Following its launch on PC and PS4 late last year, Ronimo Games (Awesomenauts Assemble!) have brought their side-scrolling strategy title to Nintendo Switch.
Apart from units actively mining resources, which remain at your base unless commanded to collect pick-ups, all units begin marching towards enemy positions immediately once purchased. They give no thought to their own safety or the size of the challenge facing them, therefore, players must manage resources carefully to ensure troops are sent forth in groups, rather than individually. This leads to some interesting strategization, as you’ll want to find potent combinations that best complement each other.
Missions generally feature at least one main objective along with one or two bonus objectives, which encourage you to experiment with tactics or challenge yourself by deliberately making things harder, adding variety to the straightforward level layouts. Main objectives range from simply destroying enemy bases to more memorable tasks like navigating a limited number of troops through environmental obstacles. Occasionally, you’ll also come across Bonus Battles; these one-off skirmishes give you the freedom to build your own army from all of the units you’ve unlocked thus far.
Both visually and technically, Shawarmageddon fares well on Switch. Frame rates occasionally drop during the largest of battles, but (naturally) Nintendo’s hybrid console offers the most ways to play - docked, handheld and touch - to easily counterbalance that. There’s seamless switching between the latter two, which makes targeting individual units a doddle, though, as we’ve found before, the balance, weight and shape of the Switch just doesn’t lend itself well to this one-handed style of play for long periods of time.
The versatility of the Joy-Cons also facilitates spontaneous bouts of local multiplayer, both docked and on-the-go, with portable play intelligently taking the unconventional approach of splitting matches vertically for optimum use of the Switch’s limited screen space.
Online multiplayer doesn’t hold up quite so well, unfortunately, as you’ll likely struggle to find another player even during peak hours. After just a handful of successful matches (many of which were against the same opponent), we found ourselves ranked 23rd on the global leaderboards, which suggests this mode has a very limited following.
Despite the dearth of online competition, Ronimo have catered their charismatically simple and engaging take on the strategy genre to all play styles on Switch, making it an attractive purchase.
Bust out the hi-tops, gold chains, fluorescent trousers and square hair, gang, for it’s time to revisit the beloved 90s world of ToeJam & Earl. That’s right, the titular twosome are Back in the Groove.
Let’s not forget the baddies, though: the cast of irritants and nasties feature earthlings of all flavours, encompassing autograph-hunting fans, FBI agents, and even sharks. That’s neglecting to mention the likes of ghostly cows, that corpulent, bald casanova, Cupid, and tornadoes that’ll knock you off the edge of a level, back down to the previous one. These foes are rarely threatening, mind, as there’s always a Sunflower forest to hide away in, playing a sublime little jingle whenever you walk into one.
Waltzing around as a bodacious alien, dressed as Vanilla Ice, bopping to a superbly funky soundtrack, is quite the treat in itself.
Now, you could be forgiven for reading all of the above and wondering what the point of the whole shebang is. A fair assessment, perhaps, but that’d be to miss the essence of BITG completely. Waltzing around as a bodacious alien, dressed as Vanilla Ice, bopping to a superbly funky soundtrack, is quite the treat in itself.
Yes, the core gameplay of searchin’ ‘n’ findin’ might not lend itself to the most thrilling of loops, but throw into the mix procedurally generated levels, different difficulties, the kind of laughs that only local co-op play can provide, and mini-games that break up the monotony - on that note, the dancing game is great, but the auto-runner isn’t so much - and there’s scope for even the non-nostalgic to enjoy themselves.
Visually, ToeJam and Earl have thankfully been dragged punching and hollering into the can-only-meet-people-via-an-app age. Gawping at the cartoony wonder of trees, water, snow, desert and caricature-style NPCs is a dream, so it’s a real shame that performance can suffer on occasion, when, in all honesty, the game really isn’t pushing the limits of modern hardware. The mid-level elevator scenes are a prime example of this: fantastic Fresh Prince-inspired backdrops that chug and wheeze as the next level loads.
The undeniable presentational standout here, though, is the absolute funkathon of a score. Squelchy, popped ‘n’ slapped bass smashes through the speakers, throwing some serious aural shapes alongside subdued, crunchy beats. Kickstarter backers had the opportunity to get a copy of the soundtrack on vinyl, and of that fact we’re considerably jealous.
Where does all this leave us though, folks? In reality, ToeJam & Earl is as anti-mainstream as ever, and we appreciate that. If you like local multiplayer games, adore funkadelic basslines, or just have a hankering to revisit 1991, you’ll certainly have fun with Back in the Groove. Comrades with short attention spans, or who find early 90s pop culture and/or the basic trappings of dungeon crawlers abhorrent, though, should breakdance right outta here. PEACE.
Carbon Studio’s award-winning spellcaster has made its way to PlayStation VR in “enhanced” form - now featuring a new stage, new cutscenes, checkpoints, performance improvements and more - but do these tweaks see the game hold up one year after its initial launch?
New to this iteration of the game is an optional head-tracked form of auto-aim, which is enabled by default and that’s definitely a good thing. Throwing is a motion that doesn’t often play well with the Move controllers, at least not with any real degree of accuracy, so the slightly sticky reticule is a must for reliably guiding your projectiles to their target. What’s more, it does a pretty good job of discerning exactly where you’re looking, allowing you to easily pick out priority targets in a crowd.
In-game movement and real-world comfort are handled well too, as The Wizards accommodates both teleportation and free movement, alongside seated and standing play. Expect to fiddle with your height settings if playing seated, mind, as we had to register at a minuscule 80 cm tall in order to align with the UI.
Utilising two PlayStation Move controllers, you’ll motion to weave the arcane into existence while channelling your inner sorcerer.
Getting this right also helps to achieve the perspective required to spot traps and puzzle elements, which litter the game’s eleven brief and fairly nondescript levels. Punctuated by a couple of visually impressive, but mechanically underwhelming boss encounters, the three-to-four hour adventure is fairly replayable due to the inclusion of Fate Cards. These gameplay modifiers are found hiding in chests and can be activated to turn the tides in or against your favour, most notably applying score multipliers to help with climbing the online leaderboards.
Then there’s Arena mode, which tasks you with defending three crystals, once again sights firmly set on outlasting the competition in order to climb leaderboards relevant to each of the three maps. It’s very familiar territory and, without co-op, it doesn’t really have legs.
At its best moments, when you’re fluently fighting off a swarm of ogres without feeling like the real battle is being waged with imprecise motion controls, The Wizards is an intoxicating realisation of any long-held magical fantasies. The PlayStation VR version can cause that illusion to crumble though, which is a burden not entirely shouldered by inferior hardware, as other games have managed to pull off the transition just about seamlessly.
It's been a busy winter release schedule and things aren’t about to let up any time soon, yet that's not the reason you're only just getting our thoughts on Crackdown 3. That first reveal, way back at E3 2014, showed off an exciting level of destruction in what would surely be a triumphant return for a mistreated franchise. Surely. Right?
That skyline is peppered with large green orbs, which can be sought out in order to improve your character. Ah yes, the orbs. Probably the most compulsively addicting aspect of the series, these guys are super satisfying to jump around and collect, all the while increasing your agility level to allow for access to even more.
Other forms of experience are awarded when you perform their relevant actions. Fancy some fisticuffs? Smaller red orbs will spill from enemies and boost your melee damage, as well as periodically unlocking new abilities like a ground pound. If blowing things up is more your speed, then you'll begin to gobble up yellow orbs, and so on. The additional skills in each upgrade path are fairly elementary at first, but do start to add a little depth later on, so it’s worth adopting a varied play style despite nothing being supremely memorable.
Gunning down goons comes courtesy of a satisfyingly snappy lock-on function, which makes it easy to bound about as you wreak havoc and zip away from hostile fire.
Core gameplay basically just involves clearing out enemies from specific locations, veiled in a number of different ways. When the locales are all pretty similar and their objectives rarely differ, the overall mission structure quickly gets repetitive.
Gunning down goons along the way comes courtesy of a satisfyingly snappy lock-on function, which makes it easy to bound about as you wreak havoc and zip away from incoming hostile fire. At the same time it does also remove an element of skill, which, coupled with foes that are pretty standard fare, makes the level of challenge on standard difficulty fairly low.
Crackdown 3’s most fun aspect is probably traversing the world, scaling buildings at will, though even that isn’t without issue. Jumping will feel too floaty for many, plus there’s the odd and inconsistent inclusion of fall damage, which seems to either not occur at all or cut you down in a heartbeat. It can also be a grind to get to the point where you feel truly agile and/or powerful, in spite of there being an element of instant gratification here.
Multiplayer comes in the form of the standalone Wrecking Zone package, which shares the campaign’s flaws, only while presenting more intense firefights fought across compact maps with a focus towards verticality. The lauded cloud-powered destruction is frankly nothing to write home about and the pair of available modes won’t do much to keep you around for long.
As a somewhat throwback gesture you can also play the campaign cooperatively, but only with one fellow Agent, instead of three as was initially promised.
In the end, the Crackdown experience is much the same now as it ever was, even after countesses games raised the bar considerably in its absence. If you're picking this up as an existing Xbox Game Pass subscriber, there’s fun to be had without an associated fee, but it's certainly not worth buying the game itself or even subscribing to the Game Pass service specifically for.
Crackdown 3 is a disappointing end to a years-long saga fraught with anticipation and disappointment, and one which will hopefully be the final of Microsoft’s misfires this generation to hit the Xbox One.
Band of Bastards is the third major expansion for Kingdom Come: Deliverance - Warhorse Studios’ medieval simulation RPG, which is holding up well a year after release - bringing with it a cluster of combat-oriented missions for battle-hardened players to get stuck into.
So, once you’ve polished off Dangler and been accepted into the nefarious crew, what adventures await? With around five hours of new content, Band of Bastards is comprised of six quests - five main and one side - plus the opportunity to explore your new camp and get to know the mercenaries within it.
Each of these characters feel unique and well-rounded, sharing entertaining backstories about how they became members. Particular highlights are the tale of how Dangler acquired his moniker (that’s sure to have set your mind racing) and how Sir Kuno’s family fell from grace.
The DLC’s solitary side quest, where head bastard Kuno asks you to retrieve a ring that grants its holder unlimited booze in taverns, unfortunately proves to be little more than a series of fetch quests taking place entirely within the borders of the small camp area.
Main mission wise, four of the five on offer feature combat situations for players to get involved in, with some decent armour components up for grabs to those willing to pay the iron price. The action’s tied together by some impressive cutscenes, and, while the story may be relatively straightforward, it does explore the questionable morals and irresolute loyalty of a sellsword company.
Unfortunately, it’s over all too soon. Just as you’re growing emotionally invested in a character, the conversation options dry up, and the same goes for Band of Bastards’ narrative as a whole. More disappointingly, the big finale ends on rather a limp note; the game’s framerate tanks and enemies display bizarre behaviour, doggedly chasing you around the battlefield whilst ignoring the rest of your party hacking them to bits. Granted, it’s possible to avoid a brawl altogether and settle things in single combat, but doing so means you miss out on a lot of extra loot, including a significant amount of coin.
None of that’s to say we didn’t enjoy the new content, though. The opportunity to venture out with your own crew and battle loads of baddies is exactly what Kingdom Come: Deliverance needed - the problem is, it needs even more of it! Band of Bastards is good, but it could have been great. All the components are here - the memorable characters, backstories and adventures - they just needed a bigger stage to flourish upon.
Some things in life are bloody hard. Think ironing on those travel-sized boards, resisting that packet of Ginger Nuts hidden within the cupboardy prison, understanding anything written by a lawyer, or the cleverly titled DiRT Rally 2.0. We might jest, chums, but seriously: this is the *snicker* Dark Souls of racing games...
From the title screen you’ll find two main methods of play: My Team and Freeplay. My Team focuses on online-centric challenges, AI challenges, and both rally and rallycross career modes. The career modes are an excellent timesink, but we’ve really found ourselves getting stuck into the daily and weekly challenges, which counter-balance the longevity of career with short, sharp tear-ups.
Freeplay features a quad collection of historic rallying (absolutely fantastical), officially licensed FIA world rallycross championship, time trial, and, most intriguing of all, custom mode. Here in the custom world one can create and share their very own championships and stages, all created via an easy-to-use system. Players decide on terrain, type of race, number of stages, weather for these stages, track conditions, etc. Much like DiRT 4’s Your Stage, Custom guarantees staying power.
Raindrops hit the screen with a thud, and muck splatters the back of whatever diesel-burner you happen to be controlling.
2.0 is a real looker, too. Bash your way around cliffs as the sun sets and you’ll see what we mean, as gorgeous lighting creates lens flare and has distant waters shimmering away beautifully. Stagnant puddles glisten with filth, raindrops hit the screen with a thud, and muck splatters the back of whatever diesel-burner you happen to be controlling. Some of the backgrounds might be lacking a bit in detail, but honestly, when the driving is this intense, and the foreground this pretty, you probably won’t care.
Sound-wise, 2.0 gives us the same aural problems that DiRT 4 did, unfortunately. The raucous wailing of engine noise possesses the ability to grate on both oneself and the neighbours, and, on a personal note, the monotone of the co-driver is so reminiscent of my Year 10 ICT teacher that I began to nod off. Menu music and background vibes are fine, if a little understated.
We do have a few more niggles that we’d like to mention on top of that charismatic co-driver, though, folks. Whilst we personally loved the total lack of hand-holding tutorials, many with the desire to get involved with DiRT for the first time will be left feeling woefully unprepared for the mountainous learning curve and ridiculously narrow tracks that lie ahead. A practice/training mode, as seen in DiRT 4, would certainly have allayed this issue.
We’ve also experienced some problems with low-light and night races (the many miserable, rainy Polish rallies come to mind), where even Dr. Personality’s instructions can’t save you from smashing into trees, or even missing whole corners, because you couldn’t bloomin’ well see ‘em! Playing these at nighttime with the lights off and the brightness dialled up will help, but that’s realism gone too far.
These minor negatives aside, DiRT Rally 2.0 is exactly the kind of game that people don’t really make anymore. It’s mercilessly tough, never holds your hand, and takes a while to really get under your bonnet. If you don’t have the leather interior and hub-caps for that, then we suggest you stick with DiRT 4, but for anyone up to the challenge, we can’t recommend this enough.
Anthem isn't a bad game. While the press coverage leading up to launch (including our somewhat lukewarm preview) might not have got you hyped for the latest offering from EA and BioWare, the game itself deserves a chance, so let's get into it.
There's also a social space known as the Launch Bay, home to elements like the Forge, where you can customise your Javelin. This hub is one of the areas where the comparisons with a little game called Destiny most prominently rear their head. At this very moment, though, there are no dance contests, impromptu football matches or equivalent to speak of, making for a comparative dearth of sociability.
While the game being “like Destiny” isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's clear that this is a first attempt at something similar. The reality is that this style of game (a live service, if you will) remains fairly new territory for both EA and BioWare compared to publishers like Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft, who’ve seen multiple games and franchises trying their best to tread water in an increasingly busy marketplace filled with microtransactions and loot boxes.
There's none of the latter here, though the cosmetic upgrades on offer (which only subtly customise the look of your Javelin) are fairly pricey - in the realm of 60,000 in-game Coin for an armour set, to be exact. You can skip the 6-8 hour grind required to amass that for 850 premium Shards, which will set you back in the region of £8, since you can only buy them in excess.
Annoyingly, you can then only apply your wears to any one of the four specific classes of Javelin. On that note, you'll start out as the well-balanced Ranger, the all-rounder’s choice, akin to a nerfed War Machine from Iron Man. The Storm suit, our personal favourite, makes for your archetypal mage, boasting elemental attacks which look particularly impressive and often prove more effective than firearms.
Storm is a particularly good choice for taking advantage of Anthem’s combo system, open to all classes, which deals bonus damage when you combine different types of attacks. It's never explained in any real depth, you’re just left to experiment with it, which works well enough in the end.
If diving straight into the fray is more your thing, you'll probably want to try the nimble Interceptor, which sports twin blades to look extra cool when engaging in melee bouts. If that sounds a faff and you'd rather sit back and pummel foes into submission with a barrage of bullets, then the lumbering Colossus should do the trick.
Whichever you opt for, all of the Javelins sport identical flight modes which made us pine to see them implemented in a licenced Iron Man game. Your jets are prone to overheating, remedied by nose diving or taking a refreshing dip, but the limited air time is sufficient to survey Anthem's beautifully idyllic and highly vertical locales with ease. Don't try to go too high though, or you'll hit some turbulence concealing the invisible glass ceiling…
Traversal during missions can be further limited at times, as the action centres around the player closest to the next objective marker, meaning that if you leave the main path to explore a little - or even when you remain shockingly close to them on occasion - you'll be told you've strayed from the mission marker before being respawned back with the group after only 25 seconds.
If this made for a brief disruption it’d just about be a bearable irritation, but, unfortunately, it’ll require you to sit through another of the many incredibly lengthy load screens that clutter the entire game. Improvements have been made over the demo build, but there are still far too many lengthy periods of downtime between performing even basic tasks, such as customising your character, making loading a constant pain and disruption to the otherwise largely smooth flow of gameplay.
It's particularly telling that Destiny manages to call up your loadout in a few seconds just by pressing start, whereas Anthem forces you to go to a specific area, though you can at least fasttrack straight there at the end of missions.
BioWare’s post launch plans for Anthem seem promising, and, as corny as it sounds, it feels like the game is destined to blossom into an acceptably meaty product after a year or so. The problem therein is that they’re asking full price for it right now, while offering an experience which provides only fleeting moments of satisfaction.
There’s simple joy in the act of soaring around a thoroughly beautiful (if quite empty) setting, especially when venturing online to recruit teammates and devastate the hostile natives with visually impressive combos. However, these pleasures are at risk of being lost amongst the forgettable story, repetitive mission structure and uninspiring weaponry, which drops far too sparsely considering we’re dealing with a ‘looter shooter’.
Those in the market for this brand of service game are already well catered to by continual support for Destiny 2, Warframe and Ubisoft’s upcoming Division 2, which looks set to refine an acceptable first iteration. As such, many players may want to hold off on exploring the colourful world of Anthem for now; but, if you really must fulfil your wild Tony Stark fantasies, there is fleeting fun to be had today.
Desolation. While winter in the UK has its moments, it pales in comparison to Russia at the best of times. In the bleak future of the Metro series, after the Last War reduced the world to rubble, this oppressive landscape begets a bleak outlook, but, just beneath the surface, there is hope.
Tense and claustrophobic underground sections keep your hair standing on end, while bright open-air encounters allow for flexing your action muscles.
The game definitely feels like an epic, despite hanging onto a mostly linear structure. Even larger open areas, which have vignettes of things to explore tucked away here and there - like a makeshift enemy stronghold or an abandoned cabin - flow from one event to the next before transporting you on to another area, which will have its own feel and weather as the in-game seasons pass.
Shootouts are a mixture of musical stings and often frantic ducking for cover, as you toe the line between risk and reward by going loud. More often than not the throwing knife is your best friend in human encounters, far more effective at taking down enemies instantly and not disturbing others nearby.
Out in the open there are more monstrous creatures to tackle, transformed by the surface radiation, who you'll want to have a loaded shotgun ready for. Fortunately, there's a fairly in-depth attachments system in place to let you piece a weapon set together that suits your play style. Don't become too reliant on your equipment though, as things can break and require the odd spot of maintenance, be that pumping up a pneumatic weapon or charging your torch.
Previously, you could only tinker with your loadout at a select few vendor locations, but now these storefronts are a thing of the past. This makes way for on-the-fly resource crafting, via scavenged components, whilst also nixing the intriguing dilemma of choosing whether to utilise bullets for currency or self-preservation seen in the past games. That might seem like a loss, but it quite quickly became arbitrary as you almost inevitably amassed more ammunition than you knew what to do with.
Whether the game holds onto enough of the haunting, thriller gameplay which made the tunnels of Metro 2033 and Last Light so compelling for some is up for debate. Coming in fresh, the balance and variety of gameplay feels on point here, with tense and claustrophobic tunnel sections keeping your hair standing on end, while bright open-air encounters allow for flexing your action muscles.
Visual details go a long way in bringing everything together, particularly as weather effects play with the lighting to make you feel as isolated or on edge as Artyom does. In native 4K on Xbox One X, some of the details are stunning.
Taken as a whole, the experience is a testament to the minute care and attention lavished on every element of Metro Exodus, leaving few drawbacks to speak of. Some characters feel a bit cartoonist at times, but the core interactions between Artyom and his wife alone will be enough to get you caring about the fate of this character and his community.
After making its way to Steam and North American Switch owners last summer, Sleep Tight has finally reached our shores this month, bringing its Pixar-inspired take on the classic horde formula to Europe.
During our early playthroughs we attempted to construct a square fort in the middle of the room, using barricades and the four upgrade stations as indestructible cornerstones. While visually pleasing, this left us open to attacks from all sides and required a much more hands-on approach to defence. Later runs brought about a change of strategy, namely hiding in a corner behind a wall of turrets, which allowed us to sit back and watch the automated fire do much of the dirty work for us. There was even a rather daring run which saw us eschew all defences in favour of ammo and shield power-ups, a strategy that proved surprisingly effective.
Every night survived sees you rewarded with suns and, along with stars dropped by downed enemies, these serve as a currency used for purchasing products at the aforementioned stations. You’ll need those to combat the evolving suite of enemies, which could easily pass for Monsters, Inc. movie extras, with small and speedy creatures being complemented by the introduction of bigger, stronger types capable of dealing serious damage to your base as rounds progress.
With only a few suns handed out each morning, you’ll need to spend wisely in order to stay alive for as long as possible, especially considering they don’t carry over to the next day. Do you repair a turret on its last legs, or stock up on shields and ammo in case things go south? It’s decisions like these that can make or break a playthrough, and while watching the inevitable downfall unfold on a particularly good run brings with it a tinge of sadness, last stands are always good, frantic fun. The game’s relatively speedy pace also means it’s never too long before you’re back in the thick of things, which helps.
From a technical standpoint, Sleep Tight appears to run well on Switch, both when docked and handheld. The only drawback was some screen glare when playing in handheld mode during daylight hours, as the game’s entirely set at night and obviously quite dark as a result. You can exit and save progress between rounds, but we often found that simply putting the Switch in sleep mode then returning some time later was a decent way to keep a playthrough going when interrupted.
Overall, Sleep Tight is another solid addition to the Switch’s growing roster of indies. Whilst it would be great to be able to team up with friends for a monster mash, the quick pace of rounds, satisfying gameplay and battery-friendly nature of the game make it a great candidate for solo commuters.
After a brief period of exclusivity with Discord, At Sundown: Shots in the Dark has been released onto multiple platforms, bringing with it an atypical twist on the multiplayer shooter.
As you continue to play and progress, unlocks are awarded with each level gained and come in the form of new weapons, maps and game modes. Whilst the unlockable maps and modes offer some variety (King of the Hill works particularly well), building the unconventional armoury is At Sundown’s real prize.
The level cap can be reached very quickly, ensuring things aren't locked behind progression for too long, but that does mean you’ll pretty much have seen everything the game has to offer within a couple of hours.
Typically for a multiplayer-focused game, longevity comes from honing your craft. You can do so locally, with up to four players supported, while AI bots can fill in any available spaces. AI capability ranges from laughably easy to cheating bastard, which can depend more on the weapons in play than the difficulty setting.
Unfortunately, padding matches with bots isn't an option if you venture online. We weren’t able to find an online bout during our playtime, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as we were playing pre-release, but we were able to try out some 1v1 battles and, as suitably tense as they were (thanks in no small part to the ominous soundtrack), the experience felt proportionally watered down. Technically it was spot on, it just lacked the measured carnage of a four-way firefight.
Still, Mild Beast Games have taken the slow, methodical strategy of Battleships, infused it with the twitchy thrill of a modern shooter and presented it in a way which invites an inaccurate, but not unfair, comparison to Bomberman. If you and yours are any sort of frantic multiplayer fans, then At Sundown might just be worth a look.