Painting can be so therapeutic. That said, it’s not really when it comes to Splatoon 2, Nintendo’s frantic-yet-accessible third-person shooter in which you take on squid/kid creatures in battles to paint the town a pinkish red, orange, purple, or… you get the picture.
Ranked Battle brings additional match types befond Turf War, namely Splat Zones, Tower Defence and Rainmaker. The first is a King of the Hill-style mode with one defined area for both teams to frantically fight over to score, the second concentrates the mayhem even further by making the point a moving tower, which must move through a set track and stop at certain checkpoints, giving the other team a chance to knock players off and take the tower back. Rainmaker is more of an out-and-out assault where players fight for control of the Rainmaker superweapon.
Then there’s League Battle, recommended only for real fanatics, which is a two-hour test of skill players can take on without risking their carefully nurtured rank. Finally we have Salmon Run, a cooperative Horde-type mode that’s only available at set real-world times. You’ll take on waves of fish-based enemies, including eight kinds of mini-boss, in teams of two to four players in search of shiny golden eggs.
There’s a decent amount of variety on offer in multiplayer alone, and on top of that there’s a single player campaign which plays out as a series of increasingly difficult challenges topped off with fiendish boss battles. Think along the lines of Super Monkey Ball.
This campaign of sorts is larger-than-life in the best way possible - to give you an idea, the first boss is an angry oven complete with loaves of bread sporting googly eyes - and the entire experience clocks in at around six hours and gives you plenty of practice for the often unforgiving multiplayer encounters that follow.
There’s plenty to do in Splatoon 2, with a consistent level of quality upheld throughout, each mode handling extremely well, looking pretty, and feeling fairly well-balanced. Add to that sleek dual-purpose mechanics like turning into a squid and submerging in ink to reload, whilst also traveling faster and less conspicuously, and you have a design powerhouse.
Unfortunately, when it comes to networking, the game doesn’t offer as great an experience. The Nintendo Switch online app is every bit as awkward to use as you may have heard. There are some nice stats and little elements tucked in there, but the fact that it takes so many button presses to get where you need to be - and even then the audio struggles to work consistently - is extremely poor. We ended up using third-party app Discord to wax lyrical about the game, and the fact that it’s a much better experience is a real shame.
The ordeal doesn’t end there either, as joining in with friends is frustratingly specific, rather than being the quick and easy solution it could and should be. Heading to the friends screen will reveal who’s online but not allow you to join them unless they’re sat in a lobby about to start a game, meaning you have a window of mere seconds before the lobby fills up and you’ll then need to wait until the next game for another chance. On top of that, there’s no queue option or spectator mode while you wait, meaning coordinating more than one other person at a time is a struggle outside of Salmon Run, which is easier thanks to its PvE setup.
Having so many hurdles to online play, many of which aren’t explained, significantly impacts the overall experience. For some, this won’t be a problem at all, but those looking to gather a group of four and take on the world will be out of luck, as it’s not even assured that you’re on the same team when you do finally end up in a game together. The one saving grace is that you aren’t separated again once a match ends, providing all players choose to continue.
Despite the online barriers, which, while somewhat understandable (Nintendo are thinking of the children), are enough to raise your blood pressure, it’s still hard not to recommend Splatoon 2. It’s a fantastically fun shooter in itself, though it also meets the need to prove that the Switch has more than just the odd Mario or Zelda title to accompany a sea of Neo Geo ports.
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SUPERHOT, a first-person shooter built around the uniquely satisfying concept that time moves only when you do, was an instant classic in our eyes. The feats of sheer badassery this central mechanic allows a player to achieve injects them with such an intoxicating power trip that they’re almost forbidden from putting the controller down. By being so moreish, SUPERHOT marries its narrative - which, without saying too much, features themes of virtual addiction - to its gameplay and presents one concise, cohesive whole. If you’ve played the original you’ll know that bringing the SUPERHOT experience to VR was really a no-brainer, but is it worth double-dipping?
The feats of sheer badassery this central mechanic allows a player to achieve injects them with such an intoxicating power trip that they’re almost forbidden from putting the controller down.
Despite the fact you’re all but fixed to the spot in SUPERHOT VR - rather than being able to run around freely, as in the original - the wider spectrum of movement available to you actually makes the change feel liberating. You can still employ the same tactics you would in vanilla SUPERHOT, but also incorporate those exclusively afforded by the introduction of motion control, like extending your arm out from cover to blindfire, or using your hands to physically snatch bullets out of the air. To counterbalance the extra tools at your disposal and keep things engaging, you’ll now need to complete sets of levels before reaching a checkpoint, rather than being awarded one each and every level.
While the switch to motion control brings with it both foibles and boons, the transition from 2D to 3D is entirely a positive one. The clean, simple aesthetic works wonders in disguising VR’s fuzzy edges, while the added depth perception helps to more accurately gauge distances and accordingly lead your shots. You’ll instinctively wince when an enemy pulls the trigger as you stare down the barrel of their gun, but, most importantly, playing in virtual reality is exciting because of the technology’s relevance to the SUPERHOT universe. For existing fans, being sucked directly into the experience they had previously taken in second hand is a real treat.
The one area in which we criticised SUPERHOT was its endgame content; after completing the somewhat short story you unlock a range of challenges that are each interesting in themselves, but ultimately amount to replaying the same levels over and over with slightly modified rule sets. The exact complaint stands when it comes to SUPERHOT VR, but the challenges are a less enticing prospect this time around. That isn’t due to any design shortfall - they’re good fun - but the fact that encountering the aforementioned tracking issues at the wrong time can cost you dearly.
Playing in VR is all the more exciting because of the technology’s relevance to the SUPERHOT universe. For existing fans, being sucked directly into the experience they had previously taken in second hand is a real treat.
SUPERHOT is a power fantasy, and the implementation of virtual reality and motion control helps to realise that fantasy in more vivid fashion, making SUPERHOT VR the best way to play this inspired shooter. For a while, that is, as the original has it beat when it comes to post-campaign challenges - it’s just a good job they’re different enough from one another to both thoroughly warrant purchases.
A dark take on the Ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, Theseus is one of the most engaging virtual reality games we’ve played, despite having its share of problems.
Every single element of Theseus’ presentation is incredibly well considered.
Encounters with Asterion offer up more legitimate scares, the beast being a liberal interpretation of the fabled Minotaur. Conventionally a man with the head of a bull, you’ll instead meet a towering, skull-faced monster with a vertical maw of sharp teeth dominating its torso. The design is definitely Dark Souls inspired, which only serves to make him all the more an imposing physical presence, especially within the 3D realms of VR.
Initially the Labyrinth’s guardian, Asterion was consumed by a literal darkness and coerced into doing evil. Luckily for you, this corruption blinded the creature, making stealth the proverbial sword of Damocles hanging over his head. There’s no fighting him, so you’ll need to take the time to creep when his back is turned and freeze when fixed in his gaze to avoid getting insta-killed.
You can battle his eight-legged offspring, though combat is the game’s weak link. Arachnophobes will be disheartened to learn spiders are the solitary enemy type, but can hopefully find solace in the fact they’ll get to stab and burn plenty of the blighters. Theseus fluidly switches between targets as you push the analogue stick in their direction and launch attacks with either his sword or, provided you have one to hand, flaming torch. There’s no real call for finesse here, just mash your way to victory.
Whilst the combat system won’t win any awards, it’s nonetheless exciting to see the choreographed fights play out right in front of you. The same applies to the final encounter, which isn’t anything special in terms of gameplay, but is spectacle enough that you likely won’t mind.
With an incredibly cinematic presentation - one that we find reminiscent of Guillermo del Toro’s work, specifically in its flair for presenting an engrossingly dark fantasy that incorporates elements of both Hollywood and art house - it’s perhaps no surprise that Theseus clocks in at about feature length. It’ll likely take two to three hours to complete, though returning for a second run to gather all of the collectibles and unlock the true ending is an enticing prospect.
If it wasn’t already clear, we adore Theseus’ understated narrative and grim aesthetic. The game draws positive comparisons to a lot of properties we love, but also maintains a strong identity of its own, really hitting a sweet spot in the process. As a result, in spite of the weak combat and linear progression, Theseus is an easy recommendation for PlayStation VR owners.
The once-prominent film tie-in has been on the decline for a number of years now, which is largely considered a good thing, as shedding the often oppressive schedules has allowed licensed games to flourish. Cars 3: Driven to Win, however, is a rare exception; a good ol’ fashioned film tie-in that’s also legitimately fun.
There’s a decent amount of content here to boot, with 23 cars (which are purely an aesthetic choice) and 21 tracks (some of which are rehashes) playable across the 5 event types to keep your 20 or so hour journey towards the Hall of Fame mostly engaging.
When you also take into consideration the pleasant visuals and fun local multiplayer, available in cooperative and competitive varieties, Cars 3: Driven to Win is a surprisingly comprehensive game. It doesn’t do anything particularly innovative, and falls short in some areas, but is still a very solid example of its genre, which is far more than most film tie-ins can boast.
Welcome to Death Squared, a game so dastardly that it keeps a running total of how many times you’ve failed, reminding you of it every time you die. And you will die. A lot. Make no mistake, behind the cutesy aesthetic and quirky sense of humour is a neat little puzzler that takes great pleasure in your misery.
While there’s no real plot, the banter between David and Iris is consistently amusing, even when they’re insulting your ineptitude.
The game has a heavy focus on cooperative play, regularly introducing new rules and mechanics to test your communication, teamwork and, most likely, friendships. Death Squared wants to be a party game for everyone, but while it provides plenty of laughs, it’s also a little too complicated for anyone to just pick up and play.
Another frustration is that you need four controllers for four-player fun. That sounds pretty obvious, but with the only essential control being movement, it feels like there may have been an opportunity to allow two players to share a Joy-Con (one person utilising the analogue stick and the other the four face buttons) in a similar way to Micro Machines Turbo Tournament on the Mega Drive.
Despite the focus on co-op, playing Death Squared solo is often more rewarding and less frustrating than the chaos of tackling mazes with your mates. Each analogue stick controls a separate character, which means that it can often feel like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. While this can be a gratifying challenge, it also makes it easy to forget which cube you’re about to move, which can lead you to accidentally plummet to your doom. While the controls are simple, they can sometimes feel a bit loose. Not being able to rotate the level also means that depth perception is occasionally an issue.
Between the co-op campaign, four-player party mode and unlockable content, there’s more than 120 puzzles to infuriate and/or delight. It’s just a shame that there isn’t more variety to keep things fresh from start to finish. Once you’ve mastered all the puzzles, there’s little reason to return. Online leaderboards for level times or total deaths could have helped here.
Death Squared will have you tearing your hair out whether you’re playing alone or with friends, but it has the gravitational pull to bring you back for more and more punishment. Each maze generally only takes a few minutes to complete, so it’s the perfect head scratcher and time waster to play on the bus or train - a feature that is obviously unique to the Switch, in our minds making this the definitive version of a solid puzzle game with plenty of character.