’t that great anyway. Where usually we would have some kind of career mode we instead have ‘Campaign‘ mode and GTs usual ‘Arcade‘ mode is here too. (It’s telling that I am even talking about Arcade mode – in previous GT games it has been close to irrelevant but here it gets a mention as there is so little else.) In Campaign mode you face challenges and then are awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze for how well you do. It is in three sections; Driving SchoolMission Challenge and Circuit Experience.

Driving School is much the same as earning licences in previous GT games – you are given short sections of tracks and tips of how to complete them quickly. Before, however, they were a means to an end – getting into the career mode. Here they are an end in themselves and are rather dull as a result.

Mission Challenge is where the only real gaming offline takes place. Here the requirements can range from overtaking challenges, to one-make races, to ‘endurance’ races (side note – since when did Gran Turismo count a 15 lap race as ‘endurance’?). Some of this is good as it gets out of the way and let’s the driving shine. Those slightly longer races in particular are good to break up the stream of 30-second challenges. But even here there are huge problems. The worst is when a particular challenge requires you to make no contact with the other cars. Ridiculously, you also lose these challenges if they hit you, so don’t think about trying to out-brake them into corners. I ended up creeping around the track in these races concentrating more on staying out of the way of the AI rather than enjoying the driving. Horrible.

Circuit Experience does what is says on the tin – holds your hand around each of the (very few) tracks in the game, giving you time trials of all the difficult sections until you are deemed ready for the whole circuit. I thought maybe I could learn the tracks whilst I was racing around them, but in Gran Turismo, apparently not. Also very dull.Gran Turismo™SPORT_20171031214605

On The Line
All of this indicates that Polyphony have firmly put all of their eggs into the online basket – the eponymous ‘Sport‘ mode. As such, it had better be great, to recover this game from the threat of mediocrity.

It isn’t.

You have the standard ‘Lobby‘ area where you can arrange to play with friends or jump into stranger’s games. This does work pretty well – the flexibility in setup of these rooms allows everyone to race the way they want. But every single racing game on the market has this functionality – it’s not enough to carry this game alone. Perhaps the idea is that they will build on Sport mode over time but for now it is very minimal and very restrictive. You get 3 daily races that take place repeatedly through the day and two championships that run a few times in the evening. It all works in a very slow and cumbersome way; from the long loading times (like, really long) to the inconvenient organisation of race scheduling (usually when you finish one of the daily races the next one you can enter is… the same one you just finished) to the format (you spend up to 15 minutes qualifying for a 5 or 6 minute race, with a completely pointless ‘warm up’ in between).gran-turismoe284a2sport_20171104091332.png

Not only does it feel like a drag but it’s not saved by the races either. Polyphony are obsessed with trying to make sure everyone is nice to each other so they have instigated something called your ‘Sportsmanship Rating‘. You are forced to sit through a long, pious and badly-translated (I’m going to assume that’s the reason – otherwise it’s just really badly written) talk about how important it is to be nice on the track before you can even get into Sport mode and then in the races your every move is tracked. You gain ‘SR‘ by going through sectors without hitting anyone (in other words, when you are at the back not making any progress) and you lose ‘SR‘ for making contact. Of course, much like in single player mentioned above, you also lose rating points if others bump into you. Finally, they seem to have tried to ensure this doesn’t get out of hand by ghosting anyone’s car who isn’t on the racing line. This works well if someone has forgotten to break in time for an upcoming corner – they just fade out and miss everyone – but it is still not right; in one race I was passed by a ghosted car that went right through me and then solidified again once in front. Perhaps some people have learnt to game the system.

It would have been better to simply let people race and then match those who repeatedly don’t race well away from the rest of us – but once again, Gran Turismo feels the need to hold our hands, and it falls down as a result. When I think about how quickly and smoothly online games like Rocket League work, or how well the additional online content is built in a game like Dirt 4 (on top of a proper single player game, no less) everything about Sport mode is a disappointment.Gran Turismo™SPORT_20171026214043

Verdict
Gran Turismo Sport gets an extra star by virtue of the great handling model that Polyphony has created. The actual game that they have put together around it is completely average. If you have a few friends that enjoy racing online together – and have no desire to play any other parts of the game – then by all means make this your new destination. I can’t think of any other reason that you’d choose Gran Turismo Sport over other racing games.

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Click here to purchase Gran Turismo Sport on disc from Amazon.co.uk: