REVIEW: Fast RMX

Whilst the overall package isn’t up to the level of other racing games – a fact that is reflected in its price, so fair enough – what Fast RMX does is absolutely get the key stuff right. It nails all the elements that you’d expect from a futuristic racer leaving you with an experience that is a lot of fun in short sharp bursts – exactly what you’re looking for at this price point.2017100218024100-993B0B446253E7FDAAC3C1A7681F46FE
Speed
My first taste of futuristic racing games like this was F Zero X on the N64. I was pretty hopeless at it back then but I was more or less instantly hooked. Since then, I’ve usually given every one I can get my hands on a go, from the disappointing (F Zero GX, or the recent Redout) to the enjoyable (Quantum Redshift, Wipeout HD). However, none of them have ever quite matched that initial excitement – Quantum Redshift was probably my favourite but even then that lent more towards other racing games instead of the relentless breakneck speed and instant reactions that really define these games for me. Fast RMX gets this absolutely right. Even on the slowest speed, ‘Subsonic’, your craft is moving very quickly even before you hit what ultimately becomes the key to winning: boosting. 2017092217584700-993B0B446253E7FDAAC3C1A7681F46FE
Boost
Once you’ve got to grips with the handling of Fast RMX is quickly becomes clear that the key to winning is boosting. This comes to you in two ways. First, you can collect boost power ups around the tracks and use the boost button as you see fit – pretty standard fare. The second way is sections of the track that will boost you along but only if you have your craft in the colour configuration to match. You can switch your craft from blue to yellow and only if you match this with the colour of these boost sections in the track will you actually be shot forward. In fact, a mismatch will actually slow you down. Making good use of these boosts is what makes this game so good – to win races consistently you have to minimise the amount of time between boosting but nailing the sections correctly and using your collected boosts in between. As you can imagine, this just makes the game even faster. A well-executed race on ‘Hypersonic’, the top speed setting, sees you travelling at almost uncontrollable speeds, constantly hitting either the track section boosts or your boost button. Getting this right is an exhilarating and slightly exhausting experience!2017100218043300-993B0B446253E7FDAAC3C1A7681F46FE
Limit
As mentioned above, this is a budget racing game so corners had to be cut somewhere. As the gameplay is so much fun all these shortcoming are to be found in the overall package of the game. For example, little effort has been made to join all these races together into one concept – each ‘championship’ of three races is just there for you to enjoy, they have no connection to each other. Also, the modes are limited with only one attempted tweak to the gameplay, in Hero mode where using too much boost can damage your craft. All this said, I don’t want to labour this point. It is worth pointing out that the game options are very basic but equally worth pointing out that this isn’t really a criticism – just a necessary limitation in a budget racing game.2017100218030300-993B0B446253E7FDAAC3C1A7681F46FE
Verdict
This is the most fun I’ve had with a futuristic racer in 10-odd years and the most exhilarating in its pure speed for 20-odd. It’s not perfect, but given its price, it’s an essential purchase for any Switch owner looking for a quick fix of faaassst.

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REVIEW: Dirt 4

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, PS4
  • Time to get into: 3 Hours
  • Time to complete: 30 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes

This game is so close to greatness that I almost feel more sad for it than I do about it, given it’s flaws. It’s a technical masterpiece and there are moments, long moments in fact, when everything else but the joy of driving so fast, so close to danger on either side fades away and you are just in the zone. Sadly, those moments are ultimately too few but make no mistake; for racing fans, particularly rally fans, Dirt 4 is a fantastic game that you will love playing.01-10-2017_21-51-12

Threading the needle
As I alluded to in my first impressions of Dirt 4, the real thrill of the game is the rallying sections. Rushing headlong across gravel, snow or wet tarmac – with rocks, trees or just sheer drops so close on either side – on the very edge of enough grip is fantastic. The seemingly constant stream of corners requiring you to brake and accelerate, turn left and right, gear up and down and only your co-driver’s notes to give you a clue of what is coming next is exhilarating. All of this feels great due to the brilliant handling model the developers have created – every car and every surface feels unique and real. For example, changes in sound and in controller rumble go hand in hand with the changes in steering and in acceleration/braking response as snowfall is heavier in different sections of a Swedish rally stage. This combination of detailed feedback is empowering, allowing you to push harder and harder in search of more time. It’s such a technically well put-together game and this allows you to really stay at the limit for long periods as you slide through the corners at breakneck speeds.01-10-2017_21-51-22

