When Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King first came to our attention earlier in the year, we immediately thought Castle Pixel’s homage to the top-down Zelda games of the past would be a natural fit for the Switch. As it turns out, Nintendo agree, snapping up the retro inspired action-adventure as a console exclusive.
Blossom Tales is an easy recommendation on Switch; a charming, colourful, and, most importantly, fun, title that feels right at home on a Nintendo system.
So, how does it fare on Switch? Having originally played Blossom Tales on a basic laptop that, while capable of running the game, probably wasn’t the optimal platform to best enjoy it on, reliving Lily’s adventure on Nintendo’s hybrid console was an absolute blast, particularly in handheld mode, where we spent the majority of our playthrough.
Seeing Blossom Tale’s world brought to life in the palm of your hands looks and feels great; colours are bright and punchy, and, despite the game’s tendency to pack the screen with large numbers of enemies at the same time, the Switch version puts in a decent performance, holding a steady framerate in all but the most chaotic of boss fights. Despite an impressive console debut there were some slight, platform-specific issues that cropped up during our time with the game.
The HD rumble, an exclusive feature for the Switch version, didn’t really feel like it added much to gameplay and became noticeably irritating after a while due to its intensity, while the default button layout also felt like it could have been better optimised, with the Y and A buttons feeling much better suited for item use than the standard setup which saw X and B allocated the task.
These were both minor issues, however, easily solved with a bit of tweaking in the menus and didn’t detract from the overall experience in any meaningful way, plus the boons of the Switch, particularly flexibility, means it still feels like the best way to enjoy the game.
Being able to pick up and play at any time, almost anywhere, is something that no other platform can offer, and Blossom Tales isn’t a title that’s taxing on the Switch’s battery, meaning it’s possible to leave it in sleep mode, walk away for a few hours, and return to find there’s still plenty of game time left in your console.
Clocking in at around 15 hours to complete, and with a price tag of just £13.49 / €14.99 / $14.99, Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is an easy recommendation on Switch; a charming, colourful, and, most importantly, fun, title that feels right at home on a Nintendo system.
Everyone likes money. Making a game hopelessly obsessed with it, focusing on grabbing as much of it as possible, seems like a simple enough idea. Vostock Inc. combines a space exploration experience with a simple, Monopoly-esque construction sim to create a game with a wider variety of experiences compared to your usual idle clicker.
While you wait, there’s the twin-stick shooter aspect of the game, which can be a bit more of a mixed bag than the polished balance of the Moolah-making. You can take out asteroids and crates in space for bonuses, save managers and executives for bonuses, or even take on huge enemy bosses for, you guessed it, bonuses - generally in the form of lots and lots of yellow pieces which your tiny ship can lap up and add to your total.
Enemies spawn a little too frequently at times, sometimes appearing before the graphic congratulating you for defeating a big baddie has even left the screen, but this feels like a deliberate attempt to keep you playing and striving on to the next challenge, rather than a lapse in design.
A few times we’ve found ourselves taking massive damage by being physically stuck between two enemies and bouncing between them at high speed. Fortunately, if you should blow up all is not lost, you have a tiny life pod (which can also protect any executives you’ve collected) that’ll offer some protection as you scatter back to the Motherbase for the system to regain health. Even being destroyed completely only chops away a swathe of the cash you have on you, rather than having any long-lasting implications.
To defend yourself you’ll need to use one of the game’s colourful weapons, which range from a simple machine gun to a laser unicorn attack squad and graviton aperture gun. In practice, merely upgrading the weapon you get on best with works for most encounters, providing you have the dexterity to keep mobile, and providing you invest money now and again, the enemies are rarely overwhelming.
If that wasn’t enough to keep you busy, there’s also plenty of upgrades to Motherbase, your ship and your radar, which can certainly make your life easier - depending on what your priorities are - and there’s the aforementioned executives to look after. These overpaid fat cats (well, one of them literally is a cat lady) are only around to boost your productivity, but they’ll need to be furnished with lavish gifts to be kept happy and let you reap the rewards.
Vostok Inc. consistently punches above its weight, giving compelling gameplay and humour without layering in unnecessary systems and cluttering the experience.
Each has their own personalised 8-bit mini game, varying from driving sims to first-person shooters to Flappy Bird clones, which give you the opportunity to pick up these items, but most are pretty challenging, so you’re better off obliterating a few enemies and asteroids instead. The games themselves are a welcome distraction though, and fill out what is, on the surface, quite a basic experience.
Whether this is a game for you will depend on how you like to play. It’s at its best with a degree of passiveness and patience, waiting for the money total to tick up so you can grab that upgrade before you dash downstairs for dinner. Passing the time before bedtime with the game was initially an exercise in real-world stealth, as destroying asteroids and creating buildings set off the Switch’s overzealous rumble, putting the good night’s sleep of significant others everywhere in jeopardy, but fortunately there is an option to turn this off hidden in one of the multiple options menus.
For something which might look like it only belongs on a mobile phone at first glance, Vostok Inc. consistently punches above its weight, giving compelling gameplay and humour without layering in unnecessary systems and cluttering the experience. The later game may feel more drawn out, as everything takes longer to happen and you’ve explored all of the six systems available, but the thirst for more and more money is strangely addictive - but hopefully in a fun way, rather than the more negative real-world consequences… Without a doubt, for the price (£12.99), this is one well worth snapping up.
The one thing better than a car is a car with massive guns strapped to it. We’ve learned from experience that it isn’t always easy to turn this delicious concept into a game however, as the N64 and PlayStation era brought the dizzying heights of Vigilante 8 as well as the cynical, cash-grabbing lows of 007 Racing. Most recently, you might recall elements of the concept in Mad Max or even Borderlands 2 to an extent, but other than World of Tanks - a far more realistic take on vehicular warfare - the market for this experience is far from saturated.
Other than World of Tanks - a far more realistic take on vehicular warfare - the market for this experience is far from saturated.
Creativity is definitely encouraged in the process, though. The garage and its array of possibilities can be quite overwhelming; even though the controls are constantly in view at the top of the screen, it takes some time to get to grips with the interface, and it’s particularly challenging to work out what each component is until you start throwing them together.
As you begin to level up and the array of jigsaw pieces widens, there’s also the introduction of factions to account for. These require a certain amount of reputation to unlock, and give less traditional design options, such as combining features of aeroplanes and vintage cards, in the specific case of the Nomads.
On the battlefield, the variety on offer starts to show itself, and immediately the priorities for building become more apparent. Specifically, vehicle damage is quite substantial, to the extent that wheels and complete parts of your vehicle may fall off if you take too much punishment, or too specific a ramming from your adversaries.
Wheels are a particularly weak link, leaving you beached and motionless or simply spinning in a circle if you aren’t careful, though this is also an Achilles’ heel you can use against enemies. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous you may ditch wheels altogether and go for a hovering vehicle instead, but bear in mind that they’re incredibly hard to control, though traditional vehicles aren’t exactly a walk in the park either.
On the battlefield, the variety of customisation options on offer starts to show itself, and immediately the priorities for building become apparent.
Whatever your approach, taking on missions requires the use of fuel, a limiting factor to the game that’ll ask you to wait 24 hours to refill your tank, or speed the process up through microtransactions. This seeming sharp edge is blunted when you consider the cost in in-game currency is low and can be earned by selling excess parts, however. The missions themselves refresh each day, to give a bit of variety - though they stick to fairly basic archetypes like escort or attack and defend - and are level locked to give you a fighting chance.
In all the game is a solid starting point for a beta, if lacking in character and richness of world, despite a nicely done intro cinematic which is rare these days. You might get more of a narrative pull in other titles, though how much that bothers you really comes down to personal preference. Strong potential is a good starting point for an unknown newcomer like this, and the gradual approach of rolling it out means that you aren’t generally left waiting for a game for minutes on end and, more importantly, there’s a bit of fun to be had once you’re there, assuming you don’t mind putting up with the odd rogue player
Filled with the genre-blending goodness that propelled the original to cult classic status, Hand of Fate 2 is equal parts dungeon crawling RPG, collectable card game, board game, and interactive Choose Your Own Adventure novel. You sit opposite the enigmatic Dealer, who, fittingly, lays bare your fate with his hand of tarot cards.
The game poses a variety of scenarios and leaves you to carve your own path through them, which, coupled with some evocative penmanship, makes each campaign engaging and memorable in its own right.
With freedom of approach often comes the ability to avoid them, though in dodging potential disaster you also decline potential boons. Valuable rewards include food, fame, gold and equipment, all of which can individually be integral to your continued survival.
Any weapons and armour you might gather are put to use in the game’s basic combat sections, which jarringly pull you out of your cosy sit-down with the Dealer into stripped-back, Batman Arkham-style brawls. A range of enemy types are each susceptible to different weapon classes, adding some variety that helps to invigorate things, but HUD elements that telegraph when it’s time to dodge or counter mostly make battles a breeze. Being heavily outnumbered is the one scenario you can’t approach as par for the course, as being flanked and surrounded proves intense when you consider that health is persistent and taking damage can carry very real, far-reaching consequences.
Naturally, that makes eating an axe to the mush as a result of a distracting performance dip all the more annoying. Even on Xbox One X with the settings switched from default to favour performance over resolution, Hand of Fate 2 doesn’t always run smoothly, which is somewhat baffling considering the game’s small environments and nothing-to-write-home-about visuals.
Though Hand of Fate 2 doesn’t do a huge amount in the way of innovating over its predecessor, Defiant Development have refined its winning formula, which is hard to take issue with. The game combines numerous complex systems into a cohesive and accessible whole that could well serve as a gateway into real-world tabletop gaming for many. It's tough choices prompt pause for thought and weave memorable stories that are compelling enough to keep you ploughing through, while also being self-contained and convenient to dip in and out of on a whim.
Tannenberg is the latest First World War-set online shooter from the makers of Verdun, bringing realistic historical combat to the fore on Steam once again, only this time, M2H and Blackmill Games are leaving behind the crater-ridden trenches of the Western Front and taking players to the relatively unexplored battlefields of Eastern Europe.
The four maps on offer - East Prussia, Poland, Carpathians and Galicia - may seem a little stingy by today’s standards, especially with the developers stating that the game is content complete despite still being in Early Access, but each one is vast and most incorporate a variety of landscapes, from dense pine forests and grassy fields to more fortified areas. They also utilise alternate weather and time of day effects as a way of achieving more mileage.
It’s a simple method, but one that works; playing one map in a blanket of snow and grey skies only to go again a few rounds later in bright sunshine feels like two very different experiences, while some weather patterns, such as the vision limiting nature of heavy fog, can even impact upon gameplay, changing the way you approach battles, especially in Maneuver.
Of the three game modes on offer in Tannenberg, Maneuver is by far the most popular, with the game’s other two modes - Rifle Deathmatch and Attrition - unable to match the level of tactical play and the thrilling scale of warfare on offer in the former, thanks in part to smaller maps and lower player counts.
Tannenberg feels like a step forward for the series, albeit not a giant one.
Unlike Verdun’s Frontlines mode, which saw both sides competing in a tug of war match over a single control point at a time, Maneuver has players battling it out over multiple sectors and control points spread over the mode’s large maps. The idea is to outflank the opposition by encircling occupied sectors, cutting off the enemy’s headquarters and leaving it vulnerable to a game-ending capture.
This is a big ask however, as controlling all or enough sectors to capture the enemy HQ is surprisingly difficult, and more often than not victories are achieved through attrition rather than any tactical genius. Both teams begin each match with a set number of points that can only be reduced by capturing and holding the most sectors, meaning playing the objective is essential if you want to end up on the winning side.
Most maps are made up of between 9 and 12 sectors, with each of those (save for the main and often most contested one in the middle of the map) offering some sort of bonus for the team that captures it. These include being able to call in a recon plane that spots any enemies caught underneath its flight path, ammo dumps for resupplying and artillery strikes, the latter of which can be particularly devastating, especially considering there’s no protection afforded to those who have just respawned into an area that’s being bombarded.
The lack of spawn protection is one of the game’s biggest drawbacks, and an issue that’s exacerbated by the developer’s commitment to recreating an authentic wartime experience with the one-hit-kill nature of weapons. Getting picked off from afar by an unseen enemy when carelessly sprinting across open ground is one thing, but being dropped after respawning in a ‘safe’ area is incredibly frustrating, and something that happens far too often.
Despite this, Tannenberg remains an incredibly enjoyable and different online shooter, and though it was disappointing to see Verdun’s less-than-clear progression system once again in play here, as well as the game’s insistence on relying on players’ goodwill to ensure teams are evenly balanced, Tannenberg still feels like a step forward for the series, albeit not a giant one.
The Surge’s suffocatingly dark and claustrophobic maze of interiors made for a nightmarish setting that was arguably the star of the show. Continuing that trend, A Walk in the Park places it’s fantastical and fresh theme park at the fore to draw fans of the action role-playing game back into the fold.
The lighthearted location is enticing - especially around the festive season - in providing a welcome break from an otherwise largely bleak game.
Two boss battles help to offset the lack of big bads in the main game, though the first is as bog standard as they come and both are, arguably, too easy. A Walk in the Park lives up to its name for the most part, with easily telegraphed enemies and frequent healing opportunities hardly taxing returning veterans at all.
An abundant supply of high level implants to gather and a new drone attack further tip the odds in your favour, though swapping out an existing, upgraded weapon for one of 16 new additions - amongst them a flaming candy cane staff (!) - will help to stop you steamrolling the competition, should a high level of challenge be something you wish to preserve.
While A Walk in the Park won’t quite scratch the same masochistic itch as the base game, its lighter tone and less demanding nature are just the ticket this time of year and see the add-on dodge merely feeling like more of the same. In managing to juggle this with remaining loyal to The Surge’s core tenants, the £11.99 asking price is one that everybody with a copy of the game should consider.
There’s no doubt about it: the Ashes is the biggest spectacle in the world of leather-on-willow, yes-we-have-a-break-for-tea, professional cricket. Step forward Don Bradman Cricket dev Big Ant Studios (they’re Aussies - we’ll try not to hold that against them…), for their first foray into the light of a - at least partially - licensed sports game, with the creatively titled Ashes Cricket.
In a bid to reach a wider audience, Big Ant has implemented two separate control systems; Classic (from DBC) uses the analogue sticks to control foot movement and bat, then line and length when bowling, whilst Standard primarily utilises button presses, with the left stick used to aim in a more arcadey set-up.
The latter is great for an introduction, but you’ll find batting becomes ridiculously easy (Big Ant’s cricket games are usually hardcore in their difficulty) with balls often sailing over the fence. We scored at at least 10 runs per over in every test match we played using standard batting controls, with a lowest team total of 369 all out, and that was on the hardest difficulty setting... Comparatively, getting the same total on DBC17 on easy difficulty took a lot of patience and luck.
What fun it is to have your whole team scream "OWZAT?" at the press of a button.
When it comes to bowling, the simple button press set-up of the Standard control method certainly helps with accuracy, so we'd suggest giving it an extended go before switching to the analogue stick-led Classic controls.
The final - and perhaps most welcome - addition to this edition of virtual cricket is the excellent use of motion capture. DBC17 had some hideous animations for certain strokes (cut shot, we’re looking at you), and every bowler delivered the ball in the exact same way. Well, this is no longer the case, as Big Ant has enlisted the help of Australian stars like Glenn Maxwell, to ensure that batting is more fluid and picturesque, and bowling is more convincing.
There are welcome returns too with the lovely catching mechanic - a sort of QTE event where you match a reticule up with the moving ball to complete the catch - user-controlled appealing (what fun it is to have your whole team scream “OWZAT?” at the press of a button…), robust academy creation suite (players, teams, logos, stadia), and the career mode time-sink. The latter is especially splendid, as you take your player from club cricket all the way to Ashes glory, giving the game massive longevity.
Unfortunately though, it’s not all good news for Big Ant. Bugs and glitches are a bit of a problem here; fielders warp randomly into place, pitch cracks vanish sporadically, catches are taken with one hand whilst the player looks in a different direction, and perhaps worse - and we’ve had this happen three times already - you’ll get someone out only to find that they are still batting next ball, seemingly oblivious to what previously occurred! It’s here where Big Ant really fall down, but knowing their history for swift patches, we imagine this’ll be put straight soon.
To add further fuel to the disappointment fire, however, we must mention the commentary. The audio in general is much, much better this time around - the ball hitting the wicket keeper’s gloves is particularly meaty and satisfying, as is the inclusion of the Barmy Army's chants - but even Michael Slater’s presence can’t save the commentary. Phrases are regularly behind the action, or are off the mark entirely. It’s amusing, but it lets the on-screen action down.
So, as we reach stumps on the final day, we find ourselves largely impressed with this latest cricket offering from Big Ant. Online matches might be hard to find, and sure, we would’ve adored a classic Ashes scenario mode - imagine Edgbaston 2005, or Headingly 1981, or Adelaide 2006, etc. - but the core experience is excellent. For a sport starved of quality video games, Ashes Cricket stands with urn raised, celebrating victory. Take our word for it, chums: this is a must-have for lovers of the gentleman’s game.