Are you missing the Dreamcast-era glory days of bullet hell shoot ‘em ups? If, like me, you’re firmly in the ‘yes’ column then look no further: Ghost Blade HD brings the staples of intense techno, big bosses, vivid colours and classic art design together to concoct a smashing shmup that manages to stay the right side of entertaining, despite its lack of originality.
If you’re a big shmup fan then we’d recommend adding this one to your collection, but for the non-believers, there’s nothing groundbreaking here to warrant your attention.
Snake Pass is a nostalgic return to the classic 3D platformer genre. It's gibberish-talking central duo and soundtrack penned by David Wise are especially reminiscent of Rare’s N64 catalogue, but in terms of mechanics, the game is almost entirely individual.
It takes some getting used to, but once you have the knack of it, controlling Snake Pass becomes intensely rewarding.
Unlike most of its peers, Snake Pass is devoid of enemies, and, thus, combat. There are moving traps and deadly pits, but even those are relatively sparse, so you’ll mostly meet your end by slipping from a ledge and suffering a fatal fall as you seek to hoard a level’s collectibles.
Each level contains three Keystones that are directly tied to progression, in addition to optional pickups in floating bubbles, which generally litter your more immediate path, and deviously hidden gold coins. There’s seemingly no tangible payoff for gathering the non-primary collectibles, but ticking all of a level’s boxes will be reward enough for completionists. Some, however, may be deterred from the pursuit by occasionally poor checkpoint placement, which can lead to losing decent chunks of progress (as well as anything gathered in that timeframe) to challenging sections far removed from any safe haven.
While this issue wasn’t prevalent enough to cause any real frustration, that certainly wasn’t the case on the odd occasion Noodle became completely stuck and restarting the entire level was the only available workaround. Just as the option to reload a checkpoint is missing, so too is the ability to change the camera sensitivity, which feels too sluggish by default. There’s also no in-game option to disable the irritating Joy-Con rumble that emits a sound like a rusty harmonica, though, mercifully, you can do so in the Switch’s System Settings menu.
Snake Pass’ level-based structure is a perfect fit for gaming on the go, comfortably accommodating play in short bursts, which is how we’d recommend approaching the Switch version. When docked the increase in resolution is immediately noticeable, but the trade-off isn’t worth it when the frame rate suffers as a result, as was the case with Breath of the Wild.
While issues - some of which affect the Switch port specifically - can slightly hamper the experience, ultimately, Sumo Digital have successfully melded retro and modern design to achieve an inspired middle ground. When you consider Snake Pass’ stellar visual and aural presentation, along with its uniquely rewarding mechanics and lovable protagonist, Noodle, fans would have to be mad to miss this catalyst for the 3D platforming revival. Pressure’s on, Yooka-Laylee!
It’s been five years since we last had a new adventure in the Mass Effect universe, and while the finale of Commander Shepard’s story went out with a somewhat divisive bang, it left fans wanting more from this world and wondering where they could possibly go from here.
It’s here that Andromeda feels unapologetically blunt in its presentation, as upon first contact with these species, the decision of whether to engage with hostility is taken out of your hands. Ryder has a few lines which suggest they aren’t bloodthirsty (though, in an RPG, you could argue that you should be the one to decide that), but your teammate in the end makes the decision for you. Even though the encounter probably couldn’t have ended any other way, there’s an obvious missed opportunity to present a moral dilemma or build tension, which is a shame.
As you get to know this new world, it’s the characters in it which help flesh it out and, largely speaking, they are interesting to interact with. It might surprise some veterans to only find six characters to choose between as sidekicks in your three-person squad, but considering how much is new for even experienced players, it might be a sensible move.
there isn’t too much hand-holding as you’re thrown into this new world, but for those who haven’t played the previous games it’s easy to miss the endearing charm
Each of the races you may know from previous games are given little introduction, with the player expected to take the characters themselves at face value, rather than relying on typecasting as other sci-fi can do (think of Star Trek’s Klingons and their honor-reliant characterisation). This has been a key theme of the series to date, and it’s nice to see there isn’t too much hand-holding as you’re thrown into this new world, but for those who haven’t played the previous games it’s easy to miss the endearing charm of some of the races, particularly Turians, who for some reason in this iteration all have a low-level distortion effect on their voice, which (personally) is quite distracting.
The sheer amount of information the player is asked to absorb in the game’s opening hours is exhausting, and often the game doesn’t endeavour to make your life easier. Take something as straightforward as your mission objectives: more often than not you’ll have one, or possibly two, key story mission objectives available at any one time, with some side missions and some one-off tasks. These are organised by location rather than mission type, meaning that outside the ‘Priority’ missions the objectives often have two or three layers of folders to sift through to find what you’re looking for.
You can also only mark one objective as active at a time, so unless you end up standing in the exact spot where something else takes place, things can pass you by. As a result the game feels frustratingly linear at times, particularly for completionists who thrive on exploring the rugged edges of the experience, which is often where the more original and memorable moments occur in any RPG.
The complexity doesn’t end there however, as there’s also a research system, a crafting system, an upgrade system and even a multiplayer tie-in system, which is a whole kettle of fish of its own - though not critical to the single-player experience, as has been an issue for some in the past. The skill upgrades offers the most diversity here, allowing you to spend points on your character to unlock certain abilities, but this time outside the confines of a class-based system, meaning that you can, in theory, cherry pick skills from across the biotic, tech and soldier distinctions.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case in RPGs which offer this perceived freedom, being a jack of all trades inevitably means mastering none, as the best iterations of each power require a large number of points. On the other hand, having invested all of our points in the Engineer tree so far, our powers don’t feel especially powerful, though admittedly the Engineer isn’t as ‘flashy’ as the mage-esque biotic specialist - The Adept.
On top of that, the profiles system (yup, another system) lets you switch between Engineer and Adept mid-combat if you’d like - to combat the different types of enemy you’re facing, for example. The reality with all of this though is that if you try to diversify you feel like you have a cluster of weaker characters, rather than one strong one.
The enemies you face are, generally, either the aforementioned Kett - a disappointingly under-developed set of generic shooty bad guys - and the Remnant - largely robotic enemies with few memorable character designs, some of which have insane stopping power for their size. The combat itself has been a particularly polarising aspect of the Mass Effect series, and Andromeda’s pronounced juxtaposition between pottering about exploring and entering the fray with your gun drawn makes for no exception. The kinetic speeds possible, and, arguably, required, as you cut down victims left and right is astronomically high. This is thanks in no small part to the addition of jump jets which let you boost into the air and dart out of danger at ground-level in a split second.
Those wondering what to expect from combat in general need look no further than the multiplayer mode, which offers the same wave-based co-op defence experience we’ve come to expect, only without the little variety ME3 seemed to offer. The end result is a more frantic move-and-shoot fest where you never quite feel safe or in control. Even the cover system, introduced in ME2, is out in favour of a context-based system which crouches you in cover when it feels like it, not dissimilar to the recent Ghost Recon Wildlands, though at least there you can creep up on enemies - not so in Andromeda.
It’s dialogue which has always been the real star of the series though, so what can we expect from chatting to our team members this time around? While there are some endearing characters, most conversations boil down to going through a list of fairly samey options - particularly “So why did you come to Andromeda?” and “What do you think of so and so?”.
It’s a disappointment not because we expect limitless possibilities - you can only write and record so many lines, after all - but because in previous games prying into people’s personal stories has led to intriguing plot threads and side missions in their own right. Here is feels like you’re box-ticking your way through without much regard for what’s being said, a feeling never truer than with the romancing options, which have always felt a little contrived, but here feel like you’re badgering characters as you utter the same one-liner each time you notice the option becomes available when you check-in after a mission.
It’s also here another issue crops up in the animation, something which has dominated ME:A chatter. In reality, facial expressions in particular are fine, and only occasionally distracting - in fact we find ourselves more frustrated by the NPCs who won’t stop tapping on a console or a tablet while they’re talking to us - the real problem is one which extends beyond a few glitchy speech profiles. There are instances of NPCs casually leaning up against walls that they are being partly absorbed by, standing awkwardly in the background cycling through a ‘busy work’ preset, even a woman on one settlement who’s just absent-mindedly swaying around as if intoxicated; it all makes for a game that doesn’t actually feel finished.
These are little things, but they end up having a big impact on the experience. Animations might be the most obvious area but the complexity of the UI and layer upon layer of systems competing for your attention all feel like too much. On top of that, despite all of the new things crammed in, nothing feels like it’s really taking a step away from the original trilogy and going out on its own - in the spirit of the narrative itself. There’s definitely some references to the originals, and we’d probably be complaining if they weren’t there, but the memorable moments which made that series special transcended the structure the developers had put around it. You won’t find something as tense as when Joker has to tiptoe through the ship or when you have to decide whether Ashley or Kaiden die, despite having only just gotten to know them in that instance.
While Andromeda is the first entry in a new chapter of the Mass Effect saga, in the end it feels like BioWare has fallen into the same traps it has in the past, not just with this series but Dragon Age as well. That said, they’ve still managed to produce a good game - sadly it’s just a small step and not the giant leap we’d been waiting for.
If you think LEGO Worlds seems out of the blue, rest assured, you wouldn’t be alone in that thought. The open-universe game (stay with us here) sees you jumping from world to world in your ship to collect gold bricks and unlock even more worlds. The worlds themselves are square blocks of terrain consisting of one or two different biomes on the surface and a few cave systems thrown in underground, feeling somewhat reminiscent of Terry Pratchett's Discworld - albeit without the giant turtle.
The downside to this freedom, and very much the other side of the double-edged sword, is that with the ability to literally delete the entire map, so too do you have the power to spoil your own fun by seriously messing up the way the various worlds are put together. This can lead to NPCs, who may live in pre-established towns or settlements or just wander, getting a bit confused as well.
With a game structured as loosely as this though, is that important? To an extent it is, in that it can make acquiring gold bricks more difficult, 10 of which you’ll need to unlock random worlds, along with 100 to create a world of your own from scratch. If you’re itching to get creating on a blank canvas sooner rather than later, then you’re confined by a more restrictive structure as a result. You could, however, simply bulldoze the tutorial level and start from scratch there (once you have the appropriate tools), which is a somewhat reasonable compromise.
LEGO Worlds is well worth a look - especially at its budget asking price - and could be a great catalyst for creativity
The game has been in early access on PC for the past couple of years, which has seen it go through countless changes alongside the development of the console versions. When you look at it from that perspective, you appreciate a little more the scale of what has been worked on here.
LEGO games come out frequently, with developer Traveller's Tales now masters of crafting enjoyable game experiences based on well-known franchises like Jurassic World and Star Wars, but Worlds is the answer to the question of what you would get if you take the big franchise names out and are left with a game based only on the building system itself.
The result is a game filled with potential and, at its core, an incredibly simple premise which is based on what, fundamentally, has made LEGO as popular and successful as it is in the first place. Whether that is a game to suit your taste really depends on your willingness to experiment: Would you like to build a skyscraper? Should you trap an NPC in a snake pit of your own design, for your own amusement? Do you have the precision and patience to put something together brick by brick?
As a starting point, the potential alone is enough to justify the game’s existence, and with the future possibility of sharing creations (models for now, but potentially entire worlds) online with other players could give rise to tons of different aspects which couldn’t come about in any other way. For the time being, LEGO Worlds is well worth a look - especially at its budget asking price - and could be a great catalyst for creativity, particularly in (but not limited to) youngsters.
Releasing in the same week as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the Nintendo Switch itself is a bold move. You could argue that there’s not necessarily a lot of crossover between the audience for BOTW and Wildlands, but there’s no doubt the game would have received a greater share of gamers’ attention had it released at a different time (this review would certainly have reached you sooner at least).
The drone is the real star of all the gear in your backpack, capable of scouting areas and quite easily marking everyone in sight. Once you’ve thrown a few update points into it to increase its range and implement a night vision camera, you’ll quickly find it comfortably encourages a more measured approach.
It’ll get a lot of use, as areas generally boil down to kill everyone and pick up some intel (either human or otherwise), before moving on to the next location to do it again. There’s a liberal spread of helicopters, which help you get between them quickly, though if you’ve made too much commotion the well-equipped UNIDAD (Bolivian special forces on the cartel’s payroll) will make your life difficult.
Areas generally boil down to kill everyone and pick up some intel, before moving on to the next location to do it again.
The map itself is vast, with 21 regions to explore across the largely mountainous countryside. As a result of being based on a real place, the variety of terrain is less varied and more realistic (read: a tad samey), with roads winding countless times to enable you to ascend some of its highest peaks.
This can prove tiresome if you’re tied to a car or truck, since the vehicle handling is far from refined here, so the sensible option is always to get hold of a chopper. Thankfully, as we mentioned earlier, they aren’t hard to get your hands on, especially once you unlock the perk which spawns one immediately nearby - you do need to be a bit careful to not spawn it inside a mountainside, however...
You’re slowly introduced to an arsenal of new weaponry on your travels, the order in which you unlock equipment depending on where you decide to visit first. The selection is deep but without a lot of character, as even customised weapons feel quite generic, and access to heavy weapons is available only where mounted gun placements are installed in enemy strongholds. If you’re looking for a fire-and-forget rocket launcher to take down that pesky enemy helicopter, then you’re going to be out of luck.
The sheer number of enemies you can come up against is quite staggering, sometimes 30 or 40 in a single compound, which continues to lead you down the road of being methodical rather than rash. To help you out with that, there’s a sync shot mechanic which lets you paint targets and then take them out simultaneously as a team, in what’s essentially a slightly more manual iteration of Splinter Cell’s mark and execute system. The result can be extremely satisfying, though enemies breaking line of sight or taking cover can throw a spanner in the works and shatter the power fantasy.
Throughout the course of the game your character isn’t fully fleshed out in their own right, but, while customisable, nor are they an avatar for yourself; this puts them in an awkward limbo between the two, as you listen to the team’s forgettable, but sadly not ignorable, banter between missions. To expect character development equivalent to that of an RPG might be unfair, but there is a freedom in how your character behaves and inhabits the world, so it’s disappointing to seem little consequence come of your choices in the long run - other than a couple of different endings, depending on your diligence.
Whether this is a game you’ll continue to enjoy weeks and months down the line largely depends on your enjoyment of crossing symbols off a map, as there are quite a few different collectables to gather. That doesn’t help Wildlands break the Ubisoft mould, but then there aren’t any particularly big risks on show here: there’s nothing equivalent to a charismatic villain in Far Cry, or compelling PvP option like The Division’s Dark Zone - though the latter is said to be coming as post-launch DLC.
All of this makes Wildlands feel a little archaic. It looks decent, and plays pretty well, but there’s nothing which truly inspires or feels like it moves the genre, series or Ubisoft’s catalogue forward. It feels like this game could just as easily have come out five years ago with slightly worse graphics and still not have made tremendous waves.
Developers are being pushed harder and further for depth, scale and storytelling every year, and we seem to have reached a stage where a game which is just fundamentally sound doesn’t really cut it any more. If that’s what you’re looking for then you’ll be pleased with a purchase of Wildlands, and for fans who’ve been following its development their expectations should be met, but with Horizon: Zero Dawn, Assassin’s Creed and even Just Cause in a similar ballpark - all of which offer more character - by comparison the game feels a little lifeless. Sticking closer to Ghost Recon's roots may well have served the series better.
What did you think of the game? Let us know in the comments.
Verdun may only be in its infancy on Xbox One (and indeed consoles in general since making the jump from PC to PS4 last August) but we can’t help feeling that M2H and Blackmill Games’ online shooter could do with some era-appropriate propaganda - preferably featuring the impressively moustachioed Lord Kitchener - in order to boost its already flagging player count.
Running through no-man’s-land is almost a guaranteed death sentence, as the lack of any significant cover and masses of barbed wire mean players caught in the open are easy pickings for snipers and machine gunners. Instead, it’s much better to utilise what little cover there is to get close to enemy positions, whilst saving dashes across open ground for the frantic, over the top charges that see slow and considered ranged combat give way to tense, often exhilarating, close-quarters action.
It’s clear the developers put a lot of effort into replicating realistic wartime action, packing the game with uniforms, weapons and historically accurate battalions that have been meticulously researched.
While we’ve (thankfully) never been involved in any situation even remotely comparable to the First World War, crawling through mud, shell craters and barbed wire only to be cut down agonisingly close to your objective by artillery, or poking your head above the lip of a trench only for it to be picked off by an unseen sniper certainly felt like an authentic representation of grim wartime combat.
The pursuit of authenticity means that most of the game’s maps are large seas of mud with the aforementioned shell craters and trenches their only significant features, but there are a couple based on the early days of the war whose shallow ditches, green fields and sparse woodlands offer some respite from the doom and gloom.
It’s clear the developers put a lot of effort into replicating realistic wartime action, packing the game with uniforms, weapons and historically accurate battalions that have been meticulously researched.
Verdun has four online modes: Rifle Deathmatch (a free-for-all contested with bolt-action rifles), Attrition (team deathmatch with all weapon types enabled), Squad Defence (more on that in a moment) and Frontlines, which is the most reliably populated. Frontlines tasks players with battling it out for control points in a game of tug-of-war based on some of the most infamous battles from the period, while Squad Defence is a horde-like mode than can be played offline, but AI of questionable intelligence make it easy to pass up.
For a competitive versus match in Frontlines, you ideally want both teams to consist of sixteen players separated into four squads of four, but that isn’t always attainable. While frustrating, the lack of competition did make trying all the different classes (which are often jealously guarded by other players) a lot easier.
Classes within each squad are limited to one per player, with the types of weapons available varying depending on which nationality and type of squad you’re currently representing, but most offer some variant of sniper, heavy/specialist gunner, grenadier and squad leader. Each class has three tiers of equipment usually featuring a mix of close-quarters, ranged and specialist weapons. These are unlocked with career points, which are earned as you level up, but they’re handed out so generously that they become redundant almost immediately.
There’s also a levelling system that rewards players with passive upgrades and cosmetic bonuses if they continue to perform well with a squad, such as reduced reload times and updated uniforms. It’s a nice idea, with no perk seeming so overpowered that it upsets the game’s balancing, but with each squad’s progress tracked separately, it can be a little hard to keep on top of.
It’s hard to shake the feeling of what could have been when playing Verdun, especially when you find a full match and the game’s potential is almost realised. With more players matches begin to flow as teams attack objectives from multiple directions, and utilising the communications wheel to issue orders and warnings becomes a necessity instead of just a novelty. Sadly, these moments are few and far between.
If M2H and Blackmill could fix some of the more serious issues holding the game back then it would be an easy sell, but with Battlefield 1 recently adding Back to Basics - a mode which does away with scopes, tanks and automatic weapons for iron sights and bolt-action rifles – those who were looking for a more authentic WW1 experience may have already found it in DICE’s shooter. It’s unfortunate, because Verdun needs all the support it can get to be at its best.
The developers at Drool recently announced they were bringing their “rhythm violence” game, Thumper, to Xbox One and Nintendo Switch following a successful launch on PlayStation 4 and PC last year. This news was the perfect excuse to go back and finish what we started in October, which, while tardy, did lead us to encounter a number of new features introduced through excellent (and free) post-launch support.
You guide a hurtling metallic beetle around a linear track suspended in neon nothingness.
Thumper becomes seriously challenging with the introduction of new note types, lane hopping and frequent breakneck corners in its latter half - especially if you’re looking to land S Ranks for the accompanying achievements/trophies - but frequent checkpoints mean you’ll never lose a great deal of progress. The level of difficulty definitely helps drive engagement, but, as it can’t be tweaked, there’s a very real possibility you might not be able to complete the game if you tend to struggle with rhythm games at higher difficulty settings.
As ever, practice makes perfect, and it’s in persistence that you’ll find yourself achieving flow and losing hours in what feels like the blink of an eye. There’s a Rez-like sense of synaesthesia that drags you into the illusive “zone” as your actions produce the addictive audio track, which, in turn, helps dictate your actions. This beat encourages a thrilling game of chicken that, should you choose to risk leaving actions until the last executable moment, offers rewards both aural and tangible (the latter by dishing out more points).
When it’s so easy to play for long sessions, you’d be forgiven for approaching the VR mode with a degree of trepidation as some are subject to discomfort as a direct result. We didn’t experience any problems on that front, in fact, thumb-ache set in first. With no comfort downsides, sticking a headset on is the best way to play in our minds. The 3D display helps with depth perception to make your timings naturally more accurate, while endlessly sprawling stages and giant bosses inspire a sense of awe that’s lacking on the flat display of a TV screen.
There’s a Rez-like sense of synaesthesia that drags you into the illusive “zone” as your actions produce the addictive audio track.
Whichever way you experience it, Thumper plays like an absolute dream, boasting striking visual and audio design all the while. It's demanding level of challenge will keep you coming back, never failing to recapture that euphoric zen-state you can’t help but linger in. Throw in excellent post-launch support that ironed out issues we had with the original release, as well as introducing some very significant upgrades, and Thumper is an easy recommendation for fans of VR and the rhythm genre alike.
I finally feel at home in the land of Hyrule. My Zelda history goes back a fair way (as I alluded to in our Nintendo Switch review), as far back as Ocarina of Time and I’ve always gone in wanting to enjoy it but for some reason it's never been my game. Whether it’s losing momentum once I became adult link in OOT, or failing to find the sail in Wind Waker, I never appreciated the magic. It was only Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy that I ever got through to the end (with help), so I went into Breath of the Wild with some trepidation.
As time goes on, you follow Link’s journey in rediscovering what happened in his past by tracking down specific memories, often tied to specific points on the map which you need to uncover with a combination of exploration and chatting to NPCs. This is just one example of a fairly natural way the game introduces depth to its story and world, which you can either invest yourself in and really find out more about or not, depending on your favoured play style.
What really shines in all of this is the gameplay. It doesn’t break the mold, in fact in many ways it stays close to what players are familiar with from previous Zelda titles (rupees, fairies, sound effects), while at the same time embracing the modern era of gaming, most notably with its stamina meter, which feels like a delightfully Zelda way to approach something familiar.
There’s a definite glee in finding a boomerang for the first time, but, tragically, it’s too slow and underpowered to prove very useful in most encounters - though getting the knack of catching it is extremely satisfying. Otherwise, there’s a fair selection of standard weapons available, though it takes some time to find any which you start to get really attached to. Of course, you can’t get too invested as each has a finite amount of slashes, prods or twangs (that’s a bow and arrow FYI) before it shatters, which adds a certain anxiety to encounters and makes you hesitant to really make the most of the fancy weapons.
Another weapon in your arsenal is bombs, which now exist in infinite form thanks to the handy, magical tablet device known as the Shiekah Slate. This iPad wannabe has a myriad of functions, a few of which are unlocked as you progress through the story. The most important function is your map, which you unlock in sections by reaching the summit of Shiekah Towers - each of which has one of a few challenges to it - and you can customise by putting stamps in noteable areas.
As you explore, you’ll come across shrines. There’s 120 of these, each of which are puzzle or battle rooms which hark back to a more traditional Zelda dungeon experience, giving a bite-sized challenge which rewards Spirit Orbs, four of which you’ll need to boost your health or stamina meter.
Stepping out of the starting shrine, where your adventure begins, you can’t help but be blown away by the visuals. In true Nintendo fashion, the art style suits the game perfectly and, though there are some quite noticeable framerate issues when the Switch is docked, particularly during weather, it just about gets away with it.
There’s a lot of variety to the terrain in a way which feels natural, despite the game’s fantasy setting, and the weather alone can quickly transform a familiar area into a treacherous one as night falls or a storm swells up, bringing deadly lightning with it. In rain Link struggles to keep hold while climbing, making escape attempts more perilous, though luckily there’s always the handy fast travel option to get you out of a tough spot.
It will undoubtedly go down as one of the all-time great Zelda titles, and, possibly, the greatest Nintendo title ever made.
If you do want to stand and fight, you might find a boost in strength in the form of Elixirs, potions cooked up from ingredients including horns and bones of felled enemies, which boost Link’s abilities for a limited time. Perhaps you need to get through an area unnoticed? A sneaky elixir is your friend. Or you need more attack power as an enemy you’re facing is just a bit too powerful for the weapons you currently have at your disposal? Then it’s a strength elixir. A combination of these things can really turn the tide and make your life considerably easier.
The other, more common element of combining ingredients which you’ll need to master is cooking, which boosts the amount of hearts you can recover from eating foods and can add elixir abilities as well. The catch is that, generally, it isn’t immediately obvious what ingredients combine to create actual dishes, though with a bit of experimentation and liberal reading of NPC diaries you can find some. Fortunately even a bad combination of ingredients will create ‘dubious food’, which will only recover a few hearts.
Items will be essential as you start to take on the game’s tougher enemies, which tend to be larger (and scarier) and you’ll find yourself dying more often than you might expect, even when you aren’t caught unawares. As a result, this isn’t a game for the faint of heart. Its graphical style might somewhat give the impression of being a game for children, but some areas (and puzzles) can be very challenging - thankfully stopping well short of controller-throwing rage.
Breath of the Wild is a moment in time. At the launch of the Nintendo Switch it is, undeniably, the must-have launch title, and on the WiiU (which I’m sure Rob will fill you in on) it’s the console’s swansong. As a result it’s a very special game, and will be an entry point to the series for many new players as they start their adventure in Hyrule for the very first time.
Of course, there are some niggles. The framerate issues aren’t something you’d expect, especially after paying a AAA price (although having seen them even with the recently released Pokemon Sun and Moon, they weren’t too unfamiliar an experience), the camera can be very unhelpful at times and the fact that there’s only a handful of stables dotted around the map make horses far less useful than they should be.
Considering all that, Nintendo have still made an extremely memorable game. The fact that two people can start and play for five hours and have vastly different experiences with the same ingredients at their disposal is impressive, and not something many games can pull off. It will undoubtedly go down as one of the all-time great Zelda titles, and, possibly, the greatest Nintendo title ever made. Is it one of the best games ever made, though? That is much trickier to give a straight answer. At the very least, it’s one which deserves your undivided attention - even if you don’t think it’s your cup of tea - and that is the mark of a masterful game, which this definitely is.
Horizon Zero Dawn’s fresh face immediately brought intrigue to a genre that's seen fans become increasingly jaded over the years. The vast open-world setting, peppered with explorative opportunities, possessed just enough charm to keep most of us curious throughout the development process.
The PlayStation exclusive lives up to its promise.
The D-pad allows you to flick through Alloy’s inventory items - various potions and traps - on the fly, but feels awkward during intense situations. You'll often come to a standstill as you fumble around for the correct item, which is equivalent to serving yourself up to enemies.
The world, known as the ‘Embrace’, is a huge accomplishment on Guerrilla's part, constantly flirting with the technical limits of the PlayStation 4, and, arguably, this generation of consoles in general. Horizon’s visuals play a spectacular part in bringing the world to life, frequently causing you to pause and utilise the built-in picture mode to capture the sights as you overlook wintry mountains or traipse through blazing red deserts. Climbing onto a Tallneck - dinosaur-inspired machine hybrids - uncovers parts of the map to allow for deeper exploration; the desire to do which is hard to resist.
Cauldrons - Horizon’s equivalent to archaeological gold mines - provide light challenges that are best conquered through stealth. These cavernous pits reap rewards in the form of overrides, allowing Aloy to hack a plethora of machines to turn them against each other. This feature compliments stealth greatly, particularly if you're one to generally avoid confrontation.
Whilst Cauldrons and other side quests offer a moderate experience boost, many are simple and unengaging fetch quests. This paired with awkward NPC encounters can drain some of Horizon’s infectious energy.
Its world is a warm and open invitation that encourages you to explore its every corner.
Aloy works with a number of tribes, who resort to blind faith and religious tendencies in the uncertain times, throughout the course of her adventure. A dialogue wheel injects an element of player choice as you interact with these settlements, but the decisions you make are far from imperative; put simply, it serves only to bring you closer to Aloy.
The shared struggle of humanity makes for an intelligently woven story that touches on many of today's relevant political and societal themes, evoking a sense of genuine curiosity to discover more about Horizon and its world. How Aloy’s role fits into this puzzle is constantly challenged, and the result in its conclusion is riveting.
Horizon is an exciting addition to the PlayStation catalogue and a testament to the prospect of what an open-world game can be. Although Horizon’s cohesion is often disrupted by the occasional bit of goofy dialogue or clunky inventory management, its world is a warm and open invitation that encourages you to explore its every corner. With a surprisingly charming storyline that will feed your curiosity, Guerrilla have produced what will likely be the next big PlayStation franchise.
Whether you’ve owned a Nintendo console before or you’re new to their hardware, the important thing to know is that you’re always going to get something a bit different. I was late to the party, boarding the train with the N64 late in 1998 (thank you Factor 5 and Rogue Squadron for forcing my hand), and one thing I’ve learned since then is that you can always count on them to do something different. After the Wii - Nintendo’s most successful home console of all time - I moved to Xbox (for online multiplayer), but since then times have changed and the Switch reveal did enough to grab my attention once more.
Check out our Nintendo Switch video review.
The Switch is a product that has the potential to offer an unmatchably diverse gaming experience.
That’s the dream, and largely the Switch already lives up to that in reality. There have been well-documented hardware issues, from screen scratching when docking to controller connectivity problems, and while I haven’t experienced these specific ones myself (though I know Sam has the latter), I have already had one error screen occur when the console was docked and not in use.
Generally though, the Switch itself is an exceptionally well-built product. The 720p HD screen is clear and crisp, particularly when you put it alongside the 3DS XL (which seems like a fair comparison), the jump from handheld to TV is seamless and the Joy-Con controllers are perfectly suited to what the console is trying to achieve. The contents of the box look smaller than you’d expect when you pull them out, and I don’t think the tabletop mode - utilised by making use of the built-in kickstand - will be much good outside a train or plane seat, as the screen is too small to view from any decent distance. The size does feel right when you hold it in your hands, though.
Overall it's clean and attractive, even premium, but I had worried the machine might falter when using either one of the small Joy-Cons individually. As someone who always had to use the wheel accessory when playing Mario Kart on the Wii (the Wiimote-on-its-side arrangement just didn’t work for me), I approached the endearing launch title Snipperclips with trepidation, knowing the use of individual Joy-Cons was the only way to go. Fortunately, after the usual amount of time spent getting used to something new, the Joy-Con actually responded well. Admittedly, I do still much prefer the traditional D-pad of the Pro Controller, which helped to avoid hitting the wrong buttons at key moments by comparison.
The Pro Controller itself is very light - playing into the portability of the system - and less bulky than an Xbox One controller. It has the right buttons and placement, but it doesn’t feel quite as nice as the Joy-Cons themselves, even down to the oddly squared-off buttons compared to the smooth, sleek finish of the Joy-Cons. It feels like it’s the result of Nintendo updating a design they already had in the works, rather than something tailor-made for the Switch.
The Switch's overall design is clean and attractive; even premium.
Miis of the Wii and Wii U era are mostly forgotten, relegated to a secondary screen on the customisation menu, while you’re asked to choose a local username - which can be anything - and then prompted to sign in to your Nintendo Account - which can’t - to access the eShop and online services. It’s here we reach a bit of a brick wall as far as the in-depth analysis goes, as neither of the games I picked up at launch (the aforementioned Snipperclips and, of course, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) have online multiplayer functionality. It has been reported that Super Bomberman R doesn't fare too well when taken online, however.
One online function everybody has access to is the dedicated screenshot button, which takes instant snaps and stores them in the console's album menu. You can then edit and share these images on social media directly from the Switch, which is neat, I guess?
The games line-up at launch is something of a sticking point for many, with only a dozen games available (which might actually be generous, considering a number of those are old Neo Geo games). For me, two games is enough to keep me going for the time being, especially as Zelda alone is vast - but more of that in the upcoming review. It would have been nice to have the option for some bigger multiplayer-centric titles like Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or even Arms to mess around with at this point, but that hasn’t been a deal-breaker.
While buying a console to play two games (or one and a half, sorry Snipperclips) might sound a bit silly, the truth is that the Nintendo Switch serves me (and perhaps serves best) as a second console, offering a refreshing break from the norm now and then, along with the versatility to play when and where I otherwise couldn’t.
Whether it's for you or not largely depends on your circumstances. Perhaps you’re at secondary school, using public transport for 20-30 minutes each way and you have a free period to play in the sixth form common room, or you’re a walking enthusiast looking for something to do while you settle your heart rate before mile 13 of your Sunday ramble. Maybe you just want to keep the kids quiet? The key point is that this is a device for many different sorts of people, but not necessarily the sort of person who is already heavily invested in playing a specific type of “hardcore” game at home.
While the Switch is great for short bursts of gaming, its battery life can necessitate them. Nintendo’s estimate of 2.5 - 6 hours of playtime is fairly accurate based on use so far, and if you’re at home the dock is enough to keep the system charging while you’re hunting Bokoblins in Zelda on the TV, though it would be nice to reliably get over four hours of play in handheld mode. Hopefully that time won’t decline further as the device and its battery age, as can happen with the 3DS and Wii U gamepad (along with many mobile devices).
While the Switch is great for short bursts of gaming, its short battery life can necessitate them.
Is now the time to buy a Switch if you’re interested? Even if you have the cash it’s difficult to insist you need this console today - particularly if you’re already tucking into Zelda on the Wii U in the interim. That’s not to say it isn’t fantastic, in fact the Switch meets my expectations and does everything I expected it to very well.
There’s a few niggles which Nintendo had to throw in as well of course. The online service being paid for later in the year isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the communication about what you get for your money has been shockingly vague. Add to that the re-introduction of fiddly friend codes and you’re going to get some unhappy customers. The biggest sin at this point though is the sheer price of the accessories and, to some extent, games for the system. It’s not as big of a problem if you’re a working adult (and don’t have kids), but if you’re a youngster working hard on a paper round to get a bit of money to spend on yourself, or washing the car for pocket money, it’ll be a while before you can even get another pair of Joy-Cons to play with a few friends at once (or one friend in Arms’ case). Not to mention the pressure it will put on parents to fork out for these add-ons at Christmas and birthdays.
That said, my record of not regretting the purchase of a Nintendo console is safe. The Switch’s premium build quality and accommodating hybrid nature provide a unique and exciting experience that isn’t paralleled elsewhere. Even if the sought-after third-party support drops off, we know it’ll at least produce some future Nintendo classics to enjoy; Zelda puts a very strong foot forward on that front, leaving plenty of reason to be optimistic.