Ever since it launched on Xbox One roughly nine months ago, Verdun’s already small player base has been steadily declining over the course of the year to the point where you’d more than likely struggle to find the 32 players needed to populate the game’s standout mode, Frontlines, if you were to venture online nowadays.
The game does have its drawbacks; the class menu is still overly clunky and it’s not exactly a world beater when it comes to visuals, but the unique and strategic gameplay far outweigh these shortcomings and its continued marginalisation by the console community is unfortunate, as there really is nothing else like it available on Xbox One.
Verdun's continued marginalisation by the console community is unfortunate, as there really is nothing else like it available on Xbox One.
As far as can I see, the only way of ensuring Verdun remains playable in any meaningful form is by enabling cross-play with PC. Out of all the platforms on which the game is available, it’s the only one that has a consistent populous; at the time of writing, Verdun’s 24-hour peak on Steam was 444 players, a figure that’s more than healthy enough to support multiple lobbies and matches.
In fact, the game’s done well enough on Steam that developers M2H and Blackmill Games have brought a standalone expansion to the platform, taking players to the eastern front and introducing Russian forces. Somehow, I don’t see Tannenberg being announced for consoles anytime soon.
Although this is by no means a perfect answer, due to the balancing issues that come with putting console players up against the greater accuracy and reaction times afforded to PC players by mouse and keyboard support, the game’s First World War setting, and the developer’s commitment to historical accuracy, may actually help to partially mitigate these issues.
While a lot of shooters will stick an enlarged set of iron sights or semi-historically accurate reticles on weapons in order make life easier for its players (I’m looking at you, Call of Duty), Verdun is unapologetic when it comes to replicating First World War-era firearms - particularly rifles, the weapon of choice for most players – ensuring that both console and PC users are at the mercy of their limitations, including tiny, hard to use iron sights and limited fire-rates.
Coupled with the need to draw breath in order to ensure a steady aim, the advantages of mouse and keyboard control don’t seem like they’d be quite as advantageous in Verdun as they would in other shooters where fully-automatic weapons and large magazines are the norm.
Even if it does mean having my ass handed to me by the gaming master race every now and then, I genuinely hope, and I’m sure those who enjoy Verdun just as much as I do agree, that whoever is in charge of these decisions takes note of this plea, because the game deserves better, and it may be the only way to ensure I can keep enjoying Verdun on my platform of choice.
Do you have any old favourites that you’d like to see revived by the implementation of cross-play? Let us know in the comments below or over in the forums.
We’re also working on a review of the Tannenberg expansion, so stick around for more on Verdun.
On a beautifully clear, crisp autumnal morning, I ventured forth from the homestead, braving a treacherous business-folk drenched train from quaint St Albans to the big smoke of London. Two further underground feckers later, I found myself wedged inside a DLR filled with Batman, Luigi, Wonder Woman and so many brightly coloured haircuts I didn’t know where to look. Did I wish I’d dressed up as Bananaman? Undoubtedly, yes. But pray tell, chums, I hear thee cry: “Where the buggery funk art thou, Bobby?” Why, MCM Comic-Con 2017, of course…
Jokes aside, it was all good fun, and I especially enjoyed playing Arms for the first time. The presence of Charles Martinet (the voice of Mario, Luigi, et al) was very welcoming, too. New stuff was what I was after, mind, so I barrelled over to Fire Emblem Warriors for a bit of the old hack ‘n’ slash.
I thoroughly enjoyed its Wii U cousin, Hyrule Warriors, so I entered expecting much of the same. Unfortunately though, comrades, I had no such luck. Objectives felt dull, the same combat system I enjoyed so much in Hyrule had gone hard like a Sunday morning posh-loaf of sourdough come Monday, and the constant pop-in and muddy background visuals left all four of my eyes aggrieved. I adore many of the Fire Emblem games, so it was great to see Chrom and the gang, but Warriors lacked any soul, and, ultimately, fun.
My hacking ‘n’ slashing muscle felt rather weak after its pitiful Fire Emblem Warriors workout, so I decided to do a few more reps with Dynasty Warriors 9 next. I can hear your chants already: “But Bobbo, these Warriors games all be the same!” And by the power of Greyskull are you right, folks; Dynasty 9 is the same punnet of shiitake mushrooms Koei-Tecmo have been flogging for years - dull, dirty and gone-off.
With those disappointments under my belt, I felt it would be a good time to see what lower-budget treats the show had tucked away. There were slow-paced horror adventures like White Day, pulsating SHMUP delights such as Raiden V, and text-heavy readathons like Dangaropa V3. Two games stood out for very different reasons here, though: Cat Quest and Gal Gun: Double Peace.
Cat Quest puts you in the claws, tail and anus of a cat on - you guessed it - an adventure… The top-down perspective, charming visuals and funny, funky characters reminded moi of Nintendo’s very own Zelda universe, with a feline twist of course. The sub-quests were enjoyable, the dialogue was amusing and the combat was fabulous. We especially enjoyed the extra strategy of the boss fight on show, where careful planning and learning of tells proved very effective in constructing his demise. Check it out on Steam now, or wait for its console release in the near future.
Gal Gun has been out for awhile now, apparently, but I definitely wasn’t aware of its existence - it’d be hard to forget, honestly. The game is a rail shooter unlike any before it; instead of firing bullets at angry aliens or roided-up meatheads, here you shoot kisses at waves of oncoming female classmates, stopping them from confessing their love for you. Yes, chums, you read that correctly, and for that reason only - and because it was so bloody hilarious - we’re happy to present Gal Gun: Double Peace our (un)official Wackiest Game of the Show award!
Still reeling from our truly bizarre experience with double-G, we stumbled towards the hidden-behind-ultramega-secret-curtains area belonging to Ubisoft. Once we’d completed the classified handshake and coughed up the password (“same old shit”), we slithered in to sample Assassin’s Creed: Origins and South Park: The Fractured But Whole (both of which we have full reviews in the works for, so keep ‘em peeled).
The former is everything you’d expect it to be, albeit reskinned with an Egyptian flavour. It was fun for five minutes, but, to be frank, I’ve personally been Bogtrotter'd with the series for a long time - time to put the assassin’s down now please, Ubi.
The highlight of my playtime was a QTE-filled sexy dance, where I had to control Sidekick’s hip movement and flatulence...
South Park fared better, but again I left with the feeling that it wouldn’t hold my interest in the long term. Playing as Sidekick, you infiltrate a strip club alongside Captain Diabetes, trying to find a dancer with a phallic tattoo. The highlight of my playtime was a QTE-filled sexy dance, where I had to control Sidekick’s hip movement and flatulence to extract information from a couple of seedy punters. It was funny, but I reckon the humour and RPG-style fights will wear thin rather quickly for non-hardcore fans of the show.
The long-awaited Ni No Kuni 2 was also playable on the show floor, and, although RPGs certainly aren’t my forte, I thoroughly enjoyed the luxuriant Ghibli-influenced art, as well as its compelling boss encounter during my session. This has the potential to be the RPG I finally bother to play through, grinding and all!
Comic Con isn’t just games either - as the name suggests... - so I took a jaunt around the venue and out of my comfort zone to see what else the show had to offer. There were plenty of Marvel bits and bobs, as you’d expect, but they stood alongside much smaller properties, where my personal highlight was meeting a fellow who calls himself BompKaDunk. He draws and writes a lovely comic titled Dungeon Crunch, but what really caught my eye was his drawing of a character that had gherkin-like genitals. This was for a commission, gang, and apparently not that uncommon a request…
So, we come full circle to my game of the show; none other than the fabulous Super Mario Odyssey. I eagerly awaited my turn for what felt like an age, hairline receding dramatically, until finally I got my hands on those far-too-small Joy-Cons. Time crumbled into dust, such was the perfection of platforming, humour, gorgeous colourful graphics and wonderfully invigorating music. Odyssey proves yet again - alongside Breath of the Wild - that Nintendo are still the masters of creating astoundingly enjoyable, fun-filled video games.
And with that, my time was up. I had trains to catch, a three sausage sandwich to eat, and an editor (James Michael Parry, of course!) to liaise with for old man ales. Had I learnt much about the comics world? I can’t be sure. Did I still wish I’d come as Bananaman? You betcha.
It's that time of year again; riding a swanky E3 showcase and a heavy marketing campaign, the latest Forza is upon us. This time however, it's joined on Xbox One by relative newcomer Project Cars 2. Let’s see if the underdog can give Forza a run for its money.
Testing the brakes in both games revealed that Project Cars doesn't have variable braking; in Forza, holding the trigger halfway would gently apply the brakes, whereas the slightest touch locks the brakes instantly in the former.
Progressing to some faster cars in PC2 saw the game fare better on the whole - steering felt looser and braking was easier, though still slightly problematic even with assists on. Project Cars has a huge number of assists and difficulty levels on offer, with the option to play using the same assists that a vehicle’s real-life counterpart features being a particularly nice touch, along with the different damage levels and engine failure options. Someone heavily into their racing games will doubtless be able to mess around for hours tuning the experience to handle just as they want, but, for us, it would be nice if the game a little more accessible.
While that’s the basics covered, how do the more in-depth areas compare?
A notable difference between the two is that Project Cars doesn’t feature a rewind function, which only serves to make it even less accessible. Yes, it might be more true-to-life not to have it, but losing a whole race because of one mistake on the final corner is just plain frustrating. There’s a reason most racing games have adopted the mechanic.
A notable difference is that Project Cars 2 doesn’t feature a rewind function... There’s a reason most racing games have adopted the mechanic.
Both racers feature weather and time of day options that affect events, though Project Cars boasts snowfall as a unique weather condition between the two. Despite that, Forza feels more realistic on this front, with attention to detail like hitting a puddle causing the car to hydroplane (veer) and lose traction. Project Cars in the wet is hampered by a weird sliding mechanic, where even driving in a straight line the car starts to randomly jerk and slide - the perfect AI goes completely unaffected, naturally. PC2’s nice adaptive weather system somewhat makes up for it, whereby rain can come and go at any point and you can even program weather patterns for custom races. Forza, on the other hand, only has rain and night options for certain tracks, which is oddly restricted, though probably explains why it works so well where it’s implemented.
As Microsoft themselves may have already made you aware, Turn 10's Forza is the winner in terms of performance. The game runs smoothly and always looks great, whereas Project Cars generally looks good, but occasionally suffers frame rate dips - quite noticeably when viewing the car info HUD mid-race. Both games have similar loading times, which can feel a bit long, though Forza has the benefit of interactive loading screens to help pass the time.
Both games feature a wide variety of vehicles to choose between, ranging from small saloons to Formula series cars, though Forza has the clear advantage here, boasting over 700 cars to thoroughly trounce Project Cars’ 180. Whilst PC2 has silly Go-Karting to enjoy, as well as specific race series cars (eg. Clio Cup), Forza’s 1950s classics, lorries, dune buggies, and more, have them beat.
Slightly Mad Studios’ Project Cars has quite the edge when it comes to tracks however, featuring over 40 individual tracks and many variants of each. Well-known tracks stand alongside smaller ones you probably haven't heard of, plus Rallycross events even enter the mix. Forza has all the big-name tracks from before, along with a few new ones, all of which are beautiful and provide enough variety, but, if you want something new on this front, PC2 is the game that delivers.
Forza's 700+ cars thoroughly trounce Project Cars’ 180, though Slightly Mad Studios' racer has the edge when it comes to number of tracks.
In terms of visual customisation, there’s really no contest, as Project Cars comparatively may as well have none. You pick your car and then have a choice of decals to apply to it, adding flavour but no real personal touch. Forza allows you to fully customise the look of every car in the game, all through simple systems. If you aren’t the creative type, you can also download shared designs, some of which are genuinely amazing.
As mentioned earlier, you can make pre-race tuning tweaks in Project Cars, but you can’t change the bodywork in any way. Forza features component choices and upgrades, plus a limited selection of body changes, as well as the fun swap option that lets you shove huge engines into tiny cars and inevitably spin-out upon revving up.
Forza and Project Cars both feature career modes that see you attempt to climb the career ladder, though you’ll do so in different ways. In Forza, you continually gain points, experience and currency to work towards unlocking and purchasing the next tier of vehicles and events, lead along by fancy videos and voice overs about becoming a racing legend. PC2 makes more of an attempt to have you feel like a bona fide race driver, with contracts, team support in-race and liaising with the team off-track, though it's nowhere near as detailed as in the recent F1 2017.
Free play and multiplayer are also on offer in both, though Forza has the larger variety of race types available and multiplayer feels more integrated. Project Cars does have the option to do a 24-hour race though, which is worth mentioning, for anyone dedicated enough to undertake it.
It must be said that, despite all of its positives, Forza 7 doesn't really change much from Forza 6. Arguably the main addition just so happens to be is an unwelcome one: paid loot boxes. Their inclusion seems forced and adds nothing to the game; when players request more cars, locking them behind a gambling system and microtransactions wasn’t what they had in mind. On the other hand, Project Cars 2 fixes many of its predecessor’s issues while also implementing substantially more cars and tracks. In terms of evolution, PC2 is the better sequel.
The racing genre has always been a flaunted visual powerhouse, making the question of how good these games look an important one. The quick answer is that both look good, but you aren’t (still) here for quick answers. Vehicles appear crisp and shine a gleaming shine, though Forza has an extra level of detail as every car is beautifully rendered right down to the interior. Forza's tracks are more immersive too, with expansive backdrops and nice touches like moving cameras, cheering crowds, and even Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tubemen on some tracks.
Project Cars, while still a looker in itself, can feel very bland in comparison. Tracks look somewhat flat, seemingly retaining no tyre marks and overlooking details like spewing dust when you stray off-track.
Weather wise, both games have visibility nicely reduced in heavy rain; Project Cars has more spray flying around in the wet, but, in a stunning bit of detail, raindrops on cars dynamically react to movement in Forza, whereas there’s no such technology in PC2. Forza’s night races are also quite beautiful, and very dark, with the areas outside the headlights a deep, inky-black.
One pet peeve with Forza has always been the poor damage model when crashing, and, in a recurring theme, this instalment doesn’t change that. Cars get scratched, dented and dirty, but never anything more significant, no matter how terrible the collision. Driving the same vehicles into the same situations in Project Cars will rip the bumpers and bonnet off, or may well even cause you to flip and roll.
A pet peeve with Forza has always been the poor damage model, and, in a recurring theme, this instalment doesn’t change that... Driving the same vehicles into the same situations in Project Cars will rip the bumpers and bonnet off, or may well even cause you to flip.
Now to the aural side of things: both racers have loud and throaty engine sounds, but Forza has the most variety and detail, from screeching engines at max rev to squealing tyres as you drift around corners. The music in both games is serviceable, if unmemorable, Project Cars going for a 'chill beats' feel while Forza has a ‘70s rock vibe to it.
Forza Motorsport 7
While Forza 7 doesn't really bring anything new to the table, it's still a fantastically satisfying game to play, looking gorgeous and maintaining a fluid feel all the while. Project Cars 2 is very much more an enthusiast's game, with a wealth of options and track choices that simulator fans will love sinking their teeth into, but, the unforgiving mechanics won't be for everyone, just as they weren't really for us. Still, considering Project Cars 2 was faced with full AAA fury, it puts in a podium-worth performance.
You might already be familiar with Raiders of the Broken Planet if you’ve seen our EGX 2017 interview or our Game Chat feature. If not, Raiders is a unique shooter independently developed by the folks at Mercury Steam (Castlevania: Lords of Shadow & Metroid: Samus Returns), which places a focus on intense, asymmetrical multiplayer missions.
Ongoing development is the reason you aren’t reading a full review, though we’re nonetheless going to take an in-depth look at what Raiders currently has to offer.
The titular Broken Planet is the Universe’s single source of Aleph, a powerful resource that attracts droves of Raiders to its surface in an attempt to claim it for themselves. War breaks out between the invading factions, and thus, a simple premise lays the groundwork for a well-humoured story told through a cast of flawed anti-heroes.
Mercury Steam are committed to implementing feedback from the established player base in order to build a better game together. The developer goes as far as to say they expect Raiders will look very different a year from now.
Over-the-top dialogue and confident delivery imbue the ugly, foul-mouthed characters with an eye and ear-catching quirkiness that should grow on you in time. Though the Raiders are undoubtedly the stars of the show, the game as a whole is awash with a bizarre and grotesque aesthetic that takes inspiration from the likes of Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and Mad Max while feeling unique in itself.
Story segments are kept relatively light, due to multiplayer serving as the backbone of the experience, but there’s plenty of lore to read up on in-game as you wait on matchmaking. On that front, while finding a match on a Prologue level is snappy, expect to wait a while longer when looking to play the paid Alien Myths campaign. It’s not terribly bad, thanks partly to Windows 10 players getting in on the fun with cross-play, but it can be annoying to wait it out and then spawn into a laggy session due to the antiquated peer-to-peer hosting.
Going solo to bypass this is an option, but not a particularly attractive one. The premier way to play is 4 vs 1, as the game blossoms twofold with the addition of close cooperation and challenging competition. There are currently seven Raiders to choose from, each of which have a simple, customisable loadout that consists of a primary weapon, an ability, and passive buffs. While it might not sound like there’s much at your disposal, considering many games offer sidearms, grenades and ultimate abilities, there’s still a definite knack to mastering each of them and best fulfilling your role within the team.
Playing your part while remaining focused on the current objective is vital; enemy grunts and the player-controlled Antagonist respawn endlessly, whittling the Raiders’ limited life pool away as they delay. Constantly facing heavy opposition often makes the frenetic combat encounters - in which you might carefully shoot from cover, break away to run and gun, then launch into a rock, paper, scissors-style CQC encounter (dodge beats strike, grapple beats dodge, strike beats grapple) - a messily-choreographed, desperate struggle for survival. Expect to do your fair share of dying, though accept that and persevere and the victories are extremely gratifying.
Constantly facing heavy opposition often makes the frenetic combat encounters a messily-choreographed, desperate struggle for survival.
In the event that the endless action becomes too stressful, either in reality or in-game, hiding will lower your character’s anxiety and allow you to go unseen for a while. All combatants in Raiders use Aleph to boost their combat performance, though a notable side-effect sees physical exertion betray your position, even through walls. While maintaining an entirely slow and steady approach isn’t necessarily realistic, you’ll definitely want to take a breather when you can to regenerate health and, critically, afford yourself an opportunity to stealthily take down an enemy in melee combat, replenishing a portion of your limited ammo supply in the process.
The same exact rules apply when you play the role of Antagonist, as you select from the same group of standard Raiders, rather than a separate suite of baddies with their own weapons and abilities. This is atypical of asymmetrical multiplayer games - just look at the likes of Evolve and Friday the 13th, both of which see the solo artist play as a comparatively overpowered monster - and somewhat stacks the odds against you in Raiders, even with the AI on your side. Winning as the Antagonist isn’t out of the question, and playing the part is still intense fun in spite of the slight imbalance, but we do feel this is an area in need of tweaking.
Raiders’ fun factor combines with a drip-fed rewarding of currencies - which are used to upgrade and customise character loadouts, whereas flashy skins require a further paid currency - to make its levels highly replayable. Varied enemy types and objectives keep things interesting as you bounce between missions, with repeat runs often proving more satisfying as you strategically pick a Raider (provided someone else doesn’t annoyingly insta-lock them) and tactically handle now-familiar layouts to ace sections that had initially proven to be a real struggle. The lengthy boss fights never cease to be an entertaining spectacle, either.
Once you surmount the initial weirdness and learning curve, which can, honestly, be quite off-putting, you’ll uncover something unique and exciting in Raiders of a Broken Planet, which is one of the reasons we handed over our Best Newcomer Award at EGX. Mercury Steam have taken risks to produce a commendably different entry into a crowded genre, that only looks set to improve as it continues to develop with the input of its community.
The Domaginarium describe their third-person horror platformer as (old) Tomb Raider meeting Lovecraft, in space - a pitch we found difficult to resist. With The Nightmare from Beyond’s final release slated for Q3 2018, the current Steam Early Access build is far from content complete, but does it seem poised to deliver on the promising concept?
The Domaginarium describe their third-person horror platformer as (old) Tomb Raider meeting Lovecraft, in space - a pitch we found difficult to resist.
As Sanja, a young D’nyg woman in search of her sister, Dajana, you’ll traverse environments that seamlessly shift from stoney fantasy to techy sci-fi. While starting out linear, things open up to reveal some solid, looping level design that’s complimented by platforming and light puzzle solving elements straight out of a classic Tomb Raider game (as promised).
The disparate-yet-connected world, which houses interesting architecture and artefacts that make it enticing in the absence of impressive graphics, definitely has us curious to explore more in the hope of uncovering how exactly the scattered sections came to coexist. It serves as much more a driving force than the beginnings of the bland story, which isn’t helped by a reliance on nonsense fantasy terms that haven’t yet been explained.
As a D’yng, you're marked with tribal patterns that emit a neon glow, dimly lighting your way through the bleak nightmarescape. When you encounter the mysterious creatures within, you’ll need to hold your breath to extinguish the light and sneak past them, avoiding a swift and inevitable death.
The one creature you directly encounter can’t be combated - though you do get some bombs used to open a shortcut later on, so it’s possible you might eventually be able to put these to use - and is obscured by a black smog to preserve an air of mystery, with otherwise indirect encounters seeing you relentlessly pursued or your ankles snapped at from an off-screen presence to push you through platforming sections at pace. What you don't see is often more unnerving than what you do, and that's the case here.
The disparate-yet-connected world has us curious to delve deeper, serving as much more a driving force than the beginnings of the bland story,
If you're caught, you’ll need to go back to the last manual save point. These are fairly frequent, so you’ll never lose too much progress, and help to highlight the game’s '90s inspirations by feeling very Resident Evil.
Weighing in at around two flawed hours, what we essentially have at the moment is a paid proof of concept demo. As a result, we’d recommend waiting to see how The Nightmare from Beyond develops before laying down your hard earned, especially considering the price isn’t set to increase once the game leaves Early Access. There’s reason to remain optimistic in the interim however; The Domaginarium have put in a decent first showing and hold both a commitment to frequent updates and a development roadmap that looks set to iron out the acknowledged issues.
The Nightmare from Beyond is scheduled for release in Q3 2018 on PC, PS4 and PS Vita. It’ll set you back £14.99 or your regional equivalent.
Of all gaming’s many genres, fighters are my least favourite. They’re just not my forté. Back in the early 2000’s I was known to boss a game or two in Super Smash Bros. Melee, and going back further still I could just about hold my own in Street Fighter II on the SNES thanks to some full-on button mashing (so many blisters!) but my appreciation for fighters piqued with those two.
Even a rookie like myself had no trouble dismantling the AI opposition, which got boring very quickly.
It’s not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with Pokkén Tournament DX, it’s just the demo’s lack of online multiplayer did not feel like the best way to advertise the game’s arrival on Switch. Failing to include an online component was a particularly significant missed opportunity, as even a rookie like myself had no trouble dismantling the AI opposition, which got boring very quickly.
The unpredictability of human combatants is, in my admittedly limited experience with the genre, what makes fighting games - and multiplayer in general - engaging, challenging experiences. A simple control scheme coupled with a surprisingly in-depth tutorial means Pokkén Tournament is very easy to learn, but with the demo’s lack of a human element, it was impossible to tell if it would be difficult to master.
Yes, the Joy-Cons do facilitate couch co-op, and getting two Switches in the same room would also allow you to take part in local multiplayer matches in the demo, but unless you’ve got people on hand ready to jump into a game at a moment’s notice (and of a similar skill level) these weren’t really viable options.
In the end, the Pokkén Tournament DX demo served only to reinforce my desire to see Nintendo pull their finger out and get Super Smash Bros. onto the Switch in some form. If not as a new entry in the series or some sort of virtual console offering of Melee, then at least a port of the Wii U’s release, another well-received title from the doomed console’s back catalogue that remains frustratingly out of my reach.
Vivid Helix’s Semispheres releases on Nintendo Switch today, so we’ve taken the meditative parallel-puzzler for a quickie to see how it fares on the hybrid console.
It’s almost worth playing Semispheres solely in handheld mode for the easier headphone use, letting you really appreciate the mesmerising soundtrack.
Don’t worry, there are only a few fiendishly difficult puzzles, with most taking only a few minutes to beat, and the game is good at easing you in as new abilities are introduced. If you do end up stuck though, you at least get to enjoy the excellent soundtrack while you mull over the solution.
How’s the presentation on the whole?
Semispheres is described as having a “soothing” art style, and it’s hard to disagree. The soft, warm colour palette and impressive use of light, coupled with composer Sid Barnhoorn’s atmospheric score, can feel almost hypnotic at times.
While it may look best on a bigger screen, it’s almost worth playing Semispheres solely in handheld mode just for the easier headphone use to really appreciate the mesmerising soundtrack.
Is there a story to go with all this?
Sort of. After every few levels, you’re presented with a storyboard sequence depicting the tale of a young boy and his robot. There’s no dialogue, with the story simply told through a series of images.
What relevance, if any, this side-story has with the rest of the gameplay isn’t obvious at first, but it does at least serve to break up the sequence of levels.
Would you recommend it?
Yes. With more than 50 levels on offer, there’s plenty of value for money here. And if you’re willing to sacrifice a portion of the challenge when playing solo for some local co-op, the Switch’s Joy-Cons facilitate that.
Semispheres is available now on the Nintendo Switch eShop for $9.99/€9,99/£8.99. If you don’t own a Switch it’s been knocking around on PS4 and Steam since February, and is also making its way to PS Vita in October and Xbox One soon after.
This week we talk to The Dangerous Kitchen, creators of the recently released one-button smash-a-thon, De Mambo, about all things Nintendo, VR and the rigours of being an independent developer. Enjoy!
Four player local multiplayer is the main mode of play in De Mambo, but we’ve really worked on our Solo mode, refusing to just make a single-player mode for the sake of it; it could almost be its own game with the amount of stuff we’ve packed in.
What inspired you and your team during the development stage?
This is always a tough question for us, as we are highly inspired by the day to day random moments that just so happen to occur near us, like a teabag in a toilet, or an old man vehemently obsessed with stealing our seats for who knows what reason, but I digress.
Smash is the obvious inspiration for De Mambo, but there are so many more such as; Mario, Wonderful 101, Earthbound, Suda51, Orson Welles, Jodorowsky, Frank Zappa, Mortal Kombat, Space Dandy — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Can you tell us about your team at The Dangerous Kitchen?
The Dangerous Kitchen is comprised of three people, who met at university, casually decided to make games and then tripped up so much that they eventually landed in the peculiar position of having actually made a game. That’s our origin story movie pitch, but to answer your question in a more typical fashion, we’re based in West London and sometimes work from a hotel lobby. Previous experience includes, advertising, concept art, web design and most importantly, lots of game playing.
How difficult is it for indie developers in this current market? Can you take artistic risks and still make a profit? Are shows like Rezzed beneficial in helping you find an audience?
Well personally I don’t think artistic risks and profit are mutually exclusive or necessarily in correlation. If you want to make a true artistic risk it can’t be because of how much you’ll profit, otherwise it becomes a business decision. A true artistic risk has to be done with no desire to succeed and no fear of failure in an ego-less vacuum where imagination is unbound. Money has no place there.
"A true artistic risk has to be done with no desire to succeed and no fear of failure in an ego-less vacuum where imagination is unbound..."
I personally hold the idea that being indie doesn’t mean you are lesser than say EA or whatever. We’re both making games. In fact we’ve got it better than them when you think about it. Being in a team of three means that business, games development, art, sound, social media, all of these are shared responsibilities that we all have a say in. I’ve learned about all of these in my team of three which is more than a guy in a team of 700 would have working exclusively on ceiling textures, right? So what I’m trying to say is that it’s going to be difficult for anyone in a crowded market, so you have to just focus on making the best game you can make, regardless if it’s indie or not.
And yeah events are great as you can forge some great bonds with all the people you meet. Some of the fans we’ve amassed during events really helped us out when we did our Kickstarter as an example.
What advice would you give to someone looking to work in the video gaming industry?
Use what you have and just do it. Have fun and try not to focus entirely on things that other people do and have done, focus on you and only on what you or your team can possibly create. There’s no point in doing what others will do, well unless you want money in which case ignore what I say, but I’m not saying this to sound pretentious. I just want to see new and interesting things done in gaming, so I’m counting on you hypothetical reader!
Where do you think the industry is heading - is VR the future in your opinion?
The potential for VR is crazy, but I’ve abstained from actually trying it out yet as there is no software I feel I absolutely need to experience. I was actually really interested beforehand to see what kind of impact it would have on the industry, but after PSVR it seems like nothing much has happened.
I think at present we are in uncharted territory, as this is the first time we’ve had mid-generation console updates and a true handheld/console hybrid, so it’s difficult to say. If the Switch is super popular, will Sony and Microsoft attempt a similar concept? Or will the industry shift to become more phone-like with consoles having incremental updates every so often? I think there’s no clear picture of where the industry is heading at this current time, but later in the year it should become clearer. Lets just hope someone invents Smellovision™ soon so we can really move the industry forward into the future it so desperately needs.
What game(s) have had the biggest effect on your life, and why?
Earthbound changed me. It’s hard to explain why but there’s something truly special about it. I have more nostalgia for that game than things from my own childhood, which is crazy considering I played it in 2013.
Then there’s No More Heroes. I love Suda51. Love. NMH was fantastic because it introduced me to a lot of interesting media and my personal spiritual father, Alejandro Jodorowsky, but also taught me a lot about the power of imagination.
There’s countless other games such as pretty much every Mario and a lot of Zelda and Metroid and Nintendo stuff, and more obscure stuff but if I keep going, I’ll never stop!
What does the future hold for De Mambo & The Dangerous Kitchen?
After we finish De Mambo Switch, we’re going to create some more content for updates and work on the PlayStation and Steam versions. Once that’s over, hopefully lots of pizza! That’s why we’re doing this. De Mambo was made to fund our insane pizza lust. All joking aside, The Dangerous Kitchen’s future is to continue making gameplay focused games that delight and stupefy in equal measures.
If you were on a desert island (it has power) and could only take one console, what would you take, and why?
Very tough question, but it boils down to two options. The Wii U has Smash Bros 4, its own library, the virtual console and the Wii backwards compatibility, so I’ll be sufficiently stuffed with great games. The other option is purely based on how I feel right now at this very moment… the Switch with Breath of the Wild.
Thanks to Lucy and Shaun from The Dangerous Kitchen for taking the time out of their hectic schedules to talk to us. The Nintendo Switch version of De Mambo is available now.
Nintendo have a habit of tinkering with their handhelds, rehashing and improving designs over a console’s lifespan until we usually end up with a product that, arguably, should have been the one released to the public in the first place.
An improved stand
The current stand that pops out of the back of the Switch is, to be honest, a bit rubbish. The flimsy plastic feels like it’s going to snap every time you try to open it, and it’s so small and unstable it struggles to hold the console upright on anything except a completely flat surface.
Even if you do find one of these there’s no guarantee it will remain upright, as I recently found out when attempting some Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in (coincidentally enough) a moving car. The Switch just refused stay upright on a fold-down table, flopping onto it’s back every time the car came across a bump in the road or a gentle corner, rendering the impromptu multiplayer session over before it could even begin.
What’s more, the angle of the stand is far too steep and can’t be adjusted, so in order to get a comfortable viewpoint while playing, the Switch must be either on a surface that’s almost at eye level, or placed further away from you, meaning you’ll most likely struggle to see what’s happening on the six-inch screen.
Both these problems could be solved by sticking a proper stand on the back of the Switch, preferably one that runs the entire length of the console and with decent grip for added stability, and can also be fixed at multiple degrees for better viewing angles.
More comfortable Joy-Cons
I have no problem with the concept of the Joy-Con, in fact, as I mentioned in our recent look at ARMS, I’ve been nothing but impressed by their versatility for things like split-screen multiplayer and their accuracy when used as motion controllers. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be improved upon, most notably in the comfort department.
Using the Switch as a handheld for any significant amount of time is very reminiscent of the original 3DS, who’s angled edges were not very welcoming to the palms. While the Joy-Cons aren’t as uncomfortable as that, a slightly thicker and more rounded design, one a little bit closer to those found on regular controllers, would help alleviate hand cramps and any discomfort that comes with longer gaming sessions, and wouldn’t necessarily damage the console’s portability either.
The same could be said of the Joy-Con’s face buttons, which are a little small and can start to dig into your fingers, especially when playing games like Mario Kart where you’re constantly holding down the A button to accelerate. The control sticks could also do with some tweaking, just to make them a bit more accurate. They’re fine for games where they are mostly used for movement and camera control, like Breath of the Wild, but FPS fans may find the rigidity of the current design off-putting.
The Pro Controller does, admittedly, deal with the latter two issues, but it would be nice if the original design of the Joy-Con was good enough that the Pro could be thought of as a luxury, and not a necessity.
A dock that won’t damage your console
This isn’t technically a handheld issue like the other two, but it’s such a big problem that it needed to be included. How Nintendo looked at the dock before release and decided it was fit for launch boggles the mind.
For such an integral part of the Switch’s ethos, the part that actually helps give the console its name, it’s incredibly poorly built. The plastic feels cheap when compared to rest of the Switch (minus the aforementioned stand), it bends easily, and, worst of all, it has a texture that I can only think was chosen by someone who hates screens and wants to see them die.
The fact that people are selling tiny pieces of sticky-back felt on eBay, perfectly measured for the runners that guide your Switch into the dock, so you don’t scratch the screen is almost ridiculous. As Sam pointed out in his first look at the Switch, docking and undocking with the current design requires almost surgeon levels of steadiness, which can hardly be what Nintendo had in mind when they came up with the concept.
If Nintendo do break from tradition and stand by the design of the Switch, then they at least need to address the dock issue as its damaging such an integral part of the experience.
So, those were a few improvements I’d like to see on any Switch redesign. Do you agree? What would you like to see changed, or is the Switch good as it is? Sound off below.
Last weekend saw the second Global Test Punch (that’s a limited time demo to you and I) for Nintendo’s next first-party release on the Switch - ARMS. The motion control-friendly brawler looks like a natural evolution of the fondly remembered Wii Sports boxing minigame at first glance, but what’s it like to play? We trapped Liam and James in a room to talk it over.
Liam: As someone who is usually rubbish at fighting games, I somehow found myself in the unfamiliar situation of being one of the top players in a lobby at one point. Although great for the self-esteem, it wasn’t so good for getting into a match, as all the other players who could come close to matching my amazingness were otherwise occupied. Floating helplessly gets old fast, and while it’s cool that you can see how much real-time damage other players are taking in their separate battles, it would have been good if there was a proper spectator mode to pass the time.
James: I found the standard one-on-one battles bland but really important to get the hang of the game. Once you’re in there with more than one opponent, or a specific objective, things get hectic - fast!
Liam: I think I enjoyed the 1v1 matches the most, but it really depends on the quality of the opponent facing you. The modes featuring three or four players, while fun, could quickly get confusing, and they couldn’t beat the tenser battles one-on-one matches offered. Being backed into a corner with only a fraction of health left, only to emerge victorious thanks to some well-placed punches and flurry combos was awesome. Having multiple players in the same match made more sense in the more arcade-like modes, such as the one that has two teams trying to smash the most targets from opposite sides of an arena, or where a group of you would face off against an incredibly tough AI metal robot head creature.
James: Fighting those AI giant robots with about six ARMS each was pretty tough. Staying mobile and remembering to actually use the jump and dodge buttons was a constant struggle in that one especially. Some of the more specific custom modes worked better than others, I feel like the quicker characters had a big advantage most of the time. I didn’t play on a pro controller but the button mapping looked really odd…
I was surprised I was happy to forgo a more traditional setup in favour of motion controls for as long as I did.
Liam: I didn’t get a chance to try the game outside of motion controls either, which is a shame as I’d like to have seen how curving punches with a standard controller setup was going to work. I was surprised to find I was happy to forgo a more traditional setup in favour of motion controls for as long as I did, and for the most part, they worked quite well, with the only real issue I experienced being down to me forgetting to hold the Joy-Cons in the proper starting position.
James: So I guess the real test at this point is - does this demo make us want to buy it?
Liam: I can see this being a great party game, something to pick up and play for an hour or so when friends or family are visiting, but I don’t know if can see myself air-boxing solo in front of the TV very often, even for online matches with friends. In fact, using the motion controls anywhere outside of the living room is a definite no, unless you’re happy to be the crazy guy no one wants to sit next to on the commute to work. Unless Nintendo fail to deliver some form of Smash Bros. on the Switch in the near future, I can see this one passing me by.
James: For me, this was always an outside chance from both a competitive online play and a messing-about-party-style title - as you can see it sort of working in either camp but not really committing either way. It’s not as accessible as Splatoon 2 has been so far, from a similar amount of playtime from its demos, which makes me worry the barrier of entry will be too high to really get people on board and make competitive play interesting. That said, there is charm here, in an unashamedly Nintendo sort of a way, so something in the back of my mind whispers “Oh go on, get it anyway!”
What do you think of ARMS? Did you try the Test Punch? Will you be picking it up? Let us know in the comments.