The Annual Sports Game Merry-Go-Round

Every year in early autumn there is a run of sports games released. EA puts out its latest version of Football (FIFA), American Football (Madden), Basketball (NBA Live) and Ice Hockey (NHL). There are a few others that also compete in the space such as Pro Evolution Soccer or the NBA games from 2k amongst others. Each year reviews of these games are full of references to what has or hasn’t changed since the previous entry and whether or not a full new game can be ‘justified’. However, also each year these games sell really well, so there clearly is a market for the newer versions. As each edition is out now for this year I thought I’d take a look at a couple of the issues surrounding this merry-go-round that the industry has found itself in.25-09-2017_22-10-46

A justified update

Essentially this part boils down to: is a set of new kits, updated leagues (where applicable) and updated rosters with all the right players in the right teams worth the full price of a brand new game? In many ways it is hard to argue that it is; these games have regular roster updates through the season anyway and they have many kits available for each team as it is – downloading some new ones wouldn’t be a problem. But really the issue is not so much should EA and the others publish full new games but can they. At the end of the day, the only reason they wouldn’t do this is if people stopped buying them – which is clearly not the case. Those of us that buy these games year-in year-out justify the updates ourselves!

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If it ain’t broke

All that said, each game is always released to a fanfare heralding the changes and improvements to the game play since the last edition – but is this always a good thing? I have enjoyed each year’s FIFA update either more or less than the previous one depending on the changes made. Some have felt more restrictive – rewarding you only for playing in a certain way – whilst others have felt more open, allowing scoring opportunities from multiple different attacks. Contrast this with recent Madden updates; for the past 2 or 3 years only minor incremental updates to the actual gameplay have been made. When something is working, it makes no sense to change it for the sake of it.

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Multiple games in one

So, the developers and publishers of these sports games have no incentive to make huge changes each year but do want to make a show of having new features in order to compete in a crowded autumn of sports games. What can they do? The answer over the last few years appears to be new gameplay modes. Ten years ago a sports game would have had all the standard cups and leagues, some basic online play and probably a franchise/manager/master league mode for a more in-depth experience. These days sports games are essentially multiple games in one with the addition of modes like Ultimate Team, Be A Pro, story modes and other slightly different modes like Threes in the new NHL. On top of that the online play options are now hugely varied.2017093007194500-062DD3BC3CF59885A6762E5A30A14CD1

Conclusion

For the record, I look forward with bated breath each year to the new FIFA and the new Madden games and snap them up without fail. The chance to play with all the new players and teams without any hassle is enough for me to part with my cash. The decision isn’t so much ‘can I justify paying this money‘ as it is ‘I want that stuff and paying the money is the way to get it‘! As such, I for one am appreciating all the new modes that these games are gathering up over time. Particularly when they are as good as the new Longshot story mode in Madden NFL 18. Look out for more on that in my next blog post!

What about you? Do you look forward to these games, or are they a rip-off? Let us know in the comments below.

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Splat Falls Flat

I came into Splatoon 2 not entirely sure what to think. I missed the first one due to not having a Wii U so I didn’t have any anticipation based on that. On the other hand though, it’s a first-party game on a Nintendo console so I definitely wanted to give it a try. Ultimately though, I find myself disappointed and I won’t be playing it any further.2017090818544600-397A963DA4660090D65D330174AC6B04
Initial impressions were good. The basic concept of collecting paint and spraying it about the place is great and the different weapons you’re given to do that all work nicely in their different ways. The Boy also enjoyed it to begin with – he never reached the point of online multiplayer but he tackled the first few chapters of the story and talked with enthusiasm about his exploits.2017090912351600-397A963DA4660090D65D330174AC6B04
Unfortunately, this is as far as it went for us. The game is a one-trick-pony and doesn’t have enough about it to keep it fresh for a long time. The single player game remains almost the same throughout leaving it to quickly become stale, lifeless and repetitive. Any new elements that are introduced just serve as inconveniences rather than new challenges. The boss encounters are decent but the slog to arrive at them isn’t worth it. In fact, after a while my favourite part of the story mode was the various staging areas where finding the entrance to a new level became an interesting puzzle. Lastly, you are given a small amount of lives to complete each level and no way to get more – fine in terms of giving enemy battles more edge but very annoying when you lose them from simply accidentally falling off the edge.2017091108140300-397A963DA4660090D65D330174AC6B04
Multiplayer is better but not great. My favourite mode was Turf War where your team needs to cover more of the map in your colour paint than the opposition within the time limit. The onus on splatting paint took the focus away from the rushed and confusing combat. This is supposed to be Nintendo’s take on the third person shooter but as with a lot of things that try and combine elements, neither ends up being that great. If you want a charming Nintendo game, go elsewhere. If you want a shooter, go elsewhere.2017090819052900-397A963DA4660090D65D330174AC6B04

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

First Impressions: Madden NFL 18

Another year, another Madden. Right? Just some cosmetic tweaks that don’t really make much difference and new rosters. Right? Well, yes, that is exactly the case in many ways. However, this year’s Madden may have an ace up it’s sleeve that could propel this edition above the usual yearly touch-up.

When Dez beats his man off the line of scrimmage – don’t think, just throw. from The Gamer Boys on Vimeo.

The place I normally head to in a new Madden is Franchise Mode. I select my Dallas Cowboys and set about trying to win the Superbowl. In that aspect, nothing significant has changed. The menus and systems are almost exactly the same, allowing you tweak your depth charts and upgrade your players. The game itself is very similar too, although there is a reasonably significant jump in graphical detail this time around which does add something. I’m 4-1 at the moment, so looking good for the playoffs if I can keep it up! So far so good – if you’re the kind of person that picks up this game every year then there is enough here to make sure you won’t feel let down.02-09-2017_09-37-17
However, there is one thing that might shoot this edition up, from a decent update to a top sports game: Longshot. This is a new story-based mode where you play as an aspiring young quarterback trying to get drafted by an NFL team. It’s early days, I’ve only completed the first act so far, but this might well be a game changer. So far I have really enjoyed it – many sports games try and add a story or career mode to hold the matches together but what really sets this apart is how it has tapped into the psyche of a football fan. Every young fan wants to be a player when they grow up and every older fan is looking at the college game to see which kids their team should draft. The story you are playing through is something we watch unfold year after year. It feels real: this is not Roy of the Rovers stuff, and is much the better for it.04-09-2017_23-42-16
Time will tell if Longshot can come through on it’s promise. In the meantime I have a game coming up against the 49ers and I have injuries along the O-Line. Might be a tough one.

Click here to purchase the game on Xbox One from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase the game on PS4 from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase a download code for Xbox One from Amazon.co.uk:

Fighting with ARMS

I would normally steer clear of fighting games. I’m not totally crazy about them in the first place but mainly I don’t enjoy them because I am absolutely useless at them! And I don’t like to lose. At least not hopelessly.
Even spending a lot of time with them doesn’t improve my skills as it would any other game – I once did get near to being OK at Dead or Alive 2 on the PS2 thanks to playing it relentlessly but that is very much the exception that proves the rule – fighting games are not for me.2017081517364200-5175A9E8354E328724729A6641D0F22FHowever, in the case of ARMS I decided to pick it up anyway thanks to my love of the Nintendo Switch and the fact that it looked like it was trying to do something different. I do think if you like fighting games you will enjoy this. The presentation, from the graphics to the tutorial to the menu system, is excellent. The gameplay is indeed slightly different than most fighting games – the dynamic of engaging your opponent or keeping your distance is gone, in ARMS you are always engaged in battle. Finally the collection of available characters is great, with something for everyone. Don’t be surprised if Twintelle or Max Brass is a playable character in the next Mario Kart or Smash Bros game!2017081517330100-5175A9E8354E328724729A6641D0F22FI’m not going to do a proper review of this game as that would require me to play it at a lot and that would require me to have some skill at it! However, I have seen enough of it to be sure that if beat-’em-ups are your thing then you will really enjoy this and I’d recommend picking it up.

Things were much the same for The Boy – he loved it to begin with on the easiest difficulty but as soon as the game got difficult he really struggled and quickly lost interest. In fairness, he has his young age as an excuse – I’m just awful.2017081522140700-5175A9E8354E328724729A6641D0F22F

Click here to purchase the game on cart from Amazon.co.uk:
Or Click here to get a download code from Amazon.co.uk:

Top 5 game mashups wishlist

Ahead of the imminent release of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle I’ve been wondering what other game mash-ups would be fun! The way most franchises are held onto tightly by their developers these kind of cross-over games are fewer and further between these days.

Click here to pre-order Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle from Amazon.co.uk:

Anyway, without further ado, here is my wishlist of game mashups:
#1: Uncharted + Tomb Raiderphotostudio_1502726158087
An easy one to start with. Imagine Lara climbing slowly but surely up to the entrance to a tomb, smashing through the entrance and… finding Nate there already holding the treasure! This would be more of a character mashup as the games are ultimately very similar but I’d be intrigued to see some interaction between them. Presumably it wouldn’t take Lara long to get fed up with Nate’s wisecracks!
#2: SSX + Gears of Warphotostudio_1502836294220
You know you want to see Marcus Fenix on a snowboard! More over, snowboarding down a mountain with gun it hand mowing down bad guys James-Bond-style would be fantastic. Only question would be whether to keep the Uber TricksGears move too slowly to be spinning and pirouetting in mid air I think.
#3: NBA Playgrounds + Super Smash Brosphotostudio_1502811927255
Mario and his friends have gotten themselves involved in lots of sports over the years – tennis, golf, football. But there’s something inherently spectacular about larger than life basketball games like NBA Jam, NBA Street and recently NBA Playgrounds that would surely combine well with Nintendo’s cast of characters. I’ve love to see Princess Peach go up for a huge slam dunk only to get spectacularly blocked by Link – it would be like Smash Bros on the court.
#4: Halo + Mirror’s Edgephotostudio_1502803790661
For everything that was good about Mirror’s Edge the combat was quite poor, particularly the weapons. But what if you put all the parkour aspects – the leaps, the rolls, the slides and put them at the disposal of the Master Chief?! Sliding down a zip wire charging up a plasma pistol. Running through hails of gunfire up and over buildings and making it to safety just before your shield finally goes. This would be a spectacular game.
#5: Hot Wheels Race Off + Game Vehiclesphotostudio_1502836529885
This one is here partly for The Boy, who still plays Hot Wheels Race Off from time to time. One of the things he enjoys is when he has a car in the game that he also has the toy in real life. Well, what if we were talking vehicles from other games like there are a couple in Rocket League? The Junker from Gears of War, the Mako from Mass Effect, the Interceptor II from SpyHunter. That would be a great mashup to race them against each other. Actually, one of these vehicles has already been taken to the next level – The UNSC Warthog is already an actual Hot Wheels toy:
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What about you? What’s your dream game mashup? Let us know in the comments below.

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