Other races
If all this sounds too good to be true then you are right – it is. These rallying stages are almost great enough to render the rest of the game unimportant but there are two significant flaws in Dirt 4 that slightly temper my enthusiasm. The first is the other racing types. Career mode also includes Land Rush and Rallycross races. Here you are pitted directly against other cars on the same bits of track but these races are somehow less exciting than being alone on track. I put this down to the inevitable requirement for these modes to have proper race tracks, where you are required to do multiple laps. The excitement of the rally sections is partly based upon having to drive as fast as possible into the unknown as the stage stretches out ahead of you – here you know where you are going and some of the tension of it is lost as a result. In addition to career there is the Joyride mode which sees you taking part in some mini-game-like tasks but all of these other racing types just feel like distractions added to fill out the game’s offering.01-10-2017_21-50-33

The down-side
The other problem with Dirt 4 is that for everything that is great about the rally stages, they aren’t perfect and the further you get into the game and the harder it becomes, the more these become obvious. Firstly, the ‘Your Stage’ feature was much-lauded when this game was released (and it does work well for having a bit of fun creating your own stages and events) but the use of this to build the career mode stages means that you will be seeing the same sections of track over and over again. Sure, they are all connected in different ways but it means that every time you are driving, for example, through the trees of Wales and your co-driver says ’60, caution, crest, immediate left 1′ – that crest and corner will look exactly the same. Same rocks on the inside, same trees on the outside. After you are far into the game and you have spent ages trying not to crash into these trees it gets pretty tired.
The other flaw in Dirt 4 is the other side of the coin that makes it so good. That constant state of being on the edge is wonderful when you nail it. But what if you don’t? Usually it means the end of the stage, either because you have trashed your car so much that it won’t limp on or at the very least that you are too far behind to catch up to your competitors. Of course you could turn down the difficulty but that is to be avoided as it is the challenge that makes Dirt 4 so much fun – making the game easier to avoid frustration would also take away what makes it great. This all has two effects: firstly, lots of restarting! Secondly, I found myself feeling tense the entire time I played this game – this was fine to begin with, it was a new challenge, but by the end it had become a real drag. I really missed a Rewind feature like in Forza Motorsport 6 et al – used sparingly that can help you clear up your big mistakes and enable you to go hard, on the edge, the whole time. I imagine some Dirt fans would say this is sacrilege but this is a game people – there’s a reason why us ordinary folks are rallying on our gamepads and not in real cars! For Dirt 4 to push you to the limit to such an extent whilst also being completely unforgiving means that it’s good.. but not great.01-10-2017_21-50-59

Other bits
Let’s clear up a few other aspects of the game. The graphics are understated but excellent in that – my favourite graphical thing is the screen shaking when you crash into something – it really works well for making the crash feel more real. The online play is good. The races such as Rallycross work better against real people but the really great things here are the daily, weekly and monthly challenges. These are different courses that last for the designated amount of days and allow you to set your fastest time. Then at the end of the allotted period you’ll be rewarded with an amount of in-game currency depending on how quick you were compared to everyone else. These challenges really suit the rallying style of racing and you can easily spend a lot of time here.01-10-2017_21-51-46

Verdict
Dirt 4 is so nearly an amazing game. With a rewind feature, I think it might have been but in the end it is just slightly held back by frustration and some lackluster other racing modes. That said, if you are looking specifically for a rallying game then I would definitely recommend Dirt 4 – it will satisfy your rallying needs!

Review4

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REVIEW: Super Mario Galaxy

  • Released: 2007
  • Played on: Nintendo Wii
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 1 Hour
  • Time to complete: 30 Hours
  • Multiplayer: no

All I can say, after finally playing this game just the ten years late, is thank goodness for The Boy and his enthusiasm for all things Mario. It was he who insisted we pick this up. This is a wonderful game and my favourite Mario game ever – in fact, just one of my favourite games ever, full stop. I won’t be too thorough in reviewing this game as it’s been out for so long but if, like me, you somehow managed to miss this the first time around then let me have a few moments of your time to explain why you need to go and fix that as soon as possible!

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The Nintendo Way
Super Mario Galaxy is huge victory for function over form – it’s all about the gameplay. This is the Nintendo way, isn’t it?! The other aspects of the game are all adequate. The graphics are fine, although even in 2007 they weren’t groundbreaking due to the Wii not being built to compete on specs. The story is the same as every Mario game – you know; Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach, Mario fights through various obstacles to rescue her etc etc. Standard, but that is fine. On the other hand, everything about the actual gameplay is spectacular – the level design, the platforming action, and the controls to combine them.

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Levels and Galaxies
The sheer variety of environments you will find yourself in is remarkable. As Mario jumps from planet to planet – sometimes even within levels – you’ll not only find yourself on solid platforms but in water, in the air, on platforms that are sinking into lava and many more. If anything, what’s most remarkable about this is that it never feels overwhelming – the game does a great job of guiding you to what you need to do. Only once or twice did I get stuck and even then when I figured it out it was simply that I had somehow missed something obvious!
On top of all this my personal favourite thing about the levels was how the game messes with gravity. There are a number of levels where different platforms have different directions of gravity. Some even let you influence that gravity yourself. Mario can then move around levels walking on the walls and ceilings as well as the floor. Gravity is clearly an important part of a game called ‘Galaxy’ but the developers have gone so much further in harnessing that to open up new areas for Mario to move around in.

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Actions and Power-ups
Every action that Mario can take feels totally smooth and natural. Running, jumping and spinning quickly all work nicely and the placement and timing of Mario’s moves can give different results, opening up even more options for getting through levels and defeating enemies. Power ups are also brilliant at adding more aspects to the gameplay. Bee Mario can fly, Spring Mario can leap high, Fire Mario can light torches on fire to open up new sections etc.

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Controls and Remotes
Traversing these wonderful and varied levels with these spectacular and varied moves is made fantastic by the control scheme. Super Mario Galaxy combines normal button-and-stick inputs with motion controls on the Wii Remote. It does this almost perfectly! Moving Mario about is usually the domain of the stick on the Nunchuck. The buttons take care of actions like jumping. Finally moving the Remote around is used to gather the collectibles, pointing when required and shaking to get Mario to spin. This combination quickly becomes second nature – if only more Wii games back in the day could have combined Wii Remote motion controls with more standard controls to such great effect.

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Verdict
What a fun game this is! I always looked forward to what the next level would have in store for me. Run, jump, spin, fly, buzz, bounce, skate – every action was a joy from beginning to end. The ultimate platformer.

Review5

Impressions: MotoGP 17

You’ll note that this post isn’t entitled ‘first impressions’ or ‘review’. Quite simply this is because I have no interest in playing this game past the 3 or so hours I’ve spent with it and thus these are my only impressions and I’m not going to ever get into a position to do a full review.MotoGP™17_20170831165110

Here’s a list of what’s good about this year’s MotoGP game:

  • nothing.
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This shot is actually vaguely appealing – don’t be fooled!

Here’s a list of what’s bad about this year’s MotoGP game:

  • graphics are average in-game
  • graphics are horrible in cut-scenes and menus
  • ‘cut-scenes’ is generous, they are as pointless as they are poorly made
  • the gamepad rumble is strange and confusing
  • the camera is disconcerting
  • the career mode is lifeless and a drag
  • etc

MotoGP™17_20170901214457Really, the MotoGP games that were out 10 to 15 years ago were superior to this, where has it gone so wrong?

I can wrap this up real quick: don’t bother with this game. Fans of MotoGP will be disappointed and everyone else will be angry that they wasted their money on it.

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REVIEW: Horizon Zero Dawn

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Playstation 4
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 6 Hours
  • Time to complete: 50 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

When Horizon: Zero Dawn finally let me in on it’s secrets, after huge amounts of exposition and a slow drip feed of small details that kept me on tenterhooks, I actually had to pause the game and take a moment to try and take in what I had just discovered. To even attempt a story on this scale is truly audacious and then to pull it off through the use of an open, varied world and a set of well-drawn characters is something really remarkable. The gameplay that sits behind this isn’t quite perfect but it is more than good enough to let the storyline show itself for what it is: genius.Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170816201813

The plot thickens
A video game is also the best medium through which to tell this story. The interactivity of it allows for a slowly blossoming plot to work itself out and for each and every strand of it to weave together into one. There are long periods where you are ‘just’ playing and not advancing the story at all but eventually everything you have seen and been through is pulled together into a single point before the climactic final battle.

I won’t talk too much more about the story line of Horizon: Zero Dawn in an effort to steer completely clear of spoilers. Suffice to say, the less you know the better – and you will not be disappointed! Aloy is a fantastic lead character and 50 hours in her company will not seem too long.Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170816213035

The arrow is true…
The gameplay, it the widest sense, serves to allow your character to experience this evolving plot in the same slowly-broadening type of way. In terms of what you actually do, it’s fairly standard open-world stuff – there’s a reasonably fair balance between hunter-gatherer exploration aspects and fighting with bows, arrows and your ever-present spear. What makes these things better than just ‘standard’ is what you are fighting – the machines! The world is randomly (and often not-so-randomly) populated with animal-like machines of varying sizes from ones that are clearly based on horses all the way up to huge mechs that look like dinosaurs. The learning curve is perfectly balanced – where at the start I feared to get near a pack of the smallest animals by half way through I was striding confidently into the middle of such groups. By the end I would even go into battle with a Thunderjaw – massive dinosaur-like machines complete with all manner of weapons – confident of my survival. By this point you’ve built up your arsenal to include all manner of damage-dealing ammo to allow you to fight as you wish. Should you tie the animal down and pick it off bit by bit or rain bombs on it to set it on fire? The choice is yours and the game does a fantastic job of indicating which things are likely to be successful against particular machines without dictating each battle to you. This choice also extends naturally to the world itself – you can creep about moving from one hiding spot to another or brazenly stride about the place inviting attack.Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170819220428

The spear, less so
It’s in battle though that the two major flaws in Horizon: Zero Dawn are revealed: human enemies and melee combat. Compared to the variety of machines and the different tactics you, and they, employ, the human AI is average. It’s not awful by any means but by itself wouldn’t make for an interesting game. They feel more like an annoyance than an enemy. Fighting humans is also when the problems with melee combat are most obvious. If you are hiding and an unsuspecting machine or human walks by you can press a button for a scripted stealth attack. This does work nicely. However, outside of that melee combat is absolutely useless. You have a quick attack and a longer attack but the quick attack does almost no damage, even after upgrades, and the long attack takes so long for Aloy to actually pull off that your human opponent has usually dealt you damage by the time it happens. So, it’s ideal to keep to ranged combat, all of which is absolutely excellent, and use your spear as a last resort.Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170823224644

Beauty
I’ve already written about how wonderful the game looks here, so I won’t talk about that anymore. If you don’t want to bother reading that separate post, the short version is: Horizon: Zero Dawn the most beautiful looking game I’ve ever seen! Outside of the melee combat, I have only minor gripes with things like how it’s sometimes not clear what parts of the landscape you will be able to jump up onto and not, which leads to some ungainly jumping on the spot occasionally. Basically what you have here is a stunning and interesting open world, and some great combat options to fight your way through it. It’s hard to complain!Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170823233131

Verdict
Horizon: Zero Dawn is a great game wrapped up in an amazing story. Whilst it’s not perfect, it’s flaws fade away in the face of what it does well – giving you a great basis to experience the genius plot as it unfolds. Aloy and her fellow characters are great company throughout and even after umpteen hours you are still going to want more at the end. (Which is a good thing, given the post-credits cut scene…!)

Review5

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

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

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: