Reflections on Ashes Cricket

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

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

List of things that are good about Ashes Cricket:

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

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

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

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Retro Controllers on Nintendo Switch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gaming Subscriptions 2 – Xbox Game Pass, EA Access

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaming Subscriptions 1 – Xbox Live, PS Plus

I’ve been thinking about the various gaming subscriptions that can be taken up on consoles recently. One way or another all of these things are ways to get ‘free’ games, although some come with other benefits too. I’m going to look at a couple of services that I currently subscribe to on the Xbox One – namely EA Access and Xbox Game Pass – in another post in a week or so but the obvious place to start is with the different console’s generic subscription services – Xbox Live and Playstation Plus.20171104090820.png

Online gaming
I have had an Xbox Live subscription since the fairly early days in 2003. Back then I mostly played MotoGP: Ultimate Racing Technology 2 online and I’ve maintained it for at least most of the time ever since. It’s always been a requirement for online gaming on Xboxes and over the years the service has got better and better with more and more features. Playstation Plus wasn’t birthed so soon or so smoothly. Sony first began with ‘Playstation Network‘ features instead – which basically meant that each game had it’s own online services and there were no centralised features (or cost, to be fair). Eventually though, they saw how successful Xbox Live had been as a cohesive idea and PS Plus was born in 2010. I’ve only had PS Plus on and off – mostly because there haven’t been many games that I’ve wanted to play online since the subscription was necessary for that. In 2017, it has to be said, the two services are basically as good as each other: you get online play, additional discounts on new games, a few others bits like online game saving and monthly free games.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.17.06

‘Free’ games
Of course you are already paying for the service so that games you are given aren’t free, but just ‘built into the price of the room’, if you will. But this feature is obviously the main draw for these subscriptions for anyone who either doesn’t do much or any online play or who only wants online play on one console. My experience over the years has been that the games that come with Xbox Live Games with Gold are far better than the Playstation Plus Monthly Games. Perhaps it all comes down to taste but for me, I always look at the PS Plus games with a big shrug, but I regularly play through the games that I’ve got from Xbox Live. A recent example would be Gone Home and I have also played plenty of them with The BoyTrials Fusion and Hydro Thunder being recent examples of that. Of course, none of these games are particularly brand new – Microsoft and Sony don’t want to risk sales on those games. But if you are looking to supplement your current games with some interesting bits that you may have missed then these might be perfect for your needs.20171104091128

Nintendo
As of now, playing online on the Switch doesn’t require a subscription but that is going to change sometime in 2018 when they get their act together. This subscription will be similar in some ways – online play, game discounts – but doesn’t have the same features like free games or online saves. There will be some retro games playable, which is a nice touch and the service will be around half the price of the other two, so fair play really. Time will tell how well Nintendo execute their plans but certainly I’ve had no issues playing online on my Switch up to now, either docked or undocked.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.16.19

Conclusions
Whether you want to get one or both of these subscriptions may well be a no brainer – if you want to play online they are required. If it’s more an open choice to you then really this pivots on the free games they give away. I’d advise looking at the games that have been available the past few months and decide if it’s worth it to you. If it’s a choice between the two services – I would recommend Xbox Live.

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This was the original Xbox Live logo – good memories!

Click here to purchase an annual subscription to Xbox Live from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase an annual subscription to PS Plus from Amazon.co.uk:

Forza Motorsport vs Gran Turismo so far

This autumn the new Forza Motorsport game and the new Gran Turismo game came out within a couple weeks of each other. For me, these two have been the best car racing series’ in gaming and my favourite iterations of each – Forza Motorsport 6 and Gran Turismo 4 – are right near the top of my All-Time Top Games List. I have every intention of playing both of the new releases – Forza Motorsport 7 and Gran Turismo Sport – a whole ton in the coming weeks and months so I thought it might be fun to have a quick look back at what has come before in each series.20-10-2017_07-37-29.png

Beginnings
It was Gran Turismo that was first to the party. I never played that much of the first two on PS1 (too much time playing Crash Team Racing!) but then on PS2, Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec and the subsequent Gran Turismo 4 really set the bar high for racing games on consoles. They were driving simulations – all roll bars and gear ratios rather than just throwing the cars round the track – but not to the extent that the realism ever took over from the fun factor. They both, and GT4 in particular, had a ridiculous myriad of races to take part in and countless cars for you to enjoy. Far far too many hours of my life were sunk into repeatedly doing 1m19s around Tokyo 246 in the Formula car in GT3 and I loved every minute of it.Gran Turismo™SPORT_20171020214024

