Horizon Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode

Horizon Zero Dawn really is the most beautiful game I’ve ever played.
Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170707221530
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!
Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170707222145
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.
Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170724073246

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.
horizon-zero-dawne284a2_20170717220920

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

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.

2017072608415800-27B43DBE1CF53CADD3897FC3CD79185FFusion
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.

2017072708201300-27B43DBE1CF53CADD3897FC3CD79185FAdventuring
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.

2017080114372200-27B43DBE1CF53CADD3897FC3CD79185FOn The Line
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.

Review4

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

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

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.
2017072521525700-1FCF0A7AF7CCCB88BADEE5B2CDE5F143

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.
2017072513393200-1fcf0a7af7cccb88badee5b2cde5f143.jpg

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.
2017072513392700-1FCF0A7AF7CCCB88BADEE5B2CDE5F143

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.
2017072521532800-1FCF0A7AF7CCCB88BADEE5B2CDE5F143

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.

2017072521531200-1FCF0A7AF7CCCB88BADEE5B2CDE5F143

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.
Review3

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.
2017072708372500-27B43DBE1CF53CADD3897FC3CD79185F
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.
2017072708184900-27B43DBE1CF53CADD3897FC3CD79185F
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.
2017072608415800-27B43DBE1CF53CADD3897FC3CD79185F
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:

Sequels – Addition or Replacement?

Sequels usually fall into two camps for me. Those with storylines like adventure games or first person shooters I consider an ‘addition’ to that franchise – even if the gameplay is improved and tweaked, the story gives you reason to go back to the previous entries. On the other hand, sequels in franchises like sports games or racing games are more ‘replacements’ – they bring advances to the gameplay and give you no reason to go back. Occasionally though, a sequel will transcend these definitions and give you enough new gameplay outside of a story to be a great experience without stepping on the toes of it’s predecessor.
One such example is SSX 3.

20170714_071623

The game before it was SSX Tricky, which was just amazing. It was just outrageous in every aspect – the characters, the tricks, the speed, even the soundtrack. This is still the best game I’ve played in terms of pure fun – no complications or distractions, just massive tricks and massive points.
So where could SSX 3 go? There was no narrative so they couldn’t just tweak the formula and put a new story on it. What they did though, was retain enough of the gameplay – the crazy tricks and the races – whilst placing it in a new setting. Here you had a more complete structure to the events in the game, more organised tracks and mountains and just a little bit of an open world feel. It was a stunning game in it’s own right without diluting the simplicity and, frankly, preposterousness of Tricky.

20170714_071604.jpg

I originally played this games on Playstation 2 but have recently picked them up on the cheap for the original Xbox. I’m surprised and pleased to report that they are still fantastic games all these years later! Normally I would only consider one game in this kind of franchise for my All Time Top Games List. If I didn’t use that policy that list would be full of 6 Forza Motorsport games, multiple Mario Karts and a multitude of FIFAs and PESs. But SSX Tricky and SSX 3 are both worthy enough, and different enough, to get separate places on that list.

SSX Tricky Intro from The Gamer Boys on Vimeo.

Now I’m going to head back to Garibaldi and see if I can get back to when I could get well over 1 million points on the way down there!
What about you? Which other sequels have been great without just replacing the game before? Let us know in the comments below.

First Impressions: Horizon Zero Dawn

It has taken me a while to get into this game. Perhaps because I spent so much time in Hyrule playing Breath of the Wild earlier this year. Perhaps because that game was so good. Perhaps simply that Horizon doesn’t start all that well, relatively speaking. I stuck at it because basically everyone loves this game, so I assumed it must get good sooner rather than later.

Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170701222741

And oh boy, it certainly did! Without spoilers, there is a section early on – for me it was between 5 hours and 6 hours play time – where the little you know so far is torn up and wildly discarded as you are set on your quest and sent out into the full game. It’s a wonderful, spectacular and gut-wrenching section that somehow manages to be different from what is immediately before or after it and yet still feel like a natural part of the game.

Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170701223806

So far I take this to be a mashup of Breath of the Wild and Mass Effect. You have the same exploration and crafting stuff going on as in the Zelda game but the story and the missions are dealt with much more like Mass Effect – even down the way conversation choices are chosen. This is not a bad thing! Both those games are in my Top 10 Games Ever – maybe by the end Horizon Zero Dawn will be too.

Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170702212557

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

REVIEW: Old Man’s Journey

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Android
  • Also available on: iOS, PC, Mac
  • Time to get into: 5 minutes
  • Time to complete: 1.5 hours
  • Multiplayer: No

The idea of paying for a mobile game up front can seem odd these days. The vast majority of games on the Play Store and App Store let you get started initially and then either demand that you pay up to continue or put regular road blocks in your way and make it clear that paying money would make your life easier. Old Man’s Journey acts more like a console game in this aspect, expecting you to pay just under £5 before letting you download. Don’t let this put you off – this is very much a ‘mobile’ experience but it’s very much worth the money. There are two aspects in play here – the gameplay and the narrative – and it’s mainly the latter that takes this from brief distraction to great experience in it’s own right.

Screenshot_20170628-223718

Gameplay
The game is very simple at it’s core. Most of the time you are altering the landscape to allow the eponymous Old Man (we never learn his name, or those of the other characters) to travel from one side of the screen to the other. This involves working out, for example, how to get sheep to move to another hill to let him past or joining up train tracks to allow his train to keep moving. Whilst it is all very basic the game retains your interest by a combination of gentle guidance and simple charm. Anything that needs to be clicked on is usually moving or lit up slightly or something else that let’s you know to interact with it without taking you out of the experience. If you ask your Man to walk somewhere he can’t get he’ll react with a sort of ‘huh?’ with a question mark over his head – letting you know you’ve done it wrong without actually saying that or punishing you at all. In terms of charm it drips from every pore of Old Man’s Journey. Even aside from the storyline, the cute graphics, the endearing body language of the Old Man and the wonderful soundtrack all add up to a well made and engaging game.
Screenshot_20170704-135210
Narrative
The gameplay is really just a vessel in which to place a delightful and meaningful story and tell it in a subtle and wonderful way. I’d venture to say I’ve never come across a mobile game with such emphasis on the story – certainly not one that does it so well anyway. I don’t want to give anything away here in order to not ruin it but if you’ve seen the Disney movie Up then you’ll know the kind of tender, bittersweet storytelling you can expect. If not you’ll just have to trust me that it’s wonderful and you should experience it without any preconceptions!
Screenshot_20170704-134907
Verdict
Without the fantastically engaging narrative Old Man’s Journey would probably not have enough gameplay to stand up. However, that gaming is in fact the perfect compliment to the most wonderful storytelling I’ve come across on mobile. Totally worth the price of entry.
Review5