REVIEW: Minecraft (Nintendo Switch)

  • Released: 2017 for this version, 2011 originally
  • Played on: Nintendo Switch
  • Also available on: basically everything!
  • Time to get into: 30 minutes
  • Time to complete: you don’t, really!
  • Multiplayer: yes, both local and online

There seems no point in a standard review of Minecraft, as most of the world knows it well already. Equally I can’t make this a specific review for the Nintendo Switch version as I haven’t really played this game on any other platforms, so I can’t compare. As such, I will basically walk through my experiences with the game and hopefully that will still be interesting for most people, whilst also showing those few people – like me until recently – who haven’t ever ‘got’ Minecraft why they should definitely start ‘getting’ it right away!

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I’ve typically not enjoyed games where there are no, or few, specific goals. Viva Pinata and Animal Crossing come to mind straight away as games that I really tried to enjoy but ended up drifting away from feeling that I needed more purpose. Others I simply never tried. Consequently, I had never been that excited about Minecraft as I expected it to be more of the same. And it is! However, the one thing that it does differently is make the entire environment, not just the activities you can engage in, malleable and moldable.
I really only came back to Minecraft because of how successful it continues to be. It’s available on almost every platform where games are played and is the 2nd highest selling game in history. I kept thinking, all those people must be onto something, no?! My only previous experience had been playing part of the tutorial of the Pocket Edition on Android a few years ago, so when The Boy showed some interest in playing it on the Switch, I decided that now was the time to give it a proper go.

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My first house
I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do in Minecraft, probably because there is no such thing really, but what I have done is basically build bigger and bigger houses for me to sleep in. Given that this is the Super Mario edition of Minecraft the first thing I did was change my character to be Luigi – I’m always Luigi – although in the end I preferred first person view so I rarely see him anymore. My need for some purpose has meant that I only play in Survival mode so the first thing I needed to do was build myself a small shelter. I did this in the tutorial initially but quickly started my own world and this is where I started to cotton on to what everyone has been on about with Minecraft: I built the smallest, most rubbish house in all of history – but it was mine!

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This is one half of what Minecraft does that makes it a step above other exploration/crafting/building/etc games. The things that you build with – ie a block of stone or dirt – are so small that everything you build is authentically yours. To compare it to one of my examples from above – Viva Pinata allows you to lay out your garden however you wish, but you are still bound to the size and the items offered by the game. In Minecraft you have an almost completely clean slate and thus you do get a sense of achievement and progression, simply from completing the things that you set out to build.

The world is your oyster
After expanding that first house I went in search of a village. Even in a video game, community is important! However, even after days and days of searching (and nights and nights at the top of mountains trying to stay safe) I still hadn’t found one. I decided to take the short cut of finding a seed code from the internet where I knew I’d find a village nearby and that made the entire thing more enjoyable for someone like me with a need for purpose. I found a place near some water (it looks like an ocean – I’ve not built a boat yet) to re-build my tiny house and went from there, trying to interact with the villagers and investigating the surrounding area.

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It was now that the other half of what makes Minecraft great started to reveal itself. Now I was settled in an area I started to wonder what I could improve about it. There was a thin strip of sand between the water and the area I’d built my house – I decided that it ought to be a beach! This is the game’s true genius. It’s not just building that it is entirely in your hands – it’s the very fabric of the environment you are in. The only thing standing between you and molding your entire world as you see fit is putting in the time. I started with the beach but from there I’ve built a hill and put a massive house on top with a glass facade so that I wake from my bed in the morning to see my beach. Then I’ve built a huge mine cart track that goes straight through the top floor of my house and around to another area. The phrase ‘the world is your oyster’ has never been so literally true as it is in Minecraft.

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The Dark Side
The last thing I’ve done that is worth commenting on is the actual mining that the game is named for. I was and still am surprised how daunting it is to head underground to where the monsters are. But it’s necessary as that is where all the good stuff is! My cart track works thanks to the Redstone I’ve found underground, I’ve traded a lot of coal to my fellow villagers for Emeralds and I’ve also got some Diamond and Lapis Lazuli tucked away in a chest now for when I figure out what to do with it. As luck would have it after lots of digging I suddenly opened up into a massive cave with lots of these things available. It took me many days and nights (and deaths and trips back!) to gather just the obvious stuff from here. I’m now thinking of finding another area to make a cart track stop at and dig down and down to see what I can find.

