First Impressions: Super Beat Sports

Not since SSX Tricky back in 2001 have I played a game that is such pure fun! That’s not to say that this game is as good as that one – Tricky is one of my all time favourites. But every time I finish a song in Super Beats Sports I have a huge smile on my face! The combination of sports and music is a fantastic idea and one that I will be dipping into for ages myself and then over and over again playing with friends and family.2017111214561800-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

The premise is pretty simple in Super Beats Sports – you are whacking balls about the place as you would in most any sports title. Here though the timing to get a perfect strike is determined by you locking into the music, just as you would in any rhythm titles like Rock Band 4. It’s a completely genius idea as you get to play sports through each song but get that feeling of satisfaction from nailing a good performance at the end.2017111313472900-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

There are 5 game modes called wonderful things like ‘Whacky Bat‘ and ‘Net Ball‘ – I’ll look at each in more detail when I come to do a full review but my initial impressions are that they are hit and miss (pun entirely intended). Perhaps as I get more into the latter ones I will enjoy them more but there’s a risk with them that they get too complex and that takes away from the sheer joy of the more straight forward modes. Or maybe I just need to get better!2017111215014800-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

The Boy is loving this too. It’s simple enough for him to pick up and play but still a challenge to get into the groove and nail each shot. The way winning is rewarded also appeals to him – you can collect things like different bats and different outfits and you get them faster the better you do. In multiplayer it’s also been a blast for him to add the interaction to the mix as well – not since we were playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe every day earlier in the year has he had a game to consistently play with lots of other people.2017112117470200-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

There’s still a ton for us to do in Super Beat Sports so look out for the full review. I also haven’t got around to checking it out with motion controls Wii-Sports-style yet either – that will probably be hilarious in multiplayer as well. In the meantime it’s fair to say I am totally smitten with this game, if that wasn’t obvious enough already!2017111111315900-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

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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:

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

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:

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