New kid on the block
Xbox then saw the success of these games and decided that they needed to compete and thus Forza Motorsport was born. To begin with it was very much in the shadow of the Playstation‘s more established racer but it was still an excellent game and introduced something key; thanks to the Xbox controller having proper triggers the accelerate and brake buttons were now properly analog. This meant it was easy to use some throttle or some brake where the Dual Shock 2 made this very difficult with it’s face buttons. This was an advantage that Forza Motorsport would run with into the next generations of consoles.20-10-2017_07-37-57.png

New generations
Since that time, Forza has been king. The Gran Turismo series faded into missed release dates and muddled gaming on the PS3 where Forza Motorsport has gone from strength to strength through Xbox 360 and now Xbox One. Each new iteration building on the solid gameplay they started with whilst adding new features and refinements. Other than a brief blip for Forza 5 (maybe this was rushed out as it was the first on the Xbox One?) every Forza has been better than the one before to the point that Forza Motorsport 6 is currently my favourite racing game, of any kind, ever. Combining the fantastic gameplay with a clear love for cars and racing not seen in any of these games since Gran Turismo 4, it seemed to have more or less perfected the genre.20-10-2017_07-37-01.png

So where do we go from here?
So what more can there be? Well, for Gran Turismo there is a much needed return to form to aim for as it steps up onto PS4 for the first time. I’ve only briefly played Gran Turismo Sport so far but some of the very early signs are good; the handling feels more solid than it did in GT5 and GT6 and there seems to be an injection of racing lore into the game which may stop it getting stale and boring as quickly as those last two titles did. I just wonder if the lack of content, both offline and online, will count against it. For Forza, I have so far only played the demo of 7 but again the early signs are good – it feels like more of the same from 6 but with the addition of new racing series like the trucks and dynamic weather effects. If either of these can reach the heights of their predecessors remains to be seen – stick with me here on this blog for more soon!gran-turismoe284a2sport_20171020214155.png

Click here to purchase Gran Turismo Sport on disc from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase Forza Motorsport 7 on disc from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase a download key for Forza Motorsport 7 from CDKeys.com:

Longshot

I first started playing this year’s Madden NFL expecting much the same experience as last year’s – play a few games to get back into the rhythm of it and then try to win the Super Bowl with my Dallas Cowboys. I am currently doing exactly that and my full review will follow but this year Madden had a trick up it’s sleeve. In case you’re not sure what this is about, Longshot is Madden NFL 18‘s story mode and I enjoyed it so much I decided it needed it’s own post!25-09-2017_22-11-45
In Longshot you play as a young man called Devin Wade. I won’t give away too much of the story here but suffice to say that Devin is looking to get himself drafted by an NFL Team after stepping away from playing football for 3 years. As such, he doesn’t stand much chance but an opportunity to take part in a TV show called ‘Longshot’ might give him the visibility to attract enough attention from the NFL scouts. There are two things that make this game great – the story and how the gameplay and the choices you make affect your chances of making it to the NFL.25-09-2017_22-12-42.png

Story
The story itself taps into things that every NFL fan will know and feel well. Whether it’s playing sports in the backyard growing up, Friday night high school games or the grading and re-grading of college prospects leading up to the draft, Longshot does a fantastic job of tapping into feeling of all the football stories from real life. It would be easy for it to focus on the gameplay and let the story mode just be a bit of window dressing around that – that’s certainly what story modes in previous sports titles have effectively been. What sets this one apart is that it makes you care about the characters’ success, not just your own. There’s the former prodigy trying to make up for past mistakes, the underdog best friend whose enthusiasm pushes everyone, the old coach looking to make amends, the tv producer fighting to make a great show the right way. It’s like a really great football movie – except that you get to take part!25-09-2017_22-12-36.png

Gameplay
There are two aspects to the gameplay. Most of it has you playing football as you would normally expect but under certain conditions. These range from specific defined training drills to 7v7 games with different rules to full games. The vast majority of the time you are at Quarterback, although there is a little bit of time spent in the secondary on defense at one point. The other aspect is choosing dialog options and this can come in the form of remembering play calls on the training field to standard response-choices during cutscenes. All of this works well in two ways. Firstly it does a good job of teaching you how to play Madden. The whole Longshot experience is too long and too broad to be used as a training mode but actually, for an inexperienced gamer, it would be a good place to start to learn things like reading defences and situational football as well as mechanics of what buttons to press. Otherwise it also works well as every play you make (or don’t make) and every decision choice you pick plays into your pre-draft grade, which you can see in the pause menu at all times. This gives every moment of the entirety of Longshot a real tension and gravity. You will sometimes get a second chance to get things right, but even if you do, there’s a possibility that it will affect your chances of being drafted.
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Conclusion
Longshot does such a great job of walking the line between gameplay and story – it’s the perfect mix. This could be a standalone game and I would still recommend it, so it’s great as effectively a free addition to the Madden ‘package’. Look out for full full review of Madden NFL 18 soon. In the meantime, what do you think of Longshot? Or of sports game story modes in general?

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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:

 

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.