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Verdict
This game is spectacular. Where it forgoes achievements, purpose and story it gives you complete control over your activities, outside of the need to stay alive. I really don’t know where this game would ever stop, or how it could ever get boring. I’ve spent upwards of 40 hours already and haven’t really reached very far away from my base area. I’m very much looking forward to the hours of gaming ahead.Review5

Horizon Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode

Horizon Zero Dawn really is the most beautiful game I’ve ever played.
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I’m not just talking about the graphics per se. There have been plenty of games over the years that have looked stunning. Fifteen years ago I was amazed by the graphics in games. The grass in Halo on the Xbox was literally unbelievable the first time saw it. The way every room glowed in Resident Evil on the GameCube. The car models in Gran Turismo 4 on the PS2. What Guerrilla Games have done with HZD is harness great modern graphics to create something that is genuinely beautiful. I spend far too much time in this post-apocalpse world just wandering about looking for a great photo opportunity!
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Great graphics are really not necessary for great gameplay. Right now my favourite console is the Nintendo Switch (I go on about why here) which has far ‘worse’ specs compared to even the Xbox One and PS4 I own, let alone the PS4 Pro or the forthcoming Xbox One X. Breath of the Wild is a stunning looking game anyway. The Boy has sunk so, so many hours into Mario Kart 8 but he hasn’t commented on the graphics once. And let’s not even consider how important graphics are to Minecraft! Well done to Guerrilla Games for making graphical power serve a need, rather than be a need in itself.
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I wonder if this kind of thing will remain a rarity or if it will be more a focus for developers now they have such amazing tools at their disposal. All the talk around the Xbox One X is about the specs – 4k gaming and how many teraflops it has. I don’t even know what a teraflop is! What I do know is that on my, standard, PS4 I am stunned on a daily basis by the beauty of the world in Horizon Zero Dawn.
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Click here to purchase the game on disc from Amazon.co.uk:

Gold Wheels at last! MK8D is done.

Finally The Boy and I have completed Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and collected the Gold Wheels! 2017080820012500-16851BE00BC6068871FE49D98876D6C5See our previous post on Gold Mario (here) for our progress at that point. What we had left to do was beat the ghost set by the staff on all 48 tracks in Time Trial mode. It has taken a long time and a lot of effort but we are there!

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Here we both are in a race afterwards showing off our All-Gold Marios:2017080820160900-16851BE00BC6068871FE49D98876D6C5

The Top 5 tracks that we found the hardest were:
5. Dolphin Shoals
4. Cloudtop Cruise
3. SNES Rainbow Road
2. Big Blue
1. Wario Stadium
Most of them were reasonably straight forward with whatever character and vehicle customisations you liked but there were a few that really made you have to figure out what characteristics you needed to go with to get the best time. To beat our nemesis, Wario Stadium, we ended up with Bowser Jr, the Koopa Clown kart and Roller tyres.2017080820002100-16851BE00BC6068871FE49D98876D6C5

Thankfully it proved to be just enough! The whole process has been a lot of fun – Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is such a good game, how could it be anything else?! Now when we play online we can show off our All-Gold Mario to the world!

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Click below to purchase Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on cartridge from Amazon.co.uk:

Or click below to purchase a Mario Kart 8 Deluxe download code from CDKeys.com:

REVIEW: Puyo Puyo Tetris (Nintendo Switch)

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Nintendo Switch
  • Also available on: PS4, plus others in Japan only
  • Time to get into: 5 minutes
  • Time to complete: 10 hours
  • Multiplayer: yes, both local and online

My main question coming into playing Puyo Puyo Tetris was whether or not a puzzle game – even a mash up of two puzzle games – could possibly be worth the price of entry. The game is priced as a full title, the same as Breath of the Wild or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Could it justify it? The answer is emphatically: yes! This game takes two good puzzle games and them great by adding competitive play and combining them in different ways. Not all of those ways really work but it’s enough to keep you entertained and engaged for a great many hours.

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As the name suggests, Puyo Puyo Tetris brings both Puyo Pop and Tetris into one title. There are myriad ways to play – from playing one of the games alone as a challenge through to full on Fusion mode (where both types are played at the same time on the same board) versus someone else. Each different game type can be chosen in Arcade mode and there is an Adventure mode that throws each type at you as you go through the story.

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Adventure mode was where I spent most of my single player time. This mode is a lot of fun gameplay wise. I can make no comment here on the story or the characters – I found the cut scenes that are before and after every level so insufferable and so easy to skip that after not too long I didn’t really see another one. What I did see was a continuing stream of different game modes and challenges. The learning curve is mostly well handled, although there are the occasional levels that are either far harder or far easier than those around them. All in there are 70 levels split into 7 chapters. I think it’s a good length – it certainly didn’t outstay it’s welcome but I wonder how much further they could have repeated the different games types and kept it from being too repetitive. The only flaw here was Fusion mode. I enjoyed all the other combinations of modes – Puyo vs Tetris or the swap mode where you have one board from each game on the go at the same time and swap over every 30 seconds. Fusion mode puts both Puyo and Tetris pieces on the same board and this doesn’t really do anything but dilute what it good about each. The main aim with Tetris is keeping your lines clean and organised and the main aim with Puyo is long chains that fall into place. Fusion mode doesn’t allow you to focus on either of those things but doesn’t replace it with anything further goal. In the end in Fusion mode, I was just trying to survive the level, rather than trying to finish it.

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After playing through the Adventure, I didn’t feel the need to spend much time in Arcade mode – I felt I was ready to go online. How wrong I was! Real people are even more brutally difficult than the hardest levels of the single player game. I think part of this is the seeming lack of proper matching. I was repeatedly matched with experienced and very good players even when I was just getting started – thus I was totally destroyed on a very regular basis. This is odd to say the least – matching players based on their ability is a standard component of online multiplayer games. Perhaps the game just isn’t that popular online and there simply aren’t enough players to avoid this. Regardless, if it had not been for my desire to write this review, I might well have given up online play very early on. The other reason for that is that the game plays out in the exact same way online as it does against the cpu. Most games change their character when you go online – humans simply react differently than AI. But here, given that the gameplay is so restricted anyway by the rules of the puzzles, it’s hard to know if you’re playing online or offline – it feels identical. There is nothing wrong with the online play – it’s easy, quick and smooth – it’s just not that exciting.

2017080114324700-27B43DBE1CF53CADD3897FC3CD79185FVerdict
Ultimately Puyo Puyo Tetris is held back from perfection by the Fusion mode and the slight lack of excitement of the online play. But not many games are perfect and this is still a fantastic title that will eat up hours of your life and keep you coming back for more and more. The desire to play faster and faster doesn’t get tired and the varied modes keep it fresh for ages. It really transcends the ‘puzzle-game’ tag – this is just a really good game, full stop.

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

Click here to purchase the game on PS4 from Amazon.co.uk:

Portability For The Win

Let me be clear about something: I love the Nintendo Switch! It has some great games already but what really sets it apart is the portability. The ability to play ‘proper’ games on the go has changed the opportunities that I have to play and how much I enjoy playing.
Last weekend I was in Brussels with the family. Before the Switch this would have meant a few days without games but no longer. Here we are playing on the Eurostar on the journey there:

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Even once arrived, it was easy to play when we were relaxing between bits of exploring, be it in a sports bar:

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Or even in Starbucks overlooking the Grand Place:

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Mobile games are fine but touch screen controls are restrictive compared to full controllers. The Switch is the best of both worlds and I would no longer consider getting a game that was available for the Switch on any other system. Why tie yourself to the TV when you can have the flexibility of playing anywhere, any time? I reckon this is exactly what Nintendo was aiming for with the console and they have nailed it. Long live the Nintendo Switch!

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Click here to purchase the Nintendo Switch from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase the Switch stand that we use from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase Puyo Puyo Tetris from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase Mario Kart 8 Deluxe from Amazon.co.uk:

Click here to purchase a code for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe from CDKeys.com:

REVIEW: NBA Playgrounds (Nintendo Switch)

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Nintendo Switch
  • Also available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4
  • Time to get into: 10 minutes
  • Time to complete: 5 hours
  • Multiplayer: yes, both local and online

The sport of basketball has lent itself well over the years to over-the-top video game versions. From NBA Jam through NBA Street and now NBA Playgrounds the combination of a sport that is already pretty spectacular and that has a fairly small playing area have made it ripe for injecting some crazy into our consoles. Playgrounds does not let this tradition down with sensational dunks, fast paced action and power-ups galore. Where it does fall short is that it doesn’t do enough to reward performing these eye-catching feats versus just playing basketball in order to win games. But despite it’s flaws it keeps you coming back for more monstrous blocks, quick counter attacks and flying alley-oops.
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No bricks allowed
It feels fair to be reviewing this game now, after the release of a patch that fixed a few issues. Of course, a game should really be complete upon it’s release but since that moment has passed now I shall only consider the game as it is now. See here for my first impressions post from a few weeks ago for a few more details on those things.
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Nothing but net
The main bulk of the single player game is a Tournament mode. Here you play through a four-game competition on a few courts from across the globe against increasingly difficult opponents. Offensively you have available the typical run, pass and shoot stuff along with buttons to push your opponent (ie elbow them in the face!), perform a cross over and start an alley-oop with your teammate. The combination of all these things = huge fun! The search for more and more over-the-top ways of smashing the ball into the basket never gets old and as you level up your players they’ll have more different moves to enjoy. Whether dunking or shooting, there’s a shot meter that is very intuitive to let you know when to let go of the shoot button and the change in difficulty between dunking with a player with high dunk stats and trying a three-pointer with one with low shooting stats feels right. One way or another, scoring is very satisfying. On Defense you can push your opponents still and you get to use steals and blocks as well. Naturally, none of this is as fun as getting baskets, although blocking a huge dunk in mid-animation is a pleasure as well.
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Breaking ankles
All this fun will carry you most of the way through the single player mode before things start to get frustrating. Unfortunately, with increased difficulty the tension at the heart of NBA Playgrounds is revealed: all of that crazy fun isn’t actually the best way to win. The game attempts to reward your efforts at pulling off stunts with a Lottery Pick Bar. For every cool thing you achieve you get part of the bar filled and when it’s full you get rewards such as an unmissable shot or speeding up your opponents shot clock. The problem is that not enough of these bring you additional points to balance out simply consistently sinking threes. I went back after completing the final match in Tournament mode and played it again to test this theory. The first time, when aiming for fun, I had just won. However, by looking only for three-pointers and ignoring the lottery pick bar completely I absolutely destroyed the hardest single player match in the game – scoring nearly twice as many points as the CPU. Basically for all the fantastic, bombastic play, the best way to win is still by just playing normal basketball.
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Coast to coast
This conflict between having fun and just winning carries over into online matches. There aren’t a lot of options here, you select your players and are then sent into a five minute ranked match against a random opponent. One of my early games I went in without a good shot blocker (a mistake I won’t make again) and was destroyed by someone who just went for threes the entire game. This is not a criticism of the online play – I’ve found it as consistent as local play and although it can take a while to match and load up it’s not long enough to make you bail. In fact this is where the game can shine the most – the matches when I’ve played against someone who also values the fun aspect over pure winning have been the most enjoyable of all.

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Verdict
Ultimately, I really enjoyed NBA Playgrounds. There are a few niggles to go along with the conflict described above that together should leave it as a flawed game. But if you can find your own balance between the desire to have fun with the need to win then the core gameplay just doesn’t get tired: an alley-oop is a pleasure to execute even the umpteenth time! If the price you have to pay for this is the occasional frustrating single player game or online beat-down, then it’s a price I am very happy to pay.
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Click here to purchase a code for the game on PC from Amazon.co.uk:

First Impressions: Puyo Puyo Tetris (Nintendo Switch)

I’ve got to confess that I didn’t expect to enjoy a Tetris game again! Tetris feels as old as the sun to me. It was one of the first, if not the very first, games I ever played and I have had it (or clones of it) on countless consoles and mobile devices. At the end of the day it hasn’t really changed – or not for the better – over all those years and I thought my time with it would be done.
Additionally, I also have to confess that I’ve never played a Puyo Puyo or Puyo Pop game. I was vaguely aware of their existence but didn’t know anything about them. Thus the combination of Puyo Puyo and Tetris didn’t particularly appeal to me.
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However, this was one of the few games out there these days that had a demo, so I thought I’d give it a go. I am pleased that I did! Outside of the Puyo Puyo being new to me – and at this stage I’m still enjoying the Tetris more – the game injects another dimension into the Tetris by being really going all in on the competitive play. You can just play a normal game of Tetris by yourself but the main bulk of it is playing against the CPU, playing against others locally or playing online.
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The demo gives you a good idea what to expect but the full game adds Adventure mode. I can’t tell you anything about the story as the ‘cut-scenes’ quickly became insufferably long and cringe-worthy. What’s great about it is that it constantly throws different challenges at you, across both Puyo and Tetris and a huge host of game modes. The steady stream of different games is, so far, keeping me fully engaged.
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I’ll do a more full review when I’ve completed Adventure mode and played more in the other modes too. For now, I’d recommend it if you can find it for a good price. In the review I’ll answer whether it is worth the high price of entry for a puzzle game.

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

Click here to purchase the game on PS4 from Amazon.co.uk: